American Ninga warrior Angela Gargano says ‘when I was 10 years old, I was so self-conscious about my body that I’d wear a sweatshirt to school every day, even if it was 100 degrees. I’ve always had a muscular physique, thanks to gymnastics and other sports, and the other kids at school would tell me I looked like I man. I did everything I could to hide’.
When I got recruited to compete as a gymnast in college, I figured I’d finally be surrounded by women who looked like me. But somehow, I was still the most muscular person on the team. Still, I liked the way my strong body allowed me to do things like flip upside down.
After an injury sidelined me from the team during my junior year, I started looking for other ways to satisfy my competitive streak. That’s when I ran into a woman who told me about fitness competitions. She said, “You get to do this amazing routine, and do flips on stage, and show your strength—but you also have to wear a bikini and walk in heels.”
I’d never done either of those things. But something in me wanted to try it. Soon, I realized that the whole point of the competitions was not to show off my body or be sexy, but to celebrate strength, muscles, and hard work.
The other women I met while competing would share their stories with me, and when I saw their muscular bodies, I thought, “I’ve found my place. These are my people.” It was a total turning point in the way I saw my body.
When I got injured during American Ninja Warrior in 2018, it changed the way I saw my body yet again.
After years of being so active, I went through a period of super-deep depression. I felt like I was going through a death. I could barely walk, and I felt “fluffier” because my muscles weren’t as toned.
The best piece of advice that I got during this time was that it was okay to take time to be depressed, as long as I didn’t get stuck there. So I decided, “You know what? I’m going to use this to be stronger in areas maybe I wasn’t as strong before.”
I realized that while I may have been physically strong before my injury, I wasn’t mentally strong. While I was rehabbing my injury, it often felt like I was taking two steps forward and then two steps back. I was in physical therapy three hours a day, three days a week, and some days I just felt like I wasn’t getting any better.
But right now, I’m stronger—both mentally and physically—than I was before.
I’ve learned that my muscle is what makes me unique.
Now, when people say I’m too muscular, I don’t even care. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that the muscles everyone made fun of me for would actually go on to mean everything to me, and define my entire career.
Looking back, I’m glad I went through that because it makes me appreciate where I’m at today so much more.
Now I know to embrace everything you’re “too much” of and just love it, because that’s who you are.
As told to Amanda Woerner.