By Liana Jacob


MEET THE SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD personal trainer who was diagnosed with ARTHRITIS and advised by doctors to STOP WEIGHTLIFTING but defied them by becoming a BODYBUILDING CHAMPION – she even says it has helped ‘spice’ up her marriage to a man FOURTEEN YEARS YOUNGER than her.

Personal trainer, Rebecca Woody (70), from Missouri, USA, grew up with a fitness fanatic father who was a coach at a local community centre.

In 1982 Rebecca was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Her doctor told her that her condition meant that she will never be able to participate in bodybuilding competitions and to stop lifting weights.

Rebecca pictured next to a fellow bodybuilding competitor. MDWfeatures / Rebecca Woody

Her passion for the sport motivated her to keep weightlifting to prove her doctors wrong. In her early 30s, she was introduced to bodybuilding initially to shed the baby weight she carried after giving birth to her third child.

She has since come first place in the 1990 Nationals and has placed in 39 various contests including seven national contests. In April 2019, she has competed in a bodybuilding physique contest in the over 35s category, being the oldest one there, and came in first place for bodybuilding and came second for physique.

At 4ft 9in, she currently weighs 6st 11Ib and is a UK size four to six and has maintained her shape from when she was in her 30s, at which time she was 8st 5Ib and a UK petite size 10.

She says that her impressive physique and interest in bodybuilding has spiced up her relationship with her husband, Steve (56).

“I grew up with a father who was a coach at local community centre. He coached both boys and girls; young men boxing, football, baseball and basketball and girls’ volleyball and basketball,” Rebecca said.

“I wasn’t the best at these sports – I was a tiny girl so those taller and stronger stood out – but I always gave one-hundred percent since my father was coaching, I didn’t want to embarrass him.

Rebecca modelling showing off her youthful figure. MDWfeatures / Bryan Engel

“My community was a close-knit one and in the early sixties there wasn’t the opportunity for female athletes as there is now.

“My brother was a Golden Gloves boxer, and he came to live with me in the early eighties for a short time. He had a few weights that he would lift and when he wasn’t home, I would lift them.

“This was shortly after I had my third baby and the weight wasn’t coming off. He moved out and took his weights with him. That’s when I decided to find a gym in 1984.

“As I trained over the months, men at the gym suggested I compete in bodybuilding; there was only bodybuilding in those days.

“I was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease at age thirty-three, rheumatoid arthritis. The doctors advised me to not lift weights like I do.

Rebecca pictured in her 30s participating in a bodybuilding show. MDWfeatures / Rebecca Woody

“In 1986 I found myself competing in my first show. All because I just wanted to lose the weight, I picked up from having my third child.

“Once I was told by my doctor, ‘I wish you just planted flowers because you will never compete in bodybuilding,’ well I did, and I’m still competing, I still have rheumatoid arthritis.

“I asked the owner of the gym to help me understand the equipment. The bodybuilders at the gym assisted me with tightening my meal plans.

“Previous ladies in the gym who helped me, showed me the proper way to pose and helped me with a routine to music, which was mandatory at contests.

“Basically, I have never stopped lifting weights. I competed in the late eighties and early nineties in powerlifting, which in turned bulked me up.

“I realised pound by pound that I was strong. In one of the powerlifting contests, I weighed in at 7st 7Ib and I could squat lift at 111kg. I was always the oldest on stage and I still am.”

A client of Rebecca flexing with her next to him. MDWfeatures / Rebecca Woody

Between 1980 and 1990, Rebecca has competed in three NPC National bodybuilding competitions and she has won each one.

In 2015, at the age of 66, she came first place in NPC Muscle Mayhem Master’s BB.

Rebecca says that her dedication for the sport and continuous weightlifting has helped improved her symptoms from her rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

“I realised I can’t lift what I could in my late thirties or forties, but I still lift and with my RA I’ve learned to balance this as well. I have good days and bad days, but I believe if ‘you don’t use it – you lose it’,” she said.

“It has kept me in shape, and I feel it has added spice to my marriage – after all my husband, Steve is fourteen years younger than me; we met when I was thirty-six and he was twenty-three.

“Men are very respectful to me, now and then you I get an off-coloured message on Facebook but on the whole, they find I’m in shape – they can’t get over my age.

Rebecca pictured modelling against a tree. MDWfeatures / Bryan Engel

“Since I first had RA, I had damaged cartilage between the joints but I believe instead of becoming stiff and immobile, you need to strengthen the muscles and be flexible to support your skeletal physique. Training has not elevated my symptoms but in fact it has improved them.

“I have received hurtful comments from women like, ‘you look like a man’ or ‘I would never want to look like you’ – they used to bother me, but they don’t anymore.

“I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s become a habit to eat well and get to the gym, just like washing my face and brushing my teeth.

“Don’t get me wrong, I eat pizza and Mexican food and enjoy a margarita and love good wine but it’s all in moderation.

“People are much kinder than they were years ago. I believe out of respect for my age, they feel I’m an inspiration- they tell me ‘you’re the reason I go to the gym or do cardio or take Zumba classes’. It makes me feel good.

“Because I compete, I have a variety of clients from different age groups; both male and female even young teenagers who want to compete.”