Joy Leon: Understanding the Heart & Mind of an Athlete

Joy Leon

I try to see the amazing things my body has done for me: like giving me the ability to hike on mountains, ones where I stood at the top with people who are close to me and shared a view. It has also given me the arms to help with my baby nephew, carrying him many nights to sleep.” – Expressed Joy Leon lovingly when asked about the message she wants to send when it comes to body image

Joy Leon

Joy Leon is a Rehab specialist in Ignite. She helps people who have had injuries get back to a pain-free life. “I am not a doctor, I work as a coach and I help people through movement,” said Joy to describe her work. 

Joy Leon is also a passionate Rugby player and an advocate for body positivity. Joy did not only talk to us about her wonderful and ambitious journey, but she also made some strong points that we’re sure are going to stay with us for a while. We sat down with her and talked about self-love, sports, and body image. 

When did you realize you were passionate about Rugby as a sport? 

I was introduced to Rugby when I was 16. I wasn’t allowed to play because we didn’t have a girls’ team. After that, I joined the university team. Very few people know this story but I wanted to get my fitness up to try out for another sport. I wasn’t playing my heart out in Rugby and I didn’t really care about tackling, which is an essential part of the sport.

Joy Leon Rugby

6 months in, I played a game and a really strong player took the ball and made a run to score. For some reason, my team had given up, but I found myself sprinting down the field. I tackled the girl and prevented her from scoring. The rush of adrenaline was beyond anything I had ever experienced. That was in 2010 and I’ve been playing ever since! 

In what ways did Rugby shape you as a person?

When I introduce myself, I tend to say “ Hi, my name is Joy, and I am a rugby player,” so you can say that it’s a core part of who I am. I’m not the most social butterfly, but Rugby is a contact sport. So, as a team, we spent a lot of time together; practices, gym sessions, bonding sessions, all of it. Rugby gave me a community of people on campus, and we were all so diverse. A lot of times we say that if it hadn’t been for rugby we would have never been friends. 

Rugby pushed me in all aspects of my life, not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally in what I thought I could achieve. It taught me self-discipline and has pushed me into the roles of leadership. Leading was not something I thought was my strong suit, but my captains pushed me to be captain once they stepped down. 

Egypt's Girls' Rugby team

Later on, I started coaching the team. After a few years, I opened up another team because I wanted other people to have the ability to experience the bond, the adrenaline, and the grind of something that pushes you beyond your limits and brings you out as a better version of you. Obviously, these 11 years have been filled with blood, sweat, tears.. tears.. and more tears. But I was given the opportunity to share that with my team, a group of ladies who now are some of my closest friends. 

With Rugby being a male-dominated sport, have you faced any challenges in regards to that? If so, how did you overcome them? 

I used to play football and people always told me that it was a boy’s game! When I switched to rugby, they would tell me “What’s wrong with football? Go back to football”

I think the reason people have this image about rugby is that it’s a contact sport, but my reply to that is always, “so is karate and judo”, but people don’t mind putting their girls in those sports. 

Generally, people then have nothing to say, so I smile. 

Where did your journey as a rehab specialist start?

I was always fascinated with the human body. As the team captain, and as someone who had also been injured in sports, I knew the struggle to get back on the field, not only to be cleared by the doctors but to have the confidence to play again at the same level before you got injured. I knew that I wanted to support more people in getting back to playing sports. 


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A post shared by Joy Leon (@joy_leon)

I was interning at a few different entities. I realized that there’s a gap in the market, not for doctors but coaches who understand injuries and the heart and mind of an athlete. In addition to that, there were no girls doing rehab in all the places I interned. I was discouraged to continue in one of those places because I would only get a few girls who were really up to taking their rehab journey seriously. I knew that was backward thinking. In another entity, I actually wasn’t allowed on the gym floor because I was a girl. What did I do in that internship? I studied the books they gave me haha! 

At the beginning of my journey, I saw so many people leave sports because they couldn’t get back on the field, not because they didn’t want to but because they couldn’t find the right help, and I wanted to help them!

What kind of message would you like to send when it comes to people struggling with their body image?

You are not alone in your struggle. Social media has a way of making us feel less worthy of our bodies if they don’t look a certain way. You really have no idea what the person on the other end of the screen is feeling. That’s why I want to keep my platform as transparent and as real as I can because I struggle too. I work in the “fitness industry” and know what I am “supposed to do”. However, humans are much more complicated than Body = Food intake – burned calories. 


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A post shared by Joy Leon (@joy_leon)

When start hating the way my body looks, I try to keep myself centered. I try to see the amazing things my body has done for me; like giving me the ability to hike mountains. It has also given me the arms to help with my baby nephew, carrying him many nights to sleep. My thick thighs,  well those are a whole love journey on their own because they’ve been the hardest to accept and frankly what bother me the most, but they’ve given me the ability to run, play, stand, walk. They’ve literally been carrying me for 29 years. They are the reason I’ve been able to play sports. So the love-hate relationship is there, but it’s just that little self-talk in your head, that’s where body love and acceptance can start. 


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A post shared by Joy Leon (@joy_leon)

I guess what I’m trying to say again, is that you are not alone, learning to appreciate your body, learning to love it and accept it while still working on it isn’t easy. I would definitely invite you to explore that journey. And you can always DM me if you ever need a little extra help. 

What’s your favorite thing about being a rehab specialist?

I guess my favorite part is seeing people realize what they are capable of doing. Also, having the belief that they will achieve it. The rehab journey can be messy and it has a lot of ups and downs. A lot of times my sessions involve one on one talks, because sometimes you can’t see the progress you’ve made over time. So, we sit and look and analyze old videos.

Joy Leon Rehab Specialist

Other days people finish the session like they are on top of the world! The best feeling is seeing someone who couldn’t run, jump, lift their arms above their shoulders do so. Not only that, they do it without pain and a smile on top! 

What would you say to your younger self?

Baby girl, it gets better, I promise. You learn, you grow.

Learn to trust yourself. Even if you miss an opportunity, God has ways of making things work. (even when you think you’ve messed it up too far!)

You can follow Joy Leon and her beautiful journey here!

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