Barbie Thomas: The Armless Body Builder

Good reading folks! What I am is a desperate human being trying very hard to convince myself to do exercise at least once a week! Well, let’s read one great story to inspire us to share our end of the bargain!

Meet Barbie Thomas…

Grabbling on to the wires after she climbed onto a transformer while playing outside her Texas apartment complex, at the age of 2, she lost both her arms. From her hands out her feet, the electric current traveled through her little body, burning her arms to the bone.

Fitness Unarmed, her website biography, she quoted, "They were like charcoal. They were completely dead and had to be amputated at the shoulders."

No one expected Thomas to live. Could you? But today, at 37, she has accomplished what was once regarded as the impossible: Thomas is a competitive body builder and model.

"I thank God I am alive," Thomas exclaims, who now lives with her two sons, aged 13 and 17, in Phoenix. She uses her shoulders as arms, which her children call her "nubs."

According to her, her positive attitude is rooted in her upbringing.

"I was not allowed to be negative and say I can't do something," she told, holding the phone between her ear and her right-hand shoulder, which is more substantial than her left side.

She also claims that, "I was always taught to focus on what I can do, not what I can't do. It probably has a lot to do with my personality -- I can't imagine being a negative Nancy all the time."

It’s not easy to compete! In addition to having beautifully sculpted bodies, fitness competitors must do a two-minute performance routine incorporating dance, cheerleading or gymnastic flexibility.

Barbie Thomas claims that "They are in the same realm as body builders, but instead of seeing the deep-cut muscles, they want to see a nice feminine shape." Experts say something in between a body builder and a bikini girl.

Her dance routines include splits and high kicks and even the ninja kip-up. At Jr. Nationals, Thomas placed sixth in June, and in August, she placed fifth at the North American Championships.

The amateur division of the International Federation of Body Builders, The National Physique Committee (NPC), was so impressed with her performance in their fitness division last year, they gave Thomas their first-ever Inspiration Award.

According to Miles Nuessle, Arizona chairman of the NPC, "She chose the most difficult division of all."

He also said that, "We were thinking, 'How can she do that routine?' but she blew our minds. She was absolutely beautiful. She was on the floor jumping up and doing splits. I don't know what half the moves were called. She was rolling all over the place and shaking it -- sexy, athletic, fun and emotional. The crowd went nuts.”

"You can't use the word handicapped with her or she may punch you in the face," he said. "Barbie is not handicapped."

Doctors said that Thomas might live like a vegetable for the rest of her life after the childhood accident. But her mother prayed that if that were the case, "God would just take me," Thomas writes. "She also made a promise to God that day -- if he let me live, she would make sure that I became 'somebody.'"

"The doctors were boggled by my recovery," she said. "They decided I must have survived because of the rubber soles on my tennis shoes. True, they may have played their part, but I believe I survived because God saw the bigger picture and had plans for me."

You can’t believe what she endured during her childhood! Thomas went through extensive physical and occupational therapy. Adapting to a world without arms was a challenge and even years later she'd have to improvise to do ordinary tasks when she was independent.

"Every now and then, we would have to put our thinking caps on or call a therapist," she said. "I learned to be creative and think out of the box."

Using both her feet to open doors, she makes full use of them in both dance competitions and at home, plug in her music and grab her bags. Imagine how resourceful she was when she uses her mouth to fasten the Velcro snaps on her dance shoes.

"Reaching for high stuff in the grocery store is hard, especially if it's breakable," said Thomas, who uses her shoulder. "If it's a cardboard box, I can usually reach -- I am tall enough -- and knock it into the grocery cart. Sometimes I have to go get help. When I had long hair, I couldn't put it up in a ponytail."

Though she is now divorced, Thomas raised her first son with the help of a husband.

"I did have to pick my therapist's brain to help with a few things with the newborn baby," she said. "But the second one was a piece of cake. I had to kind of prop them up on a pillow and lay next to them as a holder when I nursed them. I could hold them the right way in my lap by using my leg when they were a little older."

You might be asking yourself how much she loves fitness. Thomas said fitness had been part of her life "forever." She played soccer, danced and did aerobic running as she grows up. She got into aerobic lifting with weights when her first child was born and later, she became an instructor.

"I'd go to the gym doing aerobic lifting with weights after the oldest son was born," she said. "I read about [fitness competition] in athletes' magazines and thought it was cool. Finally, I was encouraged by a friend and decided to go for it."

In 2003, she began competing and she faced some odd stares. Nobody could ever imagine where she’s getting the nerves to move on!

"In the first few competitions I felt that when they were calling me to go up, in their hands and their manners, they looked at me like, 'What the heck is she doing here?'" she said. "I put their doubts to rest when they saw my fitness routine.

"There are certain routines that you use your hands for that I can do -- I can kip-up," she said. "When you are lying on the ground it looks like you are falling backward and then you come up. Most people use their hands to push themselves up."

Even though Thomas is capable, she is anxious about doing a back flip, she admit that; which requires arms to get height and momentum.

"I have to compensate and use my upper body more and my leg a lot," she said. "My core is pretty strong.

"The reason I keep going is to prove to myself that I will get on stage and do my damn flip," Thomas said. "I know I can and I will."

Nuessle, who runs NPC Miles Productions, said he once made a comment to Thomas that she said gave her the "fuel" to keep competing.

"At one of the shows I said without pulling any punches, 'It's hard to win when you don't have upper extremities.' The judges look at symmetry," he said. "She got a fire in the belly and said, 'Don't tell me I can't win. I'll use that to motivate me.' … She did make me eat my words."

Demanding weight training five days a week and cardio work every day, the sport is grueling. Athletes like Thomas must pay attention to the nutrition in their diet and stay focused.

But Thomas thrives on the challenge, especially because it sends a strong message to others. Yes, it is indeed an inspiration!

"I realize it inspires many people, and not just those with physical challenges," she said. "Follow your dreams and keep pushing and where there is a will, there is a way. We all have our own stuff to deal with and our own limitations and handicaps. Mine are just more visible. There's always someone else out there who has it worse."

Everytime you don’t feel like lifting some weight to improve or even just maintain your fitness, think of Barbie, she’ll surely get you going!


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