By Monique Rider

Incorporating bodybuilding into my lifestyle has been one of the best decisions I ever made. My early childhood was marred by the trauma of sexual abuse. Although these memories were repressed until just a few years ago, I spent most of my life suffering from all of the classical symptoms of abuse: low self-esteem, low self-confidence, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and depression.

The cycle of abuse continued through my adolescence when, at age 16, I entered into an eight-year abusive marriage. I endured daily emotional and verbal abuse, threats, and intimidation. My self-esteem continued to plummet and at age 24, when I finally divorced my husband, I was a physical and emotional wreck. I had never practiced a healthy lifestyle, had no self-respect, and the stress of my lifelong abuse had taken its toll. At 24 years old I weighed 97 pounds, was having daily chest pains, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and insomnia. I also suffered from Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction due to stress. My doctors advised me to begin an exercise program before my condition worsened.

I reluctantly began aerobics and then incorporated a mild strength-training program. I immediately noticed the physical and mental benefits of exercise. At that point in my life toning and building muscle was not my goal. I needed an outlet for stress and an increased energy level. However, it did not take long for me to develop an interest in nutrition, building muscle, and possibly competing. My self-esteem and general outlook on life improved tremendously as I continued the workouts.

In January 1998, at age 34, I took my love of the sport one step further and decided to compete. I hired a professional bodybuilder to train me for the upcoming Belding Natural Classic Bodybuilding show in Belding, Michigan. Due to my abuse I had a terrible self-image and was always very ashamed of my body. This is why competing was something I never thought I could do.

At a petite 5’ 2” I was not genetically gifted with good muscular development. However, I trained hard, was very dedicated to my diet, and did exactly what I was told to do. I felt a lot of anxiety on April 11, 1998, when I stepped on stage in just a posing suit. Most of my competitors had better muscle development and had been training much longer than me. Normally, that would have sent my confidence right out the window. However, my routine and poses were graceful and I was very poised on stage. The audience was supportive and my self-confidence soared. I won a medal that day.

In my mind, I accomplished everything I set out to do. I gained valuable experience and many of my fears and hang-ups were conquered. I have never felt such confidence, satisfaction, and pride in myself. I have come a long way since allowing the pain and trauma of abuse to rule my world. Over the years I have achieved many goals but that contest changed my life tremendously and I have not felt the same since that day.

Over time my family and friends have noticed the positive change in my health, attitude, and self-confidence. I have taken other steps to improve in those areas and to heal from my past. However, bodybuilding has been the one thing that has made the biggest difference in my life. It has made so much difference that I became certified as both a personal trainer and a life coach. Through my company, BodyLife Dynamics, I now combine fitness training and personal development coaching to empower women to build strength from the inside out. I continue to compete several times a year simply because it is vital for my mental and physical health. I am living proof that it is never too late to reverse the affects of trauma and reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.


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