Professor by Day, Bodybuilder by Night

by Cheryl Cormia Stoneham ’76

Cheryl Stoneham

I’ve always exercised, but without much directed intent to reach a goal. Actually, I had no idea what my goal was or how to reach it. It wasn’t until 2005 after an annual check-up that my life took a turn. On top of being overweight, my cholesterol level was well over 260, and my blood pressure was at stroke level. I was given a choice of one of two options: either exercise and eat more high fiber foods, or simply do nothing but take these little pills, probably for life. Therein was my motive and my goal.

I was 51 and, in my menopausal anguish, decided to challenge myself. I got a personal trainer to help me. I trained as much as my schedule allowed and ate oatmeal for breakfast, sometimes with berries. At the end of 30 days, I had successfully reduced my cholesterol level to 180, and my blood pressure was within the normal range. Astonished, I knew I needed an incentive to continue an exercise regimen. In February 2006, at the urging of my trainer, I attended the LA FITEXPO, where I met Joseph Wheatley, the promoter for Muscle Beach Venice. He was encouraging and supportive. I worked with my trainer on a new goal: to be a body-building figure competitor.

As I continued to work out, gradual and noticeable changes took place. My first competition was on Labor Day 2006 at Muscle Beach, Venice. I took a deep breath, stayed focused, and “just did it.” I won first place! It was such a rush—I was hooked.

Why do I love training and competing? First and foremost, the burst of energy is exhilarating. Exercise is beneficial in general because “things” actually seem to work better. I not only feel stronger, but in control of myself as well. However, I must admit that after following a stringent diet plan, a demanding work-out regimen, and developing a competitive mindset, the most appealing factor really is the physical transformation.

Cheryl StonehamI remember when I first realized that it was possible to completely change my body, especially at my age. Regaining muscle tone—well, muscles period—was very encouraging. Even when I eventually stop competing, I will follow an exercise program for life. Take note, ladies: exercising strengthens all your muscles, even the ones you don’t see.

Although the connection might not be obvious, being a body builder has benefitted my career as an English professor in many ways. I’ve noticed my increased stamina, reduced stress, more patience, and a consistently good mood. My students are aware that I work out frequently and compete on stage. I always discuss the importance of a balanced diet and daily exercise, while also encouraging them to practice healthy living. Many have joined a gym and/or are taking yoga, another activity I practice and encourage. They have told me about the physical changes they’ve noticed and how they feel.

I use myself as an example that it is never too late to make a positive change in your life. I realize that at my age I’ve stepped out of the box, away from the norm or the expected path, and ventured into what I thought was no longer attainable. I have enjoyed this change and hope to inspire others to reach a little further to be and do what they want. That said, I feel like the next half of my life is still unwritten.

Stoneham holds a master’s degree in linguistics with a TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) track minor and is currently the ESL chair at Los Angeles Valley College. She has won several bodybuilding competitions, including the 2008 Mr. & Ms. Muscle Beach Bodybuilding and Figure Championship, the 2009 Muscle Beach Championship, and the 2010 Muscle Beach Championship Bodybuilding, Figure and Bikini Competition.