KMC Women Get Fit!

Story and photo by Krystal White
Contributing writer
Avril Marlow Featherstone focuses on form during a bicep curl.
Avril Marlow Featherstone focuses on form during a bicep curl.

Many of us say we want to get into better shape. Some of us follow through with our intentions. A few of us make lasting changes.

Then, there’s the group of women in our community who sign up for a bodybuilding competition. They initially sought fitness, but in the meantime, found each other.

The Kaiserslautern bodybuilding and figure invitational, held in early May, may have appeared to be about being in shape and looking good. But for many of the competitors, the experience was more about resilience than muscle definition.

This was the first time many competitors had ever dared to bare their bodies; most never dreamed they would be doing so in public. But they needed inspiration, teamwork and a clear deadline to kick their life into full gear. Something needed to change.

Their stories underscore that health is about relationships and not about size. It’s about growth and sacrifice and choice and the process and not about the achievement and the winnings. It’s about
overcoming self doubt, fear, apathy and a sense of being stuck.

Sandi Griffin, AFAA certified personal trainer, entered the bodybuilding invitational to inspire, motivate and cheerlead health in the community. Her own story is one of resilience and dramatic life change.

Sandi realizes how fitness and bodybuilding is more about gaining than losing, as she herself discovered it mid-life and regained not only strength but a renewed vitality of self.

In the past four months, participants of the invitational turned their lives around, pushing beyond anger, cancer, diabetes, pain, paralysis, depression, chronic stress, motherhood, employment and marriage problems to become stronger, fuller, “bigger,” although you wouldn’t tell that by looking at them.

Four of them share their insights about resilience and health — at every size.

Avril Marlow Featherstone
40 years old
Spouse of an Air Force member assigned at Ramstein (currently deployed) and married for almost 20 years with two children (8 and 18 years old)

Q: What was one part of training that you hated before but now like?

A: I’ve never been a huge water drinker. Even when running a race, I may “swish” the water around in my mouth around mile 7 or 8 and then drink after the race. I learned to drink water all through the day instead of all at one time. I add a splash of coconut water in to give it some flavor (learned that from one of the ladies on the team!)

Q: What advice would you give to another person similar to you?

A: 1. Don’t let opinions of others control your decisions, 2. Don’t overlook the positive things in your life by focusing only on the negative. Stay focused, and enjoy life.

Lissett Hinds
40 years old
Civilian employee with the Army, radiology
Single with one child (15 years old)

Q: What was your favorite exercise and why?

A: My favorite exercise is back and shoulders. It helps with my posture, and I love to see the fine details of my back muscle.

Q: What did you do when you didn’t feel like training?

A: To be honest, I had plenty of those days. I would always try and stop by the gym, and once I was there I got motivated. I had to make early morning my “me time” to make no excuses.

Jessica Prestwich
25 years old
USAF spouse with two children (7 months and 2 years old)

Q: What was your biggest misconception about bodybuilding or weight training before this training?

A: I thought that lifting heavy weight was going to make me big and bulky when I just wanted to be in shape and toned. It is so not true. I lift as heavy as I can now (instead of sticking with the light weights that I could do 20 reps and not break a sweat with).

Q: What motivated you to stay on track?

A: I started a Facebook page back in November 2012 to keep track of my progress and find some people who had the same goals and interests as me. One of my long term goals was to compete in a figure competition. Sticking with my diet and workouts, I started to see changes in my body that I loved. There were times when I wanted to give up, but because I had told everyone I knew (family, friends, and strangers) what I was doing, there was no way I was not following through with it. So, telling everyone about my goal and having an amazing support team at home and through my friends definitely kept me motivated.

Q: What was your biggest lesson learned?

A: I learned a lot about nutrition. It is amazing what you can do with your body just through what you eat. You don’t have to starve yourself to look fit and be in shape. I eat more now than I used to and weigh 20 pounds less.

Jenny Stepke
42 years old, born in Ecuador
A registered nurse, her husband works as a family practice physician for the Navy at the DWMMC clinic, two children (6 and 18 years old)

Q: What was your biggest obstacle?

A: Making a commitment to wake up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to go to the gym and train with a trainer. I have a history of depression for 20 plus years, and waking up early to work out was a bit of a shock at the beginning because my mental energy was low and I felt pretty drained emotionally. But as time went by, my physical and mental energy improved, all those endorphins in the brain started working and it helped more than taking anti-depressants.

Q: What surprised you most?

A: The improved well-being and energy and that I did not feel run down. I felt more energized and, of course, self-esteem improved, thus I felt less depressed and better able to handle challenges at work and everyday life.

Q: What’s your area of strength?

A: The biggest area of strength is my psyche. I have managed to be free from the deep bouts of depression I experienced two years ago. On days that I feel pretty down, I actually walk myself to the gym and lift weights or hop on the treadmill. Just getting that heart rate up will stimulate those feel-good chemicals (endorphins in the brain), and my mood changes drastically.

(Dr. Krystal White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center who specializes in community assets and developmental disorders.)