Looking into the mirror wasn’t always easy for Leanna Carr.
While in her second year of college at the University of Georgia, she started gaining weight. And the Flowery Branch High School graduate wasn’t happy about it.
So, she set a New Year’s resolution in 2012 to shed the additional 30 pounds she gained.
“I just wanted to lose weight,” said the 5-foot-4 Carr.
Unlike many resolution-makers, the 24-year-old stuck to her goal and turned it into a successful career. Carr is a professional powerlifter and figure builder in Georgia. She travels across the country, speaking at seminars and hosting workshops for people interested in her sport of choice.
Carr started losing weight by exercising and eating healthier.
She said she was satisfied with her progress as her body starting shedding pounds. But her sorority sisters at UGA were not always supportive of her new physique and training methods.
“It was lonely for a while,” Carr said, who admitted she “was definitely selfish for a while.”
Then, Carr’s competitive spirit kicked her workouts into overdrive, and she began competing in figure and powerlifting competitions.
Powerlifting is divided into two types: raw and wrapped. Wrapped includes knee braces and elbow pads, while raw doesn’t. Carr competes in raw.
In powerlifting, participants compete in three components: squat, bench and deadlift. The squat is balancing the weight on the shoulders, then squatting down to where the legs are parallel to the ground and standing up. The bench is laying on a bench, lowering the weight down to your chest and then up and locking your arms. The deadlift is picking the weight off the floor and pulling the bar until you lock your hips and then returning it to the floor.
Carr’s personal best for the squat is 303 pounds, 165 pounds for the bench and 350 pounds for the deadlift.
Her numbers have qualified her to compete in nationals.
To qualify, candidates are given three attempts at each component. With each attempt, the weight increases. Each competitor receives a score for each attempt. Then a total score is awarded.
If you have a high score, participants may apply for nationals.
Last year, Carr placed third. But this year, she was recovering from a fractured patella.
“I almost dropped out,” Carr said.
But she gathered her courage and bags and went anyway. She was happy she did.
“I didn’t start this to win, I did it because I love it,” Carr said.
When she isn’t powerlifting, Carr competes in figure or physique competitions. They are the equivalent of female bodybuilding, which is based around a low percentage of body fat. The competitor’s muscle mass should stay in between heavily muscled bodybuilding physique standards and model-thin body fat counts.
Carr is in the 63 kilograms class, which equates to 138.8 pounds. She has to stay in the weight range to compete, which can cause its own problems. Before a meet, some resort to water training, which is dangerous.
But consistency is the key, Carr said. She accomplishes this by eating “clean” for two weeks before and only drinking water about 16 hours before a meet.
While she has experienced the highs of winning, she has had to deal with the lows of the sport.
She suffers from body image issues, which is very common in the fitness industry.
“It can be a superficial sport,” Carr said. “I learned myself that abs don’t equal happiness.”
Her obsessive nature, which turned her hobby into a passion and career, pushed her to an extreme point during her training.
At one point in her life, she was spending more time in the gym than with her friends and family.
Her family was hesitant to go along with her new career at first.
Carr’s mother asked her not to get too “big” or too “manly.”
Now, Carr sticks to a workout routine, but allows time for hanging out with friends or visiting her family.
Her family has followed suit and supports her 100 percent. Her mother even altered the way she prepares Filipino foods to not negatively affect Carr’s diet regimen.
“I’m human, too. I like carbs,” said Carr, who doesn’t like to deprive herself of food when she craves it.
But Carr is not alone in her struggle with keeping a balanced lifestyle and maintaining a good body image. She has seen other competitors deal with similar issues.
After coming off stage at a figure competition, some women will say, “Now what?” Carr said.
She added all women compare their bodies to others or what their bodies could be.
“You can say, ‘Oh, I’ll be happy when I drop 10 pounds,’ or if you fit into a dress,” Carr said. “But that’s not going to make you happy.”
To combat these negative thoughts, Carr fights against body image issues through social media.
“It’s never OK to body shame anyone,” said the woman who has more than 84,000 Instagram followers.
Carr uses her network of fitness Instagram accounts to inspire others in their personal fitness journeys by sharing workout routines or healthy recipes. Instead of showing off her physique, she wants help women and men live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
“We should be helping other women, not trying to bring them down,” Carr said.
According to one anonymous woman, Carr changed her life for the better.
“She saved me from low self-esteem and depression about my body image that I’ve suffered the past couple years,” the woman said in an email to The Times.
And Carr knows about being torn down online. She admits to being bullied.
Negative comments on her Instagram photos have said she has “too much muscle” or told her “don’t get too manly.”
Therefore, she’s “very cautious about what I post,” Carr said.
Now she is focusing on her new project, IronWoman, and her online clients. To that end, she and Pete Rubish teamed up for a seminar to raise money for Backpack Love. The seminar was Oct. 24 at Iron Beast Barbell in Gainesville.
“It’s cool to have meetups, but we wanted to give back, too,” Carr said.