Strangers often walk up to Maya Stone in the mall, boldly grabbing their own love handles, and asking, “How do I get rid of all this?”
The Bowling Green native, who is in her early 30s and chooses not to reveal her exact age, once was in the middle of a scene at a local restaurant's drive-through window when a group of children ran to her car while she waited for a salad and begged for an autograph. They had recognized the attractive local woman with soft, shoulder-grazing black hair from seeing her featured on ESPN and MSNBC Sports.
People constantly stare at her 5-foot, 3-inch, approximately 132-pound and extremely muscular frame. She says some people glare at her rock-hard body with distaste; others look at her with sheer admiration.
Welcome to the world of a female competitive body builder.
“Luckily, I've had more positive reaction than negative,” says Ms. Stone, who adds that some people have stereotypes and preconceived notions about the amount of muscle mass a woman should have.
During competition, the amateur body builder, who hopes to turn professional next month, said her body fat is reduced to a dramatically low 2 percent. (The average body fat for women is 33 percent, with the healthy range at 20 to 25 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health.)
Whatever the reaction from others, Ms. Stone, who has a 7-year-old daughter, Sania, is comfortable in her skin, loves her strong muscles, and is living her passion.
“I'll do this as long as my body lets me . . . the gym is all I know,” she said during a recent break at Central Tennis and Fitness, where she is the fitness coordinator. The 1988 graduate of St. Ursula Academy also flexes her brain muscles as a Toledo Public Schools long-term substitute teacher - she currently works at Newbury Elementary School. She adds that her students and her daughter think her muscles are “very cool.”
Ms. Stone finished first this summer in the middleweight class of the 2003 National Physique Committee, Inc., (NPC) USA Bodybuilding and Fitness Championships held in Las Vegas. The victory highlights years of competition, which began in the early 1990s when the longtime athlete finished first in the Miss Ohio body building show. She has won many titles since.
Before her recent middleweight victory, she won a title this year in the heavyweight class, and was the overall winner in the Body Rock Competition held in Fairfax, Va.
For her victory in Vegas, she switched from competing as a heavyweight to a middleweight at the recommendation of a friend, who told her that her height makes her seem small when competing against women who are usually taller in the heavyweight category. Body building classifications are based on weight, not height, and Ms. Stone had to lose 10 pounds to compete as a middleweight.
Ms. Stone is training to compete in the NPC National Bodybuilding and Fitness Championship scheduled for Nov. 14-15 in Miami. There, she hopes to turn professional.
All body builders must win a qualifying NPC show before they can receive their “pro-card” from the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB). The NPC, formed in 1982 as a federation for amateurs, has more than 20,000 members and sanctions some 1,000 annual competitions.
If she qualifies in next month's show, Ms. Stone can earn business and product endorsements, conduct guest appearances, and win prize money for competitions. Amateur body builders do not receive prize money.
“That's the level I want, and to one day compete in the Arnold [Schwarzenegger] Clas-sic in Columbus, and the Olympia in [Las] Vegas - those are both pro shows,” says Ms. Stone. She also dreams of taking her knowledge of fitness and body building to a business level with her own line of products and training videos.
The daughter of Winifred, a retired associate dean of the graduate school at Bowling Green State University, and Marva Stone, a homemaker, Ms. Stone said her athleticism started at age 5 when she began to ice skate. She skated through her years at Bowling Green Junior High School, then be- came more interested in track.
“I was a sprinter and ran ... relays. I wanted to stay in shape for track and started to lift weights - I've loved it ever since,” she said.
Her older brother, Mark, 38, has been a huge influence on Ms. Stone's body building. Mr. Stone describes his sister's passion for body building as tenacious.
“While she was still in high school, I used to sneak her in my dormitory's weight room at BGSU and teach her the basics of body building. She passed all the requirements and later joined a weightlifting club ... she loved it.
“But there's always a stereotype cast on women as far as what a fit woman should look like. I think body builders like Maya are unique because they define themselves and their own level of fitness,” said Mr. Stone, co-owner of an exercise, conditioning, and sports rehabilitation company in Deerfield, Ill.
Ms. Stone says she is not worried about perceptions, because women such as herself, players in the WNBA professional women's basketball association, and tennis star Serena Williams are breaking down stereotypes about how the female form is viewed.
While she loves body building, Ms. Stone is candid about the dangers of preparing for competition.
“Someone advised me that I should start competing in the middleweight division, so for the USA show in Vegas this summer, I had to drop 10 pounds in two weeks in order to make the middleweight cutoff.
“I had to dehydrate my system and if I wanted water I could only sip down about 8 ounces and that's it. I was dry as a bone and got down to 2 percent body fat. Although I won the middleweight division, the whole flushing out of water from your system and what you have to do to prepare for a show can lead to all sorts of internal and kidney problems,” says Ms. Stone, who added that body builders must limit their number of competitions each year in order to allow their bodies to recover.
Her brother agreed:
“It's one of the most grueling levels of fitness. In the off-season, body builders can be very healthy, and during competition they must maintain proper care, and proper nutrition, and be extremely disciplined,” said Mr. Stone, who added that he would like to see his sister turn professional and go into the business end of body building.
Fellow competitive body builder Lamar Goodwin, a Toledo personal trainer who also hopes to achieve professional status at the NPC Nationals next month, said Ms. Stone is a role model for men and women in the sport.
“She is very focused and works very hard. She gets up at 3 or 4 in the morning and drives from her home in Bowling Green to work out at the gym in Toledo every day, and she sticks to her diet - that takes a lot of dedication,” said Mr. Goodwin, who works out with Ms. Stone at Powerhouse Gym.
Ms. Stone's boyfriend and promoter, Tony Tuggle, said Ms. Stone was his inspiration for returning to the gym and incorporating weightlifting and fitness into his lifestyle.
“She educated me on nutrition, and the proper way to lift and I ended up losing 35 pounds and building muscle. I thought I knew everything before meeting her. When I train with Maya, she teaches me the proper way to lift.
“I am truly amazed at the discipline, she's just so totally connected with it, and the dedication. There's got to be a word more powerful than disciplined to describe her, but that she is.”
- RHONDA B. SEWELL