The knee injury Natalie Soto suffered during a club soccer game two years ago ended a promising future she planned as a professional player.

But she is still in the game, today as a personal trainer for two of Virginia Beach’s premier travel soccer teams, and Soto works one-on-one with several clients, all the result of earning her 24-credit Career Studies Certificate in Personal Training and Fitness from Tidewater Community College last May.

“I wanted to figure out a way I could still be a part of the fitness environment from a different standpoint,” Soto said. “I obviously wasn’t going to be able to play again, but I wanted to still be a part of a team. The TCC program was perfect.”

Next spring she will head to Penn State to pursue her bachelor’s in kinesiology. It will only take two years as all her credits from TCC transferred. Soto hopes to one day be a trainer for the U.S. women’s soccer national team.

The senior at Cox High School was in goal in April 2014 when an awkward movement caused her right kneecap to slide down her leg. Even with surgery, her knee would never be the same again. Offers for full scholarships from Penn State, Florida State and the University of Tennessee dried up.

“I knew exactly what happened because I had studied up on my anatomy and physiology,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘There goes my soccer career.’ But everything happens for a reason.”

Soto initially planned on taking a history class at TCC when she saw the flyer for the personal training program.

“I knew it was right for me,” said Soto, who earned her American Council on Exercise (ACE) certification on the first try after completing the program.

Since Soto graduated, the program has been revamped to include requirements in weight training, anatomy and physiology, marketing for business and a mandatory second-semester internship. Soto said she was like a sponge with TCC faculty members Maura Lansing and Rachel Thompson, both hands-on instructors in the classroom.

“I had a great relationship with my teachers and learned a ton from them, even when I was just watching them and how they taught,” Soto said. “I had only worked with individuals before, but they gave me real insight into group fitness.”

Soto got practice teaching Pilates and strength training to a group while she was at TCC.

“You have people in the personal training program who were born to be athletes like Natalie, and then you have folks in their 40s,” Lansing said. “A lot of personal trainers might think they’re only going to be working with the high level athletes, but we’re seeing people who have all these health issues who want a personal trainer.”

That’s part of what attracted Soto to the field. “I have a heart for helping people get from zero to that elite athlete standard. As a personal trainer, you have direct access to a person’s confidence. And to be able to see a person’s confidence go from zero to 100 is one of the best feelings.”

A recent client of Soto’s went from being 240 pounds to “the most in-shape guy I know and in the Virginia Beach fire department,” she said. “That’s awesome.

“It’s so satisfying knowing you’re helping someone become the person they want to be.”
 

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