For as long as I can remember I’ve been training for something. In high school I was training to be an elite gymnast, in college I was training to make the lineup on uneven bars, after college I was training for fitness competition. I’ve always had a tangible goal, something concrete to work for, and I’ve always been very good at doing whatever it took to achieve that goal.
I graduated from the University of Missouri in 2006 and that marked the end of my gymnastics career. Looking for something else to do, I decided to give fitness competition a try. Shortly after, I earned my IFBB Pro card in fitness in 2007 and from there it was full steam ahead- in 2008 I placed as high as 2nd in a Pro show and I qualified to the 2008 Fitness Olympia where I placed 10th. At that point I determined that my next goal would be a top 5 finish at the Olympia. It was also around that time that I began having pain in my shoulder. My Olympia performance had earned me a sponsorship with Gaspari Nutrition and my fitness career was on the rise, so there was no way I was going to let some shoulder pain stand in my way of achieving my goal. So despite the increasing pain, I continued to train through and I was determined to compete and re-qualify for the Olympia. I competed at the Arnold in 2009 and probably had my worst showing as a Pro. Instead of letting my body rest and heal, I continued to train even harder to get that Olympia spot. I went on to compete in two more shows that spring, where I placed 6th and 4th- neither of which was high enough to qualify for the Olympia. At that point I started making plans for my prep for the summer shows, but by that time I could barely lift my arm without severe pain so I knew something was wrong. I finally went to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with a torn labrum for which I needed surgery.
Even with the disappointing diagnosis and shoulder surgery (which was much more extensive than originally planned), I was planning my next competition. Doc said recovery would be at least 4 months, I was sure I could work even harder to speed up the recovery. And I did, or at least I tried. But things just weren’t right. My shoulder was “healed” but I still had a lot of pain. I could not raise my arm to full extension, I had limited internal and external range of motion and no matter what I did, I just could not seem to make any further improvement.
At that point, I decided, oh well, I’m going to go back to full training and competing anyway. I continued to compete for another 2 years but was never able to get back to the level of skill I had before surgery because my training was limited and inconsistent due to the shoulder problems. During those two years I still had horrible pain in my shoulder, and I eventually developed the same injury/pain in the opposite shoulder. I tried every treatment you could imagine- PT, ART, manual therapy, massage, acupuncture, cortisone shots, prolotherapy- you name it, I did it. Nothing really helped. I had an invite to the 2011 Arnold, and for the last 6 weeks going into that competition I was not able to train upper body or practice my routine because it was too painful. And it was finally at that time that I decided I had just had enough. I was so frustrated that I walked away from sports and fitness all together.
Last year, an important person came back into my life, and it was because of his inspiration that I was able to find my love and passion for fitness again. He said he could tell I still had some fire in me (despite my vehemently denying it) and he could tell just from speaking with me that I was still very passionate about fitness. It was his belief in me that brought me back to a life I love. Last summer I began training again, free from the pressure I had previously put on myself and I loved it. It felt so great to be back in the gym again, I felt like it was where I belonged. Things fell into place pretty quickly and so I decided to compete in an IFBB fitness show. Not for a placing, but for the love of training and competing. This was after I had sworn I would never, ever step on stage again. I had an amazing time getting ready for the show, and when all was said and done, I was able to achieve my best look ever- first callout with Bethany Wagner and Oksana Grishina—two of the best fitness pros on the circuit.
Unfortunately, getting ready for the show still took the same toll on my shoulders. You see, I have severe osteoarthritis in both shoulder joints, and while its not necessarily a “wow” diagnosis, at this point there is not much that can be done about it. Overtraining will continue to worsen the condition, and the only advice I’ve received (from several different top orthopedic doctors) is to avoid weight bearing on my arms.
The high of competing again, followed by the let down of yet again dealing with this chronic injury has left me in a bit of a slump lately. All of my life I’ve dieted and trained for a specific goal, an end purpose- a competition, a photo shoot, etc, but competing is not really in the cards for me right now. And without that driving force right in front of me, I admittedly feel a bit lost. Although many people find contest prep diets incredibly challenging, what I’m finding more challenging is sticking with that fit lifestyle approach long after the competition is gone. But what I’m learning is that fitness is a lifestyle. Even if I can’t compete, fitness is still my passion. Looking back on all my years, it was never the actual competition that I loved. It was always the training. I loved being in the gym, I loved training every day. The competition was just always there. But just because its not there anymore doesn’t mean I can’t continue to love training. I just need to learn to train in a different way. For so long I’ve focused on what I’m not able to do. I’ve let these injuries get me down because they ultimately prevent me from doing some of the things I want to do. It’s very frustrating to be an athlete and not be able to train and compete to your full potential due to injuries beyond your control. But I’m learning to view things differently. There is still so much that I am capable of doing and I am very blessed to still have the ability to train, even in a modified way.
That is why I’ve decided to enter the 1stphorm athlete search. For me, it’s not about winning. It’s about the motivation to get back to the life I’m passionate about; to help a company promote quality products; and most importantly, to help promote a healthy lifestyle to others. We all have our own challenges, our own obstacles, and our own limitations. Some challenges we can push through. Some we need to work around. But there is no challenge so great that you can’t still find a way to succeed and live a fit and healthy lifestyle. Competitions are great. And maybe one day I’ll be able to compete again. But in the meantime, fitness is not a competition. It’s my lifestyle. And I’m committed to living that lifestyle.