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VENTNOR, N.J. (AP) — At only 29 years old, Christina Waters, of Ventnor, already looks back on her life and sees it defined by extremes.

When Waters was high school age, she attended Absegami and Holy Spirit. She was involved in athletics full time, running track in the fall and winter and playing soccer in the spring.

In her 20s, the alcohol she sneaked out of her mother’s cabinet as a teen developed into an addiction to drugs, mainly heroin, but also cocaine.

As Waters closes in on 30, she has returned to her teenage devotion to athletic competition to keep her mind and body away from drugs.

After only eight weeks of training, Waters entered the NPC Eastern USA Championships in bodybuilding Nov. 11 in Teaneck, Bergen County, where people qualify for national competitions, although it is not a national contest itself.

Waters won medals in the category of figure, which is the level between bikini on one end and physique and bodybuilding on the other end as far as muscle definition.

“I really couldn’t believe it,” said Waters, who added people outside of Island Gym, where she trains, didn’t think she would do well. “You can do anything you can visualize in your mind.”

For the longest time in Waters’ 20s, she couldn’t visualize not doing drugs.

It took Waters leaving the area and being in rehab for 90 days, a portion of which was in-patient, in Florida, for her to make the most progress in being drug-free.

Waters credits former Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell, whom she said has always been there for her, and fellow Ventnor resident Paula Maccagnano, who has first-hand knowledge of the recovery process, with helping her before she went to Florida.

“Throughout my life, I never seemed to grasp the concept. Going down to the Florida, everybody I knew was no longer around,” Waters said.

While doing in-patient rehab, Waters started doing yoga and walking, as she says, to “quiet” her mind. After rehab, but while still in Florida, she would ride a bicycle seven miles to work as a manager of a halfway house with her headphones in. She also started visiting gyms while she was there.

From June 2016 to this past September, Waters was in Florida. She returned to South Jersey with the goal of competing in a bodybuilding contest.

“I used to come to Island Gym back in the day. I used to work for Island Gym,” Waters said.

When Waters expressed an interest in returning to Island Gym, she received a text message from Jason Dobson, the FITx training director.

Dobson found out that Waters wanted do a bodybuilding contest and discovered she had eight weeks to prepare herself for the competition that would be most appropriate for her. He had trained a couple of girls she went to high school with. He had been a trainer to people in recovery previously, so he decided to train her himself daily.

“The idle mind is the devil’s playground,” said Dobson, who added the same chemicals released in the brain when people find pleasure in drugs are also emitted through exercise.

The process of training for a bodybuilding competition is not simply about lifting weights. It is also about showing lean muscles with definition, which includes changing a person’s diet and decreasing calorie intake while doing cardio, resistance and other training.

Waters said there were days where she burned more calories in exercising than she took in eating.

“There was a lot of self-doubt,” said Dobson, who was there for Waters when she broke down emotionally.

They trained to win, but traveled to Teaneck with a sense of humility, Dobson said. Waters said she wanted to present the best package of herself. She had seen one bodybuilding competition in person, but never competed.

Besides the self-esteem boost Waters received from winning, she finds fitness is helping her embrace and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Waters now has new goals of earning a personal training certificate and competing on a national stage during the NPC Junior USA Bodybuilding Championship on May 18 and 19 in South Carolina.

“It creates a positive mind. A positive mind creates positive decisions,” Waters said.




Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.),