A 70-year-old woman who was diagnosed with arthritis and told she should stop lifting weights has proved doctors wrong by becoming a bodybuilding champion.
Rebecca Woody, from Missouri, grew up with a fitness fanatic father who was a coach at a local community center. The personal trainer was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints in 1982.
Her doctor said the condition meant that she would never be able to take part in bodybuilding competitions and advised her to stop lifting weights, however, she was determined to prove her doubters wrong.
Wow! Rebecca Woody, 70, from Missouri, was told by doctors that she would never participate in bodybuilding competitions when she as diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1982
Strong: As a result of the long-term condition, which causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, she was also advised to permanently stop lifting weights
Eager: Despite being told to avoid weight-lifting, Rebecca was determined to prove doctors wrong, the 70-year-old personal trainer has gone on to become a bodybuilding champion
Her passion for the sport motivated her to keep weightlifting to prove her doctors wrong. In her early thirties, 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.
Journey: In her early thirties (pictured), Rebecca was introduced to bodybuilding initially to shed the baby weight she carried after giving birth to her third child
In April 2019, she competed in a bodybuilding physique contest in the over 35s category, being the oldest one there, and came in first place for bodybuilding and second in the physique category.
At four-foot-nine, she currently weighs around 85.5 pounds, is a size zero and has maintained her shape from when she was in her 30s, at which time she was approximately 119 pounds and a size six.
Rebecca says that her impressive physique and interest in bodybuilding has even spiced up her relationship with her husband, Steve, 56.
‘I grew up with a father who was a coach at local community center. 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.
‘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.
Passion: Pictured with a client, Rebecca has since come first place in the 1990 Nationals and has placed in 39 various contests including seven national contests
Benefits: Pictured with two clients at her local gym, Rebecca says that her dedication for the sport and continuous weightlifting has helped improved her symptoms from her arthritis
‘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.
Possible symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
1. Tender, warm, swollen joints
2. Joint stiffness that tend to be worse in the mornings and after inactivity
5. Loss of appetite
Source: Mayo Clinic
‘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.
‘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 power-lifting, which in turned bulked me up.
‘I realized pound by pound that I was strong. In one of the power-lifting contests, I weighed in at 107 pounds and I could squat lift at 111kg. I was always the oldest on stage and I still am.’
Between 1980 and 1990, Rebecca competed in three National Physique Committee (NPC) 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 to the sport and continuous weightlifting has helped improved her symptoms from her rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Impressive! Between 1980 and 1990, the now 70-year-old (pictured with a client) competed in three National Physique Committee bodybuilding competitions and she has won each one
Inspirational: ‘I have good days and bad days, but I believe if ‘you don’t use it – you lose it’,’ Rebecca (pictured flexing her arms with a client) said
Wow! As seen with a client, she said her impressive physique and interest in bodybuilding has even spiced up her relationship with her husband, Steve, 56
‘I realized 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.
Positive: Although Rebecca admits she has received negative comments, including people telling her she ‘looks like a man’, she says the comments don’t bother her anymore
‘Men are very respectful to me, now and then you I get an off-colored message on Facebook but on the whole, they find I’m in shape – they can’t get over my age.
‘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,’ she added.
Despite her successes with bodybuilding, Rebecca admits that she has faced backlash for her interest in the sport.
However, she no longer lets nasty comments affect her.
She explained: ‘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,’ she added.