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SPOTLIGHT: Bodybuilder competes in wheelchair

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Cindi Johnson, a former Ms. Rockford, thought she would never again compete as a bodybuilder.

Johnson was diagnosed in 2005 with multiple sclerosis, myelopathy and a degenerative disc disease. Because of her limited mobility, she uses a wheelchair.

Despite her ailments, Johnson is gearing up to take the stage again at the NPC Grand Prix Natural Competition, an annual local bodybuilding show, which will feature a wheelchair division for the first time.

"I am doing this to let people know that with any sort of disability whatsoever, this is what you can do and accomplish," said the 42-year-old. "I thought it was over for me there. This is a new outlet for me. This is a new beginning."

This year's show, which has 13 divisions, will be May 19 at Jefferson High School and serves as a qualifier for the National Physique Committee, the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the United States.

For competitors like Johnson, rather than being judged from head to toe, they will be judged on muscularity, leanness, hardness, and symmetry from the waist up.

"I am anxious to see this part of the show get some publicity," said Kevin Noble, the show's promoter and a friend of Johnson.

"To add this division has been a humbling and spiritual thing to me. It gives a light to those who are disabled."

Johnson asked Noble, who has promoted body building events in Rockford for more than 30 years, to consider adding a wheelchair division late last year.

"Our shows are pretty big," Noble said. "It takes time to do it, but I told myself after the last show in November that whatever time it takes, it was important to do it."

Johnson has been training for the past two months at Premier Fitness. Her modified workouts have been focused on the upper body since she can't use her legs.

"You really have to be ingenious," she said.

Getting back in the gym has been worth it for Johnson, who spent four years competing as an amateur bodybuilder, capturing the Ms. Rockford 2001 title, and wanted to go farther in the sport before her diagnosis.

"I am excited to go. I want this to get out there," she said. "I want it to continue. I want people to know that they can do it. You don't have to be afraid to spread your wings and fly. If you set your mind to it, you don't have to give up on your dreams."

Information from: Rockford Register Star,