Story by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Photos by Jenna Summa and courtesy of Noelia Corona-Terry
Noelia Corona-Terry, a trainer at Field House Gym in Temple, has a story to tell of overcoming an eating disorder to become a champion powerlifter. Now she is on a mission to teach women to love themselves and have confidence.
Make no mistake: This gym is hard-core, with tons of steel in weights and machines and hard rock thumping in the speakers. The clientele represent all walks of life and is far from stereotypical. Inspirational mantras are emblazoned on the walls, and for the ladies there is “Her House,” an adjoining workout room for women only.
“It’s empowering to be a strong woman, to carry a big box and not need a man to do it,” said Corona-Terry, who is nationally ranked No. 7 out of 30 in her weight class. The Open Raw ranking includes all lifting federations. “It’s empowering to watch other women lift, proving to themselves they can do something they never thought they could do.”
Not a typical girl
Corona-Terry grew up in Academy, Texas, where she has always been an athlete, playing “pretty much everything.” Her parents noticed their blossoming athlete was also not a typical girl.
“I wanted to do what the boys were doing,” she said, laughing.
However, in high school she developed a problem with body image, triggering an eating disorder she’s fought ever since.
“Everyone wanted to be slim, trim and not have too much muscle,” she remembered.
Now she’s made of muscle but it wasn’t always that way.
After having her daughter nine years ago, Corona-Terry said she “gained an ungodly amount of weight,” going from 130 to 250 pounds as she became depressed, and still struggled with her eating disorder. She had a genetic predisposition toward high blood pressure and diabetes.
But it was watching an elephant give birth on the Discovery Channel that encouraged her to change. “They announced the baby weighed 250 pounds and I thought, ‘This is sad, I need to change this.’”
Ready to change
She applied for a job at the gym, uncertain of her prospects because she was overweight. She was hired and her transformation began.
Owner Derek Tittle advised his new employee on nutrition and she began a workout regimen. “I was hard on her as a trainer, I didn’t baby her along,” he said. “I wanted to know if she was going to stick with it, and I knew she was serious. I didn’t think she could do it and she proved me wrong. I’m humbled.”
Tittle saw Corona-Terry’s potential as a weight lifter.
“I began to see her body transform and powerlifting just suited her. Pound for pound she’s probably the strongest person in here. She bench-presses more than I do,” he added, sharing a smile with Corona-Terry. “I’m really proud of what she’s accomplished. I didn’t know if she’d fit in with the lifestyle; now she is the lifestyle.”
Of course, losing more than 100 pounds in three years wasn’t easy. She is thankful for her husband, family and friends who “have been through the entire journey.”
“There were moments of weakness, and my husband, AJ, would remind me of why I was doing all this,” Corona-Terry said. “I’ve had my share of failures, but what is success without failure?”
In the gym tears are as common a sight as sweat, and it’s not a bad thing.
“It’s okay, it’s an emotional journey,” she said.
Anyone who has ever tried to change eating and activity habits knows it’s like going to war against your own body.
“You can fall 100 times but you have to keep getting up. It takes hard work and dedication; there’s no magic pill,” she said.
Corona-Terry’s hard work has led to her share of awards, including placing first in her weight class at the Queens of the Iron competition, a title she is set to defend soon. Her sponsorships with Immortal Labs and LineOne Nutrition qualified her to compete at the USPA National Powerlifting Competition in Las Vegas, where she placed first in her weight class again. She is an Elite Powerlifter for USPA and she holds Texas state records for squat (380 pounds) and bench press (253 pounds) at a body weight of 148.
One question Corona-Terry is asked often, even by her own parents, is “Why?”
She wasn’t even sure what her husband, always supportive, would think about her new interest in powerlifting. “Now he’s one of my handlers and coaches,” she said.
Friendship is one of the benefits she’s experienced in her new lifestyle.
“It’s a welcoming community; I’ve made a lot of close friends,” she said. “The community is a melting pot for people who have things going on in their lives and this is their outlet. I’m in my element when I’m with my powerlifting friends.”
Corona-Terry occasionally encounters negative and ignorant commentary about her strong, muscular frame. “At the Vegas airport some guy just came up to me and asked me why I wanted to look like this,” she said.
Her answer? “Growing confidence is why I do it.”
Going to the gym is treatment for her eating disorder. “I knew I could fix it myself. I’ve always been independent,” she said.
At the gym she’s surrounded by kindred spirits while doing what she loves — lifting weights and spirits.
“I always tell my female clients that they’re stronger than they think they are,” she said. She just tells them what she tells herself: “Don’t ever stop. You’re worth it. It’s great to be alive. Just keep pushing.”
Her daughter also caught the spirit.
“She thinks it’s cool,” she said, recalling her first state meet and the sound of her daughter yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” She’s heard her daughter telling friends about “Mom’s big guns,” she said, laughing.
Corona-Terry and Tittle agreed they’re battling misinformation and they try to give women correct information. “The myth is that protein is bad, that you’ll get too big,” Tittle said. “But protein is protein: there’s not a special steak just for women. And you won’t become He-Man if you pick up weights.”
Tittle said his trainer is the “exception to the rule.”
“She has the right combination of genetics and work ethic,” Tittle said, remembering dreaded bleacher runs with Corona-Terry. “We’d torture each other. Now I’m kind of passing the torch along and she’s taken it, held it high and it’s stayed lit.”
Corona-Terry said her goal is eventually to travel the world on the powerlifting circuit.
“I just want people to know this is possible and you don’t have to listen to people put you down,” she said. “This journey has taught me to find self-love. It’s still hard to find sometimes, but having the support I have gives me the feeling of being unstoppable.”