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What Is Your Gift?

What Is Your Gift?

My friend Mary Ellen, who lost her husband slightly over a year ago, was still grieving when she met Ricky Lee Bryant, a well-known body builder in southern California.

As a result of her training with Ricky Lee, Mary Ellen not only rebuilt her body but also recovered her joie de vie and stamina.

I know very little about the sport of bodybuilding, so I interviewed Mary Ellen to find out more:

C: What is bodybuilding and how did you get started?

ME: Bodybuilding is a physical activity designed to enhance muscular development and promote general health and fitness.

I’ve been involved in bodybuilding on and off since 1987. But from the moment I walked into the gym where Ricky Lee trains, I knew I’d found my home What Is Your Gift?.

At the time there were very few women in the gym. That didn’t bother me. 

C: Who is Ricky Lee Bryant, your trainer, and what were you trying to accomplish?

ME: Ricky Lee is a former Mr. Natural Universe [which means no steroid use] who is known and loved throughout the bodybuilding community.

In my case, I was recovering from severe spinal stenosis and wanted to go back to the gym. When I met with Ricky Lee, he agreed to be my trainer.

C: Why do you enjoy training with him?

C: We have a terrific relationship. He’s part drill sergeant, part guru. I have enormous respect for not only his extensive knowledge and experience but also his ability to see how far I can go. Somehow, he motivates me to try even harder. One of his favorite instructions is “Now clear your mind.” 

Mary Ellen with her trainer, Ricky Lee Bryant
(Photo by Ricky Lee Bryant)

And when he suggested that I even compete in a bodybuilding contest, I was speechless and beyond excited What Is Your Gift?.

C: Are you going to compete?

ME: I’m looking now at competing in either June or December [2023]. My trainer will make the decision when he thinks I’m ready.

C: Do you enjoy training for competition? Surely, there can’t be that many women in their late seventies who compete in bodybuilding.

ME: I can’t imagine not training. Perhaps in the future, I won’t train as hard as I do now. But training will always be a part of my life. So far, Ricky Lee and I have not found anyone my age who is a novice, competing on the bodybuilding stage for the first time What Is Your Gift?.


Pressing 225 pounds
(Photo by Ricky Lee Bryant)

C: What will you wear during competition? What are the prizes?

ME: My plan right now is to wear a custom-made, royal blue, bejeweled bikini. Typical awards are trophies, swords, and medals.

C: How do you account for your determination?

ME: My mother once told me I had more nerve than brains! Once again, I’m proving her right. Of course, I’m also an expat Manhattanite. By that, I mean I’ll always have a New York state of mind: I’m empathetic, determined, resilient and a persistent advocate.

C: What are you trying to prove to yourself or advocating for through your bodybuilding?

ME: I was born in 1944. Clearly, my age isn’t a secret. Just the opposite. I’m proud to be seventy-eight years old. And what I want to prove to myself—and everyone else who considers themselves an it’s-too-late-I’m-over-the-hill senior—is simple: if I can do this, maybe you can reach your dream too.


On the beach at the Pacific Ocean
(Photo by Rochelle Harris)

Set yourself a goal—one that you think you can never do—and just go for it. It may be hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. And beyond fun, it’s ultrarewarding.

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Mary Ellen’s perspective reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Madame Curie, who said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained."

What is your gift?

Cover photo courtesy of Rochelle Harris