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Media Minds: Leah Nyfeler

At Red Fan Communications, we work with a variety of publications in local, regional and national markets, as well as trade publications in our clients’ respective industries. We particularly love to stay up-to-date with one of our favorite local and trade publications, Austin Fit Magazine (AFM), where we learn new techniques for staying active, discover fresh ideas for healthy eating and are inspired by notable local and national athletes.

Our team had the pleasure of working with Leah Fisher Nyfeler during her tenure at AFM. In December 2014, Leah left AFM to transition into a new phase of her career, but not before we were able to chat with her about media relations and good stories.

Leah started at AFM as an assistant manager, but it wasn’t long until she became managing editor. In 2012, she became the editor-in-chief at AFM. A native Austinite, University of Texas graduate, former Longhorn Band member and mother of three adult kids, Leah has worked as an educator and writer/proofer/editor throughout the last 30 years. In the fitness arena, she has coached numerous runners and triathletes to be successful at everything from discovering fitness to completing ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons.

An avid runner and retired triathlete with hundreds of events logged, Leah took up boxing in 2013. She continues to try new things and enjoys workouts of all sorts. In her free time, she can be found running trails, eating good food, reading anything she can get her hands on, and chasing her husband, James, around the house.

How did you get your start in media?

I came to magazine work from the educational and freelance fields. I started out as a secondary English and reading teacher here in the Austin Independent School District and in The University of Texas’ Continuing Education Department. When kids came along, I turned to freelance proofing and editing – everything from proofing courtroom depositions and the Humane Society’s annual calendar to editing books. When I got into running, that led me to volunteer with and write for the Austin Runners Club print newsletter, where I served one year as editor-in-chief.

I came to Austin Fit Magazine via friends and my desire to write about fitness; Melanie Moore, the previous editor-in-chief, took me on as assistant editor and when Melanie moved on to follow her passion in the nonprofit world, AFM’s publishing family, the Earles, brought me on as editor-in-chief.

Is fitness something you’ve always been interested in and known you wanted to pursue as a profession?

Absolutely not. I came to fitness as an overweight mom with three little kids who desperately needed something to keep her sane and healthy. My 20-minute, four-days-a-week jog after dropping my youngest off at Mother’s Day Out preschool turned into a passion and an obsession. I would never have imagined that I’d one day complete ultramarathons and an Ironman triathlon, coach training groups and choose boxing as a leisure activity, much less work at a fitness magazine. Life is crazy wonderful, isn’t it?

In your opinion, what makes a good story?

A good story introduces me to something I’ve not experienced—a person, a tale, a concept, a feeling. It stays with me. It will bring goose bumps or tears or a laugh. I look for a connection.

If it’s a longer work, it’s that feeling of coming up from under water when you take a break from reading—as though you have to reenter the real world slowly, because you’ve been somewhere else.

What's your biggest pet peeve as a journalist?

Eh, I can rant with the best of them but I’m a bit loath to do so. I have to say that the pervasiveness of second person in writing today makes me cringe. I find it to be lazy and sloppy. And don’t get me started on the whole singular noun with a plural pronoun (the runner tied their shoes).

What story are you most proud of in your career so far?

That’s a hard question. I’m very proud of my Formula One coverage in the July 2012 issue of Austin Fit Magazine. This was a topic I knew nothing about—and I’m sure many of our readers were unfamiliar as well—so there was a great deal of research involved. I felt that I made a wonderful Texas connection through bringing Michael Johnson and Michael Johnson Performance into the story by way of their work with the Williams F1 Team. I like the intro, and Weston Carls (AFM’s art director) did a fabulous job with the layout.

I also have to say that meeting and talking with Michael Johnson was an incredible thrill. Brian Fitzsimmons (AFM staff photographer) and I were waiting for our interview slot while he was chatting with reporters from Univision, and their press guy came in early to say, “Hey, he’s ready now—come on in,” and I had to take just a moment to breathe. Michael Johnson… oh my.

What story do you wish you could have covered?

Without a doubt or any hesitation, it’s Lance Armstrong. I think there’s just an incredible story to be told in this man, which is this: What does an athlete who is competitive throughout every fiber of his being do with that energy and desire when no longer allowed to compete? It would be a very personal and introspective article. No matter what thoughts a reader held on the doping scandal, that is a story worth reading.

Aside from Austin Fit Magazine, what’s your favorite publication to read?

Locally, that’s Edible Austin. I like to call it “food porn,” and I save every single one (Marla Camp and Kim Lane, are you reading this?).

Nationally, I am going to go public with a complete mind candy fav: People StyleWatch. What can I say—I’m human, and I love clothes. Other than that, I am a hard-and-true New York Times reader every day. Don’t come between me and my daily crossword.

What makes Austin such a great place for a fitness publication?

Oh my goodness, where to start. Fitness is really part of the Austin culture. What I love is that no matter what story has just been published, someone is going to write in or call me up to say, “That was great and all, but who you REALLY need to talk to is…” or “There is this thing you REALLY ought to know about.” The story possibilities are endless, and endlessly interesting. And, by and large, it truly is a community. There’s an amazing amount of support among those in the health and wellness community for what it is that I do at AFM.

When you’re not hard at work at the magazine, where can we find you?

For workouts these days, you’ll find me on some trail somewhere running along or you can catch me boxing at Pink Gloves Austin (an all-female boxing gym, and I am in love with this. It was a huge thrill to get to meet local legend Ann Wolfe as part of the September 2014 issue). I’m also a bit of a homebody who loves working in the yard and eating the good food that my husband cooks.

What famous historical figure do you wish you could have interviewed and why?

I always have a hard time with this. There are just too many options, and I haven’t met a person yet that I didn’t want to talk to (at least, until s/he convinces me otherwise). Anyone from the past would be interesting to interview because, well, he or she is from the past.

I’ll pick out two who are very much: Joan Benoit Samuelson and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Samuelson because she’s a personal running hero and I’ve read all her books; Clinton, well, she would be fascinating. We could talk as writers, moms, and wives, and then I could listen to her talk politics.

At Red Fan, we are so glad we have had the opportunity to work with Leah while she was at AFM. Working with someone who is not only dedicated to her profession, but to her best self has been an inspiration for the Red Fan team. As PR professionals, we strive to tackle new industries and challenges just like Leah took on new stories at AFM. We can’t wait to see what the next step of her career will be!

You can follow Leah on Twitter at @leahruns100 or keep up with her through her blog at leahruns100.wordpress.com.

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