We had the good fortune of connecting with Amanda Piepgras and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amanda, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Covid destroyed a lot of businesses, but it was the opposite for me. Working in healthcare was becoming more difficult and stressful. Meanwhile I had parents messaging me to express interest in signing up their children because they had been trapped in the house for over a year. At the time I only had one class in El Cajon at the gym where I train. the owner was in the process of acquiring a new space and the class was temporarily closed down. I sought advice from my cousin who owns a couple of gyms back East and she suggested I find some other locations that will rent me space when they’re closed. I also sought advice from a friend who helps run a nonprofit and he outlined for me how I can get started getting a business license and writing a business plan. Applying for 501(c)(3) was a big decision, but I decided it was my best option for finding funding for children from low-income families who want to take classes. As a nonprofit I can reach more children and receive financial assistance.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When I was four years old my sister was born with spina bifida. My parents separated shortly after, and my older sister and I were placed in caregiver roles. When I was 22 a friend of mine suggested I apply for a job at United Cerebral Palsy. The director of the preschool in the Bronx remembered my sister and hired me as a teacher assistant. It was a wonderful experience, and the occupational therapists that worked there were very supportive of me going to school to join their ranks. In 2002 I graduated, took the certification exam and began a fulfilling career teaching children fine motor skill, sensory processing, motor planning, visual motor, and social skills. When I began to train in martial arts and realized how many benefits there are, decided that combining my two passions was my ultimate goal. Finding opportunities to coach wasn’t easy, but I kept looking until I found other people who were teaching traditional karate classes for kids with special needs who were able to give me advice on how to get started. Southeast Consortium in New York hired me to teach a class, as the director was a recreation therapist I trained with in muay thai. When I moved to San Diego, I again began to look for opportunities and was contracted to teach a class at We Rock the Spectrum, a gym for children with autism. That gym sadly ended up closing down, but Gigi’s Playhouse, a gym for children with down syndrome, opened up shortly after, and I volunteered to teach a class there. My coach also agreed to let me teach a class at his gym on the weekends when they were closed. Money has always been a barrier for me, having been born into a low-income family. To pay for college I worked two jobs, took out loans, kept my grades up to remain eligible for grants, and lived at home. Fortunately, I’m always able to find work as a COTA, full time, per diem, whatever hours I can get to help me fund my business while still paying living expenses here in San Diego. It wasn’t easy, but I have never shied away from hard work, especially when I’m working towards a goal I am passionate about. When people seeing your willingness to work hard, they will often try to help. There has never been a shortage of people in my life who want to see me succeed and that means a lot to me. As proud of myself as I am, I hope to make them proud too.
Now that I’m a year into being branded, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of networking. Attending resource fairs, events for people with special needs, meet and greets for professionals in my similar field, and other adaptive martial arts classes have allowed me to connect with many people who are interested in collaborating with me, helping me promote my classes, and/or hire me to teach workshops for their schools/camps/social groups.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A few of my friends from New York have come to visit me here in San Diego.
Some of my favorite places to take them are Wonderland in Ocean Beach, which has a beautiful view of the water, the pier and the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, Old Town Mexican Cafe, for traditional Mexican food and a fun and historic atmosphere, and La Jolla to see the seals, fun stores and restaurants and overall San Diego vibe.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
In the 15 years I have been training in martial arts I have had some wonderful instructors. Sensei Louis Gaudinot, Michael Chirico, former owner of Westchester Fight Club, Kru Primo Bellarosa, Lou Finateri, Larry Perna, Andy Delly Murad, and many more. Through all of the years I have been training, I have never enjoyed competing. But coaching makes me feel amazing. Watching people make progress, develop into martial artists, build confidence, and have fun makes me feel so happy and fulfilled. My coaches never turned me into a fighter, but they did turn me into the coach I am today. My ex-husband Dr, Peter Piepgras has always supported me, believed in me and still gives me valuable advice to this day. My cousin Amanda Barone-Gonzalez, owner of Girl Fight, is a busy businesswoman who is also getting involved in local politics, but she always takes time to answer any questions I have for her and offer suggestions and support. Kelly ‘Kage’ Salvo, who helps run the nonprofit We Defy Foundation which provides funding for disabled veterans to take jiu-jitsu classes, has been a wonderful resource and supportive friend.