Weightlifting helped Army veteran Melissa Leuck cope with the trauma she experienced serving in Iraq, so she helped create the Women’s Fitness Initiative in 2018 to empower women to “find their fit.”
The program is part of the Catch a Lift Fund, which helps wounded veterans regain their mental and physical health through fitness and a peer support network. Leuck wanted the Women’s Fitness Initiative to provide the tools and resources other women needed to pursue fitness while also healing mentally and physically. The initiative provides coaching, mentorship, and a community.
“Fitness changed my life without a doubt. I believe that it saved my life. I believe that Catch a Lift saved my life and they gave me one of the greatest gifts and that was to believe in myself again and just believe that I’m worthy just to take up space in this world to be here. For so long I didn’t have even that basic of a self worth,” Leuck said in an interview with WMAR-TV.
When Leuck was an Army specialist in Iraq in 2005, a roadside bomb detonated in front of her and the blast left her with a traumatic brain injury that caused persistent headaches and sensitivity to light. She also deals with another trauma from serving in Iraq.
“One of the hardest things I dealt with while I was in Iraq was being raped by another soldier,” Leuck said in an interview with GoodSport. “I kept thinking, how could you let this happen. How could you be this weak; you’re a soldier. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to go to. So I went to no one and I held it inside.”
Leuck recovered stateside, but the mental and physical scars remained. Leuck suffered from depression and became detached from society. It wasn’t until she started working out that things began to change for her.
“The Catch A Lift Fund empowers me on a daily basis to pursue my fitness passions of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Without CAL, I would still think there was a limit to my potential in and out of the gym. CAL is helping me to see there is no limit,” Leuck said on the organization’s website.
The Catch A Lift Fund was founded in 2010 to honor Chris Coffland, who died while serving in Afghanistan. The mission of the Catch A Lift is rooted in Coffland’s belief that through fitness, a person can reach their true potential both physically and mentally.
“I would tell people who are trying to heal and work through stuff that you need to find some type of release,” she said. “And I believe when you find that release for you, you will start to find some healing.”
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