Lifting expectations - Debbie Grant is fit and fab at 57
Debbie Grant's new toys are boxing gloves and battle ropes.
At 57, the bold and determined wife, mother and grandmother carries around a body that is sculpted, very well defined, toned and proportioned.
In the past, she has ridden horses, and two years ago she learnt to ride a bicycle and became a spin instructor. Absolutely nothing stops this fitness buff, who attends boot camps and loves working with the men in the weight room.
She told Outlook, "You cannot buy muscles - you have to earn them. The more muscles you have, the more fat you burn. And, no, I don't look like a man." Grant scoffs at the idea that women who lift weights look manly.
Her passion in the gym showed brightly last Saturday, as she stood tall on stage as the oldest female competitor in the Masters Bikini category of the Supligen Jamaica Amateur Bodybuilding and Fitness Association National Championships, at the Alfred Sangster Auditorium at the University of Technology in St Andrew.
She rocked the stage with self-confidence, poise and a sense of purpose. But Grant was not always this lean, mean, machine.
In fact, she was chubby as a child and gradually changed into an average, pear-shaped body type - which she was not happy with at all.
"Four years ago, I joined a gym after I realised there was a middle-age spread and 'jelly rolls' making me feel lethargic and unhealthy," she told Outlook.
She lost a lot of weight doing cardio, but quickly regained it. She then switched to weight training and hired a personal trainer, Daniel Morris. "That was the best decision I made as I had a commitment to show up and train four days a week," she said.
Giving up some of her favourite foods in the 10 weeks leading up to the competition, and shedding 15 lb in the process, Grant lauded her trainer, "who understands that the physical and mental challenges of his clients are crucial in motivating, achieving and sustaining their physical fitness goals."
Training for the competition required six days per week of intense weight training, cardio and a strict competition dieting.
"It required meal preparation and since I am always on the road, I had to travel with numbered Tupperware containers and a gallon of water daily."
She said the hardest part of the process was making a complete change in her eating habits. "You can't out-train a bad diet," she quipped.
"The competition diet was a strict, timed plan which changed weekly and sometimes daily, based on the body changes that materialised. Protein consisted of low-fat items such as egg whites and baked/grilled/steamed meats, specific kinds of fish, chicken breast and shrimp," explained Grant.
Grant was inspired by friend and fellow competitor Tamara Trainer. Her facebook friend Ashley Bruno gave her competition diet plan.
She ate plain natural oatmeal with cinnamon and water some days and specific vegetables such as spinach (not calaloo), mushrooms, cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes.
"Carbs from black beans, quinoa, small portions of sweet potatoes, plus fats, such as avocado, cashews, almonds, walnuts and olive oil on salad."
Grant had to drink a gallon of water every day. In the two weeks before the competition, she drank distilled water. "Yup - that same water we use in an iron or car battery. No salt, no artificial sweeteners or gum - they cause bloat," she explained.
Processed food such as cereal and anything made with flour, was excluded from her diet. She was never one for desserts, however, somehow her body seemed to know it was being starved of sweets. "And they became more appealing but I didn't cheat."
She had no alcohol - not even a glass of wine. She explained that alcohol stops the fat-burning process and takes a while to pass through the system as it goes through the blood. Fruits were also a no-no because they are full of sugar (fructose).
"I love Chippies Banana Chips and Wasabi potato chips. I call myself a cow - always grazing - always snacking. I can consume a lot. I love food. So this was huge for me."
Looking back at the sacrifices she made, her proud trainer, Morris, expressed hope that she would be an inspiration for people of all ages. "It was hard work and dedication that brought her to this. Especially the diet; diet is everything."
Morris, who is from the United Kingdom, trained two other persons in the competition. Grant received her training at the Miami Fitness Centre in Ocho Rios, St Ann.
Although quite 'fit' and muscular before entering, she said she had a tummy that she concealed well. "This programme earned me the six pack I have always wanted."
She lost 15 lb in 10 weeks. "I will regain some of this as it is impossible to maintain the competition diet long-term, but I now understand the technique of eating specific items every two to three hours and training to achieve a particular body type for competition. I have nothing but respect for any female or male who weight trains and competes. It is gruelling but so rewarding. This is my passion. I embraced it late in life and will share my experience and assist anyone who shows an interest," said Grant.
Grant was not the only one who benefited from this competition. Indirectly, her girlfriend Elizabeth Summers, who prepared and packed all her meals, grocery shopped and kept her on track, joined her eating plan and training and has lost 50 lbs.
Encouraged and supported by family and friends, Grant who is a very private person, says her husband, Louis, became an ardent supporter but will be relieved to see her eating normal again.
This experience has allowed the retail consultant, who manages five hotel gift shops, to grow as a fitness athlete.
"It is a complete package - mind and body - to achieve a physique which is of a certain standard for competition," she said.
She got a lot of encouragement and messages telling her how inspirational her journey has been. "If I can change anyone to think differently about their health and the sport of weight training - then I am very happy. We have one life! Health is wealth."