What is your athletic background, and how did you get involved with bikini competitions?
I was not an athletic child, but at the age of 18, when I saw a magazine photo of Rachel McLish as the first Miss Olympia, I knew this was a sport for me. I wanted to sculpt my straight and skinny body with healthy curves and definition. I learned all I could about proper weightlifting techniques and nutrition. Eventually, I became an AFAA-certified group exercise instructor before I decided to compete in the NPC Bikini division. There is nothing about bodybuilding that I do not enjoy.
I love how I feel productive after every workout. The only thing I do not like is the post-competition blues. It’s hard to get back into the swing of everyday life without the regimented pre-contest training and dieting schedule. And getting back to a “normal” weight is depressing, knowing how good I can look. Is it vain to think this way? Sure, but it’s merely part of this lifestyle—always striving for better than average.
What were the major milestones that gave you that "extra" motivation boost?
I was diagnosed with Stage III Colon Cancer in 2005, ironic because I had always eaten well, worked out on a regular basis and never had a weight issue. I have no family history of any type of cancer. By the end of my 12th and final chemo treatment in 2006, I gained over 50 pounds due to the steroids in my chemo and lack of activity (and energy!).
I lost most of the excess weight over a three-year period and decided to train for a figure show to keep me on track. I was ecstatic to hit the stage on April 2010 with my best physical shape since my cancer diagnosis. I then hit my peak in November of that year at an NPC bikini show. Two weeks later, I won 5th place at my final bikini show of the year.
What keeps you motivated?
Memories of my chemo days, when I was hooked up to my chemo pump and stuck in bed because I didn’t have the energy to do anything but look outside my bedroom window and watch my kids play. A side effect of the chemo that I experience to this day is peripheral neuropathy – I don’t have much feeling in my toes, feet and fingers. I tend to trip while walking and fall when running. My chemo memories remind me of how lucky I am to be alive and in good health; to work around what I cannot do and take full advantage of what I am able to do TODAY!
What are your future goals, dreams and plans?
I hope to always be involved in the fitness industry in one capacity or another, not necessarily as a competitor, but maybe as a TV/Internet host, reporter or even a judge. Otherwise, I plan to fulfill my dreams of traveling the Greek Islands and Italy with my husband within the next year or two. I’m learning Italian as we speak!
Do you have any gym, muscle building or fitness pet peeves?
Yes, I certainly do have some pet peeves! Please use the sanitary wipes/spray after equipment use, especially the sweaty ones using benches! Please re-rack your weight plates – I’d like to conserve my energy for my actual workout!
What advanced training techniques work well for you?
I like using all of the techniques, but I favor supersets. Supersets allow me to maximize my time in the gym in the shortest possible time. I don’t like moving from one side of the gym to the other nor do I like moving my bench position from incline to upright to complete a superset. This wastes time and energy. I will grab all what I need for my supersets and place them in front of me.
I sometimes superset incline dumbbell bench presses with incline dumbbell curls or flyes; flat bench dumbbell pullovers with dumbbell skull crushers; wide-grip barbell curls with barbell upright rows or stiff-legged deadlifts. Or if I’m concentrating solely on delts, I’ll superset seated Arnold presses with bent-over reverse flyes and standing alternating lateral raises with alternating front raises. I finish up with my targeted muscles du jour, and I’m out the door. You get the picture (smile).
What are some of your favorite motivational quotes?
Just DO it!
If someone wants to connect with you, where can you be found?
My website address is www.gracedelarosa.com. It includes my online Cancer Journal, Before/During/After Chemo photos, plus my TV demo reel, modeling portfolio and contact information. I am also on Facebook.
Do you have any tips for someone who is looking to compete in your sport?
Hire a trainer/nutritionist who specializes in competition figure/fitness/bikini athletes. Be strict with your diet...the results won’t lie. Don’t forget to take before and after photos! Enjoy the journey to becoming the best you!
What attracts you to the natural side of sports and competition?
There’s nothing but hard work and dedication involved...no ifs, ands, or buts!
Favorite activities and hobbies you enjoy when away from the gym?
There is nothing better than being with my husband, children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews for family dinners! We also love having picnics at the beach.
Which college or professional sports teams do you root for?
My husband would kill me if I didn’t mention his alma mater--Virginia Tech Hoakies (gobble-gobble!)! I always root for my hometown team, the Jacksonville Jaguars!