Fu­ture of Fit­ness

Meet 5 women who’ve got the fit fac­tor.

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We hear from the ris­ing stars in fit­ness.

DIY fit­ness: Maria Pon­tillo has been work­ing out since she was a kid with her dad in their garage. “I re­mem­ber us­ing soup cans as dumb­bells to do bi­ceps curls,” she says. In­volved with com­pet­i­tive cheer­lead­ing when she was younger, Pon­tillo got se­ri­ous about work­ing out in col­lege when she tried out for the Florida State Univer­sity cheer­lead­ing team and didn’t make it. “Dis­cour­aged, I re­fused to give up, so I hit the gym hard to train hard to try out the fol­low­ing year,” she says. “I didn’t fol­low through, though, be­cause I found my pas­sion in group fit­ness.”

Low stress: Pon­tillo started do­ing yoga while study­ing for her phys­i­cal ther­apy boards in 2010. “My stress lev­els were high, and I’m con­vinced yoga had a di­rect link to pass­ing my boards, get­ting my li­cense and now work­ing as a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist,” she ex­plains. She’s also a fan of car­dio and weights. “I’m al­ways pro­mot­ing cross train­ing and re­cov­ery for in­jury pre­ven­tion, so I’m a fan of HIIT work­outs.”

Feel good: When asked for her fa­vorite fit­ness tip, Pon­tillo says, “I see a trend among ath­letes, fit­ness en­thu­si­asts and train­ers: Re­cov­ery, mo­bil­ity, stretch­ing and dy­namic warm-ups are of­ten ne­glected.” Fo­cus­ing on those can help pre­vent and de­crease risk of in­jury. She sug­gests lis­ten­ing to your body, re­move self-judg­ment and fo­cus on how you feel, not on how you look.

Age is a num­ber: Kel­ley Mello dreamed of com­pet­ing in a bikini com­pe­ti­tion. “How­ever, I thought that ship had sailed be­cause of my age,” she says. In­spired by Tosca Reno, Mello forged ahead and en­tered her first com­pe­ti­tion four years ago. “I saw what she ac­com­plished in her 50s, and it made me look into fit­ness com­pe­ti­tions,” she says. Mello has been com­pet­ing ever since.

Early bird: A morn­ing per­son, Mello trains at 5:30 a.m. five days a week. “It’s when I have the most drive,” she ex­plains. She rests on week­ends, but she’ll oc­ca­sion­ally take a yoga class on Sun­days. And Sun­days and Wed­nes­days are also for meal prep. “Grilled chicken, salmon and tuna are my go-to pro­teins,” she says. “As for carbs, I lean to­ward brown rice, oat­meal and sweet po­ta­toes.”

Just do it: Mello didn’t place her first few shows, but she chalks them up to learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. And she just did her first pro show with WNBF in 2016 and placed fourth in Mas­ters Bikini. “I earned my pro card in Mas­ters Bikini in 2015,” she says. When things get tough, Mello thinks about all the other women who aren’t quit­ting. Plus, she likes the idea of be­ing a role model for the women her age who think they are too old or that it just can’t be done at this stage of their lives. “My fa­vorite quote is, ‘There is a way to do it. Find it.’”

Back on track: In spite of the chal­lenges in Joy Kush­ner’s life, she has learned to thrive in the face of ad­ver­sity. Born with spina bi­fida oc­culta (a fault in the spinal col­umn in which one or more ver­te­brae fail to form prop­erly), Kush­ner has al­ways strug­gled with back pain. Plus, two car ac­ci­dents in two years left her re­cov­er­ing from neck and back in­juries.

Core power: Af­ter giv­ing birth to her first child, Kush­ner wanted to get back in shape and en­tered a lo­cal fig­ure com­pe­ti­tion. She fell hard for the gym and quit her job as a sur­gi­cal tech­nol­o­gist and be­came a per­sonal trainer. “I opened my own stu­dio for women soon af­ter, and that’s when I found my call­ing,” she says. Af­ter her ac­ci­dents, Kush­ner gained weight and be­came de­pressed — she wor­ried that she could no longer do a job she loved. “I was told I could ei­ther have surgery or live with the pain.” Kush­ner knew there was a third op­tion: “I was con­vinced I could heal my in­juries if I strength­ened my core and cor­rected my im­bal­ances.” She has de­voted the last three and a half years to keep­ing her body strong and healthy with­out surgery.

Mo­ti­vat­ing mom: When Kush­ner is strug­gling, she imag­ines what she would do if her kids were watch­ing her. “I want them to know that quit­ting is not an op­tion.” And her ad­vice to clients? “Find balance. Phys­i­cal, spir­i­tual and men­tal health are all equally im­por­tant,” she says.

Fig­ure it out: This Di­vi­sion I col­lege track ath­lete started train­ing se­ri­ously af­ter her col­lege grad­u­a­tion. “Af­ter be­ing an ath­lete for so long, I missed be­ing so reg­i­mented with train­ing and be­ing ac­tive, so I set a sched­ule for my­self,” Lau­ren Find­ley ex­plains. In­spired by Ni­cole Wilkins, Find­ley be­gan com­pet­ing in fig­ure. “I will be com­pet­ing in my first na­tional show in the sum­mer of 2017, and I at­tribute much of my mo­ti­va­tion and in­spi­ra­tion to Ni­cole and her ded­i­ca­tion to fit­ness,” she says.

On the run: Al­though she loves weights, Find­ley still en­joys go­ing for long runs and do­ing sprint in­ter­vals on the tread­mill. “There’s noth­ing bet­ter than work­ing up an awe­some sweat. It’s also an amaz­ing feel­ing to hit a new PR in the weight room or fi­nally mas­ter­ing a dif­fi­cult ex­er­cise,” she says. “I just love to be ac­tive any way that I can.”

Eat clean: When she’s not train­ing, Find­ley is mak­ing sure she has a steady sup­ply of healthy food. “I usu­ally prep my meals the night be­fore,” she ex­plains. “I like my meals to be su­per fresh, so I never prep for an en­tire week at a time.” She keeps it sim­ple with fa­vorites like chicken, shrimp, fish and veg­gies along with some jas­mine rice. But it’s not all good food all the time: “My fa­vorite cheat meal is a cheese­burger and sweet po­tato fries,” she says. “Right now, I in­dulge once a week.”

Com­pet­i­tive spirit: He­len Frisch’s par­ents were ath­letes, and she wanted to fol­low in their foot­steps. She let­tered in four sports, in­clud­ing a championship track and field and cross-coun­try team. “My father was an ac­com­plished col­le­giate ath­lete. He even qual­i­fied for the Olympics in track,” she says.

Fit­ness on the go: Be­ing a flight at­ten­dant presents a few chal­lenges for stay­ing fit on the fly. “I try to plan lay­overs in cities with gyms,” she says. “Luck­ily, I’m nor­mally able to train five to six days a week, hit­ting all ma­jor mus­cle groups at least twice.” She also gets car­dio in at least five days a week, train­ing 10 to 45 min­utes, de­pend­ing on whether she’s pre­par­ing for a con­test. Frisch started com­pet­ing in NPC Mas­ters Bikini in the 40+ and 50+ cat­e­gories four years ago. “I plan to bump up to fig­ure this year!” she says.

Over­com­ing cancer: Three years ago, Frisch was di­ag­nosed with chronic lym­pho­cytic leukemia. It was dis­cov­ered dur­ing a rou­tine phys­i­cal. “I was shocked, but I was de­ter­mined to stay proac­tive in keep­ing this cancer at bay,” she says. Frisch con­tin­ued to train for shows, eat clean, do acupunc­ture and sought out home­o­pathic care. “Now I am in the best shape of my life!” Frisch says. “I am liv­ing proof that a healthy life­style, train­ing, eat­ing clean and try­ing to keep my body as al­ka­line as pos­si­ble can ward off dis­ease and in­crease longevity.”

Kel­ley Mello

Dart­mouth, Mas­sachusetts Stats: 48 • 123 lb • 5’4” Gig: Li­censed aes­theti­cian

Maria Pon­tillo

Fort Laud­erdale, Florida Stats: 32 • 115 lb • 5’ Gig: Doc­tor of phys­i­cal ther­apy

He­len Frisch

Char­lotte, North Carolina Stats: 59 • 135 lb • 5’9” Gig: Flight at­ten­dant

Joy Kush­ner Mis­soula, Mon­tana

Stats: 34 •126 lb • 5’3” Gig: Owner of Joy Per­sonal Train­ing fit­ness stu­dio

Lau­ren Find­ley

Philadelphia Stats: 25 • 117 lb • 5’2” Gig: Busi­ness

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