By Leslie Rice Hart
Penelope Nino, a Personal Fitness Trainer, has a very personal and inspirational story of change and new beginnings, apropos for springtime, a reminder of the rebirth that comes after winter.
I wanted to bring you Penelope’s story to show you how, no matter what happens in your life, with goals, determination and desire you can make positive changes to create a fresh start.
Penelope and Francisco, who were engaged, made the move to Florida to start a family. They had big plans for their future together. Everything changed almost three years ago when Penelope received an urgent phone call to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Francisco had been in a horrific motorcycle accident on his way home from work. It was April of 2003 and her life was about to change drastically.
Francisco was hospitalized for seventeen days, in a coma the majority of the time. AsPenelope sat by his side she considered the situation carefully. She realized that even as young, strong, and healthy as Francisco was, the trauma that he experienced was severe. If he survived he would never be the same. “I believe that I was already in mourning,” she reflects. When Francisco passed away, a part of her died along with him.
In the days following Francisco’s death, Penelope considered therapy as a possible option to help alleviate some agony and stress she was going through. Because she is a very private person, she chose instead to rely on the support from her family and friends. “I did not speak of his death often. It is difficult to explain, but it was as if Francisco’s death had not become a reality yet, I believe I was still in shock.”
As time passed, she began to withdraw from the people she loved. She did not speak much and often found herself at the cemetery. She was anxious to leave Florida and move back to New York to be closer to family. She knew in her heart she needed to make major changes in her life. “I was attempting to reinvent myself.”
She made a decision to change careers and go into fitness full time, as a Personal Fitness Trainer. She wanted to touch people’s lives and feel like she was personally making a difference every day.
“I wanted to continue living the life of the person I had been before the accident,” she explains. She pushed herself in a positive direction despite the fact that there was an energy trying to spiral her downward. She began to workout a little bit each day, the outlet to release the negative energy that consumed her. She knew she had to practice what she was preaching to her training clients. “Francisco and I loved fitness, whether we were running outdoors or working out at the gym. Working out was a favorite pastime that we shared together. I loved him for the wonderful man that he was. Working out with him and having someone who was into health was the icing on the cake. We often talked about preparing for bodybuilding competitions together.”
She decided she would set a goal for herself. Penelope would train for her first bodybuilding competition, in honor of Francisco. “My goal was to win my first show as a tribute to our love and life together.”
She realized that if she set a goal to win this competition, then that would be her motivation to live the rest of her life as she used to when Francisco was alive. “Working out has such great benefits. A person can feel physically better, as well as relieve stress. Working out is just as emotional as it is physical,” says Penelope. She prepared for her first show by focusing on nutrition. Penelope was used to having 3 balanced meals daily. She made the decision to change her habits and eat smaller meals, 5 times a day, to speed up her metabolism. The meals were well proportioned; protein, carbohydrates and fats (e.g. fish, brown rice, broccoli and fruits). She drank a lot of water.
Penelope saw a dramatic change in her body that motivated her even more. She combined a work out program of weight training, cardiovascular and flexibility training. Being flexible allows for better performance of the exercise and relieves the soreness many people feel a couple of days after a workout. Soon she found herself in a routine that worked for her, and she continued to pursue her goal. She focused on her quality of sleep and coping with stress, as well. Penelope explains, “We all want to change our physiques, but we cannot get there unless we are emotionally there. Determination, dedication and consistency were definitely my friends.”
In her first contest, the 2004 Atlantic States Figure Championships, Penelope came in 2nd place, a victory she dedicated to Fernando. She continues competing and is on the National Physique Committee (NPC), bodybuilding organization.
She has competed thus far in these contests:
2004 Atlantic States Figure Championships, 2nd Place
2005 Atlantic States Figure Championships, 2nd Place
2005 Team Universe & National Figure Championships, 12th Place
2005 Eastern USA Figure Championships, 1st Place and Overall Figure Champion
Certified Personal Trainer, NASM, AAAI/ISMA Pre & Post Natal Adult CPR/AED
You can contact her at