From The Early Years To Now…
Growing up as a first generation American, I was raised in a Greek household, being the youngest of five (including my half brother & sister.) At a fragile – tender age of four years old, my father past away. Not having much of a childhood, I had to mature at a faster rate than most children my age, to help a widow mother, barely speaking a word of English with three little girls to feed, cloth and shelter.
At the age of 12, I started working to assist my mother as much as I could. Buying food and necessities for the household, clothes, to even working two or three jobs to fund my college education.
I studied and practice sports medicine as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) and a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). I am also a professional bikini competitor for the WBFF federation. Being a part of health & wellness has improved my quality of life. It has allowed me to grow mentally and physically. By working on myself, inside and out, (Mind. Body. Spirit) it has allowed me to improve my self-love and to live my life.
While I was growing up, I struggled and suffered with verbal abuse from family and friends of family members criticizing my physique. Berating me as a “Fatty Fat Lard,” “the beast,” “big boned” even encouraging friends and friends to join in, criticizing me with every bite! – “Those cookies will end up in your thighs,” or “Don’t give her bread.” All these verbal negative remarks were so debilitating and absorbed into my psyche, I truly was convinced I was fat. With all the mental abuse, at the age of 14, I got an all-female gym membership where I started my fitness journey.
I suffered with body dysmorphia. For those who are unfamiliar with the disorder, it is a serious mental illness involving obsessive focus on perceived flaws in appearance. It took some time for me to realize that the people serving up the criticisms, simply did not know any other way than how they were taught. Their way to try to thwart a problem they perceived existed with a loved one was to shame them, be passive aggressive, and harsh. It was simply all they knew. They just did not know any better. It was not their fault. So, when I finally realized that I had the power not to give them the power, everything changed.
I was so concerned with “fixing” my body and physical flaws, I forgot the other two vital components of healthy living – the mind and spirit. I was so preoccupied transforming the physical body, I did not realize it was my fragile mind and spirit that needed healing and nurturing.
With the guidance and enlightened people in my life, I was able to truly understand the underlying causes of my physical and mental health. Two dear friends of mine in the holistic medicine field, helped me figure out the underlying root of my physical symptoms. The mind truly affects the body. They are not separate but should be viewed as equal. When I say I suffered through and currently have a mental disorder – PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,) it is an illness that effects my thoughts, feelings and behaviors that prevent me from leading a normal life. (Whatever that may mean to a person.) All my life, I have suppressed these memories, traumas, experiences, that I am paying for it with various forms of physical illness (i.e. small intestines, respiratory issues, breathing, tonsillitis, appendicitis, adenoids, asthma, pneumonia – bronchitis, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and attempts.) These are just some physical symptoms and illnesses I developed over the years.
My fitness journey, started at the age of 14, for the wrong reasons. I did not sign up because I was worried about my health. I was so concerned with what everyone else thought about me, that their words became MY thoughts. Their voices merged into my inner voice saying, “you’re not enough.”
Not only was I working out because I believed then “I hated” my body, but I would punish it by malnutrition. When I was in college, I would purposely under eat, thinking I would achieve my “ideal” weight.
It wasn’t easy transitioning from an eating disorder to actually eating to fuel my body. Post-graduate years, I became more obsessed with working out and loved the feeling with how strong I was becoming. One of my friends from back home noticed how much I was into training that he sparked the idea of bodybuilding.
At first, I laughed at the notion, and responded to him, “You mean to tell me, you think I will walk up on stage in a bikini and heels?! You’re funny!” At that time, I didn’t even have social media nor did I even feel comfortable wearing a bikini at the beach. Unfortunately, I had this mindset for the longest time.
It wasn’t until two years after my friend brought up the idea of bodybuilding, that I decided to get out of my comfort zone and sign up for my first competition.
Since I didn’t have social media at that time, I walked into bodybuilding blindfolded. Besides hearing anecdotal stories from two of my friends and coach, I didn’t know much about the industry. I did my own research but still did not know what to expect until the day of show day.
I competed in my first NPC bikini division show in 2017. My first bodybuilding competition was a memorable one for the very reason – I missed my opportunity to go on stage for prejudging. Trying to turn a misfortunate event into positive, I got the chance to at least walk the stage at finals and show off my hard work. Turning tragedy into triumph. It was a good opportunity and learning experience for when I competed again.
I decided to compete again after meeting a few people from that show. There was another show that was 5 weeks out that I decided to compete in. That show, I placed 1st in Novice and 2nd Overall in the Bikini Open Division, making me nationally qualified.
Ever since then, I fell in love with the sport and people I have met along the way. Competing was much more than becoming “lean” and “shredded,” but it opened a door of appreciation for myself, a level of respect I honestly never had. I was able to mentally discipline myself through training and nutrition which led me to slowly control my thoughts.
I say this now, but this was no overnight process. Anyone with body dysmorphia can understand and relate. My own path and journey to wellness (overall health) has been a long and dynamic one. It has taught me that healing from the inside out takes times. I took almost two years off from competing, at the time focusing on my career, relationship, travels and really focusing on my overall health.
In 2019, I decided to compete again, except this time with a different organization and different mindset approach. I decided to take my competition prep in a holistic approach. I focused on training, using food as my medicine – my vitamins/nutrient benefits, mental & spiritual healing through books, writing – poetry, walking, and other therapeutic treatments.
July 2019 was my first WBFF show I competed where I placed 2nd overall and won my professional card. My first WBFF show and I became a professional bikini competitor. Two weeks later, I decided to compete in the WBFF Worlds Show where I walked on stage as my first-PRO debut. It was a memorable and learning experience that I will never forget.
I have met some interesting people along the way. Although winning is always nice, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, it is definitely not the most important part. Do not get me wrong, it is rewarding when we place at the top because others are recognizing and rewarding us for our accomplishment. But the biggest reward of all was myself.
For the first time, I truly can look at myself and say “Mary, I love you and I am proud of you and what you have accomplished, in spite of everything you have been through in your life.” That is why, any fitness competitor or anyone into fitness can tell you “the only competition is yourself.” Outdo your past, not other people.
Self – appreciation is a journey. My fitness journey started with hating myself to actually saving me. If it wasn’t for the changes I made, or if I didn’t do the things I am doing now, I probably would not be here telling you my story.
My fitness journey is still being written. Working out and malnourished to reach a certain weight or “ideal” physique to please the criticizers, training and eating to become stronger to even competing and earning my professional card. What is the next step of my fitness journey? To continue to work on myself to be the best version I can possibly be and sharing my story, experience, and extensive knowledge to others who can relate or want to create their balanced lifestyle.
Meraki is aimed to create a community to broaden conversations surrounding physical, mental and emotional - spiritual journeys we embarked.