Clunk… Clunk… Clunk. The noises of weights being pumped by people in the gym are the only sounds heard over soft-toned music. The gym is practically empty at 4 a.m., but that’s why Electronics Technician 3rd Class Rachel Bartosh goes early, so she can strictly focus on her workout program and meet her goals.
For Bartosh, who is stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Lifting weights, let alone being physically active, was just a daydream years ago.
She had to overcome severe physical limitations that required open-heart surgery and the possibility of never being able to workout again.
She was determined though, and now recently trained for her first bodybuilding competition, the 2015 Northwest Competition Coloring National Physique Committee Northern Classic Championships in Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 10, where she entered and competed in the ‘physique’ class portion of the show.
“I was born with my left coronary artery in the wrong spot, so when I would over exert myself I would have an episode.”
According to Bartosh, an “episode” consisted of her getting lightheaded, seeing purple, and feeling like the world was spinning.
“I ended up getting corrective surgery and had to see a cardiologist every year, once a year, until I was 18,” she said.
The surgery occurred when Bartosh was only 11 years old. She had open-heart surgery and was unable to do physical activity for a year, both pre and post operation.
“After not working out for so long I couldn’t even lift 15 lbs.”
Because she was unable to do anything physical for such a long time, Bartosh said she became really sick of being lazy and living a sedentary life. As soon as the doctors said she was able to work out again she joined her school’s track and field team, and she has been working out ever since.
Bartosh said she has been lifting weights on and off again since she was in middle school.
“At A-school I got into lifting again because I was roomed with another female who lifted, and I worked out with her,” said Bartosh. “I had C-school in Virginia and that’s when I started taking it more seriously, and I started to think one day I could compete.”
Growing up with two older brothers who were adamant about being in the gym also gave her inspiration to lift heavy weights.
Now, Bartosh is committed to staying fit and eating healthy. She works out almost every day and has a prep coach in Oregon who prepared her for her first bodybuilding competition and is working with her to get ready for her next show.
Even though her progress from open-heart surgery to bodybuilder seems an incredible feat, Bartosh hardly sees it as overcoming the odds.
“For me having open-heart surgery isn’t that big of a deal,” said Bartosh. “I kind of see it as I got over a cold in a way. For everyone else it’s always a big deal.”
However, she has felt that there have been challenges along the way, and maintaining her diet can be one of the most difficult ones.
“People will say things like, ‘you can have a donut,’ or ‘you can have a piece of pizza on duty,’ and I have to say ‘no’ and tell them I want to eat clean.”
Staying motivated is often what helps her stay on track during hard times.
“Sometimes it’s family who motivates me, like a random voicemail from my mom saying, ‘you’ve got this Rachel,’” said Bartosh. “Seeing professionals and watching their videos also motivates me because everyone starts somewhere, and if they were where I’m at, I can be where they are.”
As she continues to meet new fitness goals Bartosh motivates others along her path.
“My friend from C-school tore her ACL, and she is in the recovery stage,” said Bartosh. “She texts me saying how proud she is of me, and how I’m inspiring her. I’ve even made some female friends in the gym, and they tell me that I motivate them.”
Other Sailors on the ship have seen the progress that she has made and some have extended a helping hand to help her reach her goals. Information Technician 2nd Class Gerardo Espinoza opens his home up for her to come and meal prep.
“She’s a lot more disciplined than she was when we first met a year and a half ago and more aware of what she wants to do,” said Espinoza. “If someone says they don’t have time to workout or eat right, she’s a good example that you do have time and you do have the resources.”
Staying fit more than just motivates others; it also allows her to perform her job more efficiently.
“I am on the mast and island team,” said Bartosh. ”Working out keeps me in shape for going up and down the ladderwell. We go all the way to the top and back down carrying five gallon pails of paint.”
For Bartosh, hard work and discipline have made it possible for her to achieve her goals and compete in a ‘physique’ class bodybuilding competition. Overcoming open-heart surgery and many other challenges, she stays motivated and perseveres, motivating others along her way.
“When I first started this journey I made the rookie mistake to have the mindset ‘in it to win it,’” said Bartosh. “Luckily I got my head reset on my shoulders and I realized this sport is not me against everyone else, it’s me against me.”
Motivating others, performing her job better and becoming more disciplined are all benefits of training to compete, but the biggest payoff for Bartosh was being was being able to compete in her first body building competition. Overall, she placed seventh, but just being able to compete and go on stage is further than many people will ever make it.
Story and photos by MC3 William Blees