Rock hard: from unhealthy mom to bodybuilding competitor

by Mindy Campbell
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

Sandi Griffin was headed down a dangerous path.

About 10 years ago, the Air Force spouse and U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation personal trainer moved from Arizona to Germany when her husband got stationed here.

“As much as I was excited to be living in Europe, seasonal depression was really hard,” said Griffin, who added that leaving her church and being in a new country with cultural differences and the language barrier made it really difficult to adjust.
Then, of course, there was the introduction to completely different food, she said.
“The bread truck delivered bread right in front of my home every morning at 7 a.m.,” Griffin said. “We were also eating out a lot.”

Subsequently, Griffin packed on 25 pounds the first year she lived in Germany.
“As the weight came on, I felt really insecure about myself and embarrassed about the way I looked and it just kept going and going,” she said. “I never really was overweight before. I was what I call ‘skinny fat.’ I wasn’t healthy. I never exercised. I just maintained an average weight.”

The Turning Point
As her weight increased, Griffin began to have some health issues, both related and unrelated to her weight, which she used as an excuse to not workout.
Finally, the turning point came in 2007. Griffin had a good friend who suffered a debilitating aneurysm due to unchecked high blood pressure and being overweight. She also found she had a family history of Type 2 diabetes. These things made her give her own life a good, hard look.

“I saw myself heading down a very, very dangerous path,” Griffin said. “I was about to be put on high blood pressure medication and I was 33 years old and already headed toward pre-diabetic stuff. I wanted to be a healthy mom for my kids.”

So began her long journey that eventually led her to the bodybuilding stage and to her becoming a certified personal trainer, working with clients to educate them on how to stay healthy.

“I made a deal with myself,” she said. “If I did two days in a row on the recumbent bike, I could go tanning. That will also help me with the seasonal depression.”

While continuing to work out, she slowly started changing eating habits.

“At that point it wasn’t an overhaul, I just started paying more attention,” she said.

Griffin started spending time in the gym and going to spin classes. Friends started noticing her weight loss, which encouraged her to keep going.

Her husband, who had competed in a bodybuilding show in the past, suggested she do a bodybuilding competition.

“He started telling everyone I was going to do a show,” she said. “People started coming up to me and asking me when it was. I was too scared to say I was too chicken to do it.”

So, in 2008, Griffin competed in her first show.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “It was the first time that I was ever in a bikini bathing suit. I am very shy.”

However, she said it was a great experience.

“All the competitors were so encouraging and talking to other girls and hearing their stories was inspiring,” she said. “Especially in a military community there are a lot of women who may not look contest-ready, with ‘perfect’ conditioning and shape. But when you talk to them and hear some of these women have lost 70 to 80 pounds, some of them have overcome major health issues, it is amazing.”

By the end of this year, she will have competed in 16 bodybuilding competitions.
Most recently, she competed in a World Fitness Federation competition in Austria, where she finished in the top five, and at the National Amateur Bodybuilders’ Association World Championship in Dublin.

Although at first, she felt ill-prepared to compete against world-class athletes, she is more confident today.

“I feel like I belong on the stage with these athletes,” she said. “I have a lot more improvements and a lot more I can learn, but I feel like I am getting there.”

Educating Clients

After Griffin had done a few competitions, her coach encouraged her to become a personal trainer. FMWR offers nationally certified personal trainer services at all of their fitness facilities.

“Everyone started seeing these changes I had made in weight loss and at competitions and kept asking me for help,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk hurting someone or giving them bad information.”

Today, Griffin spends eight hours each day in the Landstuhl Fitness Facility working with clients and then works out for another two hours to prepare for her competitions.

One of her clients, Jill Cowart, has been using Griffin as a personal trainer since October and is thrilled with her results.

“I recently turned 45 and thought the best gift I could give to my son was to be a healthy mom,” said the Army spouse.

Cowart, who works with Griffin twice a week, said she didn’t have the knowledge to do it on her own.

“Sandi is a fantastic teacher,” Cowart said. “Sandi is so great because she has had her own experiences with not being healthy and I think she just really embraces anyone who really wants to be healthy and to change their life.”

Adding in little pieces, such as going for a quick walk that gets your heart rate up, can make huge differences and can make you feel better.

“You may not see physical changes right away, but you will notice that you sleep better, you have more energy during the day and that you feel better that you accomplished something,” Griffin said.