Ifbb figure competitor Amanda Savell, once a budding tennis prodigy, has reinvented herself in a new sport. Here’s how she developed a back that turns the judges’ heads

BIRTHDATE Jan. 26, 1978
BIRTHPLACE Nashville, Tennessee
HEIGHT 5’51.2″
WEIGHT 128 pounds contest, 140 pounds off-season
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS 2007: Figure International, 2nd., 2006 & 2005: Europa Super Show, 1st
TO CONTACT amandasavell.com

FATE AND ITS TORTUROUS INVOLUTIONS often divide people into two categories: those who adapt to the unexpected detours and use what they’ve learned in one area as a springboard to the next, or those who spend their time on the couch dispensing stories of their glory days to neighborhood kids like sour lozenges. “And there’s more where that came from!” tends to be their defining motto.

For Amanda Savell, that divide was introduced on a tennis court in 1994 when her foot went in one direction and her knee in another on a balmy summer day in Georgia. She was 16 and one of the top amateur players in the country. She had spent the previous six years at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where some of the game’s greatest players trained: Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Pete Sampras. Amanda hoped to be among their ranks one day. Earlier that year she had moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to resume life with her family, which meant she was less than an eight-hour drive from the site of the Nationals in Atlanta. She drove herself. Her doctor would later say the trip had probably tightened her legs, especially her hamstrings. Or maybe it was just the fickle hand of fate meddling as it often does in the lives of talented young athletes. Whatever the case, while stretching for a deep backhand hit by a friend on a practice court only minutes after arriving, Amanda heard a pop that resounded—in more ways than one—like a gunshot.

“It wasn’t until I was in my room calling my parents and icing my knee that I felt pain,” Amanda says. “My knee was swollen down to my ankle.” Her father drove that night from Tennessee to take her to the hospital. It was determined that an MRI would be needed, so they headed back to Nashville, where a doctor would tell her she had a torn ACL, a torn meniscus and a bruised bone, and that she was looking at up to a year of rehab.

“I saw my future as a professional tennis player flash before my eyes,” she says. “Tennis was all I had known since I was 4 years old. My mom and dad just held me as I cried.”

Yet Amanda did play tennis again, and she played well, in college. She alternately occupied the first or second spots on her team at Texas Tech University (Lubbock), where she attended on a full scholarship, and she was All- Big 12 in both singles and doubles. But fear and doubt always lingered in the back of Amanda’s mind because her knee never felt the same after the tear. When college ended, so did her tennis career. And she walked off the court—right into Gold’s Gym.

The transition to weight training was not unexpected or particularly hard; it was moderation that gave Amanda fits. At Texas Tech she had access to weights through the tennis program, and after practice, when all the other girls on the team would head home, she would return to the gym. “I started lifting with the football players, and my coaches got mad because I got too big for tennis and started getting injured,” she says. She couldn’t help herself, though; she loved the effect weights had on her body.

In 2000, Amanda took a management position with Gold’s Gym and kept training. For a few grueling years she thought she wanted to be a bodybuilder. She entered a show in 2002 at the Excalibur in Las Vegas and was quickly disabused of that notion; she wanted to stay a little smaller than the sport allowed. By 2004 she decided figure competition was where her future lay. But it wasn’t easy. “It took six months just to bring my body down to a figure look,” she says. “I did a lot of cardio before I even started dieting for my first show.”

By the end of her third amateur event, Amanda turned pro. A month and a half after that, she won the 2005 Europa Super Show, earning a spot in that year’s Figure Olympia, where she took eighth against the sport’s elite quarter-turners. In all, she entered eight pro competitions her first year, a long and exhausting run. Yet despite the difficulties, she said she never tired of competing, even though she practically lived in the gym.

Along with a win at last year’s Europa, Amanda’s strongest showings in 2006 and 2007 have been in the Figure International at the Arnold Fitness Weekend, where she took third and second, respectively. Both times she stood behind the same woman: Mary Elizabeth Lado. “Mary is one of my best friends,” she says. “But I told her, ‘Next year I’m coming for it, so watch out!'” But before then, there’s the 2007 Figure Olympia to consider. As always, Amanda has set the bar high. “My goal is to place in the top five, but the top three would be awesome,” she says. And that, coming in only her third year as a pro, would be awesome indeed—but then again, not particularly surprising. She’s young, she’s strong, and she’s intensely driven. Mostly in her favor, though, is this fact: She’s not on the couch telling stories that “will pass you by in the blink of a young girl’s eye.” M&F

Upper lats
START: Sit at a lat pulldown station with your feet flat on the floor and the pads adjusted snugly over your thighs. Grasp the angled ends of the long pulldown bar with your palms facing forward. Your torso should be erect and your arms fully extended.

EXECUTION: Contract your back muscles, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and lean back slightly by exaggerating the arch in your back and sticking your chest out and up. Pull the bar down to your upper chest, hold at the bottom position for a second and smoothly reverse the motion.

AMANDA’S TIP: “I focus on tightening my lats as I pull down, and I always come to my upper chest. When letting the bar back up, I go slow and control it, focusing on keeping my lats tight.”

Lower lats, rhomboids, middle traps

START: Attach a close-grip handle to a seated cable row machine and sit upright on the bench. Place your feet against the platform, bend your knees slightly and reach forward to grasp the handle. Pull back until your torso is erect and your arms are fully extended.

EXECUTION: Pull the handle toward your midsection. Keep your elbows in close to the sides of your body with your torso erect and your head in a neutral position as you squeeze your back muscles. Pause, then return to the start position.

AMANDA’S TIP: “I like to get a full extension when returning toward my feet, so I don’t stop there. I like to get that extra stretch in my lats.”