I really struggled as a teen to make friends and cope with my self-image. I was called fat and ugly and my nickname at school was “Martha the Gorilla”. In high school it only became worse and the bullying and the name-calling intensified.
Every day I never felt liked I fitted in and only ever believed the negative things that people would tell me. By the time I was 15 I already weighed over 90 kilos. My family moved to Australia when I was just three months old from American Samoa and I grew up around Mt Druitt in Sydney’s Western Suburbs.
Growing up as a short girl with dark skin and being a pastor’s daughter made me an easy target for bullies at my school. It also left me defenceless due to a combination of my strong Christian background and my low self-esteem. I never stood up for myself because I was taught to turn the other cheek and not to question authority.
Behind these children’s smiles are way too many encounters with school bullies. Article continues after this video.
When I left school I was unemployed, had no ambition and lived on Centrelink benefits. Then I started to rebel against my parents. I would sneak out to parties, sometimes not even bothering to come home. I took drugs, drank too much and I hung out with the wrong crowd.
Eventually I weighed over 135 kilos. It was then that I hit rock bottom. I was suffering from depression. Something needed to change. I needed to get away from my old life so at 22 I moved from Sydney in NSW to the Central Coast. I realised that nobody was going to help me and if I didn’t make urgent changes, my life was going to continue in a downward spiral.
The first time I stepped into the gym it was scary and I hated training and I hated myself. I was so ashamed that I would only train late at night or in the early hours of the morning when nobody could see me. Then something happened, I started to enjoy training. I started to see results and I started going to the gym twice a day, seven days a week. It gave me a sense of control, my self-esteem and self-image improved and I started to believe in myself.
One day I was working out with a friend of mine and as a joke he asked me to lift a weight. It was 170 kilos. I moved it with ease and my (now) coach saw my lift and he asked me to do it again.
I didn’t know my own strength!
He told me I was natural and that he would coach me for upcoming strong women competitions. I have now been crowned Australasia's Strongest Women twice. The biggest weight I've lifted was with a yoke on my back and it was 300 kilograms. I'm currently dead-lifting 220 kilos.
In May of this year, I went to South Africa to compete against people from around the world and I was runner up. In March of next year, I'm hoping to make it to the World Titles. I'm now working at Impact Gym in Erina which was the gym I first walked into as a shy, overweight introvert years ago.
I now use that all that negative feedback I received in my youth to become a better person. I feel stronger now that I have moved on from my bullied past. In fact I feel like I've conquered my past. Forgiving my tormentors gave me unbelievable strength. More importantly, not only have I forgiven my tormentors, but I've also forgiven myself.
When I'm heavy lifting, I use the pain as a positive motivator. It helps to remind me of where I'm at now and how far I've come. I no longer thrive on negativity. I just want be a better person today than I was yesterday.
When I moved to the Central Coast I had to leave a lot of my friends behind. I had to cut ties with people who were still insistent on putting me down. I'm now lucky to have positive people around me who help me with my training and my goals.
It’s crazy where I have come from and where I am now. I am just so blessed.
The progress I made to myself has inspired me to empower others looking to improve themselves. I now speak at schools letting teens know that they don't have to look like that person on TV or in the magazine. I also talk about bullying, negativity and lifetime scars they can leave as well as what happens when you follow your dreams.
I'm now inspired to make my mark in the fitness industry and I enjoy sharing my journey.
If you're reading this and you're scared to make that first small step to a better you remember this:
You’re the only person that can help yourself and when you do decide to make that change you need to make it on a physical and a mental level. When you discover your full potential you'll also discover what life has to offer. Gyms can be an intimidating place to come into the first time, but the sooner the you step in, the sooner you're on your way to change.
Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't.