When Rhonda Newman looks at pictures of herself from her winning debut at a bikini contest, she can't believe it's her. The Toano resident, a 38-year-old mother of two, says she looks better now than she did in her 20s.
Several years ago, the owner of Handel's Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt in Lightfoot joined the Y and started losing weight. But the transformation in her appearance took place over just the past few months, she says.
In February, she started training at the Ironbound Gym in Williamsburg with bodybuilder Kevin Parrott, who owns Xtreme Muscle Gym in Hampton. "He's really driven to help people change if you're willing to put forth the effort," she says.
A former cheerleader, Newman took up his challenge to compete in a bodybuilding contest. It meant fitting her workouts into her family's already full schedule of weekend motorbike races. Her husband, Mark, a pain management physician, races a 1949 Harley Davidson in vintage contests at tracks around the country. Their son, Wes, 6, competes in Motocross almost weekly during a season that stretches from spring through November.
Parrott told her that the training would be the hardest thing she's ever done. Newman credits him with giving her the know-how to eat and exercise appropriately to achieve peak fitness. Though a certified personal trainer, she says, "I didn't have near the knowledge." The strict diet and workout regimen is made even more difficult by her work, which includes making ice cream — her favorite flavor is fresh peach in season, butter pecan year round — and her family's competitive schedule.
Every day, Newman cooks for her husband and kids. While she's on a low-carb diet of six or seven small meals a day based on lean proteins and vegetables, they enjoy more traditional meals, including cookies and treats. "What she eats is garbage as far as I'm concerned. You really have to like fish," says Mark. "I don't know how she sticks with it."
They all eat together and she serves tacos to the family at least once a week. Other times she'll adapt what she's eating to accommodate them — for example, steamed broccoli for all with an addition of whole-grain pasta, followed by ice cream. None for her, though she does have a spoonful here and there at the store "just to make sure it tastes alright." She concedes that giving up beer was perhaps the biggest change for her. After her contest, she ate whatever she wanted for a day — including donuts, pizza and burritos.
"Eighty percent of transforming what I looked like is from what I put in my mouth. It really is about maintaining and sticking to the diet. It seemed impossible," she says. For breakfast, Newman has a protein shake, egg whites and oatmeal, "the only heavy carb" in her day. "I need it to get through my workout," she says.
She does all her exercise in the morning to leave time with her family at night. For cardio she alternates spinning, working the treadmill and the elliptical. "I used to do a ton of cardio. Kevin reduced that a lot. I was burning off muscle," she says. Her current routine involves about 45 minutes of cardio, up to an hour, five days a week. Three times a week she lifts weights with Parrott. "They're workouts I couldn't do on my own, pushing me past the point of pain," she says.
In her preparations, Newman shed 20 pounds (making 60 in all) and went from a size 8 to a size 4. At 5-foot-7, she's now a svelte 129 pounds. On July 30, she entered her first contest and won both the tall bikini and overall bikini divisions, a type of bodybuilding that rewards a toned, athletic look rather than the more muscular style favored in figure contests.
She takes weekends off from training to support her family's endeavors. The week before her victory, Mark won the hand shift class championship, reaching speeds of 110 mph on his Harley, at the vintage racing championship in Lexington, Ohio. His next race is in Alabama in October.
In the interim, Wes competes almost every weekend on his Cobra 50 cc motorcycle. He practices on the track his father built for him. "It goes fast (30 mph). You can get more air coming off the jumps," says the first-grader. His mom adds, "We took the training wheels off his bike when he was 2. He started riding a motorcycle at 4 and entered his first race at 5. At home he just flies, he's fearless jumping, and getting airborne on it." He achieved his first win this spring.
His sister, Sarah, 8, also likes to ride a motorbike but doesn't compete. Most events are within an hour's drive but for those requiring four or five hours of travel, the family piles into a motor home and spends the weekend on site.
The whole family also supports Newman's newfound competitive drive. "She's worked hard at it. She obviously enjoys it. It's different," says Mark.