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Personal trainer aids steelworkers

| Monday, Aug. 27, 2007

No way.

No way did Amber Fingers, 32, a personal trainer who teaches injury-prevention exercises to steelworkers, weigh 342 pounds three years ago.

The strawberry blonde today carries about 160 pounds, much of it muscle, on her 5-foot-8 frame. Fingers has won local powerlifting competitions. She runs and weight-trains six times a week. She eats every two hours, devouring protein-rich chicken breasts and steak.

Fingers trains employees of Allegheny Ludlum's Midland plant twice a week for Crafton-based Sonshine Fitness. She also works weekly with five families, helping them lose weight. She tends bar at Perrytowne Drafthouse in Ross, and she plans to pursue a master's degree in nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh this fall.

This is the same Amber Fingers who once smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, ate fast food daily and endured insults like "you fat pig" from people she didn't know.

"One time someone dumped food on me at a restaurant," she said. "I got tired of being me. I didn't like what I saw in the mirror. I didn't like what I felt like."

Fingers said no specific incident or defining moment triggered her transformation. She simply decided one day in 2004 that she wasn't going to live like that anymore. So she joined Wright's Gym in Crafton and lost about 120 pounds on her own during the next year. But she couldn't shape her body the way she'd hoped.

That's when Fingers hired Stasi Longo, who runs Sonshine Fitness out of Wright's Gym with her husband, Larry.

Fingers achieved so much that Longo hired Fingers as a trainer in January.

"Amber's the most extreme transformer I've trained in my 27 years of doing this," said Longo, 49, who won the 1998 professional natural Ms. Universe bodybuilding competition. "We call her, 'Amber-Our-Inspiration.' "

A little after 7 on a Thursday morning earlier this month, Allegheny Ludlum maintenance worker Bill Davidson finished up a set of exercises Fingers had taken him through.

"I don't like doing them," said Davidson, 54, of Wellsville, Ohio. "But I end up feeling better overall."

Two months of practicing Fingers' routine has lessened the pain that once ran from his neck down the length of his back. She leads the men through traditional weight-room sets, too, such as biceps curls and bent-over rows. Fingers disguises yoga poses as other exercises -- "I don't tell them that, though," she confided -- and even uses mats and yoga balls.

Longo said that ability to adapt and intuit what people want was one of the reasons she hired Fingers.

"She had so much desire to help others accomplish what she had become," Longo said.

Perhaps perversely, a personality trait common among the obese helped Fingers complete her own training -- as well as read her clients.

"When you're really heavy, you always want to please," Fingers said. "It's a coping skill. That's why I stuck to everything Stasi told me to do. I didn't want to let her down."

Fingers self-consciously conceded she now maintains her fitness for other reasons as well: the compliments she receives that never came her way before, the attention she receives behind the bar and the respect she receives from her clients.

"I mean, you can't really be a personal trainer unless you look the part."

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