Kate Ligler was 28 when she had a bad cycling crash. She'd been cycling since she was a teenager, and as she dragged her broken body to a physical therapist, she experienced a crushing sadness. "I was one of those lucky people growing up where I had a few small injuries, but I’d never really had to deal with both the mental and the physical side of what was, at the time, a really devastating moment for me as an athlete," she remembers. "It was the first time I said, 'That’s it. My career is over.'"
Kate was pleasantly surprised to find that after months of working with an amazing physical therapist who not only understood the way her body worked but gave her numerous inspirational pep talks, she had the strength to cycle again. And this put another idea into her head. "Just from working with one amazing, inspirational human, I said to myself, 'I want to be this person.'" And that was how Kate's second career as a trainer and endurance coach began.
Working through her own injury.
Of course, Kate's journey from athlete to trainer didn't happen overnight. First, she had to work through her own issues surrounding her injury—and that mainly meant dealing with the fact that her identity as she knew it was gone. "I had to lean on my people, and it took a lot of positive self-talk," she explains. "I come from a tough-as-nails Midwestern farming community, and no one there gives up easily. So I would pick up my phone, call my mom, and talk to her. She’s a can-do lady. I came from a family that always told me I was smart enough or strong enough to do what I wanted to do. I applied that to my healing journey as well."
Plus, Kate's physical therapist had a loud and clear message for her: Progress is a mindset. "She said, 'We will take painfully small steps together every day, but it’s up to you when you walk out of here to figure out what mental steps you take to get back out there again,'" Kate remembers. "It’s been 15, 16 years, and I can tell you the emotional connection you have to an activity supersedes anything physical."
Discovering a second career.
Although Kate started cycling again, her heart and mind had other plans. She wanted to help people in the same way her physical therapist had helped her, so she started working toward her personal training and coach certifications. "I have to say, I think I got involved in this career in the best way possible, and my clients often tell me I'm the happiest person they see all day."
These days she works with elite athletes such as Ironman champion Meredith Kessler, who leans on Kate for everything from healing her injuries to helping her get stronger. "I can't emphasize enough how much of healing and performance is mental. Your body will heal, but if that mental machine is broken, it's difficult to progress."
One of Kate's main goals is to point out progress, no matter how small. "I'll say, 'Last week you did four repetitions of this exercise pain-free, and guess what, this week you did five,'" she says. "I just want the individual to leave my presence remembering and acknowledging that something is a little bit better than it was before."
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