She said she couldn’t lift 10 pounds the first time she went to the gym. Nearly seven years ago, the 135-pound woman could barely bench press the 45-pound bar. Today, she can bench press 175 pounds.

Jessica Gaines is a former soldier who has always been physically active, from childhood to present day. Today she is an Army spouse, married to a cavalry trooper, and she has been on a mission to take her fitness up a notch, to the professional stage.

Gaines grew up in Newark, N.J., with six siblings she wrestled and rough-housed with around the house. The self-proclaimed tomboy was active in sports and was named her high school softball team’s most-valuable player one year.

Yet she didn’t grow up a fitness junkie per se. She joined the Army not long after high school, and after her service, Jessica, now 36, stayed fit by hitting the gym.

However, in 2007 her regular workout schedule took a turn.

While working out at the gym with her husband, now Sgt. Maj. Aubrey Gaines, she was approached by a personal trainer who suggested she try bodybuilding competitions.

“Stepping on stage, the thought alone was beyond intimidating,” said the mother of two.

But her personal trainer was insistent, and Jessica Gaines put aside the fear of “stepping on stage half naked” and decided she would try it once.

Her husband, who is also a bodybuilder, helped get her in shape.

“Aubrey threw on his drill-sergeant hat and we went to work,” she said. “It was nothing but hard work and sweat, to include 16 weeks of hard-core dieting.”

The hard work paid off. She took sixth place at her first women’s figure competition at the 2007 Capital of Texas Roundup, one of Texas’ premiere bodybuilding competitions.

“I was bummed, yet thrilled in the same breath,” she said. “Not only did I get the nerve to step on stage ... I was not far from top five.”

That competition fueled the flames. She took the next two years to solely focus in the gym. While living in Hawaii, her time in the gym again netted results.

She won the 2010 Armed Forces Bodybuilding competition, where she tested the waters in the women’s bodybuilding class.

Yet she said she never felt she was competing in the right category between women’s figure and women’s bodybuilding.

“Either I was too small, or I was leaning over into too much masculinity,” she said.

In 2011, a new category developed in the world of bodybuilding — women’s physique. This was the class where she belonged, Gaines said.

She competed in the Junior USA Bodybuilding Championships in Charleston, S.C., in May 2013 and won.

Gaines took part in her first competition as a professional in August in Dallas. She finished middle of the pack out of 32 women.

Although she did not finish top five, which is her ultimate goal in any competition, the experience was more than enough.

“We can do anything we put our minds to,” she said. “If we are determined to get there.”

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