Gym, tan, tupperware: The cycle is endless for one local body builder, chasing her dreams.

Gym, tan, tupperware: The cycle is endless for one local body builder, chasing her dreams.

For many, the holidays are a chance to kick back, enjoy their families and feast on belly bursting meals; meals that give them an excuse to make wild resolutions to get back in shape come January,

But for Marietta and Turner native Kenja Shankles, 28, there are no cheat days. 

She brings her protein packed tupperware to Thanksgiving and will do the same on Christmas. It’s what her life has become now as she chases her life resolution of getting her pro card and competing in the International Federation of Bodybuilding professionally. 

“I did not cheat on one single day, one single meal for 22 weeks,” Shankles said. “That’s the difference of when you stay committed. On my birthday, there’s no cake. I’m always in prep. It’s a sacrifice, but I just light a candle in my tupperware.”

As a bodybuilder, It’s part of the prep grind. Before competitions, Shankles does daily 2-hour workouts and stays on a strict diet for up to 22-weeks prior to taking the stage. Shankles’ commitment paid off earlier this year.

In November, she competed at the NPC National Bodybuilding Championship in Miami, and earned 5th place out of 60 competitors from across the United States. 

Shankles has sacrificed more than just carbs and sweets in her pursuit of bodybuilding.

After graduating school where she earned a full-ride cheerleading scholarship, Shankles worked in a law office and coached cheerleading at Marietta High School. But soon after she felt a void in her life. 

From her days as a Lady Falcon playing basketball and softball to cheerleading in college, Shankles always had a coach at home who pushed her to strive for excellence. 

“My dad was my coach in high school, and he always told me, ‘if you’re going to do something do it full-heartedly, If you’re going to play basketball give it everything—either do it or don’t,” she said. “That has always stuck in my head. To make my parents proud, whether that’s my career, graduating college or whatever, that drives me. When I first saw this I gave it all I got. I’ve never forgotten my dad coaching me as a little girl to either be the best or don’t.”

So in 2013, after finding a bodybuilding coach in Oklahoma City, Shankles began lifting weights with purpose. 

She was going to become a bodybuilder. She was going to be the best.

Her parents initial reaction to her new pursuit was a bit of a shock, Shankles said. 

“Living in such a small town, people didn’t know about bodybuilding at all and so I think people are a little scared of it, because it’s unfamiliar,” she said. “Especially women’s bodybuilding, with men it’s more accepted because you see it more frequently, just seeing these huge guys. For women, when you see someone sculpted it’s a little intimidating. It’s foreign, people just don’t know about it.”

But Shankles said when she was living at home and prepping for her first competition, her mom was extremely supportive.

“At first, she was like, ‘i don’t know about this Kenja’ but my mom was so supportive,” Shankles said. “Anytime I came home late or needed food, I could call her up and say, ‘mom I need some chicken’ and she would cook that up to help support me in any way that i needed it. Once they got used to the idea and got educated on it, they’ve definitely been supportive.”

Fast forward three months and Shankles entered her first bodybuilding competition. The rush of the stage was intoxicating and ever since, she’s never looked back.

“Honestly I’m a very shy person, but whenever I’m on the stage, something transforms in me, I’m not Kenja anymore” she said. “I get up there and I’m just ready to go. It’s an adrenaline rush. You’re not just on a tiny stage, at nationals you’re looking at a double-decker audience with lights everywhere and judges staring at you, critiquing your body. It’s intimidating, but after you’ve sacrificed so much to get up there, and know you’ve done everything you can to sculpt your body, it’s rewarding and a rush for sure.”

Back in 2013, Shankles would tote around her prep bag and constantly change from her professional clothes to her workout clothes as she shuffled back and forth from her job to the gym.

Now, Shankles is a full-time gym rat, working as a personal trainer in Shawnee. 

Shankles said beyond the convenience, the gym is her home. A place where she dedicates her life towards bettering herself and others. 

“Bodybuilding and being in the gym is something I love and am passionate about,” she said. “I just knew if I wanted to further my career in bodybuilding, taking the steps to become a personal trainer was something I needed to do,” 

Shankles said dedicating her life to her passion has had its ups and downs. Part of what motivates her is inspiring others and young girls to get in shape and remind them that any body goal is attainable.

But with an extraordinary physique, she sometimes feels the stares at the grocery store and out in public. But she said the positive reactions far outweigh the negative.

“If I’m in a grocery store, I will definitely have people look at me and you can just tell they know I work out a lot,” she said. “But for the most part, people will come up and say, ‘are you a bodybuilder’ and I’ll be like, ‘yes.’ People that confront me, are really positive and curious about my dedication. People that don’t confront me and just look, you’re always wondering, ‘I wonder what they’re thinking.’ But I haven’t had anybody come up to me and be ugly about it.”

Shankles said while some may perceive a stigma towards female bodybuilding, she’s found that many are inspired by what she does. 

She said in addition to her personal drive to unleash her body’s potential, hearing how she can inspire people to push themselves drives her further.

“Bodybuilding is a selfish sport, it’s just you in the gym and only you on the diet, only you can push yourself,” she said. “But it’s rewarding. To help women to be more confident, I love that feeling. I want to help anybody that I can, but especially women. There’s so much pressure to have this perfect body. There’s no such thing as a perfect body. Most of the bodies they see are photoshopped and when they see someone in real life. It’s like ‘woah.’ Anybody can make their body look the way that they want it to, you just have to put in the work. Anytime I get the chance to talk about it with people, I get on a high about it. Anything I can throw out and help them, I do.”

Shankles is currently hoping to place in the top-2 in a national competition to get her pro card. The next step would be competing in the Mt. Olympia contest.

Kenja said nothing will stop her as she pursues the next step in her goals.

“I don’t think I’ll ever veer off from it,” she said. “If my body can keep being healthy they way that it has, I would love to do it. That’s the end goal, competing in the Olympia against the best of the best.”