Raising the Bar… Every Day

A few months ago, I asked my fellow fitness enthusiasts to share a photo of them competing in their chosen sport or trade. The only criteria was that it had to be athletic, somewhat current and they had to have competed in it. The last part is the cornerstone of the project: getting out on the stage and performing. A few people even competed in multiple areas, and I encouraged this by letting them send me as many applicable areas as they could claim. This wasn’t to single out anyone who hasn’t done that yet or never will. This was to highlight that there are many people all around us who not only find time for fitness in their fleeting free time, but have also found time to dedicate to going and doing it for the record books. Each one of these individuals has honed their craft to atleast the ability to compete and hold their own. Some have and will break records. Some have and will only break their personal records. But they are getting after it nevertheless. In the coming months, we will highlight one person from this mural each week to put a name to the faces before you, as well as their age and general obstacles/constraints they push past to make it happen. In so doing, we hope to encourage more of you to follow your fitness passion and then get out there and test it against others to make yourself a better you. Without further ado, the mural:

Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Find your passion, then let it become your path.
Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Find your passion, then let it become your path.

 

Bob 1 Bob 2

Meet Bob. Bob is an IT Consultant and Laptop Program Coordinator in Washington, D.C.

In his free time, Bob, like a growing number of other people, has an athletic passion he competitively pursues in his free time.

Bob is a wrestler. And when he’s not doing that, he’s powerlifting.

Whether it’s jumping in the ring to lay the smack down, or running a marathon, what’s your passion, and what are you doing to pursue it today? Don’t put it off til tomorrow. Start today. Join the growing ranks of everyday warriors. Find your place in our tapestry.

—–

Joshua 1Joshua 2

Say hello to one of our Bar Raisers: Joshua.

Joshua may seem like your average every day nerd. He works IT Support and enjoys gaming.

But Joshua is much more than that. Not long ago, Joshua began experiencing symptoms of depression. After a while, he decided he had enough and began battling back by lifting. That has opened the door to a continuing journey of transformation and he has now put himself outside of his comfort zone to compete among others in obstacle racing and softball, as well as dabbling in lifting and strongman with his friends on the side.

Kick your life up a notch. Fight back. Don’t settle. Whether it’s finding yourself in a rut, or being diagnosed with depression, find a way to dig deep and better your life every day.

If Joshua can do it, so can you. Be an example for others to follow.

—–

Jack 1You don’t know Jack. But you should.

Jack is a Bama Football fan, a father,a husband, and loves his tattoos.

Jack is also 42, used to have two broken legs, got into powerlifting a year ago, and had his first competition this year.

In 1997, Jack broke both legs in a motorcycle accident. It would have been easy to give up from there. However, Jack had a physical therapist who believed in him and never let him give up, even during some very dark and depressing moments during that time.

When Jack went back to work, he worked to help build bridges and water treatment plants until 2003. Along the way, however, he acquired a deeper love for the physical. In 1998, he found Aikido. In 2001, he found Russian Sambo. This was a dynamic shift from a flowing martial art to a rigid and powerful martial art. Jack found that he could pour his frustrations and pent up emotions into his martial arts. He needed someplace constructive to let out his anger and energy, and he found it. In 2003, he became a martial arts coach, still motivated by the therapist that saved him yearsbefore.

Fastforward to 2014, and Jack found powerlifting. According to Jack, it can all take a backseat now. He still trains in his martial arts, but he no longer coaches them. He trains others to lift.

“I have found a place to put all of my anger and all my hurt. The iron does not flinch when I yell at it. The weight does not cry when I throw it around and mistreat it on purpose. I can go to complete exhaustion and look over and the bar is still there looking at me like nothing happened and we’re still cool. I like that shit. A lot.”

Jack is an example of several values and points important to our cause:

Life is real. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes we just need someplace to vent raw aggression and emotions, and a barbell can be the best therapy.

Fitness is a journey and you may not realize it, but your actions inspire and motivate others when you let them. Jack will never forget his therapist.

Growth happens at all ages. 42 is not old. But it does mean your recovery time might slow down. Hasn’t slowed down Jack. Jack lifts a lot of weight.

Begin your journey, be flexible to change, make decisions that make you a better person, take stock of who is watching and always look for the opportunity to grow.

—–

What do you get when you combine a veteran runner, CrossFitter and an AnTrish 1esthesia Resident? You get Trish.

Growing up, Trish played every sport she could find, simply for the love of playing.

Later in life, as she started college, this transferred to a literal pursuit as she entered college:
she began distance running, completed her first half marathon, and moved on to triathlons.

After she graduated, and continued to medical school, though she dropped the biking and swimming, she kept running 40-50 miles per week.

Looking back on that time, she says that she was so thin that she looked ill.

During medical school, Trish was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type IV, along with an aortic aneurysm involving the root.

“This combination of disorders makes working out somewhat hazardous, but I think not working out would be hazardous to my psyche,” says Trish. “When I started anesthesia residency, I discovered weights and took a break from cardio. After about 18 months of lifting, I found Crossfit and loved it. I work out at a gym with excellent coaches who keep me from getting hurt. This year I’ve also completed a half marathon and a triathlon. So I think that I’ve finally found a balance between my strength and my cardio. I was working towards my first half Ironman this fall when I sustained an injury to my thigh which put me in the hospital. Repeated injuries have kept me sidelined and prematurely ended my triathlon and competitive Crossfit seasons. I’m hoping to come back healthy in 2016 and complete both a half and a full Ironman.
I may never make it to the Crossfit games or to Kona for the Ironman Championships, but I am grateful for every day that I am able to lift or run or be active.”

Be like Trish. Be active, be hopeful, maintain the will to keep pursuing your goals. Life is going to throw you challenges, obstacles and hurdles that aren’t fair, common, or benign. There’s not always a lesson to be found. Sometimes, you have to provide the lesson yourself and be the inspiration. You have to create the path for others to follow.

Trish also embodies a concept at the core of BSF: you are more than your body. You are also your mind, your heart, and so much more. Some would argue that exercise is risky for Trish, and for many others. But sometimes it takes the heart and mind overcoming to the body to help move it along, and to keep truly living.

—–Elijah 2Elijah 1

Elijah has a powerful message for everyone: run to greatness, not away from it.

Elijah was a trouble child who was kicked out of three middle schools and two high schools. Before he could find himself kicked out of his third high school, Elijah’s mother signed him up for a half marathon in order to repair their relationship and set him on the right path.

After that half marathon, Elijah had developed a taste for success and was dedicated to greatness. He enrolled in summer classes in order to bring his GPA up high enough to be able to run Cross Country. After that, once he knew that he could do much better… anything less than the best was unacceptable. He would go on to become Team Captain, run track and dabble in wrestling.

“Running taught me that hard work could foster great benefit,”

In 2014, Elijah ran his first mountain ultra marathon and competed in CrossFit. In 2015, he competed in powerlifting, Strongman, and ran more ultra marathons and trail races.

To date, Elijah has run over 10 major races and has his eyes set on a full year or Strongman next year.

“There’s nothing more amazing to me than seeing just how strong, fast, or far I can push my body while helping others to do the same.”

I’ve personally lifted alongside Elijah in one powerlifting competition, and he is an amazing man, working very hard at his age in order to reap the rewards now… and later in life. He also works as a personal trainer with Never Defeated Athletics.

Elijah is an example of never being too young to start as long as you are willing to find the internal drive to keep at it. Those who find the will to pull themselves out of bed every day and hit the ground running are the ones who will go the furthest.

Pull yourself up, lace up… and go.

—–

Getting in shape is many things to many people. For Nora, it’s about re-dedication and taking the time to do things right.

Nora 1

Nora came from a competitive running background and was even a sponsored athlete at one point in her life.

After a brief lapse where she had fallen away from keeping in shape due to giving birth to two boys, stress, having life happen and hitting a low point, she sought out a way to get back the body she had before. She never thought that would mean getting into even greater shape than she has imagined.

“Thanks to CrossFit and clean eating, at 37 years of age, I am in the best shape of my entire life.”

Nora started CrossFit in May of 2012 and hasn’t looked back, except to catch her breath between WODs.

“Through CrossFit, I developed a particular love for Olympic Lifting and Powerlifting. Add my love for gymnastics and inversions and I’m a happy woman.”

Because of her re-dedication to fitness and her drive to constantly do more, Nora now coaches and manages CrossFit 623 and has gone on to pursue Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She says she appreciates the camaraderie, physicality and mental challenges of her martial arts, as well as the emphasis on technique and not simply muscling through the movements.

She has even gone on to found her own fitness brand, MorFitMorFab to help others who are trying to find their fitness and nutritional nirvana.

Nora’s story is one that is near and dear to Bars and Stripes, as we continue to turn our personal fitness journeys into professional ones and help to push others to change their lives – whether it’s through CrossFit, Powerlifting, Jiu Jitsu or Strongman. When you strive to help others, they will pass that along as they grow, too.

—–

You never know who around you leads another life. Your neighbors, coworkers, and even your friends could be leading rich lives when you aren’t around, unless you take the time to ask.
Eddie 1
Take Eddie for example. You might see Eddie picking up your garbage can one morning… but even though a quick talk with Eddie would reveal he’s one of the hardest working and nicest people you’ll ever meet, you’d never know that he’s also a Strongman competitor. And Eddie has a message: confront your demons if you ever want to be stronger.
Eddie grew up in North Carolina with a mother and a stepfather who competed in NPC bodybuilding competitions, trained in their basement “dungeon gyms,” and constantly motivated each other. Eddie distinctly remembers being at gyms when he wasn’t at school, the feel of chalk flying through the air, and pictures of their fitness idols lining the walls.
Years later, in 2000, Eddie met his current wife. He describes these early years as a learning experience: drug use, drug dealing, jail time, and many stupid choices. He eventually overcame these and settled down into a new life. This new life included a passion for martial arts, where he modeled his training after Bruce Lee (in fact, he still keeps a Bruce Lee picture frame in his garage today).
Having grown up around two physically determined parents, he quickly snapped into focus and pursued his martial arts by spending hours training and in the gym with weight training. When he wasn’t doing that, he was at the book store learning everything he could about exercise science, anatomy, and nutrition.
In 2003, his daughter was born and his instructor moved. With these training setbacks, he needed something new to train for, so he decided to prepare for a bodybuilding show for two years. He gained 40 pounds of muscle. Five months out from the show, he received a job offer which set him back in pay and hours, forcing him out of being able to afford everything he needed. Once he got on his feet again by finding a better paying job, it took up too much time – 80 hours a week. This meant that even though he had the money, he didn’t have the time to train.
Several job changes later, in 2008, Eddie began to drink. A lot. He described his drinking as a something that “quickly became a habit and then became a strong addiction.” He tried to find his way back to his passion of lifting, but the alcoholism kept pulling him back, and holding him back. He says it got to the point that he was drinking a fifth of whiskey a night.
Eddie had a better paying job, enough time to train, and the resources to do so. The bottle was the only thing in his way. Every other excuse was gone.
Finally, Eddie hit a point where he decided enough was enough.
In May of 2014, he stopped drinking all together.
An old martial arts friend at the gym sat and talked with him, and pushed him to train and compete in Strongman. Eddie put in the work, stayed sober, and won 2nd Place in the 2015 Washington’s Strongest Apple and has been working even harder since. I should know. I train with him in his “dungeon gym” with his Bruce Lee picture hanging behind the squat rack 1-2 times a month, time permitting.
Now, Eddie has set his sights higher. He will compete at the Strongman Nationals and has decided he will make it to the Arnold World Amateur Championships… in 6 years or less.
Eddie had his obstacles, and overcame them so he could move onto the obstacles that matter: Atlas Stones, tire flips, yoke carries and sled pushes.
Eddie’s story is powerful and personal in many ways, but specifically to BSF and myself for two reasons. First, of all the people highlighted in these stories, he’s one of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to train alongside, sweat with, curse the air with, and share stories with in person. Second, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard most of this story. He’s told it to me before, and for those who will listen, he’ll gladly share. He’s not only faced his demons head on, he’s sharing what he’s learned.
According to Eddie, “if my struggles can help anyone, they weren’t in vain.”
Pulling yourself up off the ground isn’t easy. But you’re never alone and even when you feel like you are, the power of fitness, of the iron, of a dusty running trail, or a bike through the city can elevate the darkest of moments.
Work hard like Eddie, break free of your chains and live free like Eddie, and stay hungry for the next goal like Eddie.

—–

 

Looking for an easy fix? Stop. Lindsey didn’t have anything to do with that nonsense and neither should you.
Lindsey 1
In February of 2012, Lindsey was the heaviest she had ever been. She can’t even remember the exact weight, because she avoided scales and mirrors. She estimates that she was 230 pounds. For her size, that meant she often bought sizes much larger than anything she had worn before.
Lindsey says she often rationalized her size by allowing excuses into her head like having too much going on in her life and not having the money to join a gym.
So she kept doing the same thing and being the same person she was.
That person was unhappy.
Lindsey wasn’t unhappy because she was big. She had previously performed with a burlesque troop and had no problem with her size.
“I felt like crap all the time. I was pre-diabetic and I got winded going up stairs or walking for any distance. My feet would ache and tingle and felt like needles and pins when I stood for long periods of time.” Lindsey works as a bank teller. She stands all the time. She also said she felt like she was drowning in her own weight and could feel the swelling and the stress on her joints. Basically, life was a series of days of pain and discomfort in her own skin.
“So, one day I’m doing laundry and I had to carry the basket up a flight of stairs with a small landing in the middle. Before I could reach half way, I was breathing hard and my heart was beating hard and it was in the moments that I had to pause to catch my breath half way up my small flight of stairs that I knew that something had to change. As a 26 year old female, I should not feel like this! So, I made up my mind that things were going to change.”
So she stopped doing the same things and became a different person.
That person became happy. Step by step.
When she swapped gears and actively decided to get out of her own head and away from the same thought process that kept her down, real change took root. She began with small steps like counting calories and working out to Jillian Michaels videos.
“I changed so many things about how I eat and live that I can’t name them all here but I’ll tell you for sure what I didn’t do. I stopped looking for a quick fix. The pills and wraps and detox waters and “miracles” weren’t an option. I had always known what the answer was. It was good old fashioned diet and exercise. And that’s what I did. I set small short term goals for myself and when I accomplished those I would set another until I hit my ultimate goal.”
One year ago, two years after she began her journey, she ran her first Spartan Race. She had never done one before and didn’t know what it was about, but signed up anyway. She learned that races like this, the long haul and the actual Spartan itself, are as much mental as they are physical.
Looking back from that point, she had lost about 75 pounds. She knew what her future looked like from there: now she has 6 Spartan Races under her belt. For people who have run a Spartan, you know what that means: a Double Trifecta.
“I just turned 30. I’m not the fastest and I’m not the strongest. But I’m faster and stronger than I was three years ago, I’m faster and stronger than I was a year ago, and I’m faster and stronger than I was yesterday.”
Don’t take the quick fix.
Don’t settle.
Don’t accept setbacks.

Just like with some of our other stories, Lindsey wasn’t always unhealthy. It came in waves. We hit life hard, and life hits hard back. Just because you’re 20 and bulletproof and life hits you hard, it doesn’t mean that’s the only time you can be healthy. Keep getting up, as many times as it takes. But if you’re going to to do that, you have to do it like Lindsey. You can’t take short cuts or use cheat codes. The quickest, straightest, smartest path back to success is through hard work.

—–

Meet Ezrah: born athlete.
Ezrah began his athletic career at the young age of six, with football, but quickly picked up two more sports: basketball and track.
He held onto those for a while, before eventually dropping basketball in order to take up wrestling. It turns out that this was for the best, as wrestling became his favorite sport.
This whole time, Ezrah had been chasing something… someone. Ezrah grew up with a big brother who was a national-level athlete and so the standard had always been high in the Reed house. Ezrah didn’t resent this, but rather reached for it fervently.
With a lot of effort, he made a name for himself in highschool, but after that, his athleticism died for a while. Ezrah was a go-getter and pursued anything he did with tenacity, but athleticism itself was more of a chore than a personal passion.
For over a year, Ezrah watched as all of his lean mass became fatty. He had become the “skinnyfat” stereotype. At the behest of a friend, he began to pursue fitness and a better diet yet again. He even began to play collegiate sports.
Over the next three years, he grew back into his more athletic self. At the age of 23, he decided that before he devoted himself to football, he’d try out bodybuilding… for fun.
“From the experience of undergoing my first stage prep, I’d learned more about dieting and lifting than all my previous years combined. It was harder than I expected it to be, much harder, and considering I had no experienced builders to draw from, everything was very much trial and error. Nonetheless, I won my weight class and second overall in an amateur show, and developed a love for the sport. The years following would be a demonstration of the vast difference between an exercise enthusiast and a lifter that gathers and employs knowledge of his doings.”
As he got stronger, Ezrah also began to experiment with power lifting.
“My training cycle was much the same as what I’d employed for bodybuilding prep, as I’d broken several PRs during training so I figured this was most effective for me.”
To this day, Ezrah still considers bodybuilding and powerlifting his primary disciplines and will pursue them for the forseeable future.
Ezrah is one of the many archetypes that are drawn to fitness: the lifelong athlete. The sport or the discipline may change, but the drive does not. Always be on the lookout for the next path in your life and don’t be afraid to take it.
—–
Ezrah 2 Ezrah 1Meet Ezrah: born athlete.
Ezrah began his athletic career at the young age of six, with football, but quickly picked up two more sports: basketball and track.
He held onto those for a while, before eventually dropping basketball in order to take up wrestling. It turns out that this was for the best, as wrestling became his favorite sport.
This whole time, Ezrah had been chasing something… someone. Ezrah grew up with a big brother who was a national-level athlete and so the standard had always been high in the Reed house. Ezrah didn’t resent this, but rather reached for it fervently.
With a lot of effort, he made a name for himself in highschool, but after that, his athleticism died for a while. Ezrah was a go-getter and pursued anything he did with tenacity, but athleticism itself was more of a chore than a personal passion.
For over a year, Ezrah watched as all of his lean mass became fatty. He had become the “skinnyfat” stereotype. At the behest of a friend, he began to pursue fitness and a better diet yet again. He even began to play collegiate sports.
Over the next three years, he grew back into his more athletic self. At the age of 23, he decided that before he devoted himself to football, he’d try out bodybuilding… for fun.
“From the experience of undergoing my first stage prep, I’d learned more about dieting and lifting than all my previous years combined. It was harder than I expected it to be, much harder, and considering I had no experienced builders to draw from, everything was very much trial and error. Nonetheless, I won my weight class and second overall in an amateur show, and developed a love for the sport. The years following would be a demonstration of the vast difference between an exercise enthusiast and a lifter that gathers and employs knowledge of his doings.”
As he got stronger, Ezrah also began to experiment with power lifting.
“My training cycle was much the same as what I’d employed for bodybuilding prep, as I’d broken several PRs during training so I figured this was most effective for me.”
To this day, Ezrah still considers bodybuilding and powerlifting his primary disciplines and will pursue them for the forseeable future.
Ezrah is one of the many archetypes that are drawn to fitness: the lifelong athlete. The sport or the discipline may change, but the drive does not. Always be on the lookout for the next path in your life and don’t be afraid to take it.
—–

It doesn’t always take a sudden moment of clarity, being down in the dumps, or being struck with the right amount of resources at the right time. Sometimes it just takes Bryan.

 

Bryan was a gamer, like many of you reading this. He spent hours pouring his attention and money into video games. Computer gaming was his speed, and he loved it, until he realized that if he could spend all that time gaming… surely a small portion of that could be used to get in shape.
“One day I simply decided that if I could spend that kind of time each week sitting on my duff, I could certainly devote some of that time to improving myself.”
Bryan didn’t come from an athletic background or a family of athletes. His uncle used to call him a “sunken chest” and in the period between graduating highschool and ten years later… he only went from 125 pounds to 140 pounds. At 5’10”.
For those of you with no reference for body stats… that’s really skinny.
“I was tired of being skinny and weak. I’ve always been a self-starter; once I decide to do something I do it … I just wanted to be better than I was.”
First, Bryan purchased a barbell set and started in on the Strong Lifts 5×5 program, which led to him increasing to 160 pounds. His only problem at this point was that he needed more weights.
Because of the sense of satisfaction his success gave him and because his new-found strength made everyday tasks easier, Bryan gave up gaming altogether and poured that time, attention, energy, and money into lifting.
This led Bryan to seek out a myriad of athletic endeavors as he experimented with what he was good at. He ran a Warrior Dash and has to date run three Tough Mudders.
Then, in late 2012, at the behest of a friend, he began Strongman training at a local gym, in addition to his weekly barbell work. Bryan couldn’t picture himself as one of the towering giants who normally compete in Strongman, but he couldn’t shake how much fun it was.
“That first time out I tried log clean and pressing, sandbag/keg carries, farmer’s walks, and yoke walks and felt like I’d been run over by a semi the following day and it was awesome.”
A year later, as 2013 ended and 2014 began, Bryan began to plan for competitions, and not without good reason: he had loaded a 300 pound Atlas Stone, done a 600 pound yoke walk, and even flipped a 980 pound tire. Many people have started competing with a lot less to their name.
However, Bryan had a problem: lower back pain. He had shirked this off for a while because every lifter deals with this at some point. But after becoming concerned enough to go to a doctor, he discovered that he had mild-to-moderate broad-based disc compression/displacement throughout his whole lumbar spine. Neither he nor the doctors could point to any one movement that had done it and it was simply chalked up to accumulated damage. The doctors suggested that he either give up lifting and Strongman… or do it at such a low weight that it would be negligible for Bryan’s interests.
Because they’re doctors and Bryan ceded to their authority on the matter, he gave it up.
For six months.
After that time, it seemed to Bryan that the rehabilitative exercises were never going to be enough, so he took his mental and physical health in hand, and started lifting again. He started with just the bar, and took it one step at a time.
“I decided that as long as a movement didn’t make things worse, I would just keep training it as I used to, progressively adding more weight, sets, or reps.”
Bryan had missed the stress relief and the simple pleasure of making himself better.
It was at this time that Bryan picked up another form of therapy: Iaido, a Japanese swordsmanship art. Bryan had always wanted to take up martial arts, but didn’t want to get thrown around a mat with his back issues. He accepted the long drives to his Iaido practice and his sword still sits proudly displayed in his house.
Bryan set his focus back on competing and 2015 became his year: he took home multiple state and national records in his first and only powerlifting meet where he competed Men’s Submaster at 160.2 pounds, tested for and was awarded his first rank in Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, and competed in his first Strongman competition where he won the Novice division.
Bryan won’t ever compete in a powerlifting competition again, because he doesn’t favor the 11 hour wait between the first attempt on the first lift and the last attempt on the last lift. But he does already have his next Strongman competition in sight, while taking classes and training at a local Strongman gym in Michigan.
The moral of Bryan’s story is to never give up. I often tell people when lifting with them, training them, or cheering them on that they have to push themselves, but to know their limits. All of us have a hard time walking that line between wanting to give it all… and giving so much that we break. Find that line early so that you can keep competing. But sometimes our ambitions get ahead of us. It’s happened to every major lifter I’ve ever known or known of. It’s what happens after you pass that line that defines you. Don’t give up. Heal, rebuild, and carry on in some capacity. Bryan’s story turned out fortunately in that he got right back at Strongman and powerlifting. But others have chosen to pursue a different but equally respectable path at that point: running, climbing, swimming, hiking…
Just push yourself, but know your upper limits.

—–

What’s the secret to Kelsey’s success? It’s all been “staged.”

 

Kelsey Voight 1
Not in the way you’re thinking about either. You see… Kelsey has made her passion about getting up on stage, allowing her transformation to take place in stages, and has allowed her success to be a stage for her faith to play out on.
Kelsey’s story starts off in a darker place. Before she could become the strong and confident woman she is today, she was timid and filled with self-doubt. Before she could lift and inspire others, she spent hours isolated. Before she could form solid meal plans and stick to them… she battled an eating disorder: Anorexia.
It didn’t start there. It took several more recent struggles for her to end up there. But that’s where it ended up. That was back in 2012. She felt, as she describes, mentally, and physically weak.
“It was an incredibly challenging time for me and my family. For several months I roller-coastered between making a little bit of progress and then relapsing again.”
Kelsey needed a sign or some sort of direction to pull her through. That came in the form of a well-known and beloved women’s competitor.
“I saw this picture of a beautiful, strong, and confident woman with hundreds of thousands of comments. As a read through the comments, they were filled with so much hate and hurtful words that I couldn’t believe. Yet this woman was still so confident in herself. None of the comments seemed to have any negative effect on her. I sat there in admiration.”
Many of you might have guessed who this is by now: Dana Linn Bailey.
After seeing Dana’s confidence, Kelsey said she wanted that. She wanted to be strong and confident, calm and composed, a source of inspiration and not of concern.
So she became that. Step by step.
From there, Kelsey began searching for any information she could on the various bodybuilding organizations and any of the competitors she could. She began actively following them on social media, and began actively unfollowing those pages she had previously been following which fueled her unhealthy lifestyle. She studied as many exercise and nutrition plans as she could and became a walking database of fitness information.
At this point, even though she knew she didn’t know everything yet, she began hitting the gym with her dad three times a week. She had to get started. It wasn’t long after that, she said, that she began to notice not just physical changes, but mental changes as well.
“Every time I went to the gym and improved in any way, I would get the best feeling. It had been so long since I could say I actually felt good about myself and was proud of myself.”
After about a year of doing this, she gained back 27 pounds, was no longer afraid of food, and felt real confidence. She acknowledges that this strength came from her, from her decisions, from her family support… and from God.
“God had done some amazing work in my heart and my mind. From where I started to where I was going was absolutely impossible without Him.”
Now she got serious about competing instead of “one day competing.”
I can’t do any better justice to what Kelsey defines as the next pivotal moment in her life, so I’ll just let her do it best:
“I transferred to a new gym and began preparing for my first competition. I faced ups and downs, injuries and setbacks, but nothing ever stopped me. I was driven, determined, and full of so much passion for the sport. I knew the depths of my story more than anyone else and I knew all that had been overcome. I knew that nothing was going to stop me. After having overcome all of the demons in my past to get to where I was now, I knew that with God, I could conquer anything. Nothing seemed impossible anymore. I continued to trust God through it all, knowing that ultimately He had the best plans set out for me.”
With that kind of drive, it was going to be next to impossible to stop Kelsey.
In preparation, she gained another 27 pounds, putting her at 54 pounds above her lowest weight.
In June of 2014, at 18 years old, she competed in both Open and Novice Figure, placing 5th and 4th place respectively.
She was hooked. She took a full year off to continue gaining size and building a more competitive physique. She then hired her current coach, Shelby Starnes. He brought her to a much improved physique at 10 pounds heavier than her first show.
She competed twice in 2015 at 19 years old. Her first show of the season was the NPC Golden State where she placed 5th place in both Open and Novice Figure. A few weeks later, she competed again at the NPC Jay Cutler Classic where she took home 3rd place in Open Figure.
“This journey has forced me to not only be strong physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. To this day I am the healthiest I have ever been and through the process, I have developed a confidence to face whatever life throws my way – a confidence and self love that I never imagined was possible. Every day I am learning and growing into more of the person God has planned for me to be.”
Kelsey also wanted to leave everyone with one of the verses that carried her through this:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Some people find inspiration in family, some in God, some in friends, and some in external role models. Ultimately, to change, we all find the inspiration internally after someone has shown us what it looks like.

Find your inspiration. Get in shape. Live a healthy life so you can live a long one with the ones you love, doing the things you love.

—–

There are certain major events in our lives where there are only two outcomes: we fight… or we throw in the towel. Staying still, frozen in time, is not an option.

Vickie Valdez 1

So Vickie fights.
Vickie is like a lot of the other BSF spotlights: Vickie wasn’t always a gym-goer. She wasn’t born with a need to get a bench PR. She’s also like others in that she actually started intentionally down a path of fitness not just after high school… but once she turned 30.
It was then that Vickie started lifting.
“I left the cabled machines behind and fell in love with the barbell. Even then, I didn’t feel like an athlete, but just a nerdy lady who liked to lift weights.”
From there, she hired a trainer and immersed herself in the tracking of metrics and personal records.
Four years into this, at the ripe age of just 34…
Vickie was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
Vickie had hit that moment in her life where she only had two options. She couldn’t stand still. She could accept the diagnosis, make her peace and hope for the best, and no one would blame her, not in a situation like that. She could take the peaceful path…
…or she could fight.
“Lifting became a greater focus, as it was something I could control during a time when I felt out of control. I’d meet with my trainer as soon as I was able after each chemotherapy session. We set a goal of bench pressing 100 pounds before my bilateral mastectomy, as I’d have to stop any upper body lifting for about five months during reconstruction. Those five months were difficult, as I had limited mobility and could not lift more than 10 pounds.”
The path to regaining her strength was a slow and deliberate one. Vickie could not stress enough that one of the keys to her successful re-fortification was knowledgeable coaches. They worked with her before and after her Cancer treatments and put an emphasis on accessory exercises to help augment her strength and movement in the big four lifts.
Since then, Vickie has moved to another gym: Industrial Strength Gym. There, upon taking up new sports like Jiu Jitsu and Olympic Lifting, Vickie says she finally feels like an athlete.
It’s only fitting that becoming a fighter in the gym has made her feel at home.
She has now competed in Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting and Jiu Jitsu, all without injury, at almost 40 years old.
“My understanding of my body, of what I can ask it to do, has shifted. I feel confident and happy, big thighs and all. I am strong and capable of more than I imagined.”
Vickie is a fighter.
Life can toss you so many different struggles, some of which you will not be able to overcome. And you always have the option to choose whatever path you desire. But the path to fight and struggle and try… will show you so many things about yourself that you would not have otherwise come to know, bring you to meet people who you won’t believe you could have lived without, and make you appreciate every victory and every loss that much more deeply.

Fight.

—–
Sometimes, the answer is simple. Angry with life, discontent with the stalemate you’ve found yourself in, ready to level up? Lift. That’s what Sami did.
Sami Norwood 1

Sami recently turned 21, and now she knows her plan: go to school for cosmetology, work at a gym, be the best Bikini competitor she can be, bulk up, make the jump to Figure competitor.

But that’s now. Before, she was in a really bad spot in her life and stayed angry.

“I always found I was happier after I went for a run or a long bike ride, and once I tried lifting I felt amazing. Being able to take all that stress and anger out on the weights made a huge difference for me.”

So Sami got into lifting and started working at a gym. After a period of time had passed, she saw how much love she had for the sport and how much drive she was really capable of. So she decided to compete in order to give herself an active goal to work towards.

Having taken herself from inactivity, to lifting, to Bikini competitor, to aspiring Figure competitor, Sami says that the possibilities of competing don’t stop there.

“I’m contemplating dabbling with powerlifting in the future but am not decided on it yet.”

Taking control of your fitness is simple: if you’re stalling out, hit the gym. If that stalls out, expand your horizons. You don’t have to keep moving onto new arenas, but you do have to keep pushing yourself, otherwise even hitting the gym will eventually grow boring, too.

—–

When we first begin something, we turn to our teachers for questions. When we become good enough, we have fewer options. We turn to peers, we turn to resources, we turn to new methods of learning.
As I venture into bodybuilding for the second time, I am still a new student. Because of this and because he’s a resource of much more knowledge, I turn to one of my friends and mentors: my coach, Brian.
Brian is a Police Officer, a lover of baseball, and a six time bodybuilding competitor.
Brian Schrader 1
 
Brian has always been into sports. He played baseball, football, basketball, and he even wrestled, but his passion was baseball. He loved baseball so much that after he graduated high school, he went on to play semi-pro baseball until his career was ended when he blew out his knee. Not to be held down long, Brian went on to play men’s fast pitch softball.
Brian played on several teams, some of which allowed him to travel to California, Utah, and even Canada for games. Then, at the age of 38, Brian had to give that up, too, as he could no longer throw a ball without pain and injury.
Having always been a gym-goer, Brian decided to meet up with several friends he knew to be in the Bodybuilding community.
“This intrigued me, to watch somebody transform their body to what a bodybuilder looks like. I ate it up. I began training six days a week, at a minimum of two hours each day, at the gym.”
Before he could be the coach that he is today, though, Brian needed a teacher himself. So he hired a trainer and competed in his first show at the age of 40. At that time, he had cut down to 7% body fat.
“It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but for my first show I was very, very happy with the results.”
Having competed in six shows, Brian says he’s now gained a massive amount of knowledge. But he doesn’t keep that knowledge to himself. In his free time, he coaches male and female bodybuilders and teaches posing.
Now, at the age of 48, he is planning on competing in 2017 in the Men’s 50 and Over Bodybuilding category.
“This life style has been very fun for me. I enjoy going to the gym and pushing myself as hard as I can go. I am a Police Officer and have been for 19 years. I feel more confident now that I’m taking care of my body and I see others in my department following my example. I’m constantly asked about lifting and diet.”
It’s never too late to reinvent yourself, as long as you are willing to seize advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Then, you become even more useful to yourself, and to others around you.
—–

When I asked Jason to tell me about himself, I figured I would get a long backstory, just as with everyone else: where he came from in order to understand where he is and where he’s going.
Jason 1Jason 2

Instead, he spent 68 words out of his 1400+ bio on that and moved on:
 
“I was in a department store passing time in the magazine section while I was waiting for someone, when I happened to see a fitness magazine with a really lean guy on the cover. It was in that moment that I had an epiphany. I said to myself that if that guy on the cover could do it then so could I; and you know what? I did.”
 
He spent the remaining 96% of his time giving me ways to motivate you and help you become better.
 
But why should you care? Why does what Jason has to say matter to you? Surely, you can go open up a bodybuilding magazine or get on a message board and find an expert… you know, someone who wins contests, takes home awards and is the best looking out there?
 
Jason is Mr. Cincinnati 2016.
 
Among other things.
 
He’s an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, nursing student, and competitive natural bodybuilder and powerlifter.
 
“I take pride in everything I do whether it’s in or out of the gym,” says Jason. “There is nothing that I enjoy more than helping others better themselves both mentally and physically. I believe that there is nothing more rewarding, for myself or for those that I work with, than seeing someone change for the better, from day to day, and week to week. Being fit and healthy isn’t beyond anyone’s reach, if you are willing to work at it, sweat a little, and cast aside your doubts and excuses, you will be amazed at what you can achieve. I myself have taken that journey, I have not only been a skinny kid growing up, but after starting college, following high school, I became overweight. It wasn’t long before I realized that that was not the person I wanted to be.”
 
Jason went from a 40 inch waist to 29 at showtime, and even deadlifted 600 pounds at a 197 bodyweight (greater than triple bodyweight) during a powerlifting competition just seven weeks before the Cincinnati show.
 
It’s safe to say that he has taken the journey himself and knows how to take others on that journey, too. So what does he have to say about his process?
 
Jason points to the Cincinnati show as example of the mentality and approach we should take to getting where we want to go:
 
“I recently competed in the NPC Natural Cincinnati Bodybuilding, Figure, Bikini and Physique Championship. It was my sixth show, and my third time competing in the Cincinnati since 2012. I placed 3rd in the light heavies in 2012, 2nd in the light heavies in 2015 losing to the overall winner.”
 
So what changed this year?
 
“I went back to the drawing board, trained harder than ever, and this year not only did I win the light heavies with straight firsts from the judges, I won the overall men’s bodybuilding by unanimous decision officially making me ‘Mr. Cincinnati’, and the icing on the proverbial cake was I also took home the award for best athlete in show.”
 
So how does that apply to his path until now?
 
“I can’t describe the feeling I had when I was announced as the Overall winner. I prepped for seven months for this show, and I did this while working and attending nursing school full time. Most nights I only slept five hours or so, but I maintained a 3.9 GPA. I know a lot of you out there think you don’t have enough time to achieve your fitness goals, but where there is a will, there is a way. You will never regret investing in yourself… that I can promise you. After wanting something for so long and working so hard for it, the victory was all the sweeter and yours will be too.”
 
Jason also points out that you don’t have to be born with special gifts to make this happen.
 
“I have never had the best genetics, and have tasted failure more time than I care to count. Things that are worthwhile take time and effort. I am proof positive that it doesn’t matter where you start from or whether you have to have the best genetics. If you have passion, and unwavering focus, and a solid work ethic, you can go far my friends.”
 
Jason’s story is a simple but powerful one, which should not be undervalued or appreciated, simply because he make it look easy. If you look closely, you read where this man has a job, goes to school, and still finds time to train and compete. That requires incredible willpower and singularity of purpose. It also invalidates the excuse that YOU can’t do it. If this is what you want, model yourself after people like Jason. If not, find what you desire and pursue it with the same singularity of purpose and depth of willpower.
 
You can also simply message him yourself and/or read below my signature for his tips and advice on pursuing this path. He’s been kind enough to offer some very specific perspective.
 
Work Hard, Live Free, Stay Hungry
 
#supersoldier
 
“I hope this article helped in some way. If you interested in taking your training or nutrition to the next level, feel free to contact me at carrfitnessolutions@hotmail.com.
 
Favorite Bodybuilding or Fitness Meal:
Breakfast. 12 egg whites, 1 whole egg, 3 pieces of turkey bacon, ½ scoop of cream of rice with 1 tbsp of almond butter and vanilla UMP mixed in.
 
Favorite Supplements:
I start my morning by taking in 200-400 mg caffeine, drinking 10
grams BCAAS and 3 grams acetyl-carnitine before my fasted cardio. I use a scoop of protein in my cream of rice meals in the morning (vanilla is my favorite) because it gives me a balanced release of protein to start the morning along with my eggs (also does not hurt that its delicious). With breakfast I take a multi-vitamin and extra Vitamin C for immune support. I take 5 creatine monohydrate pre- and intra-workout for muscular volumization and endurance. Pre-workout I take citrulline malate, agamatine, glycerol, and beta-alinine also for muscular volumization a.k.a the pump. Intra-workout I have 50-100 grams of carbs from cylic-dextrin mixed with 15 grams of BCAAS. I utilize 2-3 scoops UMP as a shake or as a brownie for an on-the-go snack when I would otherwise miss a meal.
Work hard, live free, stay hungry.

Jacob Summers (SuperSoldier) is a certified personal trainer, but not a medical expert in the field of nutrition.

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