If anyone knew me as a child, it would probably seem strange to see me on stage posing in a figure competition. Growing up in a family of four girls, I was considered “the shy one”. To walk to the front of the classroom to sharpen my pencil was an anxiety-ridden experience. I was painfully shy and self-conscious. To make matters worse, I was terribly thin and incredibly smart. In other words, I was the epitome of “the geek”.
Children were cruel and gave me all sorts of nicknames like “bookworm”, “string-bean” and “toothpick”. This treatment by my peers caused me to withdraw even further.
My parents divorced when I was young. A few years later, we moved away with my mother. It was an opportunity for a fresh start. I continued to suffer low self-esteem but worked hard on trying to “break-out-of-my-shell”. I even began weight training at the age of 16 in an effort to put on some weight.
After graduating from high school, I moved to live with my dad. I led a very physically and socially active lifestyle. I now had many friends and seemed to have overcome a great deal of my shyness.
At the age of 19, I entered what can only be described as a “living nightmare”. I married an extremely violent and abusive man. I endured almost four years of hell while suffering both physical and mental abuse at his hands. He systematically stripped me of my identity while controlling my every move. He instructed me on every aspect of my appearance and told me what I was allowed to wear or not wear. I was virtually a prisoner in my own home.
The light that shone in all of this darkness came a year and a half after we were married. My daughter was born and with her, came a new reason to live. She gave me the strength and the courage to leave a potentially fatal situation. I refused to have my daughter grow up watching her mother be victimized for the rest of her life.
We moved to Canada with little money and only two suitcases filled with our belongings. At this point, the only thing that I cared about was our safety. I took odd jobs while trying to upgrade my education. It was with great satisfaction that I attended college for two years and graduated with top honors while studying law. This was something that I had always wanted to do but was not permitted to during my first marriage.
I became a regular at the gym once again and resumed weight training and swimming. I also participated in all sorts of outdoor activities and developed an active social life like any other young woman my age.
In the summer of 1991, I was a passenger in a relatively minor vehicle accident. I suffered the typical whiplash injury with related symptoms. However, I also began to experience dizziness, numbness, blurry vision and extreme fatigue. As the fatigue worsened, every day became a challenge. I began to experience symptoms that left me completely bedridden and unable to walk. After years of testing, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Unable to work, I spent most days in bed. I took my daughter to school (sometimes while still in my pajamas) and returned home to sleep most of the day. I would get up in time to shower and put on my makeup. The last thing I wanted was to show up at my daughter’s school looking like I’d spent the entire day in bed.
Twelve years after leaving my first husband, I met and married my soul mate. We knew that it would be unwise for us to have any more children due to my complicated health issues. However, we were happy with the four children we already had and, to be honest, we loved our time alone together.
Year after year – I had good days followed by bad days. Fatigue, dizziness, numbness and weakness were my main symptoms. I also developed arthritis in both hands and left shoulder. I began to dread the fall/winter season as the painful swelling and inflammation in my joints would flare up as soon as the rain began. I could barely lift the bed sheets at night or grasp a pen or fork let alone lift a dumbbell due to the pain and stiffness.
After years of decreased activity, I experienced chronic muscle pain and muscle wasting so severe that my doctor prescribed physiotherapy. She told me that I had “no delts, no bicep or tricep muscles”. My muscles were so weak and deteriorated that they had begun to atrophy due to lack of use as a result of being bedridden for so long.
I was determined not to end up like so many other patients with multiple sclerosis. I decided that it was time to head back to the gym. With the support and guidance of my husband, I became more health conscious with my diet and implemented a regular weight-training program. I soon noticed that my naturally lean body responded well to the change in diet and training. We took things slow at first and listened to my body. Rest was equally important for me.
Following the advice of my husband, I increased my protein intake, avoided sugar and refined carbohydrates. I added supplements like glutamine and branch chain amino acids. The results were dramatic!
Although I struggled with fatigue and often found it difficult to hold a dumbbell in my hands due to the arthritis, I continued to persevere with the encouragement of my husband and daughter. Eventually, my strength and energy increased. I read every fitness magazine available for tips on diet and exercise.
In August 2002, my husband and I attended our first figure competition together. I had recently been approached about competing so I wanted to see what it was all about. We met IFBB pro fitness athlete Tanji Johnson at the Max Muscle booth and I was inspired to enter my first competition the following April. While still recovering from a bout of pneumonia, I began to train for the Emerald Cup. Four months later, I suffered a somewhat disappointing seventh place. I was extremely disciplined with my diet and training. In fact, I was so disciplined that I ended up coming in to the contest “too lean” and “overly conditioned”. At first I struggled with the results, but then I pulled myself together and prepared for my next contest.
Two months later, I went on to win the overall figure title at the Oregon State Championships. I now qualified for the Nationals and headed to New York six weeks later with absolutely no expectations. I managed to place 18th out of 67 competitors in my class alone.
In October, I competed in the Washington State Championships where I swept away the first and overall awards! Six weeks later, I traveled to California and competed in the Excalibur where I won first place in the tall category. This was particularly exciting for me as my three sisters live in California and now had the opportunity to see me compete for the first time.
Following the Excalibur, I decided to compete in the Iron Man contest held in Pasadena, California on February 21, 2004. I won the tall class with a perfect score! However, it was a bittersweet victory as the constant training and dieting had begun to take a toll on me physically and mentally just prior to the contest. In fact, I nearly pulled out of the competition as I had begun to experience a relapse of my symptoms and was in terrible shape the day of the contest. I now had the difficult decision whether or not to persevere and see if I could pull myself together in time to compete in the Junior USA National contest. It was just around the corner and I had little time to prepare.
With the encouragement of family and friends, I decided to keep going. However, I was unable to train with the same level of intensity and my diet was no longer as disciplined. For the next month, I struggled with an upper respiratory infection further complicating matters as I also suffer from asthma. Naturally, I found any cardio activities extremely challenging. I required a great deal of rest during this time. I was somewhat discouraged about my ability to train but began to look forward to the nationals nonetheless. I was extremely happy about my second place finish and further encouraged by the many positive comments from both judges and photographers.
I recently returned from the Junior Nationals held in Chicago in June 2004. Unfortunately, I was forced to withdraw from this contest due to health reasons. The prejudging lasted all day, as there were over 200 female competitors. By the time my class stepped on stage, it was 11 pm. The heat and endless waiting had taken its toll upon me and I nearly fainted on stage. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed as I had trained extremely hard for this contest and was in peak condition. However, I have received an overwhelming amount of support from fellow competitors, photographers, spectators, and of course, my family. I was also greatly encouraged by the words of the head judge who had me placed in the top four before I withdrew from the contest. ,
I took off some time from dieting and training and have decided to compete at the Team Universe contest held in New York next month. This is an opportunity of a lifetime! My daughter recently graduated from high school and it is so thrilling to have her realize that it is never too late to set goals for yourself or to follow your dreams.
Fitness has literally changed my life. I am now approached on a regular basis for advice on diet and training. I plan to continue competing to see just how far I can take this dream. I hope to inspire others to set their own health and fitness goals even if they are living with a chronic illness or disability. I still struggle with various symptoms and must always be careful to overdo things (part of my personality) but I would not trade the life that I am living right now for anything. Not too many years ago, my doctors told me that I had a 50-70% chance of being in a wheelchair one day. I think that the odds have greatly increased in my favor! With determination and perseverance, any dream can become a reality….
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