For as long as I can remember, bodybuilding and fitness has been a passion of mine. It all started when I was 8 or 9 years old. My friends and I would have “curl-off” competitions – we would sit in my room and challenge each other to determine who could curl a 5lb dumbbell for the most reps.
As I got older, my passion for pushing myself past my physical limit to achieve that “burn,” which we all strive for and love, continued to grow. While my friends would buy magazines about cars, I would buy bodybuilding magazines – learning the importance of diet along with exercise, which sparked an interest in nutrition. Reading article after article, I began to implement the information in my daily routine.
After moving from Germany to America at the age of 13, I found myself alone. The language barrier made connecting with my new peers difficult. Not being able to express myself and being that awkward kid with glasses, I found myself sitting alone in the cafeteria and becoming a target for bullies. To me, the schoolyard became a battlefield, on which I found myself dodging verbal and physical attacks, hiding in whatever shadow I could find. My left jaw and eye socket were fractured the one time I did try to stand up for myself, which shattered my self-confidence and left me with little self worth.
I was angry, lost, and alone. The one “friend” that remained by my side was bodybuilding. Working out became more than a hobby, it became my foundation, my sanity, and my safe haven. Seeing my passion for the sport, my mom signed me up for my first gym membership shortly before my 14th birthday. I began to spend every minute I could find in the gym, mimicking the exercises I saw bodybuilders do. By the time I started high school, I had a solid training routine and began meal-prepping/following a strict diet. I was now no longer that little awkward kid. Through hard work, I constructed an armor, an armor that took the target off my back and allowed me to stand up tall and be proud of who I am.
Shortly after starting high school when I received life-changing news. During a routine check-up, a tumor was discovered to have grown in the bone marrow in my left femur, and I was quickly forced to undergo multiple surgeries, including a bone-marrow transplant. These surgeries left me immobile, in excruciating pain and bound to a wheelchair and crutches for nearly a year. Eventually, I recovered fully and was able to return to my passion – bodybuilding.
At 16, I faced another roadblock. The tarsals in my right ankle were colliding, as the cartilage surrounding ankle had degenerated. Again, I was forced to undergo two lengthy surgeries, resulting in my tarsals being fused by a screw. I was told that, even after the surgery, I would not be able to live an active lifestyle, as excessive exercise would cause further damage and pain. I didn’t listen. As soon as I was able to, I went back to the gym, while still on crutches, and trained around the disability wherever I could. I learned to cope with the pain – to find lifts that would allow me to target the muscle I was aiming to work without causing further injury and pain. It took years and I still experience pain daily, but I was able fight through the walls that arose before me and pursue my passion: to be a professional bodybuilder.
In my eyes, that is the beauty of the sport of bodybuilding and it is why I seek to share this passion with others. Every one of us faces obstacles in life, some more daunting than others. It’s these obstacles and the way we choose to cope with them that define us, build us physically and mentally, and allow us to achieve our personal best. Life is like the squat rack – the moment we decide to stand up and push through those last seemingly impossible reps is what builds us up and defines us – creates our legacy.