One Woman's Courageous Journey From Sick To Strong

Katelyn was a sickly child. But after surviving life-threatening surgery, she discovered a passion for fitness that paved her road to recovery.

From the time she was young, Katelyn struggled with debilitating stomachaches.

"I couldn't hold food down," she remembers. "People would make jokes—they'd say, 'That's just Katelyn. She just gets sick. She eats like a bird.'" In reality, it was something much more serious.

Sometimes the pain was so bad that Katelyn couldn't even leave her home. She was in and out of the hospital and had so much trouble eating that doctors considered giving her a feeding tube for sustenance. Katelyn survived on the only thing she could keep down: protein shakes.

Doctors weren't able to pinpoint what was wrong until Katelyn turned 17. "I blacked out, and they took me to the hospital," she said. "That's when it all began. That's when they discovered the tumor." Surgery to remove a large tumor from her midsection left the then 68-pound Katelyn facing a grueling, uphill recovery. She knew the key to getting her confidence—and her life—back was to make her body as strong as possible.

This is Katelyn's story.

How did your doctors finally discover the tumor?

They did blood work, and because my white cell count was so high, they assumed it was cancer. An ultrasound revealed the tumor. But it wasn't just any tumor; it was a dermoid tumor, which means that I absorbed my twin when I was in my mom's womb. As I was growing up, so was the twin inside me. When they removed it, it had organs, teeth, and hair. It weighed about 10 pounds.

How long did your recovery take after the surgery?

I was in the hospital for a good three weeks after it was removed. Life after the surgery was not the same for me. I only weighed 68 pounds after the surgery, compared to 80 pounds before. I went back to school, but I isolated myself. I really only hung out with my family. I was terrified of myself—I couldn't look in a mirror. I knew that getting healthy—and getting fit—would make me confident in myself again.

Before 68 lbs.
After 107 lbs.
Age: 18
Height: 4'10"
Weight: 68 lbs.
Body Fat: 10%
Age: 20
Height: 4'10"
Weight: 107 lbs.
Body Fat: 10%

What were some of the first changes you made to start getting fit?

At first, I just did cardio. I tried to run every day, but they weren't long runs—maybe a mile and a half. I didn't know anything about working out or nutrition, so I wasn't eating well. I didn't see the gains I should have, because my nutrition wasn't where it needed to be. Still, exercising made me feel a lot better about myself.

What did you do to learn more about working out and eating well?

When I went away to college, a friend told me about I spent hours locked in my bedroom reading articles about weightlifting, nutrition, and transformations—anything I could find. It opened up new doors for me to start understanding things like healthy meal planning and tracking macros. It also inspired me to give weightlifting a try.

How did you start to incorporate weightlifting into your routine?

I was absolutely terrified of lifting weights in front of others at the gym, so I would go in the middle of the night with my laptop and work out by myself while I watched videos on Jamie Eason's LiveFit Trainer was the first program I tried. I would watch her form and try to copy it exactly.

The guy at the front desk saw me and offered to help, so I started training with him. That gave me the confidence to start working out during the day. It was nice to go to the gym and know someone was going to be there to help me with form and give me tips on how to better myself.

When did you decide you wanted to compete?

There were articles on the site about women who compete, and that gave me the idea. I'm a competitive person, and it gave me some goals to work toward. I had gotten homesick at college, so I moved back home and started training for my competition there.

I met my trainer, Bryan, through my gym—some trainers recommended him to help me with my posing, and later, he started helping me with meal planning and my workouts. I eventually left my gym to join his, and that's where I found my fit fam.

How did your trainer start getting you into competition shape?

In bikini, they look for that hourglass figure, so my focus was on my legs, glutes, and shoulders. I also did a lot of ab and core work to target the fat that built up around my midsection when I had the tumor.

What does your workout plan look like when you're gearing up to compete?

Day 1: Shoulders, biceps and triceps

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Barbell Curl

3 sets of 10 reps
Barbell Curl Barbell Curl

Triceps Press-down

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps Pushdown Triceps Pushdown

Standing Dumbbell Upright Row Standing Dumbbell Upright Row

Single-Arm Cable Curl

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Standing One-Arm Cable Curl Standing One-Arm Cable Curl

Triceps Kick-back

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Tricep Dumbbell Kickback


Dumbbell Lateral Raise

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Side Lateral Raise Side Lateral Raise

Incline Dumbbell Curl

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curl Incline Dumbbell Curl

Dumbbell triceps extension

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Triceps Press Seated Triceps Press

Day 2: Cardio


30 min.
Jogging-Treadmill Jogging-Treadmill

Day 3: Lower body


4 sets of 8-10 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

Calf Raise

3 sets of 15-20 reps
Standing Barbell Calf Raise Standing Barbell Calf Raise

Giant set:

Leg Extension

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Leg Extensions Leg Extensions

Leg Curl

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

Abductor Machine

2 sets of 10-12 reps
Thigh Abductor Thigh Abductor

Adductor machine

2 sets of 10-12 reps
Thigh Adductor Thigh Adductor


Stiff-Legged Deadlift

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Stiff-Legged Barbell Deadlift Stiff-Legged Barbell Deadlift

Dumbbell Side Lunge

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Side Lunge Side Lunge

Seated Calf Raise

2 sets of 10-15 reps
Seated Calf Raise Seated Calf Raise

Day 4: Cardio
Bicycling, Stationary Bicycling, Stationary

Day 5: Back, chest, and abs
Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Bench Press
Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row


Incline press

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Barbell Incline Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Incline Bench Press - Medium Grip

Underhand Pull-down

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Underhand Cable Pulldowns Underhand Cable Pulldowns


3 sets of 15-20 reps
Crunches Crunches


Cable Cross-over

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Cable Crossover Cable Crossover

Dumbbell Pull-over

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Straight-Arm Dumbbell Pullover Straight-Arm Dumbbell Pullover

Hanging Knee Raise

3 sets of 10-15 reps
Hanging Leg Raise Hanging Leg Raise

Day 6: Cardio
Stairmaster Stairmaster

Day 7: Rest

What did you eat to maintain muscle while getting in shape?

Meal 1

Egg whites: 5

Whole eggs: 1

Onions: 1/2 cup

Peppers: 1/2 cup

Spinach: 1 cup

Meal 2

Chicken: 6 oz.

Green beans: 1 cup

Meal 3

Large salad

White fish: 5 oz.

Flax oil: 1/2 tbsp

Apple cider vinegar: 1/2 tbsp

Meal 4

Egg whites: 5

Whole eggs: 1

Onions: 1/2 cup

Peppers: 1/2 cup

Spinach: 1 cup

Meal 5

Chicken: 6 oz.

Spinach: 1/2 cup

Do you use any supplements?

Did you have any setbacks while you were training?

I went in for a follow-up a little over a year after my surgery and had an elevated kidney. I needed to go back to the clinic and immediately had déjà vu. I just broke down. I thought I was healthy. I was at the gym all the time and getting ready to compete. Luckily, when I got to the hospital, it turned out to be nothing. The scare was a huge setback though—it took me out of the gym for a few weeks.

How long did it take to get ready to compete?

I started in June, and my first competition was in October.

Was everyone in your life supportive of your goal?

At the time, I was in a relationship. He told me he didn't want to be with anyone who stood out. Obviously, I ended it there. That was the worst of it, though; my family was so supportive. I was very nervous to tell them about my desire to compete at first, because I didn't want them to take it the wrong way—I didn't know how my folks would feel about me being onstage in a bikini.

I had to explain to them that I wasn't going up there to flaunt myself. I'm showing my hard work and my progress—how I went from a hospital bed to being a fit woman. It turned out I was worried for no reason; they were so supportive of my goals.

How did it go on the day of your first competition?

My prep the morning of the competition was a bit hectic. My spray tan spotted and looked terrible, so I went to the store and grabbed S.O.S pads. My mom helped me scrub my tan off and resprayed it, but at that point, I was already so upset. I just threw on a robe and got in the car. As I was driving, my fuel light came on. I was in really bad flip-flops and a robe, orange as can be from the tan, and I had to walk into a gas station. Needless to say, I got some looks.

I wasn't expecting to place, but I ended up getting fourth. It was a very successful first show. It made me so excited to compete again.

After all that disaster, the competition itself was so easygoing. The girls backstage were a lot of fun. There was nothing stressful, and I wasn't nervous that day. I just had a blast. I wasn't expecting to place, but I ended up getting fourth. It was a very successful first show. It made me so excited to compete again.

What's next for you? Do you plan to compete again?

My next show is in June, so I'm about seven months out. Even though I'm in the offseason, I'm still preparing. Right now is all about the lean bulk, which means I'm eating more calories than I would normally. It's a really nice change after being unable to keep food down for so long—I welcome it with open arms! When I'm 16 weeks out from the show, I'll start working on getting my body fat as low as possible.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?

I would say my biggest accomplishment is starting over in life. I was able to finally discover what I love doing after being sick for my entire life. I had to start from nothing and teach myself. Going from that to being on a stage in a competition is my biggest accomplishment.

I want to show others that no matter what challenges they face in life, they can always get stronger. I'm in school right now, studying marketing and sales. Once I get the degree, I'd love to be a spokesmodel for a fitness company. I want to continue to inspire others and show them what's possible.