In 2011, Evelyn Okinyi Owala, 38, began her fitness journey not knowing it would not only grow into her new career path, but put her on the world stage as a world class body building champion.
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“I originally started going to the gym for two reasons,” Evelyn says. “Firstly, I found out that I had cysts in my womb. I eventually went for surgery, but they recurred. Secondly, I wanted to have a nice body. You see all ladies on TV or magazines and you admire their bodies. We often imagine they were born like that yet they have put in a lot of work to look the way they do. I began body building, the art of sculpting the body to the shape you desire using weight lifting and cardio, and I got the body I wanted and eventually my cysts disappeared,” she explains.
In her quest to be healthy, Evelyn also changed her diet. “I eliminated greasy food, processed food and dairy from my diet.”
According to Evelyn, body building has completely changed her life. “When you are disciplined enough to master your body and sculpt it according to your desire, it means you are not only fit but that you have also mastered food. This helps one become more confident. It changes how you think, expands the way you see things. In fact, it affects every aspect of your life, even finances. If you are able to be disciplined in one area it gives you the confidence and discipline to conquer other areas of your life. It changed me physically, mentally and emotionally for the better.”
So inspired was she by how body building had changed her life that, in 2016, Evelyn quit her job in banking to become a trainer.
“I now help clients with food and training plans to help them achieve their body goals. Plus, I am flexible as I am not located in one gym only, I move to various gyms around Nairobi depending on the convenience of my clients.”
Eveyln says her family is supportive of her new career path. “My husband, a banker, was very supportive from the beginning. But the rest of my family took some time to warm up to the idea. However, when they realised I was able to build a successful career out of it, they crossed over to my side.”
She says most people, especially women, never get to benefit from body building because of the many misconceptions about women who body build.
“The first is that everyone who is a body builder takes steroids. That is not true. If you work hard and eat right, you will build your muscles naturally. Others think if a woman body builds, she will eventually look like a man. I mean, look at me, do I look like a man? The younger generation, on the other hand, fears that if they body build, they will not get a man. They do not know that the right person will come and like you as you are.”
Evelyn says what a lot of women do not know is that they can get great results from body building.
“If you are a woman and you have been training hard; doing everything from running, to cardio at the gym and you are not seeing the results you want, I advise you to try body building and see what happens,” she says.
When it came to competing, she says it was never the goal. Evelyn originally did body building for fitness and for her own joy with no intention to get into competition.
“I got into competition after friends and family persuaded me as they believed that I could go far. When I first started competing locally in 2015, I did it for fun. I won Ms Kenya Figure 2016, 1st Runners up Figure 2017 and 1st in Miss Kenya Figure 2018. I had always wanted to compete internationally because body building competitions in Kenya have limited categories, but I was always limited because of funding. I really wish that corporates could come in and start to sponsor body builders. Nevertheless, in 2019, I decided to put my savings together to see how far I could compete internationally and it paid off,” Evelyn narrates.
Notably, in 2019, Evelyn won important championships that propelled her from amateur to pro status. “I was first in the 2019 IFBB African Championship, first in the Arnold Classic Africa Championship (2019), eighth in the Arnold Classic Europe, and third in the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) World Cup 2019. I will also hopefully participate in the Arnold Classic Africa Championship 2020.”
Importantly, Evelyn competes in the wellness bodybuilding category. “The category focuses on symmetry, proportions, and the general appearance of a competitor. Although one is required to be fit with a firm appearance, one also should have fuller hips, thighs and buttocks. It’s a category that enables a competitor to have a fuller figure. Specifically, you need to be curvy but muscular. Further, one is also judged on everything from make-up choice, to shoe type, to bikini size, to hairdo choice,” says Evelyn.
When asked whether she was ever shy about wearing a bikini in front of the judges and the audience, she explains: “In the beginning, it was nerve wrecking, but it is just like swimming, you quickly get over your shyness because what people come for is the competition.”
Evelyn adds that body building is a calling and not for the faint hearted. “On days where I am not training for a competition, I try to train twice a day, but when a competition is near, I usually have to train for four hours every day, two hours on cardio, and spend another two on weight training. I currently have a Brazilian coach. However, because he is located in Brazil, we communicate online.”
“When going into competition, we talk regularly and he provides detailed instructions on the grams of everything from rice, to chicken that I need to eat. Every week I have to send a picture for him to see the progress I have made with my body and he adjusts everything from my diet to workout plan so that we can accomplish our goals. Also, usually before any competition, we meet on location two or three days before in order to ensure that I am in top form, and if any adjustments are needed. I also have a friend who helps to coach me, and I also have to coach and self-motivate myself.”
Lastly, apart from the joy she gets from bodybuilding, and the opportunity to travel, what Evelyn holds most dear to her is seeing the medical conditions of her clients reversed.
“I have seen people who came to see me who were losing muscle in their whole body or when they slept their joints became dislocated or those with feeble bones or pain in their joints see tremendous improvement. I have also seen clients who had fibroids or hormonal imbalance get better because of body building and changing their food plan. That is what makes my work very rewarding,” she says.
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