Bodybuilding mom provides muscle and inspiration

  • Written by Claudia Parker


Cheryl Harris is a personal training director who has been competitive bodybuilder for the past three years.



Cheryl Harris of Chicago had no idea she was a source of inspiration to me until now. She’s a personal training director at LA Fitness in Oak Lawn. I have to drag myself through their doors most days. I’m primarily there to deflate my stubborn muffin top. About 30 minutes, three times a week, and spanx can usually keep everything in perspective.

However, for Chery, there is no corset required. She paces LA Fitness like a lioness commanding the jungle. She’s altogether different than us average cubs on the gym floor.

“Wow! You’re a beast. You look amazing,” I told her recently.

She was fresh from competing at the Gary Udit 2016 National Physique Committee (NPC) Teen, Collegiate and Masters National Championship in Pittsburgh, which was held July 22.

Many consider the NPC the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the United States. Amateur bodybuilders compete from local to national competitions sanctioned by the NPC.

Cheryl is a NPC Master Figure Competitor in the category for those age 45 and over. Contrary to what one may believe is possible for themselves after a certain age, Cheryl’s bodybuilding has revitalized her youth. This just shy of 48-year-old mother of two daughters ages 20 and 27 has only been competing professionally for three years.

“This is my fifth competition,” said Cheryl. “The first was a local, amateur competition. I placed first in all categories taking home a trophy for Overall Fitness, Miss Figure and Master Figure. The other four have been National NPC competitions. Much harder, my recent show was a Masters National Pro show. There were over 1,000 competitors. It’s hard to get noticed among that many people. It was my first attempt at getting my Pro Card.”

A Pro Card could open the door for Cheryl to earn a primary income from bodybuilding. Competition winnings, sponsorship by local companies and supplement manufacturers are just a few income streams that could result from a Pro Card. Not to mention print marketing, television and in some cases feature film opportunities.

“I just want the street credit. I placed much lower than I expected in this recent show,” explained Cheryl. “I was ranked 16 of 28 in my category. The judges’ feedback was for me to work on getting smaller, leaner and tighter. They said I need to focus on my hamstrings and glutes/tie in -- that’s the muscle between the hamstring and glutes. You know, that hook the sisters have,” she said with a giggle. “That muscle needs to be smooth and tie in with the glutes and hamstrings.”

“What in the world,” I wondered? “Everything looks perfectly tied in to me!”

I wanted to know the cost. Not just monetary but the full spectrum price tag for the excellence before me.

“Growing up, I wasn't athletic; didn't play sports, but I was fit. I focused on maintaining my health and well-being. I even worked out during both pregnancies up until my ninth month. Fitness has always been important to me,” said Cheryl.

Sometime the thing we find most important becomes the very thing we neglect.

When circumstances in Cheryl’s life began to change rapidly beyond her control, she said her fitness regimen and desire for wellness went by the wayside.

“I lost my job in corporate America that I’d had for 10 years. I was a single mother, things got too hard and I couldn’t maintain. I depleted my savings, lost my house, my truck and even my relationship of four years went sour," explained Cheryl. “I started eating emotionally until it was out of control. At the height of my weight, I was 166 pounds, which was what I weighed nine months pregnant. My body fat was over 30 percent. For my optimal health, it should’ve been between 23 to 25 percent. I suffered from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, migraines, and shortness of breath. I couldn't run a half-block without being exasperated.”

Cheryl’s turning point was watching a bodybuilding competition.

“Just after my 45th birthday I attended my youngest daughter’s godfather’s bodybuilding competition. During his show I began to wonder what it might be like if I were on stage; I’d always been drawn to the sport.”

A nine-month training regimen with a professional trainer followed a meal plan, dietary supplements, cardio and strength training. Cheryl said her workout schedule at its peak was six days per week, three times a day with workout durations of 70 to 90 minutes per session.

“Training for competition is hell. It drains your body, mind and your pocket.” Cheryl said, “The cost to compete for a local show could be $1,500 to $3,000 and Nationals range $3,000 to $7,000 easy. We’re paying for airfare, hotel, ground transportation, makeup, hair and bronzer. Our bathing suit costumes can cost $200 to $2,000.”

She said sponsors are a huge help. “It’s all worth it. I’m not giving up on my goal to earn my Pro Card. My story isn't over. My next show will be in November.”

Cheryl had no idea I was being positively motivated by her fitness success from afar, but she told me she feels obligated to stay the course. She said, “I know people are watching.”

I told her, as I now tell you. Our lives are always on display. It’s never too late to make your influence a positive one.

Cheryl is the owner and founder of Cheryl Harris Enterprises C.H.E. Knows and Profound Touch Mobile Spa where she’s a massage therapist. She’s also a self-proclaimed health, wellness, fitness and lifestyle expert who gives various talks throughout the Chicago area. Learn more at

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.