Vanessa Calafiore, 28, can remember the first time she deadlifted with no hands.
A basic move for some was a serious achievement for Vanessa. She was born with a congenital limb deficiency and has no hands or feet. She recalls putting on straps and raising the bar for the first time:
“The whole gym just stopped,” she told THEAGE.com, “Everyone was working out in their own zone but they recognized that it was actually a big deal, that this was a big thing that she just did.
“I would train and these big buff dudes would stop and stare at me and go ‘What the hell is that chick doing right now’.”
Vanessa lives in chronic pain, she has battled through eating disorders and addiction to manage it healthily with pilates and meditation.
“As a kid I was never encouraged to do sport. I was never able to be part of it. They were like ‘sit on the sidelines’, they gave me the excuse.”
“I didn’t actually think very much of my body physically. I didn’t recognize that it moved. When I started lifting weights it validated that my body does move the same as everybody else.”
Earlier this month, Vanessa took to the stage in her sparkling green bikini for the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Victorian Championships
For 20 weeks, she maintained a strict preparation regimen, working out six days a week, completing a tough cardio and weights program. She dieted strictly, which meant missing out on some of her favorite simple pleasures like milky coffee.
She competed in her first bodybuilding championships after a year of training. Her friend had suggested she join a gym to improve her mental health.
For the Victorian Championships, Vanessa participated in all the pre-stage rituals. She spent time backstage doing make-up and hair and got a fake tan. But she also had to wear new legs.
Her old prosthetics were too uncomfortable to compete in but she managed to raise the $15,000 in the lead-up to the contest to acquire some new ones. Unfortunately, they were causing more pain.
“I was really feeling very faint and not in a good place. The first time that I was on stage with the other girls I was posing. Then it became less about that and more ‘let’s not f—ing fall’.”
The other entrants encouraged Vanessa backstage, helping to calm her nerves. Once on the stage, Vanessa was overwhelmed with achieving an enormous personal goal, “I felt really happy. I did it. I was mentally pushed.”
Vanessa hopes to compete again at the Arnold Classic next year, which will mean more dieting, more time in the gym and more questions.
“I’ve never felt shy about my no hands and feet. I encourage it because it makes people think ‘wow she can do that, what can I do?’.”
She also wants to continue her work as an inspirational speaker, particularly at schools where she can spread the message about achieving your goals despite severe adversity.
“It’s hard but I do think happiness is a daily choice and I’ve battled so much more than my physical pain. It’s not going anywhere, I’m not growing hands and feet any time soon so wake up. Deal with it. Move on.”
What do you think of this harrowing story of making the impossible possible?
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