This past weekend at the NPC Junior USA Bodybuilding Championship, only one bodybuilder among hundreds of the men and women competing got a standing ovation. Though she didn’t win any major awards, armless bodybuilder Barbie Thomas had the Charleston, South Carolina crowd cheering and on their feet. The 37-year-old mother-of-two lost both her arms during a horrific electrical accident as a toddler – but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her bodybuilding dream.
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Standing ovation: At the NPC Junior USA Bodybuilding Championship this weekend, armless bodybuilder Barbie Thomas had the Charleston, South Carolina crowd cheering and on their feet
Highlight: Thomas, 39, didn’t win any major awards, but was undoubtedly the star of the show for attendees
Barbie says she can do anything an average person can do – except she uses her feet.
That includes brushing her teeth, making dinner, taking milk out of the fridge, texting, shopping, putting on makeup and even driving.
The competitive mother-of-two was given an emotional standing ovation by competitors and spectators at the NPC Junior USA Bodybuilding Championship, South Carolina.
She said: “I’d say to anyone, you can do whatever you put your mind to.
“The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself. Everyone has limitations and handicaps in some way or another – mine are more visible than yours maybe.”
Competition organiser, Tres Bennett, was first introduced to Barbie when she requested that her trainer be allowed to come backstage – a request he normally rejects.
But was astonished when she said: “I need him to help me put on my costume. It’s because I have no arms.”
They have been firm friends ever since.
Barbie – who has been married three times – began bodybuilding back in 2003.
She said: “I used to read about all the fitness competitors in magazines – and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I wanted to be like them and do the things they were doing. I thought it was amazing.”
Thomas decided to take the plunge into the sport after years of doubting herself and wondering if she’d even qualify because she didn’t have arms to do the competition mandatories: “I finally called the locale chairperson and talked to him about it; and he gave me the green light.
“So in 2003 I entered my first fitness competition and loved it. Now it’s in my blood and I can’t live without it.”
Thomas lost her arms when she was two years old. She climbed onto an electrical transformer and grabbed the wires. The electricity entered her hands and surged through her body – scorching her arms down to the bone and turning them into something ‘like charcoal’
“The doctor said I wouldn’t live – and if I did live, I’d probably be a vegetable,” she said.
“But God had a different plan for me; I’m still here, healthy, and alive and well.”
Not only is Thomas alive and well but she continues to push her body to the limits by dancing, swimming and playing soccer.
“My first few fitness competitions I did get some funny looks,” she added. “I’m sure people were wondering what I thought I was doing up there. Obviously it’s a physique competition and I’m missing part of my physique and I don’t have the symmetry of what they are looking for.
“But after I did my routine for the first time, people realised that I was an athlete just like the rest of them – and I did belong up there.”
“I don’t know why they go as crazy as they do for me; maybe its something different.”
So far, Thomas’ greatest bodybuilding victory came in March 2012, when she came in fifth out of six competitors.
She added: “It was actually the first time I placed ahead of people – and that was a big milestone for me. Even though I still was fifth place, I was happy I placed ahead of someone – someone who actually has 2 arms and their whole body.”
Bodybuilding gives Thomas a goal to work towards and makes her feel good about herself. Her workouts vary each day from cardio and abs to stretching and track work.
When not competing, Thomas loves doing the things a normal mum would do and enjoys looking after her two sons.
She added: “Yes there are the challenges and trials that come with bringing up kids. I don’t think mine were any different – I just had to use my feet. But I got through it and my kids got through it.”
“Sometimes I have to sit on the floor or sometimes I have to sit on the counter – but its still the same stuff you do. The mind is a really very powerful thing and so is attitude – and if you keep a really positive attitude and believe in yourself and believe that you can – then anything is possible.”