10 (or so) questions with...
Amanda Leightner, founder of Rochester Rising
Rochester Magazine: You’ve run two 50Ks. Why?
Amanda Leightner: I don’t know. Well, just to see if I could do it. Actually, I really, really like trail running. I was already running marathons. So I was like, “Oh, let’s just see if we can do it.” And we did.
RM: After you finished the one in Kansas City, you said, “[husband] Taylor laid down in the only dirt spot in the entire finish area and commandeered some poor person’s chair while I had a single beer while swinging on a swing set and then couldn’t get back up.”
AL: Yes. It was horrible. It was like 100 degrees.
RM: And you’ve done seven marathons. And this level of running allows you to pursue your other talent, which I have read is …
AL: … eating an obscene amount of candy in one sitting.
RM: Yes! Name two candies you wish I had brought to this interview to eat right now.
AL: Sour Patch Kids and Gummi Bears. Those are my two favorites.
RM: Where do you come down on Red Vines versus Twizzlers?
AL: Red Vines.
RM: OK. Good. Right answer. We can continue the interview. How did Taylor propose?
AL: It was when we were in Kansas City. He didn’t want to do it in Rochester because it seemed like a special moment. Kansas City has all these beautiful fountains. I remember we were down at one and he seemed a little irritated because there were people and goose crap everywhere. So then we walked down the hill and stopped next to this random statue of someone on a horse. And I’m like, “What are you doing?” And then, yeah, he just did it. It was neat because we were on a hill overlooking the whole city and then there’s just some random dude halfway down painting the city. It was cool. It worked out great. No one wants to propose in the middle of goose poop.
RM: Tell me about Rochester Rising.
AL: I usually describe it as an online news site that amplifies stories of Rochester entrepreneurs, so we do articles, podcasts, and videos.
RM: What have you learned through your interviews about Rochester’s entrepreneurial side?
AL: I think there are definitely more and more people willing to take risks in this community and that are starting businesses, and that’s not always coming to the surface. I think I’ve learned there is definitely an underground, buzzing community here.
RM: Of the few hundred interviews you’ve done for Rochester Rising, what’s your favorite? You have to pick one and only one.
AL: Oh, that’s so hard. I think that the most impactful one I did was with five mostly John Marshall High School students. The actual name of their group was SolKen Technologies. They are my favorite because they epitomize what a young entrepreneur can be in Rochester. They showed up for stuff for months and months, and worked really hard. They weren’t shy about connecting with people in the community, and going out and building stuff. Even when I was interviewing them, they kind of forgot I was there and just kept talking with each other. So it was great to experience that from a young team.
RM: You’re a trained molecular biologist with over 12 years of experience. And even though you spent six years obtaining a Ph.D, you said you realized at some point that a career in science was not for you. When was the moment where you’re like, “Oh, no. What am I doing?”
AL: I don’t know the exact moment. About two years in.
AL: I just realized that I didn’t want to be running a research lab for the rest of my life. I was getting paid at the time, so … Even then, I knew it was important to finish the degree. That was always something important to my parents and my grandfather, who was one of my biggest idols. And he always told me education is something no one can take away from you, and even if you don’t necessarily think you’re applying your education, I think you still are in some respect, even if it’s just a growth and maturation process.
RM: Do you remember Sherry Caldrusso and Priya Pandey?
RM: Well, you should. From Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania?
AL: Wait. Did I play them in tennis? They probably destroyed me.
RM: They defeated you and Heather Davis, 10-5 in girl’s section doubles in 2000.
AL: We were so horrible at tennis. You really do your research.
RM: Yes. Embarrassing hobbies?
AL: Not that this was embarrassing, but it kind of had an embarrassing end. I did coach a softball team, a co-ed team here. And then when we did move back here we tried to play softball again. We were just subbing. I think it was D-League. I hit it, and I was running to first base and the first baseman totally missed the ball. It just smacked me in the face.
RM: Oh my …
AL: I still have a divot in my face. I was so upset, I just walked away and started crying. And I’m like, “I’m not coming back to do this.”
RM: So you never played again?
AL: That was the last time I played. I got hit in the face at McQuillan Field two summers ago, and have the kink in my jaw to prove it.
RM: Did you want to have a single beer while swinging on a swing set and then not get back up?
AL: Yes. Either way, I’m never going back.