Five years ago, chances probably were slim that you would have seen Vestavia Hills resident Leigh Ann Allen at a gym. You were much more likely to have seen her at the tennis courts, where she would have been one of the best players.
But when Leigh Ann fell off of a second-story balcony four years ago, she didn’t know whether she would ever fully recover.
She had bought, remodeled and sold houses six times before. She decided to try something new; she was going to build a house from the ground up.
She was almost done with the house and getting ready to move in with her three girls in August 2015. While the other two daughters went to church one day with her ex-husband, Chris, Leigh Ann stayed at the house with her middle daughter, Addy Katherine, to finish up her room. New hardware had just been installed on the door from Addy Katherine’s room to the balcony.
“I was so excited to see what it looked like,” Leigh Ann said. “So I get up there, and the door wasn’t shutting. The wind was blowing, and it was kind of sprinkling a little bit. It was getting water on my hardwood floors.”
She walked out to the balcony with her daughter in the sprinkling rain to see what the issue was. She gave a little tug on the door — it still wouldn’t latch. Then she gave it a big tug.
“And when I did – I guess I’m stronger than I think – I pulled the door hardware out, and I lost my balance because it had been raining, and I fell over the rail,” she said. “I fell onto the stone stairs.”
The fall was 17 feet, and she landed on her back. Blood was gushing from her head. Addy Katherine was still on the balcony, screaming at her mother to get up. But Leigh Ann couldn’t move anything from the waist down.
Trying to stay calm, Leigh Ann said she told her daughter to go inside, get her phone, and call for help. But since Leigh Ann pulled off the door hardware, her daughter was stuck on the balcony.
“In your best cheerleader voice, I just want you to start screaming for help,” she remembered saying to Addy Katherine. “Somebody’s going to hear us. We’re not the only ones that skipped church today.”
They screamed for about five minutes, but Leigh Ann said it felt like an eternity. Finally, one of their neighbors heard and was able to help them call an ambulance. Chris was just about to turn his phone on silent for church when he got a call from the neighbor. He and the two other daughters, Anna Leigh and Mills, rushed to the hospital.
Leigh Ann had broken her back and her pelvis. She needed back surgery and a pelvic reconstruction. She then had to stay in a wheelchair for eight weeks while rods held her pelvis together.
“I went from always being very active to not active at all,” she said. “I couldn’t walk for two months. … I was so depressed.
“It was a long recovery. You can mend broken bones and you can stitch up cuts and take care of bruises and all that, but the mental effect was tough on me.”
She tried to get back into tennis, but she wasn’t as fast, and she wasn’t number one anymore, she said.
“I used to win, and now I’m not winning,” she said. “And my competitive nature, I guess something I need to learn to deal with, but it was very hard and very frustrating.”
She started going to the gym with a group of friends, but this made her body ache. Her orthopedic surgeon recommended that she incorporate heat, ice or a combination of both.
She started out trying cryotherapy, and although it worked, it was expensive. Then her friend told her about Hotworx.
A Different Kind of Heat
Hotworx is a new gym concept that first opened in Mississippi in February 2017. The gym has multiple sauna rooms with temperatures at about 125 degrees and combines heat, infrared energy and exercise to burn more calories in less time. Each room has enough space for three people to work out and a video screen with a virtual instructor to lead the way.
Leigh Ann went in for a free trial, and she tried Hot Cycle first. This is a high-intensity interval training workout that lasts 15 minutes. She enjoyed that, so she also tried Hot Warrior, a 30-minute isometric workout. Isometric workouts consist of static positions rather than dynamic ranges of motion.
“I walked out of there dripping with sweat,” she said. “I just felt amazing.”
The infrared energy mimics sunlight in terms of boosting a person’s mood. Compared to hot yoga gyms that use conventional heat and turn up the thermostat, Hotworx’s use of infrared heat feels more like the dry heat of Arizona.
In her free trial at Hotworx, Leigh Ann said, she burned twice as many calories as she would have somewhere else. For an hour after her workout, her heart rate stayed at a cardiac level, and she continued burning calories.
“Because we’re heating everything up from the inside out, it’s gonna take your body a good hour to get back down,” she said.
Since Leigh Ann was able to combine exercise with therapy, instead of sitting in a cryotherapy chamber after going to the gym, she said it’s more than just fitness to her. Other benefits include stress reduction, pain relief, detoxification and skin rejuvenation.
Leigh Ann’s first Hotworx workout was in March, and by May, she was ready to take it a step further. She was ready to open her own franchises.
“I was like, I love this so much, if I can do anything, I need to give this to people,” she said. “If it’s my way to pay it forward – this is good. There’s so many benefits.”
She spoke to the corporate office and purchased five franchise locations. The Vestavia location is currently open, and she is planning to open one more in the Birmingham area.
Since opening in early December, the Vestavia location has had more than 300 people sign up for memberships. Ruth Johnson is one of the Vestavia location’s first members.
“I enjoy the time (at Hotworx) where it’s condensed as opposed to when you have to be in an hour-long class to get the benefits,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a lot of time, so that’s number one.”
Leigh Ann said she hopes everyone can love Hotworx and reap the benefits, like she does.
“If someone can come and love it like I love it, then I feel like I can check it off,” she said. “I’ve done my job.”
For more information, visit the Hotworx Vestavia Facebook page.