Growing up, Amy Vinson said she faced a number of struggles, the largest of which was becoming a mother at an all too early age.
From uncertain beginnings, however, Vinson has shaped a life for herself with deep convictions rooted in perseverance and faith, she said.
She was able to mold a life suited to her through a common theme -- weightlifting, fitness and eventually as a professional bodybuilder.
"People think it is really cool how my veins pop out," she said with a laugh. "My son's friends think that's pretty cool."
The 36-year-old mother of two started training for her first bodybuilding competition in January 2009. Since, her role among those she associates with has drastically changed.
"They are always watching you," she said. "My kids' friends are always watching me, my kids are always watching me. I am a role model for them now and I am told that all the time. I'm pulled into my daughter's class to talk about things and I have a responsibility."
That responsibility is to show it is possible to achieve what she once struggled with. And instead of teaching through a chalkboard, Vinson lets her muscles demonstrate her message of perseverance.
"I want people to know that you can fight for what you want and you can smile and you can just be a kind person," she said. "If I could be the role model for just one teenage mom, even one, that would be awesome."
Vinson will be one of several competitors from around Alaska to take the stage Saturday for the 2011 ABFF Natural Bodybuilding Fitness and Figure Championships at Kenai Central High School. The show will start at 7 p.m.; admission is $25. Pre-judging is at noon and admission is $10.
Saturday's competition will be Vinson's first as a certified professional bodybuilder, she said.
Growing up as a farm girl in the Sterling and Soldotna areas, Vinson discovered a passion for weight lifting early on.
"I've always loved lifting weights," she said. "I lifted a lot in high school and I set a goal with one of my friends that we would do a bodybuilding show when we were 30. And we didn't hit that and we just decided we were going to go ahead and do it before we were 34 and we hit that.
"My goal was one show and it just escalated after that."
Vinson, who until recently was employed in the health care industry, is married with a 17-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
"I have a very normal lifestyle when it comes to the chaoticness of life," she said. "I try to balance that as best as possible and that's the biggest challenge just like every mom."
Vinson has secured several bodybuilding competition titles including a victory in the Peninsula's show last year and a lightweight division win at the Emerald Cup in Seattle -- one of the world's largest body building shows. She also took second place overall at the Emerald Cup, losing first place by only one point.
Despite success amongst her competitors, Vinson still faces a battle at home. That fight is in the face of the younger generation's perception of what bodybuilders should look like -- ideas driven by mainstream bodybuilding magazines, she said.
But, Vinson is a strong advocate of training, eating and living a "clean" bodybuilding lifestyle without the use of muscle-enhancing drugs.
"God gives you the ability to max yourself out," she said. "Anything beyond that is just not natural. It is not meant to be. My goal as a woman bodybuilder is to enhance myself as much as possible in a natural state without taking anything other than natural foods."
When she is training for competition, Vinson hits the gym five or six days a week and does assorted cardio as needed.
"It is a scientific equation almost," she said. "You have to watch yourself really closely."
The reasons bodybuilders decide to get on stage and show off the fruits of their labors differs from person to person, she said.
"I think the body is a beautiful thing and I think body building is being misconstrued into something negative with a lot of people," she said. "I want to be one of those people that shows it can still be a healthy sport, it can still be a beautiful sport."
The sport also plays up her self-confidence.
"It is a level of security in your own ability," she said. "Bodybuilding is not just physical, it's so much more than physical. It is an emotional, mental growth within yourself. And, you don't do it for other people."
The reasons to continue with such a labor-intensive sport, she said, are numerous -- looking good, feeling good and being healthy.
"But, I don't look in a magazine and say, 'I want to look like that person,'" she said. "I look in the mirror and say, 'I want to be better than I am today.'"
But, for those who know the mother and bodybuilder, there isn't a string of arrogance in what she does. And as for her future in bodybuilding, Vinson contends that's not as clouded as she once imagined.
"I'll always pursue my fitness and I would love to someday train somebody to be a competitor down the road," she said.
Soon, she'll make good on that goal by starting course work to obtain a personal fitness degree to become a personal trainer.
"As soon as the show is over, I'll be hitting the books pretty hard," she said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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