Blogging on Mirror Friendly has given me the opportunity to make plenty of new acquaintances from different walks of life. It is also true that many of these people have made contact with us after finding our content a source of inspiration and motivation, everybody with a story of his/her own. One of these persons is Rachel Bezzina – a young lady with an incredible story from which all of us can learn a lesson for life.
In today’s episode of Mirror Friendly & Friends, Rachel, who is 20 years old, shares with us her journey from darkness to glory; from being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer aged 15 to defeating the disease and becoming a bikini fitness competitor at 20.
Rachel has kindly accepted to answer a few questions which I prepared for her. Here’s a transcript of our interview:
Name and surname: Rachel Bezzina
Passion: Weight training
School/Job: Currently Studying for a Degree in Psychology at the University of Malta while working at Hand in Hand Malta.
Have you always led a healthy active life?
I started training athletics around the age of 11 at which point I never really followed a healthy diet. About 3 years ago I then also started focusing on my diet with the aim of leading a healthy lifestyle.
Athletics! That was also my sport while growing up 🙂 Please tell us more about your years in athletics:
I started training athletics when I was 11 years and continued to do so for six years. The fact I started practicing sports at a young age was influenced by my dad since sports played a primary role in his social and professional lifestyle. I used to compete in various athletic competitions held by the Malta Amateur Athletics Association (MAAA) as well as cross countries. I used to be a sprinter, with the 100m being my main track event, but I also took part in the long jump.
At one point your life took a dark twist as you fell ill. What was your initial reaction to it?
At age 15 I was diagnosed with cancer. Since this type of cancer was a first case for Malta, it took quite some time for the specialists to identify, making it even harder to treat. Becoming aware of my condition naturally came in as a big shock especially being so young. Even though I didn’t know what the treatment would consist of and how it would impact my life, I knew that my daily routine was going to become extremely tough.
You eventually bravely fought your way out of darkness. What impact did this ordeal have on you?
It obviously changed me in various ways, both mentally and physically. It was a rough time which ultimately helped me grow, allowing me to realise what should be the priorities in life. During the two years of ongoing treatment, consisting of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, my body changed drastically. I felt constantly weak, something which I was not used to, this having a drastic negative impact on my social life. I lost a lot of weight and I also lost all my hair due to the aggressive chemotherapy I had to undertake. The huge change in my physical appearance gradually started eating away my self esteem, something which ironically proved to be the turning point as it spurred my motivation to revert back to training with the hope of feeling better about myself. With the last few months of low dose chemotherapy left to undergo, I started training again by myself, this time making sure I coupled exercise with a healthy diet. It was here that I gradually fell in love with fitness as I found it very fulfilling apart from the fact it made me feel stronger.
How often do you work out nowadays?
It varies depending on the time of the year but on average I train 5 times a week.
What is your current typical daily diet?
My diet is pretty routine, having nutritional balanced meals every 3 hours, making sure I have the right amount of carbs, protein and fats by the end of the day required for my body. I obviously allow myself a few cheats every now and then.
Do you feel you somehow changed since you grew fond of fitness?
Fitness has definitely kept me healthy. It also allowed me to identify my potential. Since it is a passion I also find a lot of stress relief in it. Fitness has increased my self-esteem as my hard work/training started to pay off.
You recently successfully took part in your first bodybuilding contest. When did you give this a first thought?
It was a few months ago when I found out of such competitions. My coach suggested I’d give it a go as I had a lot of potential to do well. Since then my interest kept growing and eventually decided to compete in the bikini fitness category. Like many other girls, I was under the impression that such contests where only available for men, however as I discovered later, this was not the case with a variety of female classes featuring in bodybuilding contests.
Please tell us about your experience in this first bodybuilding contest:
Preparing for this competition was far from easy. I dedicated a large amount of my time preparing my meals for the day/week to keep my diet on track and also spent a lot of time at the gym performing intense training sessions. As competition day approached my diet got stricter leading to an expected decrease in energy levels which was not very pleasant considering I had to still attend lectures at university. On the other hand I loved and enjoyed every second of the whole process as I saw my body improving from one day to the other. The competition itself was amazing. The backstage vibe amongst the competitors was awesome and the adrenaline rush I felt once on stage was indescribable. It is at that very moment that you realise how all the sacrifices you would have gone through in the previous months make it all so worth it.
What are you future plans in your professional life and in sports?
I am now planning to continue my studies specifically related to Child Psychology here in Malta while still enjoying a fit healthy lifestyle. I am also aiming to compete again in other bodybuilding contests.
Malta is known to be one of the most obese and less active countries in the world. What are your thoughts in this regard?
In my opinion the reason behind this is simply because until recently education in sports was not given enough importance in schools (especially primary school). I remember having only one or two classes of Physical Education per week which is a very small amount of time in comparison to the time spent learning other subjects. Apart from this, the fact that classes relating to nutrition and health were never introduced in schools plays a major role in this problem especially considering that most of the Maltese traditional food is not quite healthy and still found in the typical daily diet. Introducing such classes at an early stage can quite possibly help in positively changing our mentality and understanding of what constitutes healthy living.
Finally Rachel, after having shared with us your inspiring story, can you please pass on your message to the Mirror Friendly followers?
After having experienced a very rough patch in my life, I believe that one should always surround himself/herself with positive vibes and the ongoing support of family, friends and other trusted people. It is important to always set targets in your mind so as to stay motivated and focused on what you ultimately want to reach. Make sure to spend time engaging in something which you find enjoyable in the same way that weight training works for me. Finally there might be a perception that weight training is not for females due to the unfounded fear that this might lead to having a manly physique, which is totally not the case. Like most other sports bodybuilding keeps you fit, healthy and allows you to unlock new potential which you had no clue about.
Thanks so much for your time and for sharing with us your experience Rachel. You are surely an inspiration and an exemplary model of resilience and perseverance to all of us. We wish you all the very best in life and your future plans. God Bless You!
To fitness with love,