EAST PROVIDENCE — Stacie Wildenhain Venagro sat at a counter inside the Shake It Up Fitness & More studio, where she works as a part-time cardio kickboxing and “Boot Camp” instructor, thumbing threw photos of her at the Golden Nugget Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas on Saturday, Nov. 17.
She hadn't flown out west for the more typical reasons – gambling and/or taking in a show or two. Instead, the 27-year-old Pawtucket native wanted to partake in the 2012 World Miss Fitness America Pageant.
“I look at these pictures and I'm, like, 'How did I do it?'” she smiled as she displayed a photo of her after officials had voted her the new world champion. “Honestly, it's insane. I can't believe I accomplished something so great in such a short period of time. I still don't realize what I did. It still hasn't hit me.
“I know they were streaming (the event) live on the Internet, and that friends and family back home here were watching me,” she added. “The only thought going through my mind was, 'Stacie, don't cry!' I didn't want to because of all the support I had received from everybody watching me. Even though they weren't there, I felt they were.”
She indicated she was incredulous even when she was named one of the five finalists, and found herself standing on the grand ballroom stage with the other women, who hailed from Minnesota, Connecticut, New Hampshire and even Finland.
“I was stunned just to be in the top five,” she claimed. “The guy announced the fifth-place winner, then the fourth, then the third, and I was like, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God!' Then they named another girl the runner-up, and I was, like, 'Are you kidding me?' I just can't believe it. I mean, it was only my second competition.”
See VENAGRO, page C3
With her title, she received not only a trophy but also her pro card, meaning she can compete in any Fitness America professional pageants she chooses in 2013.
“It's all about your physique, your gymnastics, dancing and athletic skills,” she stated. “I had to do a two-minute routine consisting of gymnastics moves, strength holds and showmanship. After that, there was a bikini round, so judges can check out your physique, then an interview round.
“I know my husband, Mike, was extremely proud of me, and so were my parents,” she continued. “I'm still blown away by the whole thing.”
How Venagro came to be a world champion is a pretty wild story. She had always been athletic, dating back to her childhood days as a gymnast and dancer, and her teen-age years as a student-athlete at Davies Tech.
She played four years of basketball for the Patriots, and – as a senior co-captain – hit the winning bucket at the buzzer of a R.I. Division III Tournament semifinal against Central at Rhode Island College. A couple of days later, however, Davies lost the title bid by nine points to eventual champion Mount St. Charles.
She lettered all four years there, and also competed on the girls' outdoor track team before graduating in 2003.
Not long after she first attended RIC to chase her dream of becoming a health and physical education teacher, she decided she didn't want to be a member of the “Freshman 15,” referring to most college kids gaining 15 pounds during their first two semesters, so sought a nutritionist.
“I was eating a lot of bad stuff, fast food because it was easy, and I gained weight, like most freshmen,” she laughed. “Finally, I said, 'No more!' The nutritionist put me on the right track, gave me a diet and a workout plan, so I went to work right away.”
She joined an East Providence health club, began lifting weights while also trudging on a Stairmaster around Spring Break 2004.
“I was working out five times a week, but took the weekends off, and watched what I was eating,” she noted. “That went on for about a year and a half, then I decided I wanted to work with other people; I wanted to help them lose weight like I was doing. I actually lost 15 pounds of fat and gained six pounds of muscle.
“My first client was my cousin, John Rondeau,” she added. “He came up to me and said he saw my progress, and was, like, 'Stacie, help me!' I still work with him to this day, and his progress has been excellent. He lost a total of 50 pounds in a year, and he's maintained his weight, so he's ecstatic. He wanted to be my guinea pig, and he got the results he wanted.”
In the interim, Venagro figured she'd change her major because she didn't think she could land a job as a P.E. teacher; she transferred to the Community College of Rhode Island and studied criminal justice.
“I wanted to become a police officer, as I wanted to protect and serve the public,” she explained. “I had wanted to do that since I was about 12, but I was always told I couldn't because I was female. That's why I picked health and P.E. in the first place.
“My parents and other family members, I think, were more scared for me because it's a dangerous job. I finally said, 'The heck with it. I can do it. I can do a man's job, even if they don't think I can, or didn't want me to.”
She eventually earned her Associate's in criminal justice in 2008, and – while applying for jobs as a policewoman – continued to work with others wanting to lose weight and firm up. First on the list was her mom, Diane, then other friends and family members.
“That's when I decided I want to help others on their fitness journeys,” she said. “I wanted to do it for a long time. I like seeing their bodies transform into something healthy.
“I still wanted to work full-time as a police officer, but my husband and my parents kept saying it wasn't safe, that they'd rather see me do something I love where they wouldn't have to worry about me.
“Part of me said 'Do it anyway,' so I applied one last time to the Rhode Island State Police in October of 2010. I also told Mike and my parents that if I wasn't accepted, I wouldn't do it again. I'd go to Plan B, which was become a personal trainer.”
Venagro found out during the late winter/early spring of 2011 she hadn't been, so began work as a personal trainer at a local club while keeping her full-time job as a dispatcher for a telecommunications company in Exeter.
“I kept my word, but I still feel insulted,” she said. “I had completed all the written and physical exams, the oral board and background checks, but they never gave me a reason; they never do. I had tried for so long, but it just didn't work out for me.”
This past summer, still working out at a feverish pace, she figured she'd sign up for a competition, a Beginners Fitness America Pageant at Regis College in Boston. She claimed she was astonished when she captured the title at that event, held Sept. 29.
“I was shocked,” she said. “It was my first one ever, and I didn't know what to expect. I had told myself beforehand that, if I won at Regis, I'd consider doing the pageant in Vegas. When I went back to work, our Vice President of Service, Rick Losey, told me he was stunned that I won, then he called me into his office.
“That's when he gave me a plane ticket to Las Vegas, and my jaw just dropped,” she continued. “I was extremely grateful at that moment. My work has a gym, so I trained in cardio plyometrics during the day, then went to another gym neat my home in Cranston to lift weights.
“I worked out seven days a week, with three to five days of double sessions and the others just solo workouts. Before the world pageant, I took a few days off to taper, to allow the muscles to recover, then flew out (to Nevada).”
There, she outdueled 19 other competitors from all over the globe.
Venagro still works as a full-time dispatcher, and figures she puts in another 15-20 hours each week as a fitness instructor at Dancin' Spirits Performing Arts of Pawtucket, not to mention Shake It Up and another club in Warwick.
She's currently training for the New England Fitness America Weekend at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in late April, then plans on attending the Fitness America's Universe Weekend in Miami on June 27-29.
“Why do I do this? Simple, because I love to feel good about myself, and also pass that feeling along to others,” she grinned. “I want them to know I'm here for them in their journeys to become healthier. A lot of people are shocked that I won, but there are plenty of people who also know I wouldn't have it any other way. They always knew me as a dancer, gymnast and athlete, and that I enjoy doing all of them.”