Weight Lifting, Weight Training, Bench Press & Bodybuilding
January 31, 2023
Mari Kudla-Donnelly

IFBB Figure Pro - Fitness Model - Personal Trainer

For those of you who would like to get to know me a little bit better, here's my story.

I was born and raised in North Royalton, Ohio, which is a suburb just south of Cleveland. I grew up with a large yard, lots of animals and two older sisters. I was actually on the quiet side, even shy (believe it or not!)

Both my sisters, a few years older, were very active in cheerleading. When I began to show interest in the sport however, I was persuaded away from it. My parents had had their fill of cheerleading! Instead, I enrolled in my first gymnastic class at eleven years old. I was in love with it immediately and took my place on the competitive compulsory team shortly after. My early life was soon revolved around gymnastics, practicing 4 days a week often for 3-4 hours at a time. Looking back on it, I believe that it was at these long practices that I formed my work ethic, ability to set goals, and push for results.

I continued to compete on the private club team until just before high school. I was beginning to miss out on the little things in life that took place outside of gymnastics. This is also when I accepted that I had started this sport at a late age and just did not have some of the abilities of the younger gymnasts. This was a hard fact to face up to because I loved everything about being a gymnast.

However my spirits were lifted as I competed for my high school team, was named captain of it, and found that I could motivate and help instruct my teammates with less of a gymnastics background than myself.

In 1998 I moved to Columbus to attend Ohio State. Following my love of animals, I pursued a degree in Wildlife Management. In between classes I taught aerobics and began lifting weights on my own. ( I should mention here that this was not my first experience "working out". Years of gymnastics and all of the grueling strength and conditioning exercises had kept me 'body conscious' and kept me in shape). One day I was chatting with another aerobics instructor who was eating tuna straight from the can. Horrified, I asked her why?

She was preparing for a 'fitness competition'. Well I knew nothing of these competitions, and actually wasn't really interested in them. What did interest me was that she had a personal trainer that guided her through her workouts. I met with Mike Davies and decided if I was going to lift, I may as well do it right and get the most out of it.

Working with Mike Davies...

Working with Mike Davies was a fantastic, motivating, challenging journey from day one. I never could have guessed how training under him would begin to change my life. With much apprehension, he convinced me to show off my hard work at a small competition. Summing up all my nerve, one year and two days after I had first met Mike Davies, I stepped on stage for my first fitness contest. I couldn't believe it when I won!!! I became hooked with that first taste of achievement.

Under Mike's guidance of proper diet and exercise I went on to compete in 7 shows my first year (2000 season). By the time Christmas rolled around I held one overall title, three 1st, two 2nd, and a 3rd at Nationals--I missed turning pro by just a few points!!!

After an exciting yet exhausting year I took a break from competing and started a family with my husband. Dennis has always supported my goals and is the one who 'shook me from my shy shell' in order to start competing. He is a fabulous father and our little Lenna is the best trophy anyone could ask for! I guess she was a little rebellious from the start, because the pregnancy didn't go quite as smoothly as I planned. After a cesarean, a long recovery and a move back to Cleveland, I was so anxious to get back to the gym!

By now (early 2002) the NPC had started the new Figure Category. With my new daughter absorbing more of my time, a house, two dogs and a cat to manage, I decided to cross over and devote all my training time to my physique. Eight months after delivery, I was stunned when I won my first show back, the Monica Brant-Body Rock 2002. A few weeks later I received my Pro card by taking first place in New York at the Team Universe and Figure Nationals.

I was shocked and almost asked if there had been some mistake ....I just had a baby! Before it could even soak in, I traveled to Brno, Czech Republic for the World Amateur Body Building, Fitness and Figure Competition. USA took home two medals, silver and I carried the bronze.

Competing in the first ever Pro Figure show at the Arnold Classic 2003 was such an incredible experience! To be on stage with women that have served as inspirations to me was very exciting. Placing 4th was the chocolate icing on the cake:)

After third place finishes at both the Pittsburg Pro and the Night of Champions I took a brief off season to prepare for the First Figure Olympia. My first time at the Olympia was fun, exciting, exhausting and memorable. I was so happy to come in fourth place that it took a few days to realize it. Before I had time to relax it was off to the last contest of the year-the GNC Show of Strenght. I would close the competition season out with a fourth place medal at this invitation-only event.

I then spent my off season keeping busy training myself, furthering my career as a personal trainer to others, and chasing after my little angels; Lenna, Godiva (our black lab), Twix (australian shepherd) and Spaz (our cat who earned his name). Soon it was time to prepare for the Arnold Classic again, cause i got the invite. I had a wonderful time again, especially knowing what to expect, however I placed 6th. Next up was the Pittsburgh Pro again, and with the addition of some new Pros and my hectic life, I again placed sixth. I planned to do the California Pro show at the end of May, and use that chance to shoot with a few west coast photographers while i was there. The show was well run and I took home seventh, as well as some of my best photoshoot pictures ever!

I took the summer to prep for the Olympia in October. I knew it was going to be a tough show, especially with the expanding Pro scene, so i trained as hard as ever and believe i looked my best yet.

I was excited to be back in Las Vegas but had a feeling that i would not be leaving with a placing i was happy with. The prejudging round confirmed my thoughts and I ended up with 7th place. While i was appeciative of the level that i was able to compete at and just to qualify and place top 10 at the Olympia, it was disappointing after all the months of work and sacrifice i had put in.

It is now the Holiday season and i am putting this past year behind me and spending much needed time with my family and mostly my daughter. I will be living my next few months with slightly different goals and it will be an intersting lifestyle change.

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