For Dawn Palmerston, the moment happened when this born and raised Hilo girl was a sophomore at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
She describes her younger self as a fat girl. Through Hilo High School, then at UHH, the weight was a constant issue, up until that moment in the second year of college when she was at the doctor for a regular checkup.
They took her weight, 172 on her 5-foot frame. That, and the body she saw in the mirror made all the difference.
“I turned my head away and decided to do something about it, I wasn’t going to be the fat girl any more,” she said the other day at Richardson Beach Park. “My weight always bothered me, I’m sure everyone else probably realized it, but the big thing was, I realized it for real that day.”
She went home and did what she had always done, with a twist. She started the morning saying a favorite prayer, then she started running on a mini trampoline in front of the television. Not a great leap for mankind, a small step up and running in place.
That helped her start losing weight. It was a while before she started running on the roads because she was embarrassed by the fat on her arms and didn’t want to show them in public.
“Now?” she said, “if the weather permits, I’m out in my tank top, my biggest challenge (those arms), has become one of my best features.”
She is still the same height, but she now weighs 110 and she has, to use a technical term, a knockout body, the kind that wins awards.
That will be her goal Saturday when Palmerston competes in the Titans of Fitness Hawaii Championship at Sangha Hall, a competitive event for body builders sponsored by Titans of Fitness that doubles as a fundraiser for Hawaiian Jiu-Jitsu and Tahitian Dancers.
Oh yes, and the competitive winners received a card entitling them to a tournament in Las Vegas, where bigger things can happen for a body builder.
A year ago, Palmerston competed in her first Fitness Challenge, in Kona, placed second, winning the silver, but after the event, it was determined the winner was actually in the wrong classification, so, at some level, Palmerston actually won even while “not winning.”
Palmerston trains under the guidance of Garrett Hall, who also trains Nadi Leonard, a 49 year-old specimen of muscle and sinew who could probably pass for being 20 years younger.
Leonard was a navy brat who grew up all over the world, but got the inspiration for body building as a 12 year-old in Germany when he saw a magazine dedicated to the sport.
“Can’t really explain it,” he said, “but I saw these guys in that magazine and I thought, ‘That’s me, that’s what I want to do.’”
Eventually, his parents moved to Hilo, and while they have moved on, Leonard, an assistant manager at The Vitamin Shop, finally got into the discipline he had admired so many years before.
“Life got in the way,” he said, “and then finally I got around to doing what I always wanted to do.”
Youthful dreams are like that sometimes. A big man at 230 pounds, Leonard competes in the relatively lonely — for the Big Island — 225-pound and over classification.
“The thing is,” said Hall, “we have all kinds of (body builders) in Hawaii in the range of say, 150- to 175-pounds, but Nadi is definitely in the Big Boy classification and there are only, literally, a handful of us in that classification here.
“Nadi is absolutely ready for this, he works at it and that’s the key. Being up there on stage, flexing? That’s the easy part, trust me on that. Getting there? More than that, getting there and being really ready for it? That’s the hard part and that’s what he has done.”
Leonard welcomes the grind and attacks it on a daily basis.
“It’s who I am,” Leonard said. “Some people don’t consider it a sport, but they aren’t there in the gym, they see a guy like me and they think, ‘Steroids, that guy is on them,’ but they don’t know, they don’t understand how you can transform your body if you put in the work. They don’t know this is a 24-hour sport, with how you train your body from what you put in it to how you work it.”
It was that body of his that eventually got Leonard going. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. He was told to eat better and get more exercise.
He followed doctor’s orders, joined up with Team Luna Competitive Body Building in Hilo and off he went.
“He looks like a different person from when he started,” said Hall. “We have guys at the gym — we might have a dozen of them — who should and could be doing this, but they don’t put in the effort.
“They start training, they talk about entering a show, at eight weeks out, they are all good, four weeks out they still talk the talk and then, so many of them, with two weeks to go, they drop out.
“It’s a grueling sport, it’s body and mind and a lot of these guys, when they get close, they might have the physical, but they don’t have the mental, from a psychological standpoint, they can’t handle it somehow. They back down, but not Nadi.”
At this point, Leonard is way beyond the health issues. His diabetes numbers are good, blood pressure is down, and prizes are in sight.
“The stage isn’t about showing off, for me,” he said, “it’s the payoff for the hard work you put in, it’s what gives you a chance to win a competition and make some money and move to a bigger competition.”
Nobody gets rich at Saturday’s Fitness Show in Hilo, but winners get to Las Vegas, where sponsors are looking for new talent.
At his age, Leonard might be what some sponsor wants to attract middle-aged men to the sport, and if that’s the case, he’ll be making some money and have even more reason to increase his grind.
“I wanted to be a big guy,” he said, “and if I get to Vegas, that’s where they’ll be, so I want to see if I can fit in.”
Palmerston, training under the banner of Brute Squad in Hilo, would like that, too, but she doesn’t seem ready for long range plans, she’s enjoying the moment.
“This competition was a bucket list item for me,” she said. “Getting the silver last year for the first time I tried was pretty cool, but if I win gold? Who knows if I’ll do it again?
“What I know is that it has given me a lot of confidence. I never wore a two-piece bathing suit in my life until well after college. It took work to get to where I am and there was some learning in that, too.
“I’ve had women say, ‘If I looked like you, I’d wear that kind of thing,’ and when I hear it, I just think, ‘if they only knew.’”
For further information, see the website TitansofFitness.com.
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