PAWTUCKET – Back on June 28, in Miami, the city’s own Stacie (Wildenhain) Venagro wanted desperately to capture the Miss Fitness Universe Pro Division crown, but admittedly felt disappointed when judges deemed Anca Bucur of Romania the champion.
She lost that competition by a final score of 147.65-145.35, or a mere total of 2.30 points.
So perturbed by her runner-up finish, the 28-year-old Venagro boosted her training regimen 10-fold – or more.
“I knew I had to pick it up a couple of notches,” she stated. “I wanted to be the best of the best because I compete in the pro division.”
Less than five months later – on Friday, Nov. 22 – the 2003 Davies Tech graduate trekked to Las Vegas for the World Miss Fitness America event at the Golden Nugget Casino & Hotel ballroom and “amazingly” claimed the championship, courtesy of a lopsided 114.25-108.85 triumph over the second-place finisher, Finland’s Else Lautala.
“I was standing on the stage, and – when the announcers called Anca for third – my heart fell into my stomach,” Venagro grinned recently while awaiting a client inside her new fitness center, naturally named Stacie Venagro Fitness, across the street from Jenks Middle School’s skate park.
“Now it was either the girl who won it in 2007 (Lautala) or me; that was so nerve-wracking! I was squeezing her hand so tightly because I was ridiculously nervous.
“When they announced my name (as the winner), I couldn’t believe it,” she continued. “I still can’t. About five minutes later, we started taking pictures in the audience, and my trainer – Cathy Savage (of Norwood, Mass.) – asked me. ‘Do you realize what you’ve just done?’ I just said, ‘What do you mean?’
“She answered, ‘No one has ever won back-to-back World (Miss Fitness America) titles!’ That’s when I was, like, ‘Holy (expletive omitted, then laughed) Moley!’ I was astonished!”
Incredibly, only 11 months before, Venagro had collected her first world crown at the 2012 World Fitness America – and between those same four walls. It was true: She made history, and that came just five months after entering her first-ever contest.
“For me, it wasn’t about winning as much as it was the journey,” she noted. “It’s all about the friends I meet; I call all of us as competitors a sisterhood. I have all of my Savage girls, and I have so much respect for every one of them.
“Still, it made me push harder. I knew I had to work so much more for November’s competition.”
For those who don’t know much about fitness competitions, this is how Venagro trained after that defeat in south Florida: She worked out six days a week, doing full-body training sessions including arms, legs, torso, chest, back, hands and feet.
Those exercises weren’t a quarter of it.
“My trainer would give me (running) intervals, where I’d have to sprint (at Pawtucket’s Pariseau Field oval) for 300 meters, then walk a hundred; I’d have to do that for 20 minutes straight,” she explained. “That was to increase not just my speed but my stamina.
“When I was training indoors, I did something called the ‘Sprint Pyramid’ on a treadmill,” she added. “I had to sprint for one minute, then rest for 30 seconds, and do it all over again (in succession).”
She mentioned that the first round occurred on the first level of incline. Her coaches told her to increase it to the second tier, then the sixth, then the 12th. After that, she did the same in reverse.
“I was so tired, but I knew that’s what I needed,” she chuckled.
Among the other regimens she accomplished to muster more acclaim: Bicep curls; shoulder lifts and presses; squats; lunges with 45-pound weights in each hand; hanging leg raises (similar to those done in the “Rocky” movies); Russian twists (laying on your backside while rotating kettlebells from side to side); etc.
What stunned Venagro the most was this: She didn’t enter her first show until September 2012, and that took place at the Miss Fitness America’s New England Championship event at Boston’s Regis College.
“That was a competition for beginners, and I ended up winning; that blew my mind,” she said. “Cathy saw me afterwards and offered me a sponsorship. I’ve been under her tutelage ever since. That’s why me and my teammates call her ‘Mama Savage.’
“I used to work as an instructor at Dancin’ Spirit (of Pawtucket), and one of the moms introduced me to Cathy in May (2012),” she added. “I told her I was interested in doing some fitness shows, so she invited me to her studio in Norwood to do a workout. That also included posing for photos so she could check out my fitness level (body tone).
“It was a two-hour session, and she loved my routine; it consisted of gymnastics, full twists, backhand springs, aerials, handstands, leaps, splits and straddles (in the air with support from hands, similar to those seen in the gymnastics phase of the Summer Olympics).
“The physical part took an hour, and the posing was after.”
Savage raved, and the rest is history.
While Venagro trained for the 2013 version of the World event, she added to her itinerary a much-needed getaway with her husband, Mike Venagro.
“We went on vacation for 10 days to California, but I told him I needed to keep up,” she smiled. “I would do it early in the morning so we could enjoy ourselves. I’d be up at 6 a.m. and train for 60 minutes on a bike path or the beach, then I’d head back.
“Some mornings, he’d sleep in, but others, he’d come with me. We went to San Francisco, Sonoma, San Diego and (Los Angeles), and that all happened three weeks before (the World Miss Fitness America tourney).
“We went to ‘Wine Country’ (in Napa Valley) and went wine tasting; we had a blast,” she continued. “I have to say I had some wine, but I always paid attention to proper nutrition and exercise. I was able to keep up.”
A few months before, she came upon a notion she couldn’t resist. On July 3, she opened her SVF studio at 99 South Bend St., not far from the back of the centerfield wall at McCoy Stadium.
“That opportunity became available because Christine Bairos, the owner of Dancin’ Spirit, called me to say she was buying a new building, and she had an extra room to rent; that was back in April,” she offered. “When she asked me if I wanted it to open my own studio, I flipped.”
Venagro had been working at a telecommunications company in Exeter, but – after discussion her options with family and friends and receiving unanimous support – phoned Bairos back.
“I went with it,” she said. “I’m so thrilled! I’m a business owner at 28, and now I’m helping people achieve their health goals … Life is awesome right now! I tend to people who are diabetic or have back and knee injuries. I have one diabetic man who said he’s taking 40 percent less insulin since he’s started our workout and eating plan.
“When I hear that, it makes me feel great, the fact I could help achieve his health goals,” she added. “I come from a family with a history of high cholesterol, and I inherited that myself. When I was 23, I found out my level was 292. Now it’s way below normal, so – for the first time in five years – I’m no longer on cholesterol medications.”
She admitted she’s very grateful for that first show at a fitness contest.
“I’ll put it this way: If I never went to that first show, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she stated with satisfaction. “I revel in seeing people transform their bodies, and gtheir mind-sets. I mean, I don’t work magic, but – if you meet with me – I know I can help.
“I’ve been, on the side, a personal trainer, and now I am full-time,” she added. “It’s not just inside these four walls, but also outside. If someone has a question about their fitness goals, or about something as simple as what they should eat in a restaurant, I’ll be honest and real.”
She now has over 25 clients, and is always looking for more.
“Business is amazing!” she claimed. “I get to work my own schedule, and help others, Is there more?”
For more information on Venagro’s renaissance plan for anyone, call (401) 228-4203 or visit www.stacievenagrofitness.com.