A little SASS and a whole lot of heart
From grappling with ‘a disordered eating pattern’ to becoming a world champion athlete, business owner and avid racehorse rider, Anne-Marie Lasserre has conquered every challenge in her path with fiery determination and an unwavering persistence.
BY KIRSTIN CUTHBERT
ABOUT ANNE-MARIE LASSERRE
Age 20: Manager of Dubbo RSL Health Club
Age 24: Group exercise leader and responsible for special programming at Runaway Bay Sports Super Centre
Age 25 to 40 (now): Self-employed at Body Beyond Aesthetic Training and Glamazon Prep Coaching; also owner of supplement store Saloon Protein & Tea Bar
With a no-excuses demeanour and a strong passion for excellence, Anne-Marie Lasserre is one of those rare people who commands attention as soon as she enters a room… but Ann-Marie wasn’t always this way. It took her some time to become the confident, self-assured and successful woman she is today, not only in the fitness industry but within herself too.
As someone who has made health and fitness her life, Anne-Marie’s passion initially came from a place of concern for her father’s health. He was a fitness enthusiast and suffered a heart attack. The young Anne-Marie couldn’t understand how someone so “fit and strong” could experience something like that. It hit her family hard as they tried to do whatever was possible to help him.
“My father’s heart attack plagued my thoughts for years,” Anne-Marie says.
“I feared for him and how scared we had all become when Dad was told there was nothing they could do for him medically.
“My mother never accepted this answer. She got busy with what she could do and explored every possible avenue. I’ll never forget her tenacity, and it framed the way I approached most of my challenges in the future.”
Watching her father battle with his health condition and experience a bypass surgery was incredibly hard, but it sparked a fire within Anne-Marie to become passionate and educated on all things fitness, nutrition and health.
As Anne-Marie got older, her mother’s tenacity through her father’s heart troubles always inspired her. She stepped into the fitness industry and became a gym manager at just 20 years old, and it didn’t come without trying times. However, with her mother in her thoughts and as someone who “would never back down from a hostile situation”, she earned the respect of her early gym participants.
Anne-Marie specifically remembers “Starting out in a male-dominated area where the local members were a high percentage of burly abattoir workers or heavy-set tradies was hard” and she explains that “I had to overcome a lot of preconceived ideas that a female trainer had no business on the gym floor and should stick to teaching aerobics classes and cleaning toilets”.
With her drive and determination, she not only found confidence in the fitness industry, but she made a name for herself in it. Anne-Marie went on to build a career as a bodybuilder and fitness competitor, commanding the attention of the fitness world.
While this drive and determination she possesses has usually been a positive attribute, allowing her to be courageous with the integrity of her clients’ wellbeing and ferocious toward achieving goals for business, sport and family honour, there have been times when it got in the way for her.
“Having drive and determination is one thing, but surviving on the border of a nervous breakdown is another,” she says.
“For a while, I was ignoring the warning signs or not wanting to acknowledge that I was a high performer rather than a high achiever. I discovered this when something as simple as a missed appointment with my coach ricocheted into the biggest turning point in my athletic and professional career.
“Back then, I had a tight schedule and not much patience, so when things did not go to plan, namely when someone was late, which would then make me late, I would explode into a pissed off array of emotion or be enraged for days.
“After being stood up for the second time by my coach, Jon Davie, and having a three-hour round trip, I avoided him for two weeks. When he called and offered (what seemed at the time) a feeble apology, and pointed out I was just as at fault, suddenly it was as if kerosene had been tipped down a volcano.
“The eruption that flowed forth was thick and fast. He let me rant, he let me explode, he even allowed me to point out he had a God complex and if he couldn’t take me seriously, I would take my business elsewhere!
“There was silence down the other end of the phone, then he asked, ‘Are you done?’ calmly and in his deep, knowing manner. ‘Yeah’, I offered in one last attempt to feel heard. ‘You’re way too angry for a female; we need to get your hormones checked’, he explained.
“While I tried to defend my integrity and point out his lateness was inexcusable, he asked, ‘Do you sleep? Like, at all?’
“That stopped me in my tracks. The truth was I found it very hard to sleep and would get an hour a night, if that, for years.
“My coach sent me to the very talented Dr Ken Johnson, who conducted a series of blood and saliva tests and also did allergy and tolerance screening. My hormones were a mess and I had unexplained allergies and chronic inflammation throughout my cells.
“Over the next six months, we all worked together to try and support my body out of its hormonal shackles. My detox plan was strict and plain, but I was used to this from years of competing.
It was changing habits and my actual career that I found the hardest, even learning to laugh and smile regularly again.”
Anne-Marie stopped all high-impact group exercise classes and was ‘banned’ from all cardio until her liver and cortisol settled down. And there were other lifestyle changes too.
“I stopped starting work at 5am and ending at ridiculous times, I started seeing a sports psychologist, I practised finding joy in simple things again and stopped holding on to the past,” she says.
“Eight months later, we won NABBA Figure Miss Universe in Southport, England, and my body responded like a fresh yearling to a racetrack. I was able to work right up to the date without needing time off.”
After being back on track for some time, Anne-Marie had another turning point in her life.
“Upon returning from an unsuccessful season over in the USA as an IFBB Pro Physique, I had to address what I had thought was a plaguing ITB (iliotibial band) condition,” she says.
“My training was suffering, my work was suffering, as I was in pain constantly and living on anti-inflammatory medication just to get through the day and even more to sleep.
“The specialist told me I had worn away all the cartilage in both my knees and the arthritis was spreading fast. She booked me in to have surgery and explained the procedure and the disfiguration that would go along with it — and then pointed out the small percentage of success.
“I did not take the news well. I became quite aggressive. This was not the first time ‘retirement’ had been offered in a statement by someone who didn’t really know me or have an emotional thought on how to handle my type of personality. I was not having it, not like this.
“I took my reports back to my coach, Jon, and again we sought the help of Dr Ken. He told us it wasn’t great and that on a normal knee, he would say ‘yes’ to surgery, but that I was not a normal person and could do extraordinary things. He suggested we try something different to gain a chance of avoiding surgery.”
That ‘something different’ was PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma), which is blood plasma that has been enriched with platelets and is injected into an injured site to stimulate the healing of bone and soft tissue.
“After the first session, I had to rest two days totally and then try a light workout on the third,” Anne-Marie says.
“My trainer put me through my paces and to our pleasant surprise I was almost back lifting what I was three years ago. Unfortunately, this anti-inflammatory mask only lasted four days.
“We then sculpted a very calm, assertive program for the progress of my training. We found ways around inflaming the knees and also keeping the physique well-balanced aesthetically.
“The decision was clear, though: my competitive years of Physique were over and my new challenge to return to Figure had started.
“I sought treatment every month, and any niggle was noted and not avoided. I then shed 3kg of muscle and re-formed a more lithely shape to be competitive and give me more comfort just to walk around.”
After overcoming these obstacles and spending years competing, most recently at the WBFF World Championships show late last August, Anne-Marie has learnt a number of things.
“I’ve learnt to trust your gut feeling and never put your health in the hands of someone who is not available to explain or guide you in and out of a situation,” she says.
“If a valid answer is unavailable from a coach, they are part of the problem and you should have the confidence to seek help elsewhere.
“I’ve learnt to present my best, not what was rewarded previously, and definitely not to adhere to a certain mould. Create or define your own X-factor.
“I’ve sadly learnt that living in a disordered eating pattern has repercussions, and sometimes being focused on a goal will never outweigh the day your body asks you to pay the cheque for pushing past your own human limits.
“Plan, adapt, chart and make small changes often with assertive patience. That’s my strategy and mantra that is vital to success in the sport of bodybuilding.”
After finding ways around almost everything in her path and succeeding despite the challenges she faced, Ann-Marie still found it hard to find a protein supplement that worked for her. So with her passion for health that formed years earlier, during her father’s heart troubles, combined with her tenacious nature learnt from her mother, she created her own.
So “Sass by Lasserre was born, as I needed a protein that suited my needs as an athlete and was gentle on my delicate stomach,” she says.
“We opened Saloon Protein & Tea Bar two years ago, and as I was blending my own products from raw products, I was still heavily involved with preps for other athletes and transformation clients. I offered an alternative to the current brands and pointed out the pros and cons of buying protein.
“There’s no point using one that is the best for you if you can’t drink it or dread the taste of it. You have to have something that complements your day, not makes you cringe.
That’s why “Sass by Lasserre has four different flavours: Caramelised Banana, Chocolate Almond, Vanilla Marshmellow and the newly blended Strawberry and Crème. My protein is a blend of 80 per cent natural pea protein and 20 per cent lactose-free hydrolysed protein”.
“I also have Pea-Dro, which is the man-friendly mix, with the same breakdown and flavours. In our main distribution company, we also blend Wild Bull, a low-lactose and amino-enhanced WPI (whey protein isolate) with an extra flavour of Mango Coconut.”
While Anne-Marie sure knows how to keep busy, she also knows the importance of downtime.
“Most weekends for the past 12 months have been spent outside,” she says. “As most of my training since my diagnosed injuries has kept me pent-up inside of gyms, I can’t stand being inside.”
Passionate about horse riding from a young age, Anne-Marie has now returned to riding in her spare time.
“After the WBFF World Championships show in August 2015, I invested in my first horse after 15 years’ absence from the scene,” she says. “The horsey family has now grown to three of different levels of training, so I fill my weekend up in mostly horsey endeavours.”
As one lady who will let nothing stand in her way, Anne-Marie has one final piece of advice all women can use to go after their fitness, career and life goals.
“Make a goal and harness yourself to the dream with a ferocious determination,” she says.
“No matter what the opinions of others are, ‘a lion doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep’.”