Muscle Memory
Driven by her lifelong passion for fitness and wellness, Laurie Foote excels as a professional bodybuilder and fitness instructor.
by Bill Donahue

Laurie Foote cannot remember a time when she was not keenly interested in fitness. She discovered bodybuilding while studying at the University of Delaware, and for the past 20-plus years it has been her passion, her calling, her reason to get out of bed in the morning.

“I went to college at a time when aerobics was really coming to the forefront,” she recalls. “I got into fitness as an activity. Then I started dating a guy who was a high school wrestling coach, and I would meet him in the weight room. I fell in love with lifting weights; it was more suited to my personality.”
Foote, a resident of North Wales, spends her days working as a fitness instructor at Rydal Park and Waters, a community for older adults in Jenkintown. The work dovetails almost perfectly with bodybuilding.
Much like her physique, Foote’s career path has been shaped by a combination of hard work, discipline, and a few difficult choices. She earned her degree in psychology education, thinking she would make her way as a teacher and guidance counselor. Instead, she became a business systems analyst and software engineer. In 2005, she transitioned to a career in real estate, working as a broker in Chicago through the boom and bust associated with the so-called Great Recession.
Her life took another dramatic turn in the early 2010s. In the aftermath of a divorce, she moved back to the East Coast to work on a farm in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, southeast of Allentown.
“I always had the feeling there was something else out there for me,” she says. “Call it a midlife crisis or whatever, but I sold my condo and business [in Chicago] and moved to the farm in the Lehigh Valley, where I milked goats and made cheese.”
Another turning point came while she was working on the farm, which sold some of its goods at the Doylestown Farmers Market in Bucks County. There she met a man named Jeff Celia.
“I’d go to the farmers market to sell cheese, and he’d come to the booth and ask me about the farm,” she recalls. “The farm was also an educational center, and he’s a former educator, but after a while it became clear he was interested in me, not just the farm.
“I was going through the thought process that [the American] lifestyle is not conducive to being healthy,” she continues. “My thinking was that if we work the land, and be connected to the land, we can have healthy food. Farming is really hard work, and I thought I wanted to do something to support farmers.”
She later became part-owner of Equal Exchange, a Fair Trade organization devoted to building mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers.
Throughout her life, no matter what she was doing as her primary job, she “always did something in fitness on the side”—namely, working as a personal trainer and a group exercise instructor.
“Working out is my Zen time, and bodybuilding is my creative outlet,” she says. “Some people paint or draw or make music, and bodybuilding is the thing I can do where I can achieve that flow state. Exercise changes your brain. I’ve never walked out of the gym and said, ‘I wish I wouldn’t have done that.’ I definitely think it would be harder for me to get out of bed in the morning if I didn’t have the goals I have for competing. Exercise has become a motivator.”
In her current position with Rydal Park and Waters, Foote works with residents to improve their strength, balance, and overall wellness. The work, which began as a part-time gig that has since become “full-time plus,” is particularly meaningful to her.
“I love helping people, and I really get to see the results of what I do,” she says. “Someone might tell me, ‘I had to go up the stairs the other day and noticed it was easier,’ or ‘It’s easier to pick up my grandkids.’ … People might think that when you’re working with an older population that people are all the same; it’s actually the opposite. The older you get, the more diverse people become. Some people are still very active, while others are dealing with medical problems, injuries, and balance issues.
“The people I work with are doing the same exercises I do,” she continues. “It’s scalable. … I don’t see what my clients do as different than what I do. If I squat 225 pounds, it’s the same thing as a ‘sit to stand’ for an 85-year-old. It’s a matter of moving your own body weight versus something extra.”
As someone who became a professional athlete at age 50, Foote characterizes herself as a “late bloomer.” She competes in the Figure division, which is based largely on muscular symmetry and proportion. Having participated in her first competition in 2010, she has been competing consistently since 2019. A natural bodybuilder, she participates only in events in which entrants are tested for anabolic steroids and other unnatural substances.
“The great thing about bodybuilding is that you can do it until later in life,” she says. “I will say that one reason I started competing and enjoy it is that there are no stakes. If I come in dead last, nobody cares and I haven’t lost anything. It’s fun for me.”
In October, she competed in two back-to-back bodybuilding competitions, beginning with the Mr. America All American Sports Festival in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“I went into it without expectations,” she says. “I didn’t place, but I met all of my goals there. The next week I took overall first place.”
She has at least one ambition in her sights for the near future—qualifying for and winning the OCB Yorton Cup, which she describes as “the Olympics of natural bodybuilding.” The next Yorton Cup, her second, will be in September 2024.
Foote understands why some people might consider her accomplishments, including her finely sculpted 54-year-old physique, extraordinary. She doesn’t see it that way.
“I think I’m a normal, ordinary person,” she says. “When people say things like I’m inspirational or they’re impressed with what I do, I think I’m lucky with what I do. It keeps me healthy, and it keeps my habits good. I eat right. I go to bed early. I’m pretty boring, and I like it.”


Heroes’ Journey
Of the 16.5 million men and women who served in World War II, only about 240,000 are still living, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Among them: Corporal Benjamin Melvin Berry, who is 100 years old, and Private First Class Jacob Joseph Ruser Jr., 98.
Corporal Berry grew up in Willow Grove and now lives in Philadelphia. He was a member of the 3rd U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, and served from 1943 to 1945. He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on July 28, 1944, and served through France and into Belgium and Luxemburg for the Battle of the Bulge. He also helped liberate the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.
“As the Jewish prisoners were released, I saw the men were nothing but skin and bones,” he recalls. “I myself was skin and bones, but compared to them I was fat and healthy. It’s something I can’t get out of my mind, seeing other human beings treated as poorly as they were.”
At the conclusion of the war in Europe, Corporal Berry and his unit were ordered to Japan to support another war. His unit was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when the war in Japan ended.   
PFC Ruser, who has lived in Philadelphia and Conshohocken, served as a combat medic in the Second Battalion, medical detachment of the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He and his unit landed at Utah Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944; he and his fellow combat medics helped save hundreds of lives during and after the assault. Also, from September to December 1944, he served in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, known as one of the grisliest campaigns in the European theater of operations.
“Going into Hurtgen was like going into a meat grinder,” Ruser recalls. “At one point they called a truce in the fighting so both sides could pick up the wounded and the dead to give them the respect they deserved.”
PFC Ruser received numerous accolades for his efforts during his 26 months of active military service, and he continued his service as a Department of Defense civilian for more than 30 years.
Even though so much time has passed, Corporal Berry and PFC Ruser still remember their wartime experiences with startling clarity. Both were honored for their service to the country as grand marshals of the 2023 Philadelphia Veterans Parade & Festival over Veterans Day weekend.

People of the Year
Men and women with deep local roots, devoted to helping others and chasing their dreams.
Robin F. Bond
Attorney, author, and advocate for clients involved in complex employment matters through her Chesterbrook-based law firm Transition Strategies LLC.
Dr. Rachel L. Bresler
One of three pediatric dentists (along with her brothers Jason and Josh) who lead Doc Bresler’s Cavity Busters, founded by their father, the late Dr. David A. Bresler.
William “Chip” Bromley and Ian Foster
Founders of Innova Wealth Partners in Newtown, now celebrating its 10-year milestone of helping clients plan for the future.
Derek Brooks and Stephen Frank
Investment officers of The Frank Financial Consulting Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, based in Conshohocken.
Dr. Victoria A. Cirillo-Hyland
Managing physician of the Cirillo Institute, offering medical and cosmetic dermatology, as well as plastic surgery, at its locations in Bryn Mawr and Newtown Square.
Drs. Jordan Cogan and Cathleen George
Clinicians and leaders behind CG Orthodontics, which has offices in Richboro and Yardley.
Dr. Robert J. Dollfus III
General and cosmetic dentist with Chesterbrook Dental Associates, a flourishing dental practice that recently expanded to a second office in Phoenixville.
Dr. Philip L. Fava II
Leader of the Pennsylvania Center for Dental Implants and Periodontics, which has offices in Ambler and Northeast Philadelphia, motivated by the pursuit of excellence in everything he does.
Glenn Fedale
Owner of G. Fedale Roofing & Siding, which strives to provide superior workmanship and first-class service, as well as give back through its charitable arm, Roofs from the Heart Foundation.
Dennis D. Gehman
Principled and philanthropic president of Gehman Design Remodeling in Harleysville, known for the kinds of home renovations that win awards and satisfy homeowners.
Nancy A. Goldenberg
President of Laurel Hill, an historic and infinitely beautiful cemetery spread across two campuses, one in Philadelphia’s Paradise neighborhood, and another in Bala Cynwyd.
Jeffrey S. Gross
Partner in Gross & Kenny LLP, a law firm devoted to obtaining, maintaining, and maximizing workers’ compensation benefits for clients in Philadelphia and surrounding areas.
Greg Harth
President of Harth Builders, a design, build, and remodel firm based in Lower Gwynedd known for its award-winning renovations and custom homes.
Jennifer Hammer
One-half of Two Dames Dining Group, the mother-daughter hospitality enterprise responsible for bringing to life The Pullman Restaurant & Bar in Bryn Mawr.
Kevin L. Hand
Attorney and partner in Newtown-based Kardos, Rickles & Hand P.C., with 30-plus years of expertise practicing in the areas of family law and criminal law.
Vaugh Hebron
Once an unstoppable force on the football field as an elite NFL running back, now effecting positive change in personal fitness through VMS Movement Specialists.
Tammy Harrison
Award-winning Realtor with COMPASS RE, known for an unrelenting commitment to service and an ever-growing group of satisfied clients known as “Tammy’s Tribe.”
Carolyn Holdsworth
Founder and creator of Nurture Spa in New Hope, one of Bucks County’s premier destinations for relaxation and self-care.
Eric Konyves and Tom Schrieber
Brain trust of K&S Pools and Patios in Langhorne, which has been creating elegant outdoor living spaces centered around swimming pools for 20 years and counting.
John Kotsatos
Vice president of sales and marketing at Meadowood, now celebrating 35 years of community at its vibrant 135-acre campus for older adults in Lansdale.
Cleydi Lemus
CEO of Lemus Construction, recognized as a leader in roofing and exterior renovations for residential and commercial properties in the Philadelphia area and beyond.
Danielle Leonhardt and Christine Wyatt
Sisters and business partners behind The Juice Pod, a group of superfood cafés with deep local roots now beginning to establish footholds across the country.
Dr. Vincent Leonti and Jenna Richardson
Father-daughter duo at the helm of Princeton Integrative Health, which takes a unique approach to helping patients feel better and live better.
Laura Longstreet
Group CEO of Belmont Behavioral Health, advocating for innovation and positive change in the mental health arena.
Dr. Sheedeh Madani
Board-certified pediatric dentist and the founder of Bala Kids Dentistry, specializing in the care of infants, children, young adults, and patients with special needs.
Wade R. Martin
Managing director and financial advisor of The Martin Wealth Management Group of Princeton, New Jersey, known for its holistic approach to helping clients achieve their financial goals, and making a positive lasting difference in the community.
Dr. LynAnn Mastaj
Founder of Mastaj Orthodontics in Bryn Mawr with more than 30 years of experience, as well as an educator, a philanthropist, and a globetrotting adventurer.
Mike McCann
One of the most recognizable names in local real estate, from Philadelphia to the Main Line.
George McReynolds
Financial professional with a rather interesting background, as well as an author, speaker, and educator, who uses his expertise to help clients enjoy lives of abundance.
Dr. Chris Pagnani
Founder of Rittenhouse Psychiatric Associates leading a team of clinicians serving patients in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, as well as a Johns Hopkins instructor.
John Procaccini
Under Gretalia Hospitality Group, a restaurateur with an ever-growing and increasingly diverse culinary empire across the river in New Jersey.
Sheryl R. Rentz
Family law attorney in Bryn Mawr, committed to enhancing a client’s life during the difficult process of going through a divorce or separation, and striving to make them feel safe and secure afterward.
Joseph P. Stampone
Founder and managing shareholder of Stampone O’Brien Dilsheimer Law, a local law firm focused on complex personal injury matters and other civil litigation, and an ardent supporter of charitable causes.
Jill B. Steinberg
Managing director and partner of Beacon Pointe Advisors in Bala Cynwyd who works with clients of all kinds, and has a particular interest in helping women in the middle of life transitions.
Karen Thompson
Founder of LSL Brands, a sprawling retail empire that began more than 30 years ago with Lace Silhouettes Lingerie in Lahaska.
Dr. James A. Vito
Premier dental professional on the Main Line, with specialized expertise in periodontology and prosthodontics, and an earned reputation for resolving even the most complex cases.
Dr. Jingduan Yang
Founder and medical director of the Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, which strives to address the root causes of patients’ mental and physical illnesses.

Photo by Brian James

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life, November 2023.