Nichole Gunderson changed her life through fitness.

Nichole Gunderson, age 27, met her husband Tony Butler, age 42, five years ago at a previous job.

He was a bodybuilder and initially she was put off by the image, “I just didn’t understand it,” she told Charlotte 5. “All I saw was this big-muscled guy.”


Eventually a mutual friend succeeded in setting them up, and the gym lifestyle began to draw Nichole in. Growing up she was never athletic- playing a little softball and being mostly interested in music. But soon, the consuming nature of bodybuilding became her identity:

“I had never done anything… I didn’t have anything interesting about me. It became a thing that we did together. It was our hobby that we had to stay on track.”

Now, whenever she isn’t working in business development for the IT consulting and integration firm Burwood Group, she’s either working out or eating.


The first time she watched a friend compete she knew she had to give it a shot. She hired a coach who taught her about posing and dialed in the diet. At her first bikini show, Nichole was 10 percent body fat. She won second place in the Jay Cutler Classic in Richmond, Va. in 2017, out of 15 contestants.

“I went into a whole other world. I couldn’t hear the music. I was just in the zone. I couldn’t even tell you who was on stage with me.”

This year, she’s back at it in preparation for the North Carolina State/IFBB Champions of Power and Grace at the Raleigh Convention Center May 4-6.

Her days usually start at 5 a.m. with up to 30 minutes cardio on the StairMaster. She eats four meals during work then heads to the gym for training. Then two more meals cap off her routine.


She said at the end of the day, it’s all about love.

“Bodybuilding has taught me a lot about self-discipline. I have found that, having self-discipline, it also teaches self-love. You are disciplined enough not to eat a piece of cake because you love your self more than that, if that makes sense.”

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