Armless Body Builder Inspires Fitness World With Her Ability

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"Every now and then, we would have to put our thinking caps on or call a therapist," she said. "I learned to be creative and think out of the box."

She makes full use of her feet in both dance competitions and at home, using them to open doors, plug in her music and grab her bags. She uses her mouth to fasten the Velcro snaps on her dance shoes.

"Reaching for high stuff in the grocery store is hard, especially if it's breakable," said Thomas, who uses her shoulder. "If it's a cardboard box, I can usually reach -- I am tall enough -- and knock it into the grocery cart. Sometimes I have to go get help. When I had long hair, I couldn't put it up in a ponytail."

Thomas raised her first son with the help of a husband, though she is now divorced.

"I did have to pick my therapist's brain to help with a few things with the newborn baby," she said. "But the second one was a piece of cake. I had to kind of prop them up on a pillow and lay next to them as a holder when I nursed them. I could hold them the right way in my lap by using my leg when they were a little older."

Thomas said fitness had been part of her life "forever." Growing up, she played soccer, danced and did aerobic running. When her first child was born she got into aerobic lifting with weights and later became an instructor.

"I'd go to the gym doing aerobic lifting with weights after the oldest son was born," she said. "I read about [fitness competition] in athletes' magazines and thought it was cool. Finally, I was encouraged by a friend and decided to go for it."

She began competing in 2003, and she faced some odd stares.

"In the first few competitions I felt that when they were calling me to go up, in their hands and their manners, they looked at me like, 'What the heck is she doing here?'" she said. "I put their doubts to rest when they saw my fitness routine.

"There are certain routines that you use your hands for that I can do -- I can kip-up," she said. "When you are laying on the ground it looks like you are falling backward and then you come up. Most people use their hands to push themselves up."

Thomas admits she is anxious about doing a back flip, which requires arms to get height and momentum, even though she is capable.

"I have to compensate and use my upper body more and my leg a lot," she said. "My core is pretty strong.

"The reason I keep going is to prove to myself that I will get on stage and do my damn flip," Thomas said. "I know I can and I will."

Nuessle, who runs NPC Miles Productions, said he once made a comment to Thomas that she said gave her the "fuel" to keep competing.

"At one of the shows I said without pulling any punches, 'It's hard to win when you don't have upper extremities.' The judges look at symmetry," he said. "She got a fire in the belly and said, 'Don't tell me I can't win. I'll use that to motivate me.' … She did make me eat my words."

The sport is grueling, demanding weight training five days a week, and cardio work every day. Athletes like Thomas must pay attention to the nutrition in their diet and stay focused.

But Thomas thrives on the challenge, especially because it sends a strong message to others.

"I realize it inspires many people, and not just those with physical challenges," she said. "Follow your dreams and keep pushing and where there is a will, there is a way. We all have our own stuff to deal with and our own limitations and handicaps. Mine are just more visible. There's always someone else out there who has it worse."

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