Lori Rosensteel is strong in a way that defies the odds. This mom and Connellsville Area School District elementary teacher takes on Tough Mudder obstacle races. She owns House of Steel, a new full-service fitness and wellness center where she is also a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. And she’s completing her doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction while serving on the Love Life Foundation Board.
But this strong woman doesn’t bear the weight of the world. She stands on it.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants. I am a product of many, many people who God stuck in my path. My journey is by the grace of God and I am humbled by His interventions in my life.”
Like sprawling trees dotted along a windy road, her journey has also been filled with “defining moments” that Lori said have made her who she is today.
The Metal of her Strength
“I can still remember my grandma rocking me and my sister in this giant rocking chair running her fingers through our hair and telling us that Jesus loved us so much that he cared to know just how many hairs were on our heads. This hit me hard. Christ loved me simply because I was. Christ has been the source of my strength my whole life through. If I am strong, it is by the grace of God.”
At no time in her life would the metal of her strength be tested more than it was when she was in junior high school.
“Day in and day out I walked into school burying so many fears and issues. With all that was going on at the time, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. No one noticed. I was a good kid. It was easy to miss me. I blended in. My grades crashed and teachers kept saying that I wasn’t paying attention, but a much more serious problem was taking root.”
Diagnosed with petit mal seizures, she went “in and out of daydream like states” including during a spelling bee in 6th grade, before being diagnosed, as she tried to spell a word and instead, slurred the last few letters.”
“I remember the reaction of the audience clearly. They were all like. . . “whaat?” and there were giggles. I felt shamed. I hardly knew what just happened. Little did I know these spells would repeat themselves until my diagnosis.”
Lori also suffered anxiety/panic attacks from the brief periods of lost consciousness and after an episode that raised her heart rate, was admitted for further tests, resulting in a diagnosis of epilepsy.
The Power of Words
“I felt so devastated and terrified by the epilepsy diagnosis. But my doctor, Dr. Spino, sensing my fear, sat down next to me on the hospital bed and told me that life is full of pain, heartaches, and unexpected happenings but how I reacted was completely in my control. He told me that I can let this define me or I can make the best of the situation and rise above.
I NEVER FORGOT his words. I also never forgot how much POWER words have. They hit me like a ton of bricks and at the same time empowered a little girl who felt completely overwhelmed. It was an epiphany, I have the power to choose how I react. I have the power to make my situation endurable or miserable. I would take this lesson into my life. No matter how many times I got knocked down. . . I always rose. . . because I simply decided to not be defeated. I am strong. I am resilient. I am a fighter because I choose to be. To me, there is no other option.”
Lori said she later suffered grand mal seizures, hypovolemia and POTS syndrome . . . “the last two ironically making me resistant to exercise at times”. She chooses to live in spite of them.
Giants in her Path
“Because my grades had fallen, I had to work double time to catch back up. I had a teacher in 11th grade, Mrs. Winslow, who believed in me. She saw what I didn’t. She pushed me and encouraged me. She took me under her wing. I really began to bloom that year. By my senior year of high school, I was a straight A student again. But again, it was because I stand on the shoulders of giants. Eventually my grades would pave the way to Westminster College where I would graduate early in Elementary Education.
The next giant in her life was a 5 year-old child who taught Lori more than she could learn in one semester of college. She was doing field experience in the kindergarten classroom where there was a little girl, who Lori described as “loud, obnoxious, aggressive and bossy”. But a run Lori made to a local store one evening changed her whole perception.
“Before I got out of the car I saw this particular little girl with three young children and no adult in sight. She was giving them each a piece of candy and bundling up their coats. I sat in the car and just watched. She did not take a piece of candy for herself. She huddled them up and at no more than 5 years old, walked home. My heart sank and shame filled me for not seeing this little girl as more than loud. This little girl was a survivor.
This little girl stepped up when adults let her down. She chose to love when she wasn’t loved. Tears rolled down my face. I never forgot her. I never will. You may not be given love and respect but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to give it back. Your circumstances don’t have to define you.”
At the age of 19, Lori said she understood why she went through so much as a teenager.
“I was working at Pizza Hut as a waitress. I noticed a driver who was particularly quiet. His eyes were red and he was withdrawing from conversation. People kept working around him but I felt deep down something was terribly wrong. I know anxiety and I know depression. I stopped him and asked him what was wrong. He shrugged it off. But I didn’t relent.
Finally, he said he was on (a medication) for six days and he felt hopeless because it wasn’t working. I sat down in a booth with him and talked to him about my journey. He listened. I told him to hang on. . . most medicines take a month or more to kick in and that he just has to hold on.”
As she spoke with the driver, Lori said not one person entered the restaurant or called for an order. Later, a man, who was a friend of the driver, walked in and recognizing her by her name tag, told her that the driver had planned to commit suicide that night – that was, until she spoke with him.
“If I hadn’t gone through what I went through with anxiety, I never could have recognized it in another. I knew that struggle, that suffering. All of it was worth it . . .every moment. God puts us in uncomfortable places so we grow, so we can recognize struggle, so we can help with authority. In the end, there is a reason for everything. Keep moving forward.”
A New Path
And then there was that chance meeting at the local drug store drive-through window. The clerk was really “a giant” in disguise. The defining moment they shared would pull Lori up and chart a path for her life and the lives of so many others.
“I was a young overweight mother. Money was tight and the bills were high. My husband and I struggled in the beginning. We had a toddler and a newborn. There was very little time or money we had left. I was becoming overwhelmingly saddened by my weight. I looked in the mirror and felt hopeless.”
The girl working the drive-through window was Malory White. “I noticed how fit she looked. She told me she started working with a drill sergeant and gave me her number.”
Melissa Rentz, who had just returned from a deployment from Iraq, trained civilians in her spare time. With little money in her pocket, but with much encouragement from Lori’s husband, she started working with Rentz.
“I ran in slush, rain, mud and storm. I wanted to quit a thousand times. But, I refused to relent. In ten weeks, I lost 40lbs and gained a new outlook on life. From this I learned no matter how daunting the battle, you have to fight. You have to pull yourself up, allow yourself to be uncomfortable and fight. No one can do it for you.”
Helping Others be Strong as Steel
When I took a chance on training with the drill sergeant, I remember praying that if God could help me be successful, that I would spend my life helping others get fit and healthy too. . . I kept my promise.”
My initial training was strict and tough. I ended up gaining some weight back.” That’s when Lori created a program of her own that she described as “a fusion of some of the best, science backed, holistic ideas out there”, which she dubbed “Fusion”.
When I first started in the personal training business, I focused on each client and kept my shoulder to the plow. I completed every workout, every mile with each one. People wanted to know what they were doing to get fit. Soon, I had a waiting list.
A Place to Grow Strong
Lori opened House of Steel in Connellsville, PA with its new facility opening this past January. The goal, she said, was “to provide a place where people could go to feel a part of each others journeys…a place where they can receive support from those going through similar struggles. I tapped people, who were once my clients to become instructors.”
She added, “I don’t just hire anyone. I hire people who know struggle, know battle, and know what it feels like to be humbled. At the end of the day, it’s those types of people who inspire us to take action.”
A full-service facility, House of Steel offers personal training, well developed group fitness classes, a fully functional gym, and research based nutrition counseling. “I love celebrating the victories of clients and watching their reactions when they dominate something that they never thought possible. I have screamed and hollered with them, cried with them, listened to their struggles, carried them in my prayers, and pushed them forward.”
Recognizing those who made her strong, including her husband, parents, siblings, and children, Lori said, “I am a product of many. I must give credit to those who pushed me forward. The lessons I have learned along the way have made me who I am.
I define my life. I could fall back on excuses but I choose to defy them.
Above all, happiness makes the ride, no matter the speed or intensity, worthwhile. And happiness is a choice I make every day.”