“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine
In the Beginning
On February 6, 1999, twin baby boys were born. From that moment on, Lisa Arnold has felt an all-encompassing, unconditional love for her boys. If you know her, you know Lisa is a determined, strong, loyal, courageous, amazing mom. One of the babies was born severely ill with a progressive neuromuscular disease that came with a grave prognosis. Instead of focusing on the prognosis, Lisa turned suffering into strength.
She was told her son would most likely never walk or talk if he made it past three years old. Instead of waiting for what the doctors said was inevitable, she got to work. She knew she would have to be physically stronger to take care of him, especially as a mom of five boys under seven years old!
More than once, Lisa has found ways to turn hardship into an opportunity for personal growth and discovery. If you see Lisa now, you might think that she has always had muscles or is just genetically lucky, but it took years of trial and error, perseverance, and grit to get where she is today. When her youngest son was two, she became certified as a group fitness instructor. She loved being surrounded by the energy and support in group classes.
“I loved being a pediatric nurse and being a trainer gave me another way to care for others and to improve their lives.”
The Start Of Triathlon
It was through group classes that she met likeminded people who decided to train together for a triathlon. “None of us could run further than a 5K, swim well, or even owned a bike!” Together this unlikely crew started a team of six to start training. They learned how to ride a tri bike on the road, swim in open water, transition from biking to running, and studied race nutrition.
Lisa loved the exhilaration that being completely new to the sport of triathlon brought, unlike her cardio and equipment days in the past. Many triathlons of varying distances later, she decided to switch to marathons. Juggling a family of seven, a career, fitness and lifting, the time to train was less for marathons than triathlons.
Into Ultra Running
Lisa was driven by the wonderful community that running brought and the many people she met along the way. This pushed her into the world of Ultra Running. Having not a clue what that was, running further than a marathon intrigued her. She had a vision and decided to go for it, something that most would shy away from. She registered for her first 50K and the physical and mental challenge of a lifetime began.
“I was absolutely hooked on seeing how far I could push myself.”
While ultra running is very much a physical sport, it is much more a mental challenge. There are several points within the race where your body is in such physical pain that you feel like you cannot possibly go one more step, but you can. And you do, and this is where you learn what you are capable of and the person you really are. You are forced to dig deep and discover places within you that you didn’t know existed. You learn how to transcend your mind to make your body keep going.
Lisa quickly became addicted to the challenge of pushing herself to the limit. She started running further distances and 24-hour events became her favorite challenge. The point wasn’t to cross the finish line first, it was to take every little step to learn and grow along the way.
A few years after starting Ultras, Lisa began training CrossFit, which challenged her body in new ways. “It was exciting to be a beginner, learning a whole new world once again. I firmly believe the best way to gain confidence is to keep doing things that scare you, that push you, that make you learn and grow.”
Fighting Body Image
Even in a world of fitness and positive people, Lisa wasn’t immune to body image issues. She was stuck in a cycle of too much cardio, too much training, and not enough food. She was still disappointed in the reflection in the mirror and believed that doing more would help her achieve the physique she was after.
“I thought I wasn’t working hard enough. Daily I was running ridiculous amounts of miles, doing CrossFit, then going to the gym to lift. The cycle was breaking me, and I knew there was something more.”
Lisa was always fascinated by bodybuilding competitions and had been encouraged multiple times to try, but never thought achieving that level of physique was possible for her body. “I had given birth to five kids, had stretch marks, imperfections, and was in my 40s. That was not what I thought of when thinking of a physique bodybuilding competitor.”
What was her biggest obstacle? “I didn’t believe in myself, that I could ever be good enough. The thought of being in a bikini on a family beach vacation, let alone in a spotlight on a stage in front of a huge audience, was daunting and terrifying to me.”
Pushed Over the Edge
“Sometimes you need someone to believe in you more than you believe in yourself to make that first step. That person for me was my prep coach, Gary Chaney. Gary never stopped encouraging me to try and believed that he could and would get me ready to be on stage.”
Lisa had known Gary for several years and had often dismissed his advice to train less to achieve the results she wanted. Eventually, something told her that he was right, so she stopped running, stopped starving, and started listening.
“I decided to be brave and work to conquer a huge fear of mine – the vulnerability that comes with being in a bathing suit in front of others. I stepped into my fear and learned that the best way to overcome my fears is to face them.” She began her first show prep and could not believe the results. She had a strict food plan but was eating far more food and doing way less training than she had done in years.
“I competed in my first show in Women’s Physique and was hooked, the discipline it took was empowering, and the science of how food and training creates a certain physique fascinated me. Being on stage was intoxicating and made every bit of the difficulty of prep worth it. What started as an unattainable and terrifying goal ended up being one of the best experiences and challenges I had.”
As a team, Lisa and Gary continued to compete and just a few shows later, Lisa earned her IFBB Pro card in Master’s Women’s Physique.
“One of the great rewards of earning my Pro Card has been when others – especially master’s age people – tell me that because they saw me accomplish this, it has instilled the belief that they can do it too.”
What Lisa Wants You to Know
“Investing in my body and mind and living an active lifestyle has brought amazing opportunities and experiences. I’ve met some incredible people who have become dear friends along the way. One of my greatest joys has been to share my love for fitness with my grown boys and husband who all share the love of lifting and are now my workout buddies.
To see my son thriving at the age of 23 when we were told he wouldn’t make it past three is the greatest gift of all. I’m confident whatever curve balls life might throw our way, I’ll be able to support him and have an amazing support system behind me.
It is my goal as a trainer and master’s competitor to empower and encourage women to be strong, seen, valued, and worthy of finding their strength and achieving their goals. To become confident in their bodies, to help give them to tools to be the best version of themselves, to learn to look at food as fuel rather than the enemy, and to know that they can accomplish their goals, no matter how big or crazy they might seem.
I was the girl that was the last one to step across the finish line at every cross country meet, but I became the woman who could push her mind and body to keep running mile after mile for 24 hours at a time. I was the girl that always felt big and out of place, that struggled with her body, who always wore a coverup at the beach, who became the girl brave enough to embrace her body and thrive by being on stage in a teeny bikini.
I was the girl that did endless cardio in an effort to be thin who became the woman who can walk confidently into any room because I am muscular and strong.
I want you to know that if I, a woman not born as a natural athlete, a mom of five with a career of her own, taking care of a sick child, can accomplish these physical and mental goals, so can you! It takes setting big goals that scare you, an enormous amount of work, even more discipline, and the belief that no matter where you are starting, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Stepping into your greatness and your gifts is possible if you put in the work. If I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT!”