Local moms find transformation after stepping out of comfort zone

Natalie Barger and Dana Raiford are neighbors, close friends and mothers. They both work jobs that impact the health and wellness of people within our community—Barger as a personal trainer at the Lakota YMCA and Raiford as the kitchen manager at Lakota’s Independence Elementary. However, in October 2018, the Liberty Township pair achieved a new commonality. They both competed in the National Gym Association Monster Mash, a bodybuilding competition. It was a first for these busy, hardworking moms.

In bodybuilding contests, competitors are judged on their overall body symmetry and muscle development. Competitors are required to maneuver their bodies into different poses for assessment.

“This wasn’t something [Raiford and I] ever thought we would do,” Barger says.

“Turning 40 was the big kicker for us. We wanted to be in the best shape of our lives at 40,” Raiford reflects.

After years of being consistent workout partners, Barger casually proposed the idea of competing during a summer trip to the pool. 

“I love training people and felt like it would be fun to have something for me to train for too, and I knew it would be ten times more fun with my friend,” Barger states.

Barger began her 13-week training regimen in early August. Raiford, who was not immediately convinced, would accompany her friend to classes but did not officially begin training until just four weeks before competition.

“If there was a month that I was going to do it, October was it. I needed a good challenge,” Raiford states.

While physical training and clean eating are major aspects of the competition, the biggest challenge they both experienced was actually the presentation and judging portion of the event.

“That part was out of my box because it wasn’t where I was comfortable, but I felt like it was an accomplishment. It’s empowering,” Barger explains. “People would ask why we wanted to stand up on a stage and have someone judge our bodies, but I always told them that wasn’t why we were doing it.”

They did it for the personal challenge: balancing their full-time lifestyles of health and fitness with family and work life.

“It’s finding that balance of when I can work out and not feel selfish at home or guilty about choosing to go to the gym,” Raiford says.

By tackling these challenges, both women have experienced transformation within their own families. They are intentional about their word choices, such as using the phrase “meal plan” instead of the word “diet,” and spend time throughout the year working out with each other’s families so that healthy eating and fitness are part of their children’s normal routines.

“My kids understand that your body is a temple and you should treat it that way,” Raiford states. “They learned that mom’s clean eating isn’t bad, and the food I’m making actually tastes good.”

Barger adds, “I explained to my son that as adults we don’t have a baseball or basketball team. We like lifting weights and going to the gym, but there’s no game to play so this is our tournament.”

Barger and Raiford have both caught the bodybuilding bug. They plan to continue competing this year in order to see more improvement in themselves.

“It’s not about one day where you’re standing on a stage. That event is just the end of a journey and beginning of the next. It’s a lot more than standing in a bathing suit,” Barger explains. “Nobody was there to compete with you; they were all competing with themselves and talking about how far they’ve come. Everyone was so proud of each other because we all knew what it took to get there, and it was a sense of comradery.”

Barger and Raiford encourage other moms to find that balance as well. Everyone wants to be happy, and they have discovered how important it is for every parent to take time for themselves to stay centered each day. The key? Take baby steps and find a routine.

“It’s about women empowering women,” Raiford adds. “Your scars tell your strengths.”

If you are interested in following along their fitness journey, you can find Natalie Barger on Instagram at @NatalieBhealthyandfit.


The Workout

In addition to competing, Natalie Barger is a personal trainer. She suggests a few simple exercises you can try at home or at the gym. Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning a new workout regimen.

  1. Planks: Position your elbows on the floor directly beneath your shoulders. Your body should be in a straight line parallel to the floor. Engage your core/midsection and squeeze your glutes for 15 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds.
  2. Squat walk: Place a resistance band above your knees, squat down low. Stay in the squat position and walk sideways across the room and back. Stand up and rest for 30 seconds then repeat three times.
  3. Wall squat: Squat down like you’re sitting in a chair against the wall for 30 seconds, then stand up and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
  4. Glute slide backs: Place the resistance band around your ankles. Stand with your left foot on the floor and your right foot slightly further back with your heel lifted. Left leg stays straight, then slide your right leg straight back behind you without moving your spine. Bring the slider forward again. Repeat for one minute and then switch sides. Place hands on the wall for balance.