risha Marmo was born nearly 47 years ago in Hialeah, Florida and was raised by a single mom in the Florida Keys. Her mom struggled to support her and her younger brother, and that experience had a huge impact. She was determined, from a very young age, to be successful and decided that getting her education was her ticket out. She was the first person in her family to go to college, and had to work and pay her own way through it. It took her 7 years to get her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Florida, but when you work 2-3 jobs and go to school, it takes a little bit longer. She currently lives in Santa Barbara, California with her husband and five children, and have recently worked as a private lactation consultant. She loves to help people, but in the last five years, she rediscovered her passion for writing, and have newly discovered her passion for fitness and nutrition. Last year, she completed her first novel and this month, she is getting ready to launch a new blog site, which focuses on health, nutrition, and fitness.
You have mentioned it wasn’t until you became a mom and wife, and suffered from some health issues that you started to make your fitness a priority. Can you tell us more about these health issues, how you got through them, and how they have affected your life?
TM: In 2011, my oldest daughter was hospitalized with pancreatitis. She would later be diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, which is a life-limiting genetic disease. It was devastating. I became depressed, wasn’t taking care of myself, developed both a hiatal hernia and ulcers, both of which made it difficult to eat or swallow food. Essentially, this kicked off a negative cascade effect, which led me to become B12 and iron deficient. B12 is important in the development of red blood cell formation and iron is what helps red blood cells carry oxygen. As I result, I suffered from two TIAs or “mini-strokes”, which left me struggling to cognitively function. As a mother of five children, I had always prided myself in being organized, efficient, and on top of things. Simple things, like making dinner, helping the kids with their homework, or carrying on conversations, were a chore. Most days I didn’t have the energy to get out of my pajamas. I became withdrawn, socially, because I was afraid people would notice. For a period of time, I was on 8 different medications and I felt like a woman twice my age. The gym was the last thing on my mind. It wasn’t until one of my children confronted me that I made the decision to take control of my life. One of my daughters said to me, “You need to stand up for yourself, Mom. You have a voice. We still need you, but all you do is lay around all day in your bed.” It didn’t happen overnight, but something changed inside of me that day. I started by weaning myself off of all my medications. I started paying attention to what I ate and eventually met my current trainer, who in the Fall of 2012, approached me about participating in a fitness competition. After everything I’d been through, I thought he was crazy, but he saw something in me I hadn’t yet seen in myself.
“It didn’t happen overnight, but something changed inside of me that day.”
What did you learn from your transformation with putting yourself first and living a healthier lifestyle?
TM: The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my transformation is that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish or self-centered. When you have children, you make a commitment to be there for them as a parent. Taking care of yourself allows you to be your best self and ensures that you are going to be there for your children physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are our children’s role models. When we take care of ourselves and nourish our bodies with healthy foods, we are modeling healthy habits that they in turn will internalize and hopefully carry those behaviors into their own lives. I also learned that the human body is an amazing thing. Not only does it have this incredible ability to heal itself, despite my age and having five kids, I look and feel better than I did in my 20’s.
In 2013, you won 1st place in Fitness Bikini Master 41+ at the Global Physique. How was your overall experience? Did you train any differently in comparison to the very first competition you competed in?
TM: It’s been a year now and I still can’t believe I competed onstage in a handkerchief-sized bikini! I had an amazing first experience! Everyone that I came in contact with was so positive and encouraging and I worked really hard. Diet, for me is what makes the difference. I put in the work, ate clean, and my body literally did the rest. I’m still in awe when I look at pictures from my show. You never could have convinced me that I could ever look like I do now. I weighed over 192 lbs when I had my fifth child! When I first started training, I did a lot of cardio and didn’t lift as heavy. My goal since then has been to train heavier and do HIIT, instead of hours and hours of steady state cardio.
With living a healthy and fit lifestyle, we’re curious, what does your daily diet look like? Do you have any favorite clean recipes you would like to share?
TM: I start every day with breakfast—usually an hour before I train. Before I made the transition to a healthy and fit lifestyle, I’d either eat off the kid’s plates or skip breakfast altogether. These days, I start my morning off with egg-whites, spinach, and whole grain oats or Ezekiel bread. I usually eat 4-5 meals per day that consist of lean proteins, dark green veggies, and I keep my carbs to the first two meals of the day (before and after I work out). Having grown up in the Keys, I love seafood, so my favorite clean recipes are usually centered on fish. Macademia Nut encrusted Sea Bass with Bok Choy sauteed in ginger or Grilled Mahi with Mango Salsa are two of my favorite recipes.
What does your training routine consist of? (Please include a few details – training split, sets/reps, exercises, types of cardio, etc.)
TM: During show prep, I trained 6 days a week, 3 days a week doing large muscle groups:
Monday: legs, Wednesday: chest/shoulders/triceps, Friday: back, and biceps with HIIT training on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I train mostly with free weights or body weight exercises and absolutely LOVE leg day. Squats, dead lifts, kettle bells, leg presses, you-name-it!
In addition to your diet and training, do you believe in supplements? If so, which kinds do you use and what results have these given you?
TM: Before my TIAs, I thought supplements were a scam. I had to take B12 and Iron supplements during my recovery period, as well as DHA to help my brain heal and let me tell you, I am a convert! I no longer need the B12 and Iron (my hemoglobin levels are the highest they’ve ever been in my life with all the dark green veggies I now eat), but I now also take a joint supplement, hair/skin/nail supplement, and a multi-vitamin formulated just for women. My energy levels are high (despite the fact that I get up at 4 am every day to eat before I train) and I feel like I’ve never looked better! My hair, my skin, my nails, my joints…and I’ve only been sick twice in the past two years! I tell my kids using supplements is like fertilizing your flowers. Sure they can grow with proper watering, but using fertilizer makes them bloom bigger and brighter. That’s what supplements have done for me.
We had the opportunity to work together in creating amazing photographs. How did you discover Natalie Minh Photography and came to the solution to work with us?
TM: My trainer actually encouraged me to look into having professional photos done over a year ago. Much like when he suggested I do a show, I probably looked at him like he was crazy, but his suggestion planted a seed in my mind. I started my Facebook page last year and as the months progressed, I realized that I wanted to pursue blogging and developing a website. I looked at a few photographers locally, but after meeting Natalie back in 2013, I did some research online and was wowed by her work. I’m a perfectionist by nature and as soon as I saw her images, I knew she would be the perfect match for me.
Can you please describe the development and production process of your photo shoot, with Natalie and the team? How was your overall experience?
TM: I initially responded to an offer posted on Natalie’s Facebook page and was contacted by Jane, one of her team members. I was walked through the process of contracting with Natalie to do the photo shoot and found Jane to be very thorough and responsive. She was also incredibly patient with my questions. The morning of the shoot, I first met with the MUAH, Eileen, whom I found to be very personable. She asked me a few questions before starting my hair and make-up and in fact, I was so comfortable, I actually dozed off once or twice! Natalie was very down-to-earth and approachable. Working with her was like working with my best friend. I don’t know if all of her clients feel like I did, but Natalie made me feel like we’d been friends for a long time. I think many women feel self-conscious about being photographed, but I really felt that Natalie allowed me to be myself while she captured who I am on camera. Overall, I had an amazing experience and I’d love to work with Natalie again if the opportunity arises. She’s done a good job of surrounding herself with a team of competent people and I have nothing, but praise for their responsiveness and professionalism.
Were there any key factors you came out with during our time working together? (In regards to life, fitness, photography, etc.)
TM: Definitely! I think that each of those different elements are extensions of one another. Natalie was not only able to capture the parts of me that make me an individual, she opened my eyes to the possibilities beyond just being a bikini competitor. I’ve begun to think of myself in terms of branding.
With being a wife, mother of five, as well as having multiple careers, how have you juggled everything and have time to work out?
TM: My day starts early!!! I get up at 4 am, so that I can eat, train, and get home before my husband and kids get out of bed. I have 7 hours between when I drop the kids off at school (all three of the younger kids are in different schools) and when I have to pick them up again to dedicate to work. Once the kids get home, I’m in full Mom-mode till 8 or 9 pm. Then I have one or two hours before bed to focus on chores or more work. Some days, I’m thankful for my iPhone—I’m a pretty good multi-tasker, as most Moms are. I’ve also learned that my day has to be structured around getting my work out in or it’ll never happen.
Do you influence and encourage your children and husband to live a healthy and fit lifestyle, too?
TM: Absolutely! I get the biggest kick out of hearing my children tell their friends about making healthy food choices or sharing with me how proud they are that they are physically active. Our family’s eating habits have changed as a result of this process and it makes me feel good to know that good things have come out of my decision to get healthy. I thought when I made that choice, I was making it just for me, but it has affected my children, extended family, my friends, and even other people in my community to make a change in their own lives.
What are your future plans and goals? Do you have any competitions in the works?
TM: My immediate plans are to get my website up and running and to further expand my nutritional background in order to use my knowledge and experience to help others reach their own goals. I’m excited to be able to combine my two passions (fitness and writing) and would like to explore other opportunities to get in front of the camera again. I said after my last competition that I was going to put away my competition heels for awhile, but I understand there’s an NPC show coming to Santa Barbara in November. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t considering it, but I’ll have to see where life takes me in the next few months. I’m open to exploring my options and I’ve learned to never say never!
Any shout outs?
TM: I’d love to give a shout out to my trainer and friend, Michael Browder of MB Fit for believing in me and encouraging me to go outside my comfort-zone and to my children, Taylor, Alec, Lauren, Carly and Gregory, for inspiring me daily; they push me every day to be my best self! I’d also like to shout out my husband Chris, my extended family, and friends. There’s nothing better than having people who know and love you stand behind you and your dreams.
Lastly, where can we find you on the Internet?