Three years ago if you told Desmona Cole she would one day stop drinking alcohol, stop eating fast food and become a bodybuilder, she'd have probably laughed in your face.
"My friends used to think of me as a lush," Cole said. "And I loved food. The worse it was for you, the better I liked it."
But those days are long gone for Cole, who, over the past two years, has placed in the Top 3 in two all-natural bodybuilding pro-qualifiers.
And at 35 years of age, the graphic designer from Rexdale says she's in the best shape of her life.
It was her boyfriend, Shaun Campbell, who introduced her to bodybuilding. "He had been competing for years before I met him," Cole said. "I would watch him train for a show -- no salt, nothing sweet, no alcohol and workouts twice a day -- and I would say there is no way I would ever do that.
"What happened, though, was that in October of 2004 I went to a competition with Shaun where we were helping out backstage. The competitors and other people working the show kept asking me if I had competed before. I guess it was because I was wearing this tank top and I had naturally muscular arms. This wasn't the first time I heard stuff like that so I decided maybe I should give it a try. It would be one hell of a goal."
Cole said the timing was also right. She was in her early 30s and had always had problems with what she calls her "big thighs and big arms" and she wasn't happy with the way she was living.
"It wasn't the way I looked that was troubling me as much as my unhealthy lifestyle. It had gotten to the point that I wasn't concerned with my diet, and all of a sudden I felt like I was a bit out of control with my eating and drinking."
Cole felt she had the necessary discipline to become a bodybuilder. She had been doing graphic design since graduating from York University, and at the time she had just started her own graphic-web design business called Keiba Designs. But in hindsight, even though she knew what it took to become a bodybuilder, she said she wasn't fully prepared for the road ahead of her.
"The whole workout thing was a shock to my system. After my first leg workout, my legs hurt me for about two weeks. Through the whole process, I'm saying to myself, 'Why am I doing this?' But after seeing what your body can do and how it's changing, you want to push yourself to do better the next time you get in the weight room."
Cole pushed herself to a third-place finish in her first competition.
But along the way she had alienated some of her friends.
"Some of them thought I was weird because I stopped drinking and eating bad food, and they felt I was working out too much," Cole said. "But I couldn't worry about what my friends or people would say.
"I know when people think about bodybuilders, they think of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, but Shaun and I compete in drug-free events."
They also host their own all-natural events through a company they founded called International Drug Free Athletics.
On Saturday at the Glenn Gould Studio in the CBC building on Front St., the IDFA will hold Canadian Classic II, featuring natural bodybuilding, figure, fitness and urban dance championships.
"We host events like this to give natural competitors a chance to compete on an even playing field," Cole said.
The Canadian Classic II takes place this Saturday at Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front Street West. Doors open at 11 a.m.
For more information visit canadian-classic.com.