When Stephanie was younger, she was incredibly active; she played sports in high school, swam for years, played volleyball, basketball and rugby. 

That was until a neck injury during a volleyball game. 

“I recovered quickly but it caught up with me when I got older,” she said. “By the time I was 23, I was in unimaginable pain constantly, even getting out of bed was impossible for me at time. At 25 I was diagnosed with cervical spondylosis of my c5 and c6 vertebrae, a condition that usually affects those in their 60s and is used to describe degenerative arthritis of the spine. My doctor decided to put me on painkillers which made things that much worse, I dropped in weight very quickly and it put me into a constant fog and yet I was still in pain.”

Then, at just 26, the strongest woman she knew, her grandmother, passed away. For two years she had been dealing with heart problems, undergoing multiple heart surgeries. Things started looking up for a while; they believed they had finally gotten it under control, then they found it.

“A mass in her lung, a mass that within a month had spread from her lungs to multiple other organs including her brain,” Stephanie said. “It was small cell carcinoma, the same cancer her father had died from, she watched him suffer through chemo and spent three months in agony. My mother had become her caregiver, she did everything for my grandma and my grandma hated it, she was a very strong-willed woman. She survived through so many hardships, her first husband, my grandfather, died in Vietnam in 1968 leaving her with my 3-year-old mother to raise alone. She did that all the while helping others who have had to deal with the same loss.”

But when it came to her own frailty, she had trouble putting her struggles on other people. Stephanie and her family tried to take on some of her burden. 

“I received a call from my mother she told me that my twin sister was flying out from Texas and that I needed to drive down so we could all spend the weekend together, my mother believed that my grandma didn’t have much time left,” Stephanie said. “Three days before my trip down my grandma got a call from her doctor who told her the only option she had was chemo and even with the chemo she had only a few weeks and her quality of life would be worse than what she was currently dealing with. 

“She took her life a few hours after that.”

This sent Stephanie into a downward spiral. She was depressed, felt guilty like there was something she should have done, but most of all she was angry and didn’t know how to deal with it. Her depression got worse, her marriage was in a downhill spiral and she was in physical and emotional pain. She hated life and herself.  

“My husband dealt with it as best as he could, we finally decided we needed a change,” she said. “In November of 2018 we moved, and he started powerlifting again which he hadn’t done in years. He tried to convince me to workout with him, but my doctors had always told me not to lift more than 10 pounds because of my neck. Finally, in February of 2019 I said screw it. I started with just the bar, basically just doing the movements. Within a month I was waking up with no pain, and I was off the pain medication. I was more active with my kids, I was able to take them places and do things with them again. I reached a point I couldn’t wait to workout, and soon I was adding weight never pushing myself to hard in fear I might hurt myself. After a few months my life had turned completely around, my relationship with my husband was better than ever. My depression was gone, and I was finally able to deal with all those emotions I had from my grandma’s death. I learned that it was ok for me to feel angry with her, but that I needed to deal with that anger because what she gave me during her life was so much more important. I also dealt with the guilt I felt for not being there, I dealt with the fact that she did what she did because she was in pain. She has been one of my driving forces when I am training, wanting to prove I can push past the pain, the depression, and anger and come out on top.”

Stephanie has been training for seven months and she has come so much further than she ever thought she could. She went from being unable to pick up her 2-year-old daughter to being able to deadlift 290 pounds, bench 135 pounds, and squat 240 pounds.

“Powerlifting has brought a common love and passion into mine and my husband’s life and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” added Stephanie. “My grandma always said, ‘God won’t throw bullshit your way for no reason, he knows you and built you to overcome that bullshit.’ And I can truly say I have never understood that more than I do now. For others going through similar struggles I urge them to embrace the agony, the pain, the sorrow but don’t let it consume you, use it in any way you can to inspire you to do things you never thought you could.”

When Stephanie saw APEMAN’s “Persevere” campaign, it really hit home for her. 

“Powerlifting is not just any sport for me,” she said. “It’s one that takes everything you got, physically and mentally, which brings out all the ugly in your life and turns it into something you can truly be proud of.”