From the Corps to the Gym

As a follow up to Matt Thomas’ (SMBA 15′) hip pocket class on leadership, Caroline Bartolome (SMBA 15′) interviewed Lieutenant Lara Soto to gain additional insight on being a female leader in the sports realm. Caroline tells the story of Lieutenant Soto transitioning from the Marine Corps to being a gym owner and how the leadership traits she learned in the Corps have helped her in the business of sports.


I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, and the one thing that resonated with me from Lt. Soto’s initial presentation was her emphasis on learning to be intolerable to circumstances. Rather than become a victim of your weaknesses, you learn to take ownership of them. You go through the embarrassment and frustration but eventually, you learn to be intolerable of them and continue to push forward.

What started as a journey of self-improvement has led to not only a successful career in the Marine Corps but ultimately led Lt. Soto to small business ownership. Alongside her husband Carlos, Lt. Soto continues to “Lead from the front” as she balances serving in the reserves with her duties as a new parent and coach at the duos gym, Impact Zone in Lafayette, Indiana.

Born and raised In Indiana, Lt. Soto is one of 12,000 female Marines and one of 292 female 1st Lieutenants in the Marine Corps after completing her undergraduate studies at Purdue, Lt. Soto took a non-traditional path and enlisted in the Corps. As one of the only female officers leading in a male dominated world, Lara discussed with our class the principles that have helped her rise through the ranks.



  • Leaders are proactive and not reactive.
  • Leaders know how to listen- it’s a form of acknowledging what is going on around you. Leaders are observant, and take time to stand back and assess.  The “guns a blazing attitude” isn’t what a leader is about, nor is it about being a buddy.
  • A leader is able to set standards but is also able to break down barriers with others.
  • Leaders are readers. They know themselves and continually work to improve but also find ways to help others find their strengths and their weaknesses, and work to help others operate in their strengths.
  • Leaders are ethical and have a strong foundation, a moral compass that leads them in such a way that others follow. They lead from the front and place value on having standards.
  • Leaders hang out with positive people, those who are focused on their goals.


But most importantly being a leader is about serving others and being a servant, holding you accountable and being more efficient. They go above and beyond and seek roles. Leaders stay invested and remain hungry and competitive, pushing themselves to consistently improve. Leaders not only teach others, but are willing to be taught.

The discipline, integrity and the ethical foundation instilled in Lt.  Soto, helped provide the basis for Impact Zone. After her time in the Marines, Lt. Soto and her husband, Carlos, opened Impact Zone, a hybrid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and CrossFit gym. Dedicated to making an impact in the community, Impact Zone thrives on providing an environment where individuals are not just members, but a part of the Impact family. With comparable gyms lacking in the area, the gym is centralized around building real life strength. Impact Zone is also an affiliate gym of ATOS Jiu Jitsu (located here in San Diego) which is led by Andre Galvao, a 3rd degree black belt from São Paolo Brazil.

As one of only 13 women in Cohort X, it was an honor getting to hear Lieutenant Soto tell her story, and then eventually getting the chance to speak with her one on one. Sports are unique because it has the ability to elicit emotions and create a sense of community, which the Soto’s have created in their gym. On behalf of SMBA 15’ we would once again like to thank Lieutenant Soto for her time in sharing her story with our class. To learn more about Impact Zone, you can visit them at