Two women bond over running and beating anorexia and launch a business.
Upon meeting at work, 40-something fitness instructors Amy Haenick and Sara Plumstead soon realized they had a lot in common, including supportive husbands, great children, college life at Michigan State, a commitment to physical fitness — and triumph over anorexia nervosa.
Each woman grappled with the eating disorder in her younger years but successfully overcame it and now talks openly about the struggle. Staying fit and long-distance running play a major role in each of their lives, and together they have launched a business called Run Strong Project that offers training plans for all distances plus run-specific strength training.
“We met at Orangetheory Fitness in Birmingham about two years ago — where I still work — and became very fast friends,” said Haenick, who lives in Huntington Woods with her husband, Mike, and children Ellie, 14 (who had her bat mitzvah last year with Rabbi Dorit Edut), and Evan, 11.
“We both are so passionate about running, strength training and helping people meet their goals, and it just kind of evolved. We said, ‘What if we do this?’ and the next thing we knew we had bought a domain name and started our business.”
Run Strong Project helps runners meet specific goals, be it a 5K or long-distance marathon, with a detailed plan that includes distance, pace and exercises that Haenick said participants need “nothing — literally nothing” to do.
“These are squats, pushups and things you can do around the house and outside,” she said. “You don’t need equipment. If you have shorts and a T-shirt, you can do it. Many people don’t realize the importance of strength training, especially for runners, to prevent injury.”
Haenick, who specializes in the strength-training part of the business, has completed about 10 marathons with a personal record of 3:35.
“I hate to say running saved me, but it became something goal-oriented I could do and get success from,” said Haenick, 43, who developed anorexia as a freshman at Michigan State University after being a successful athlete in high school.
“It was a rough transition. I went from being somebody to just kind of a number and felt a loss of control,” she said. “So, I started to control what I could, which was eating, and it became more and more of an obsession.”
Alarmed at her increasing thinness, Haenick’s parents brought her to an eating disorder support group at Beaumont Hospital. “I did not resist; I think I was secretly begging for help,” she recalled. “But there was such a variance of people at the meeting, and my parents didn’t associate me with them. I vividly remember walking out and one of my parents saying, ‘Thank God that’s not you. You don’t belong here.’ And I started hysterically crying and said, ‘That is me. This is me.’ I am so lucky they really caught on very quickly.”
It took a few years of therapy and hard work, but Haenick was able to beat anorexia — though she must remain vigilant. “I know my triggers, and I can tell when I am starting to slip a little,” she said. “Several times in my adult life I have seen the therapist I saw 25 years ago.”
Plumstead, 41, developed anorexia at age 17. “I was diagnosed with irritable bowel disease, so every time I ate I was getting sick. The easiest thing was not to eat,” she said. “Controlling what I put in my mouth gave me a sense of relief that I still had some control over my life. Then people started complimenting me, saying, ‘You lost weight. You look really good.’ It was a downward spiral from there.”
Plumstead’s hair started falling out, and her overall health plummeted during her first year at MSU. “I started getting scared that something was really wrong, so I shared with my parents what was going on,” she said. “They were shocked. I had hidden it very well; anorexia is a very secretive, manipulative disease.”
Once she made the decision to face up to her anorexia, Plumstead made a relatively fast recovery. “Not to say that I got off easy, but once I decided I was done, I was done. I have definitely put it behind me. Having daughters has kept me on track because I want to be the best example for them.”
Plumstead, who holds a masters degree in counseling, lives in Beverly Hills with her husband, Kevin, and children Ella, 13, and Olivia, 11. She didn’t start running until age 30, when she gave it a try to relieve stress after Olivia was born with a rare chromosome deletion that has resulted in a variety of special needs.
Plumstead has completed 20 marathons. Her personal record is 3:04 and she’s determined to break the 3-minute mark. “I 100 percent believe in myself,” she said.
The women are buoyed by the success their new business has enjoyed since launching in January. “We are relatable, especially with our background with eating disorders,” Haenick said. “We are normal people, and all we want to do is help other people. We’re not in this to make millions.”
Learn more at runstrongproject.com.