For as long as I can remember, I have always been athletic. I started with ballet when I was five, then moved on to dancing and cheer leading. Growing up, I was usually outside riding bikes or climbing trees – you would rarely catch me inside playing with dolls.
My competitive career started early, when I dove into gymnastics at age seven and continued through high school as a gymnast and track and field standout. But it was two unfortunate events in particular that led me to another area of interest – the weight room.
The first happened when I was 15, when I tore the medial meniscus in my left knee and had to go in for surgery. Since I was still young, the doctors decided to try to stitch the injured area instead of removing the torn cartilage. Many months later – which included six weeks on crutches – I was finally back to normal … at least I thought. I was wrong. One year later, the tear was back, and worse.
A NEW CHAPTER
After my second surgery, I was determined not to dwell on the negative. I knew I needed to move forward, and the weight room was my way to do just that. During that time, I never missed a gymnastics practice even though I could only work out on the uneven parallel bars. For the rest of the four-hour workout sessions, I strength trained. I started to see my upper body changing shape very quickly, and I loved it. My coach was a powerlifter, so he taught me how to squat, power clean and deadlift with proper form as soon as my knee was back in working condition.
In 2002, I competed in gymnastics at the Arnold Sports Festival – when it was still called the Arnold Classic – in Columbus, Ohio. One of the professional fitness competitors, Laura Mak, was a previous gymnast of my current coach, so we all went to the finals to watch. Sitting there, amazed and awed by the fitness competitors, I knew that one day I wanted to compete on that stage. In my heart, I knew I would be there one day – I just didn’t know where to start.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew I was not going to continue with gymnastics in college. I was having much more fun in the gym and was ready to see where that journey would lead. I continued to compete as a pole vaulter and sprinter on my high school track team and was still very active, but since I wasn’t working out for 20-plus hours a week like I was in gymnastics, I started putting on a little extra weight. It was then that I began to read more and more about proper nutrition and became interested in the overall wellness of the body.
I went on to get my BA in Wellness, Health Promotion and Injury Prevention with a minor in Exercise Science from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. During my four years there, I worked in the recreation department, conducting fitness assessments and creating workout programs for individuals of all specific needs. I also workout out on my own, five to six times a week. If you were ever in the Rec, you could pretty much guarantee that I would be there!
During my sophomore year in college, I decided to prepare for my first Fitness competition. I had my best friend, a Detroit Pistons dancer, help me with my routine choreography and I would practice on the gymnastics gym floor after work. That first contest was in November 2003.
I won. But more than that, I knew I had found my passion.
FOLLOWING MY DREAMS
The following year, as a junior in college, I competed in five more competitions, alternating between the Fitness and Figure divisions. Over the next three years, I slowly worked my way up the ranks, moving from the local/regional to the national level, determined to get my pro card and gain entry into the IFBB Professional League.
In July of 2007, I did just that at the prestigious NPC Team Universe Championships in New York City. Since I was still undecided on whether to focus on Fitness or Figure, I decided to cross over and compete in both categories (that year’s Team Universe was the last time competing in two divisions was allowed).
I ended up winning the Overall in both categories, beating out over 200 women from across the nation to win my pro card! It was the first time in history that a competitor had won both Fitness and Figure Overall titles at the same national-level contest.
One year later – and six years after watching as a wide-eyed high school junior – I was back in Columbus making my professional debut, realizing my dream of stepping on stage as an IFBB competitor at the Arnold Classic.
LIFE AS A PRO … AND BEYOND
Success in the IFBB hasn’t come easy for me. I’ve had ups and downs, but have enjoyed every minute of my journey. Some of the highlights:
- Four-time IFBB Figure Olympia champion, winner of the most titles in history (2009, 2011, 2013-2014)
- Youngest competitor to win the Figure Olympia (25 in 2009)
- Three-time Figure International champion (2010-2012)
- The first competitor to reclaim the Figure Olympia title (2011)
- The first competitor to reclaim any Olympia title two times (2013)
- The only competitor to hold Figure Olympia and Figure International titles in the same calendar year (2011)
- The first to win five professional figure contests in one season
- The first to win Overall titles in two divisions at a pro-qualifying event (Team Universe Fitness Overall and Figure National Overall 2007)
Being a part of the IFBB has given me opportunities I could never have imagined, and has taken me all over the world – from New York City to California, from Spain to India, from Australia to Finland and more. And what I’ve realized is that, as much as I enjoy competing and being on stage, what I truly love is being fit, spreading the word on health and fitness and being able to have a positive influence on people’s lives.
So if you see me at a contest, working at a health and fitness expo or even at an airport or on the street, please don’t hesitate to come up and say hello, and share part of your journey with me. I am inspired by all of the stories I hear from others on a daily basis, and those stories help me realize how blessed I am to truly be living my dreams.