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Former College President Becomes Bikini Body Champion At Age 73

A former college president who became hooked on fitness after seeing her first ever personal trainer when she was 69 is now a bikini body champion – at the grand old age of 73.

Thriving professionally, for two decades Maria Cristina held the coveted position of college president in both Nevada and California – but admits that she grew “heavier, slower and more stressed" after turning 50, as her career took precedence over her health and wellbeing.


But, aged 69, after retiring, determined to get into shape, Maria, of Reno, Nevada, USA, saw her first personal trainer and began working out three times a week, as well as doing 45 minutes to one hour of cardio each morning.

By 2017, she was so toned that she started entering fitness model contests, competing alongside women half her age to be crowned a classic figure, bikini and swimsuit champion.

Now keen to defy stereotypical images of women in their 70s, the remarkable senior citizen, who runs a wellness company as well as being a personal trainer and coach, said:

“A lot of us see slowing down as a natural part of getting older, but it doesn't have to be."
“I'm very open about my age, because who made up the rules about who should be doing what? We don't have to hit 50 and feel dowdy, like it's all over."

Maria doing some aerial yoga (PA Real Life/Collect)

She continued:

“I still have so many things I want to do and plan to train into my 80s and 90s."
“At the fitness competitions I go to, I see men competing well into their 80s, but the women seem to drop off after they hit about 50. I hope they can see people like me competing at 73 and realize it is possible."

When she was younger, Maria was very active, enjoying tennis, swimming and hiking.

Maria taking a swim (PA Real Life/Collect)

But, as she grew older and began a career as a college president, her demanding work schedule meant she neglected her health and exercise regime.

“I was doing my job to the best of my ability, but I forgot about investing that same energy into my own wellbeing. I was compartmentalizing – something I think a lot of women do."

As her 50th birthday came and went, Maria noticed herself slowing down, feeling much more sluggish.

Maria working out (PA Real Life/Collect)

In time, she retired from her job, but it was not until she turned 69 that she began to focus on fitness.

She explained:

“I'd heard about someone I knew who'd been in a similar job passing away. We'd both worked in stressful environments, and this person was younger than me."
“I remember thinking that, unless I did something, I'd be going out the same way. It felt like the right time in my life to start seeing a personal trainer. I found someone who was a career bodybuilder, still competing himself in his 60s."

Maria before and after her transformation (PA Real Life/Collect)

Thankfully, Maria's trainer offered private sessions, as she admitted candidly that, back then, she may not have had the confidence to step into a crowded gym.

She added:

“I absolutely wouldn't have gone into a gym. It takes a brave woman to put on workout clothes in the first place, and I was too self-conscious about being older and out of shape to go into a gym with all those young people."

Maria's trainer asked her for a minimum commitment of three months, after which she started lifting light weights, before slowly building up in incremental steps.

“When I started out, I thought I'd be in great shape at the end of that three months. But that's not the way it works. After being chubby and not taking care of myself, there wasn't a quick fix – it was a lifestyle change."

So, Maria committed to keep going with her trainer. After six months, she noticed a significant difference in her fitness level.

Following a year, she had clear muscle definition and by 2017 – two years after she started training – she was competing on stage in front of a panel of 12 judges from around the world.

Maria at a competition (PA Real Life/Lorenzo Gaspar)

Explaining that she does not class herself as a bodybuilder, she said her ideal 'show weight' when she takes to the stage is 113lb.

In order to make the run-up to shows as stress-free as possible, she works hard to keep her weight the rest of the time within 5lb of her target, usually hovering around the 116lb to 117lb mark.

Standing at 5ft 1in, this puts her body mass index, used to gauge whether a person's weight is healthy, at 21.7 – right in the centre of the NHS' recommended range of 18.5 to 24.9.

Maria working out (PA Real Life/Collect)

“Because I stay within 5lbs of my show weight the rest of the time, I don't have much to lose in the run up. I eat healthily all the time – it's not like I'm eating pizza and drinking beer the rest of the time."
“I limit my sugar and alcohol intake all year round, but about a month before a show, I will eliminate them completely and have absolutely no cheat meals."
“Around that same time, I will start planning what to wear, how to have my hair and make-up and what routine to do. Being presentable in these competitions is just as important as the actual muscle definition of your body."

Maria working out (PA Real Life/Collect)

Maria's first foray into fitness contests was in 2017, when she entered six major International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA) competitions, taking home six titles.

The following year, she scored four first place prizes in both INBA and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) contests.

Then, earlier this month, she headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, where she won first place in the classic figure category of ICN Las Vegas Open Fitness and Model Championships.

Maria on a hike (PA Real Life/Collect)

She also took to the stage to represent the 70+ age bracket in swimsuit, classic figure, bikini and sports model AAU competitions, winning all four.

“The women I competed against were younger than me and all in fabulous shape. It was really fun, and I hope seeing me showed them that they don't have to slow down or stop at a certain age – they can still be competing in their 70s too."

Now, Maria wants to share her age-defying secrets, and works to help other stressed out CEOs and high-flyers – just like she used to be – to live a vibrant life and look and feel their best after 50.

“I feel amazing now about my energy levels and the shape I'm in – and life in general," she said, adding that her best fitness advice for older people is to pick up some weights, as she believes walking alone – which they are often encouraged to do by medical professionals – is not enough.
“I've lots of things I still want to do, from horse riding and learning the piano to flamenco dancing. There is a real joy in being fit enough to do these things, and not feeling I have to be huffing and puffing all the time."
“A lot of the problems with fitness are the big misconceptions. People may think you can only get to competition levels by spending all day in the gym – but I don't do that, nor do I want to."

Maria at a competition (PA Real Life/Lorenzo Gaspar)

She concluded:

“I spend three hours a week with a trainer. Who can't give three hours a week?"
“Women aren't like they used to be. We're doing things differently now, and not aging the way people think we have to."
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