Leyfa Sophia: A superwoman contributor with a spontaneous personality on all fronts.
It all really began on a train headed towards an undisclosed location, somewhere in Europe, in the summer of 2003. Hailing from Mexico City and 18 years old at the time, Leyfa was honoring a stereotypical teen trip that she had been planning for the previous three years. Little did she know, however, that the young girl she would strike up a conversation with, on that train, in Europe, would pave the way for a chain of life-altering events that may or may not have included an unexpected stopover at the Olympics in Greece.
Coincidentally, her first encounter with FitFam was also based on a random conversation; this time, in a much more elegant setting.
This is her story.
Raised by her grandmother and “her rules”.
After spending her first 6 years in the nation’s capital, Leyfa moved to the small city of Mante in northern Mexico with her mother and grandmother; a small town located a mere 4-hour drive south of the U.S. border, while her father stayed in Mexico City. The transition from living in one of the largest cities in the globe to a more secluded part of the country, she recalls, was difficult to accept as a child. She was shy and missing the fast pace of her former city life: “I was super spoiled by my dad growing up in Mexico City, but I was really raised by my grandma and her rules,” Leyfa explained. “ For example, she believed that before calling anyone for help, you had to try and do things yourself first. One day, our door was broken and she said ‘Grab the toolbox, I’ll show you how to fix it.’”
By the time she entered high school, Leyfa had moved back in with her father in Mexico City where more promising opportunities for school and work could be found. She officially enrolled as a Communications and Advertising major at the Universidad del Valle de México, the largest private university in the country, after which an eventful adventure across Europe and North America would help shape the kind of appreciating and spontaneous person that Leyfa is today.
This chain of events, as it turned out, was set in motion as early as her 15th birthday.
Prioritizing future life experiences over high school parties.
I first learned about the popular “Sweet 16” tradition celebrated in the U.S. after watching an episode of a CW teen show while living in Southern France and struggling to understand my growing identity crisis. Apparently, Mexico has a similar tradition, but sticks it to America by celebrating it a year early, known as Quinceañera - I guess Mexicans mature earlier than their American neighbors… *wink wink*.
When it was time for Leyfa to celebrate her own, her father asked: “So, you want to party?” And while most students her age would, and indeed have seized the opportunity to do just that, she declined the offer. Her plan, she said, was to wait until her 18th birthday to travel to Europe for 3 weeks instead: “My dad was always supportive of my wanting to travel before making life decisions,” she told me. After graduating from high school, Leyfa packed her bags and flew to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. What was initially planned as a 3-week trip, however, became a 2-month long journey.
During their conversation on that train through Europe, the young girl she had befriended mentioned a volunteer program she had been a part of, which had her working 5 days a week while allowing for travel time on weekends. Upon returning to Mexico at the end of the summer, Leyfa began her search for such programs when she came across an opportunity to volunteer at the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens the following year. She didn’t think twice and decided to apply, and at the end of her first year of undergraduate studies at university, she flew over to Athens, Greece to join the program where she lived with 35 other volunteers from all over the world. This once-in-a-lifetime international experience would become the genesis of a spontaneous personality that Leyfa continued to build upon over the years and used to explore dozens of countries around the globe.
She looks back at her time at the Olympics as one of the most impactful - as anyone in their teens most certainly would: “Most of the friends I have today, I met during that program in Greece,” she said. Some of those friends included roommates from Canada who Leyfa would go on to visit for 6 months after graduating from university, and Brazilians whose accent intrigued her to learn Portuguese which, fortuitously, is how Leyfa came across her current Manager. (Disclaimer: her trip to Canada was only supposed to last 2 weeks… Typical.)
Following her trip to Canada, Leyfa pursued a Master’s in Communication and Advertising back in Mexico, and subsequently worked at a Public Relations agency as an Account Executive for 2 years before joining her current market research company. Five years after having opened their Mexican office and climbing up the ladder, Leyfa was given responsibilities for clients in the Americas, with the addition of a few based in Asia. This led her to fly to Shanghai for the first time in March 2016 for 2 months, after which she took a much deserved holiday back in Europe.
That year was a pivoting year for Leyfa on all fronts. After hearing about high-level company meetings that were scheduled in Madrid around the same time as her holiday, she asked her manager for the permission to attend and sit in which, unfortunately, meant cutting her leisure time in Iceland short. While in Spain, she found out that the departure of the company’s then-Regional Director of APAC had left the Asia side of the business in troubled waters, and was asked to move and help see operations locally for the rest of the year: “Basically, I went to a company meeting I wasn’t invited to and ended up moving to Asia,” she recollected amusingly.
From that point forward, everything began to move unexpectedly fast. Leyfa had to cancel the rest of her holiday in Europe, head back to Mexico to kickstart the visa process for China, and move to Shanghai that following November for a short while where a strong appreciation for this city would soon take shape. This led her to travel back to Shanghai again briefly in June 2017, only to reinforce her interest in settling here indefinitely.
She then shared her final decision with headquarters, and officially moved in October.
“Yes Woman!” *insert snap*
At some point during our conversation at The Grumpy Pig near West Nanjing (R.I.P.), Leyfa asked if I had seen the movie “Yes Man” to which I answered affirmatively. For those who haven’t, here’s a quick summary: Carl Allen, a character impersonated by Jim Carrey, signs up for a self-help seminar to rid himself of his old negative ways and live in the affirmative which, ultimately, leads him to all sorts of transforming experiences. In parallel, Leyfa did the same upon moving back to Shanghai in late 2017 by agreeing to join events and activities she would otherwise say no to. One of those events was a brunch organized by InterNations at the luxurious Wanda Reign hotel on the Bund.
There she met Morgane, a Swiss expat whose hair amazed Leyfa enough to compliment her and start a conversation about it. It was at that particular moment that she was introduced to several impactful Shanghai-based organizations including FitFam, which Morgane was already a member of, and Girl Gone International (GGI).
She was new to the city and on a budget, which was enough for Leyfa to want to give FitFam a try: “Morgane guided me through the whole thing,” she recollected. “I told her where I lived at the time and she said Jiaotong Xuhui was the closest location. I signed up on Eventbank and showed up that Monday morning when Edita was leading, then again on Tuesday and for the rest of the week. #RainOrShine. It was a great first week.”
Shortly after, she joined the Empty Streets crew to carry on with the running habits she had started to build while in Mexico and the U.S.: “I used to hate running,” she said, “but it’s free! You can do it anywhere. When I moved to Shanghai I got the shoes, downloaded the apps, tracked my progress. I felt really good about it and kept on pushing to improve.”
Giving back to the community.
From that point on, Leyfa became very active within the FitFam and fitness communities in Shanghai. After a full first week of Jiaotong workouts, she followed up with a morning session at Cages, thus locking in one workout a day from Monday through Saturday. Her and Morgane became close friends and eventually moved in the same apartment in Jing’an, where Leyfa joined more communities including Acroyoga, TryFit (now called Sweaty Brunch), GRS Circuit Training, and Absolute MMA. The list goes on.
It’s important to recognize that for communities like FitFam, which is volunteer-run and has remained free since its inception in 2015, allowing members to give back by inviting them to contribute any way they can will ultimately help scale its growth and impact. From leading a short abs session at Cages to creating a full circuit workout at the Columbia Clinic and utilizing her professional skills to assist our Project Management team, Leyfa has embodied the essence of what our community is about.
And for that, we are truly grateful.