When you speak with Louise Valentine (MPH, CHES, CSCS, ACSM-CPT, ACSM-EP, EIM II, BCTMB) for any length of time, you begin to understand that every aspect of her life, no matter how apparently distinct or unique, is remarkably — and admirably — aligned toward a singular goal: growth.
Conversing with her is a journey through topics seamlessly connected to one another not linearly but thematically — it’s clear that as she faces down new challenges and makes new discoveries, both in her life and work, she assimilates them all into her personal and professional practice as a coach and fitness aficionado. If all roads lead to Rome; all of Louise Valentine’s experiences lead back to living a motivated, healthy and impactful life.
The 38-year-old winner of the 2023 ACSM Certified Professional of the Year Award founded and operates the coaching academy Breaking Through Wellness, which specializes in the health and fitness of women 35 and older, filling an important gap in the industry (though she also trains and advises a much wider array of clients, including professional athletes and members of the military). No surprise on the latter: Her husband is still active-duty and previously piloted helicopters for the Army, so Valentine’s bond with the military is a strong one. And many of her life’s changes, as she articulates them, came because the couple has moved so often. Such is the life of a military spouse.
Valentine’s relationship with fitness blossomed early, but so did her stubborn battle with life’s setbacks. She grew up in the Cleveland area, pursuing softball during her middle grades, riding horses, and playing volleyball all the way until her junior year of high school — when she was summarily cut from the team. Never one to quit, she immediately joined the cross country squad. But she struggled greatly with running and started her first season last on the team.
Looking back, it seems remarkable that someone who would go on to become a highly competitive amateur marathon runner — and complete 74 half marathons, one per week, while managing high-risk pregnancies — would have such an unpromising start to her career. But health issues had reared their ugly head — Valentine missed over 50 days of her senior year — and overcoming them would become a major narrative arc in her life.
“I was always sick,” she says.
Which left her with an all-encompassing question: “How do I become fit and healthy and feel good?”
Step one: Valentine enrolled at John Carroll University as a premed biology major, then quickly pivoted to nutrition.
But while still an undergraduate, Valentine realized she wanted to understand health and fitness more holistically, leading to step two: putting her degree on hold and delving into a certification in massage therapy, specifically sports massage. This completed, she was fortunate enough, through a contact she met in massage school, to get hired with the Cleveland Browns. She would work with the team for five years, and during this time she realized she needed more credentials to her name.
“As a young woman, I was working as a member of the sports medicine team with high-level individuals, including professional athletes, and I knew I needed to finish my degree,” she says. She enrolled at Baldwin Wallace University, conveniently across the street from the Browns’ training center.
“I got certified as soon as I could,” she says.
She eventually finished her Bachelor of Science in exercise science and biology — while juggling traveling with her professional athlete clients and living between two states as a military spouse with a deployed husband at war.
The business of starting a business
Having married a military man, Valentine’s career was never going to be traditional. She knew she’d need to pursue something she could make work on her own terms. And in particular, something that wouldn’t require her to stay in one place. She’d already had to leave behind multiple opportunities, from research fellowships to a budding medical degree, due to reassignment-induced moves. It was clear that working for herself, and working online, was going to be the way to go.
Valentine had been amassing a group of freelance clients already, and she’d also worked with local physicians, providing their patients with health coaching, exercise prescription and massage therapy. She leaned into the hustle. Eventually the work evolved into her current business, Breaking Through Wellness, which was inspired in part by her experiences as a researcher.
“I was working on a research fellowship involving health data, injury research and health outcomes,” she says. “And I realized that there were so many other women dealing with the issues I was dealing with.” She knew that she needed to “fill a knowledge gap for women 35+.”
Valentine was diagnosed with osteoporosis at 33 herself — but only after she’d had to ask for a DEXA scan point blank, reminding her physician of her educational background and certifications, and after numerous other practitioners refused to give her one. She had also long-since been dealing with hormonal issues, confusion with proper fueling, a high-stress lifestyle and gut health challenges, making her well aware of the uphill battle that women in the premenopausal demographic often face when confronting the medical and wellness industries.
By working to meet women’s unique physical activity, health and wellness needs, Valentine is following in the footsteps of other ACSM leading lights like Past-President Barbara Drinkwater, Ph.D., FACSM, one of the pioneers who identified the Female Athlete Triad: amenorrhea, disordered eating and osteoporosis.
Valentine also practices what she preaches.
“At age 38, I’m still hitting PRs and helping other women to do the same.”
She also overcame her osteoporosis, in part through measured dietary and lifestyle interventions and in part through “having a resilient, empowered mindset.”
The client testimonials on the Breaking Through Wellness website make it clear that Valentine is making an impact in the space:
“I want to be active for life. With Louise’s coaching, I learn so much about my body, specific to what works best for women's health, training & nutrition. I'm stronger & run pain-free!”
“I went from hot flashes, poor sleep & considering HRT to feeling my strongest yet & my husband complimenting my body! Women-specific nutrition & exercise changes EVERYTHING!”
“I saw results after 1 session after YEARS of working with coaches & doctors without improvement. I've lost 25 lbs., went off medication & run with energy in my 50s!”
Authorship and the future
On top of her business success, Valentine published The Art of Breaking Through: Five Simple Steps to Take on Any Challenge & Tackle Self-Doubt after recording much of the initial draft on her phone en route to her research fellowship. She instinctively transforms adversity into motivation: Initially spurred to write by a diagnosis of stomach precancer, she found herself returning to the manuscript after she learned her father had bladder cancer. Fortunately, both are doing fine now.
When reflecting on becoming the 2023 ACSM Certified Professional of the Year, Valentine notes, “I am so impressed by ACSM seeing a young woman leader in science filling gaps. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I’m excited to lead the way.”
Valentine says she plans to concentrate on Breaking Through Wellness for the time being. That said, there might be another book in the works.