When I beat my drums…
When I get obsessed with photos…
When I get so excited about every small progress…
When I update every step I make, every change I see…
Please allow me to gloat about it.
Nimetoka mbali my friend…
I never ever in my wildest dreams thought I’d see my abs…
Never ever did I dream I’d see any sort of muscle definition…
Never ever did I believe I’d pull through a single workout without believing the heavens were beckoning!
Never ever did I think I’d step on a bodybuilding stage.
Yes, this is my journey.
Yes, I transformed from fat to physique
Yes, I moved from dying during warm-ups into a fit bada**
Every single word on my bio is as real as real can be!
I am queening…
I can't remember when I last wrote a poem. But you got to meet Myra Denousse to understand why she had to gloat like this on Instagram.
When I touch base with Myra the Sculpture (her sobriquet) at the gym, she is seated on a bench with a Putin-sized table in front of her.
She has just completed her workout of the day, a one-hour 30-minute session. She is sapped, her face drowsy but still manages a smile when our eyes lock as I make my way in.
I offer a hug to warm her weary looks but she is quick to warn.
“Careful, I am all soggy. Today was my leg day and perhaps you might know leg workouts drain so much from one.”
The mother of two doesn’t look her age. She is about to celebrate her 47th birthday but judging from her physique, she cuts the image of a woman 10 years younger. Her firstborn is 25 years old and the second one is 22.
Struggle with obesity
I tease the 5’1 fitness trainer and nutrition coach that I have never met a 46-year-old with an hourglass body shape until her. She isn’t flattered but manages a smile nonetheless.
“Mine is a story of despair to Mayfair. Would you believe it I was once obese and almost unable to walk because of my weight? And would you believe me when I say I have also won a bodybuilding competition?”
Looking at her, Myra is well-toned top to toe, but there isn’t even the slightest indication of shredded muscles on her body, the SI unit of any bodybuilder.
She offers an explanation.
“It is very difficult for a woman to be shredded all the time. Having low body fat for a woman every time, because that’s what shredding is all about, is crazy. Plus, it affects our hormones and you know female bodies are complicated, so you have to cycle. That’s why I look like this, bulked up because I am off-season.”
Myra's fitness journey began in 2017.
“I became obese because of a bad lifestyle. I used to eat high-calorie foods such as fried foods, fatty foods, and processed carbohydrates. Fried chicken, pizza, and milkshakes were my favourites. I also had a sweet tooth, I would never leave the supermarket without a bunch of those. You would always find me with a bar as I queued at the cashiers.”
For close to a decade this was her lifestyle.
“When I started my journey I weighed 88 kilos, for my height 5’1 my ideal should be 50-55 kilos. Right now I weigh 61 kilos because of what we call body composition.”
According to the nutritionist, there is a difference between BMI (body mass Index) and body composition and this affects someone’s weight.
“You can have a body composition that is higher in fat and lower in muscle or you can have more muscle and less fat. When I started my fitness journey, I lost about 60 kilos because I did a lot of cardio. My muscle mass was very low then. But when I switched to weight training my body composition changed, so that explains why I am 61 kilos.”
High blood pressure
Because of her weight and inactive lifestyle, Myra developed high blood pressure.
“I would also suffer anxiety and panic attacks sometimes. Because of this, I found myself frequently visiting the doctor and mostly on an emergency basis. You know when the pressure is high, you're struggling to breathe all sweaty and nervous.”
Maya credits her doctor for saving her.
“I was lucky to find a good doctor. One day he sat me down and said, ‘If I put you on high blood pressure drugs you have to know there is no turning back. You will take them for the rest of your life, but there is another option, exercise. He is the first doctor I have ever heard prescribe exercise instead of medication.”
Having come from a family where she witnessed her kin battle high blood pressure and some leading to heart diseases because of taking the drugs over a longer period, Myra opted for exercise albeit halfhearted.
“For three months he put me on a programme where every single day I would record my blood pressure on a chart, then I would do some physical exercises. The exercises were mostly walking.”
She started by walking seven kilometres every day then gradually increased to 14 until her blood pressure was manageable.
“I had also started watching my diet but it was more of a trial and error, trying a lot of things from the internet. But I did lose weight.”
But even after cutting some weight, Marya wasn’t off the hook. She was still in a precarious situation and that’s why she enrolled in her first gym after trying home workouts for a while.
“I struggled a lot at the gym, I was bullied by fitness trainers/instructors. I was out of shape and nobody wanted to walk the journey with me. I needed guidance. For instance, we would be in a cardio session and the fit ones [gym goers] would be placed at the front row and I would be pushed to the back. Some would also shove me during the session. It was disheartening.”
Marya changed gyms three times but was still met with the same attitude from trainers.
“Nobody saw any good in me. That’s why along the way I developed a passion for becoming a nutritionist and fitness trainer, specifically a personal trainer to help people like me.”
At some point, Marya quit the gym and focused on home workouts. When she was sure she had lost some considerable amount of weight, and looked a bit lighter, she went back to the gym.
“This time I was lucky enough to meet a trainer who was kind to me. I had lost so much weight, I was very skinny when I went back and so he put me on weight training and along the way introduced me to bodybuilding.”
Myra's first bodybuilding competition participating in the physique category, was in 2019, two years after she started her fitness journey.
“It was the Iron Fit Kenya 2019, I won. In 2020 I placed second.”
For the longest time, there has existed a narrative that women in bodybuilding can only achieve such shredded bodies by the use of steroids or ingesting testosterone, a hormone found in abundance in men that is responsible for muscle growth.
Myra demystifies this.
“It’s very possible for a woman to go into bodybuilding and get shredded with muscles without steroids. Essentially, shredding needs a change in macros (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) intake. When you understand how to tweak your calorie intake and know when to be in a deficit, maintenance, and surplus, you will achieve the body-building physique.”
Myra is quick to warn how expensive bodybuilding can be.
“Preparation for a competition is always four months. For those 16 weeks, you are to consume lean high protein-dense foods like turkey, salmon, or chicken breast every single day. In most cases, you will consume one kilo a day because you need to eat five meals a day. How much is that? If you add the supplements, we are talking of an expenditure of at least Sh50,000 per month. This is why it's called bodybuilding.”
When she last competed in 2021, she placed fourth. She plans to compete again.
When she initially enrolled in the bodybuilding competition, the motivation was to see how far her body could stretch.
But now, with the new crop of young bodybuilders young enough to be her daughters, she has no desire to be on the same stage with them.
The Sculpture has now shifted her focus to personal and home training.
“I’m a personal trainer, I offer family packages where I do home visits to train people who are not comfortable going to the gym. I also do nutrition coaching.”