Sherry Perper is a 51-year-old single mother of three living in Marlton, N.J. She is also a bodybuilder.
"When I was younger, I was always active, but then after getting sick and having the stroke [in her mid-20s], I got a lot more involved in sports and fitness. Eventually, someone asked me if I ever considered competing in bodybuilding shows, and I thought it would be a good challenge."
She began entering competitions in her mid-40s, figuring anything is possible if you put your mind to it. But then, "I took some time off from competing to focus on raising my children and decided to go back at the age of 50 because it was a goal of mine to be a masters competitor. It was challenging to be doing this at 50, but at the same time, I am very organized and focused. You have to be organized and goal-oriented as a mom, so I already had those skills."
After a five-year break from competing, she decided to get her "pro card" in an all-natural organization (for competitors who abstain from performance-enhancing drugs) called National Gym Association (NGA) at 50. The pro card allows bodybuilders to graduate from competing at a regional level to a national level. Perper competes as a figure contestant, a category that combines bodybuilding and fitness, a difficult feat for someone her age.
Throughout her year of competing, Perper dealt with a lot. Her middle child, Eric, joined the Navy. Her father had to be hospitalized. She woke up at 4:30 every morning for training in order to be a present mother for her youngest son Justin, who is in high school. Perper works as a personal trainer and coach to clients that compete in bodybuilding competitions. Her boyfriend Dan, a bodybuilder, as well, has been her nutrition and workout coach during the entire process. She maintained a strict diet for the shows.
While Perper enjoys the training and preparation aspects of bodybuilding, she does have some qualms with the industry. On the one hand, competing is great for her career as a personal trainer and coach. On the other hand, the utter obsession displayed by some bodybuilders turned her off from shows in the past. However, she wanted to try out an all-natural organization where she wouldn't feel she was under as much pressure, given her family life and age. After getting her pro card from NGA she competed in their Universe show, the final national competition of the year, where she received third place in the Pro Figure and Pro Figure Masters (35+ category).
With her recent reintegration into the world of bodybuilding, she feels more confident about competing in larger organizations. Her children occasionally tease her but are always proud and supportive. Currently, she is taking a much-needed break from competing to focus on family and work. Break or not, she can still be found training at the gym in the wee hours of the morning.