Future of Fitness
Meet 5 women who’ve got the fit factor.
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.”
Dartmouth, Massachusetts Stats: 48 • 123 lb • 5’4” Gig: Licensed aesthetician
Fort Lauderdale, Florida Stats: 32 • 115 lb • 5’ Gig: Doctor of physical therapy
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
Philadelphia Stats: 25 • 117 lb • 5’2” Gig: Business