Meet five fit women with inspiring stories of triumph.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Stats: 28 • 125 lb • 5'8"
Gig: Counselor and personal trainer
Turning a Blind Eye
In a sport where visuals are everything, you’d assume blindness would pose quite a challenge. Yet for NPC bikini competitor Brittany Culp — who lost her sight gradually due to a hereditary eye condition — that’s not the case. “Being blind is an inconvenience at times, but the biggest obstacle has actually been myself,” Culp says. “I’ve struggled with depression a majority of my life, and I tend to get in my own head. It has taken time to learn to see outside myself and find the positive.”
Culp got into bikini competition in 2013, and she immediately switched from being a cardio queen to a strength-training devotee. Her hard work has paid off: In 2017, she won her height class at the NPC Texas Cup, which qualified her for the 2018 NPC Nationals where she made third call-out in her class. Her goal now is to earn her pro card — though others can’t comprehend her obsession. “I’m a blind woman in an industry that focuses on what you can see, and though I can’t see how I look, I can still feel it,” Culp says.
These days, Culp follows a five-day split of legs, back and calves, shoulders and abs, arms and calves, and glutes and hamstrings. She does cardio three to six days per week, depending on where she is in her competitive season. “It’s a mix of steady-state fasted cardio or interval cardio after lifting,” she says.
Stats: 27 • 140 lb • 5'8"
Gig: Online personal trainer
Emily Cramer was in dance classes before she turned 3, started weightlifting at 19 and did her first bikini competition when she was 22, and she can instantly point to her fitness inspiration — her mom, Anita Susanne, who was a competitive runner and Spin instructor. But in 2018, after a three-year battle with melanoma, her mom passed away on the morning of Cramer’s wedding. “I was crushed,” she says. “I struggled to eat, sleep and even complete the smallest daily tasks.”
Realizing she needed to find her footing again, Cramer made it her goal to qualify for the NPC National Bikini Championships. “I channeled my grief into the one thing I knew would make me feel close to my mom — fitness,” she says. A few months later, she was onstage in Miami for the 2018 NPC Nationals, and though she finished outside the top 15, she has plans to return and win her pro card.
Homage to Mom
Cramer now works as an online personal trainer and hits the gym for her own workouts five to six days per week. She prioritizes legs and trains them two or three times a week, and as a tribute to mom: “I also teach Spin classes two to four times a week in the evenings to spice things up,” she says. And though she eats a mostly clean diet year-round, she admits that her favorite cheat is Mexican food.
Brooklyn, New York
Stats: 32 • 122 lb • 5'7"
Gig: Holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher and fitness model
After years of struggling with digestive issues, cystic acne and chronic stress, Johanna Sambucini had had enough. “I was in my early 20s and didn’t understand what it really meant to train or eat healthy,” she says. “I wanted to change the way I looked and felt and set out to improve my quality of life holistically.”
The former high-school cheerleader then developed an unorthodox workout plan that she still follows today. “I start each day at 6 a.m. with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, then I strength-train three to four times per week,” she says. “Afterward, I either take a flexibility and contortion class or do handstand training. I also incorporate acrobatic conditioning, mobility training and bodyweight calisthenics into my week.”
Win Some, Lose Some
In 2010, Sambucini decided to try fitness competition and did several shows, winning some and losing some. “Even though winning is great, it’s more about the journey, the feeling of accomplishment and the friends you make along the way,” she says. “To me, that is winning.”
Sambucini currently works with women to improve their gut health and hormonal balance through nutrition. “My mission is to empower women by educating them about whole-food nutrition and movement using a functional approach,” she says.
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Stats: 29 • 135 lb • 5'5½"
Gig: Licensed practical nurse
Fitting It In
Busy careers and long work hours have succinctly derailed many a fitness ambition, but Kalley Tucker was determined to avoid that common pitfall. “My health and wellness are very important to me, and although I work 12-hour shifts as a nurse, I’ll hit the gym after work — and before crawling into bed,” she says. “People make time for what’s really important to them — and I’m no exception.”
But fitness wasn’t always a priority for Tucker, who was far from athletic growing up. It wasn’t until her early 20s that Tucker embraced exercise when a friend who owned a personal training business encouraged her to compete. “I quickly fell in love with the sport of bikini and how empowered it made me feel,” she says. Since then, she’s entered six competitions, and in 2017, Tucker earned pro status in the Natural Physique & Athletics Association as an elite pro bikini model.
While she’ll occasionally indulge in Asian takeout for a cheat meal, Tucker keeps her diet pretty clean year-round. She also has a unique breakfast idea: eggs in a bag. “It’s basically a two-egg omelet with veggies and ham, which I put, uncooked, into a sealable sandwich bag,” she says. “Each morning, I boil the bag in water for about 13 minutes and the eggs slide out easily — in perfect omelet shape!”
Stats: 37 • 135 lb • 5'7½"
Gig: Home Depot project planning team
When Shondreka Palmer was 12 years old, she was hit by a van, which shattered her right leg and arm. “I had reconstructive surgery and my right leg was casted,” she says. “I was confined to a wheelchair for months until I was strong enough to stand, then went to crutches for a couple of months.” But her work was not over yet. Palmer had to literally relearn how to walk. “It took about one and a half years until I could walk and run again,” she says.
Palmer discovered strength training in college, but she then received a scary heath diagnosis. “At a routine checkup, they discovered that one of my heart valves was leaking,” Palmer says. “That’s when my fitness journey really began.” She created a consistent workout regimen, which included cardio four to five days per week to ensure the blood fl ow to her heart remained strong. She also revamped her diet. “I grew up eating ramen noodles, fi sh sticks, frozen TV dinners and the like,” she says. “So I taught myself how to cook healthy meals.”
These days, Palmer hits the gym five to six days a week while managing multiple responsibilities. “I’m trying to live my best life while being a single parent to my son Aiden and working my day job as a fitness trainer,” Palmer says. She has also managed to fit competing into her life and has done three bikini contests to date, finishing top five in each.
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