It’s no secret that there’s a stigma around bodybuilding. The words “self-obsessed” are often used to describe the way bodybuilders look and feel about themselves. While physical appearance is the most noticeable benefit to weight training – it goes far beyond picking up and putting down weights.

There’s a deep-seated story for almost every individual in the fitness space. No matter what a person’s relationship with food, exercise or mental health looks like – every person standing inside any given gym or studio was evoked by an internal feeling or an event in their life that made them want to turn to fitness as an outlet. 

We’ve teamed up with IFBB/NPC Nashville Fit Show, one of the only all-women’s bodybuilding competitions in the world to highlight inspiring stories on local female athletes – the ones that remind us to lead with our “why,” which goes well beyond muscles and mirrors.

We asked several competitors to share what they’re STRONGER THAN.

STRONGER THAN _I give myself credit for_.

Words By: Brittany Weddington | Edited By: Nashville Fit Magazine

I was born into unfortunate circumstances. Both of my parents were drug addicts. Throughout my childhood, my mother was in and out of county jail and prisons around Tennessee, and we didn’t always know where my father was.

The positive memories I have with my parents are limited. Most of my time spent with them revolved around visiting my mother in prison or in random places with strange people she would stay with. In my family, bonding time was centered around shoplifting and running from the police.

My grandmother was awarded custody of my siblings and I at a young age. She chose to take us all to keep us together rather than separating us into foster homes. My grandmother was the hardest working person I know. She worked a third shift factory job on the weekends and had to leave us in the care of babysitters – none of which treated us well. My siblings and I experienced physical abuse during this time, though we never wanted our grandmother to know.

I found myself in trouble throughout high school and narrowly graduated in 2005. Soon after, I became pregnant and had my first child at 19-years-old. Around that time, I reconnected with an old flame. Our love story was far from perfect, but it was ours. Slow and steady, the pieces were falling into place. I started and completed beauty school as a working, single mother. This was my first major accomplishment in life. I’ve always been good at starting things, but consistently fell short when it came to crossing the finish line. This time I had done it.

In June 2014, my little family and I packed our bags and left my grandmother’s house for Murfreesboro. I remember her standing there, watching me leave as we waved and cried. I thought to myself, “how could I be so happy and sad at the same time?”

I was finally building the life that I was never afforded. In November 2015, my second daughter was born. Soon after, I received the news that my grandmother, my hero, had passed away. I made a promise that moving forward, I would do everything I could to make her proud.

Despite my intent behind that promise, I fell into a deep depression. I was taking care of a newborn and my other daughter, grieving the loss of my granny and experiencing postpartum depression.

In Sept 2017 I saw a picture of myself at my oldest daughter’s birthday party. I had never seen myself like this before. I was uncomfortable with the woman I was looking at. How could I have let myself go like this? I decided to join a gym and made some progress physically, but mentally I felt amazing. Every time I left the gym, I felt like I was on a high. I was experiencing joy again, and nothing could stop me.

Eventually, I found my strength, left my relationship and moved back home. Around that time, the pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt. Churches and gyms were off limits. I lost one job completely while the other was temporarily closed. I had to find a way to stay close with God when I didn’t know where to start. My show that I had been prepping for (Nashville Fit Show) was up in the air as well. Except this time, no matter what, I wasn’t quitting. I wasn’t quitting on my girls. I wasn’t quitting on my faith. I wasn’t quitting on my training.

When time seemingly stood still, I implemented a routine. I kept on track with my training and nutrition. I always had fresh flowers on my table where I read my Bible and prayed. I started reading self-help books and listening to podcasts that helped me find new ways of thinking about myself and the situations surrounding me.

If you ask me, the pandemic was the best thing to happen to me and especially my contest preparations. It gave me a chance to step back and really find my “WHY”. 

At first, it was because an attractive man told me I could, and I wanted to prove him right. But when I really got the chance to think about why I wanted to do it, l realized I wanted my girls to see me set a goal and achieve that goal despite all odds. I wanted to show them that no matter what life throws at them, they are strong enough to face it. It was never about winning for me. It was about my girls, my family and my granny being proud. 

If you know anything about small towns and family trees, you know that many don’t make it out of the toxic cycles they were born into. I consider myself lucky. Not many make it out and very few are successful in life afterwards. I can count on one hand the people who I grew up with who made it out, and it wouldn’t even fill up that one hand. 

I’ve overcome so many things. The difference is how you choose to move on after the trauma.

I’ve learned that I am resilient as hell. My main goal for my life now is to have my girls be proud to have a mom like me. A mom I wasn’t born with, but like the mother God gifted me with.

My story isn’t just about overcoming one bad relationship but overcoming my entire life.

I want to leave a legacy for my girls – one where they don’t have to overcome, but to continue adding to it in a positive way.

For more info on the IFBB/NPC Nashville Fit Show: | @nashvillefitshow

Nicole Swickle
Author: Nicole Swickle

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