Body Transformation: Brittany Bennett, Fitness Immunity
Lupus makes your body's cells attack itself. After years under attack, Brittany fought back with fitness and took the stage!
Name: Brittany Nicole Bennett
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Why I decided to transform
I have been sick most of my life. I spent most of my years in and out of emergency rooms, doctor's offices, hospital beds, and specialist' offices. I had surgery after surgery. I almost didn't graduate school because I missed so much time being ill. I have Lupus, an autoimmune disease where your body attacks itself. No part of you is safe. It attacks your skin, eyes, mouth, organs, bones, and joints. It affects my lungs and kidney function, but my joints have it bad. There are times when I cannot even walk. I was taking 9-to-11 different medications daily, chemotherapy included.
I follow Figure competitors in magazines and I aspire to be like them one day, but I used Lupus as an excuse to never follow through with it. Being a competitor was just be a dream I would talk about to get my mind off being sick. I had the "one day" mindset. I put things on the back burner because I was used to letting my excuses control me.
I was so tired of being sick I tried to take my own life. Things were dark for me, dark, selfish, and horrible. Not many people know that, and it will break my mom's heart when she reads this.
My health took a nosedive in May 2012. I was in and out of the hospital more than usual the rest of that year. I had pneumonia that took over my lungs and they couldn't control it. The lupus made everything worse. That's the thing with lupus: your good cells try to fight the bad ones, but at the same time your body fights your good cells. When pneumonia strikes, it skyrockets into a deadly situation. I almost died that year.
My family came to see me, and my little brothers were so scared. What kind of role model was I for them? What kind of daughter would my parents remember? What would people say about me at my funeral? They would remember me as a prisoner to illness, with a life that was never truly lived. I made a promise to myself that day that if I ever got out of that hospital that I would choose to live. I would go after my dreams and I would not take no for an answer. I would speak and be alive. I would be someone I wanted to be. I would be a person others could look up to.
In May of 2013, I made an extreme decision. Against all of my doctor's orders I took all of my prescriptions and I threw them away. I took a leap of faith. No more anti-malarials, no more chemo, opiates, anti-depressants, or immune-suppressants. [Editor’s note: This reflects a personal decision made by Brittany, and we wanted to present it to our readers honestly. However, Bodybuilding.com in no way endorses going off medications of this nature without prior medical approval and oversight.]
On May 21, 2013, I moved to Colorado. That June I met with my coach, Adam Bonilla of Team Elite Physique, and we got started. We had 20 weeks for prep, and I had a lot of work ahead of me if I was ever going to look like I belonged on stage. In July 2013, I was back in the hospital with pneumonia again, but I was strong and had my mind set on competing. Nothing was going to stop me.
I lost five weeks of the 20-week prep due to lupus and flare-ups, which were so bad I could not even get out of bed to use the restroom. One day it took me two hours to crawl 20 yards from my bedroom to my front door to let my puppy outside. I was bawling the whole time. I was terrified, but I knew I was here for a bigger purpose and somehow God would take this mess and make into a masterpiece. I could not even stand up on my own because my sacroiliac joints were so inflamed and my nerves were pinched. I wore a hat to the gym to hide my tear-stained face.
People would tell me the only reason they came to the gym was because they knew I would be there, and if I was there, they had no excuses to skip. One day I was on the leg press machine, my hat was pulled down over my eyes, and I had tears pouring down my face just pushing through the pain with every rep. I thought of my mom and brother—who have lupus as well—and about all the others who live in a prison of illness. This gentleman came up to me and gave me a towel and told me I inspired him, and to wipe the sweat off my face. He didn't know it was tears!
The night before my first show in October, Adam introduced me to one of his friends and told him, "I just wanted to help a girl with a dream to compete. I wanted her to get on stage and look like she belonged up there, but I think she really just might take it!"
I will never forget that. I had been trying to make him proud, and at that moment I knew he was. The day of the show was one of the most perfect days of my life. Before I stepped on stage at pre-judging, I got down and prayed and thanked God for allowing me to be there and for getting me through every step of the way. At pre-judging, they moved me right to the middle. Adam yelled, "You can't fist pump!"
I qualified for Nationals that day, at one of the biggest shows in Colorado! It was surreal. It still seems like a dream I don't want to wake from. Life is crazy. One night in the hospital I tore an ad out of my magazine and set a goal. It was just a dream, and now it's real.
We can change our lives by going after the things we want, putting all the excuses to the wind. The people I met, the opportunities that arose ... it truly feels like the universe just opened up and said, "Here you go Brit, you fought enough, it's your turn to smile."
How I accomplished my goals
At the start, I knew where I was and where I needed to be physically, but could not see myself getting there. I cried as I watched videos of Figure competitions, thinking I bit off more than I could chew. I had to take it one day at a time, one meal at a time, one workout at a time, because—in my fragile mental state—the big picture frightened me. When people get scared they do one of two things: quit or rise above it. I promised myself in the hospital that quitting was not an option. That promise saved my life.
I harvest inspiration from past experiences. When it got hard, I thought about the times I was laying in the hospital looking out the window, wishing I could go outside. I thought about all the times I was sick and unable to move. I thought about people who believed in me, sometimes more than I believed in myself. I wanted to make them proud. I thought about being stuck in that prison. Now I am free.
People ask why I am so full of life...When you are given a second chance at life, you want to live. I wake up every single day with gratitude and appreciation just to be able to walk! I live for moments now. I live to be a light in people's lives. I know what it is like to live in the darkness, not knowing who to turn to or where to go. This is what I live for now. I want to be an inspirational and motivational person!
If I can transform my world, then I know others can too. I have passion and love for life and I think it bubbles over so much that people can tell. I am here to be a light, a beacon for people who are looking for something positive and happy. People need that.
What aspect challenged me the most
I was silently going through a few battles. A nasty, stressful divorce caused flare-ups with the lupus and I developed an eating disorder. The last thing I wanted to do during a flare-up was to stick to my meal plan. I just wanted "comfort food." And I was all alone in a state without knowing anyone and my family was back in Texas.
Not many people understood why I wanted to do what I was doing, so they gave me a hard time. Friends and family can support you as best as they can, but unless they have experienced competition training and the diet first-hand, you will have a communication barrier. The support I received from my family was phenomenal and I made some amazing friends in the gym.
I met one person in particular a couple months out from my first show, and I know he was sent to me for a reason. He is a fellow competitor and is one of my very best friends now. He helped me with mental focus. If you have focus, you can drive yourself to do anything.
My future fitness plans
I do online training, have clients all over the country, and am assistant trainer for one of the most influential people in my life, Adam Bonilla, prepping clients for competitions (or just life in general). I am starting to write articles for fitness and I want to be an advocate for Lupus and other autoimmune diseases. I can set a positive image for people who are fighting a health battle.
There are amazing things in the works for me. Ultimately it is all part of this crazy path God put me on. I will just smile, be grateful, and enjoy the ride.
Suggestions for aspiring transformers
Not everyone will understand your journey, and that is okay. Take one day, one meal, and one step at a time. Soon enough you will realize that you were so focused on all the little steps that you will look back and realize a year has gone by and you have morphed into what you wanted to become.
I believe if you put positivity out there, you get it back in return. If you are always true to you, work hard, train harder, stay humble, love others, help them up, and believe in people, you will be happy. Life is too beautiful to be anything less. Don't take 'no' for an answer, and keep focused on achieving your dreams.
How Bodybuilding.com helped me reach my goals
Bodybuilding.com has always been a staple in my online experiences. It has research for supplementation, contest prep tips, articles when I need motivation, and BodySpace, where I know there are likeminded people. Reading the articles of transformations sets a fire under your rear when you are in need of that extra motivation to get cardio done!
When I have crazy cravings I usually check out Jamie Eason's recipes—love her!—for pumpkin protein bars or turkey meatloaf, delish!