The first time Veronica Toolan saw the email she shrugged.
Muscle and Fitness Hers, the women’s fitness magazine, was asking for nominations for its 2020 Miss Health and Fitness competition. Toolan had always been a devoted reader of the magazine, but the competition didn’t interest her.
Then another promotional email showed up in her inbox.
“I was like, OK,” Toolan said, “let’s give it a try.”
Two months later, Toolan is among 600 quarterfinalists remaining in the competition.
“I honestly did not even think I could go this far,” the Forsyth County resident said. “I thought I would be eliminated in the first two rounds.”
Instead, Toolan is still vying for support in the voting-based competition, which divided the 600 remaining contestants into 10 groups. The top vote-getter in each group moves on to the semi-finals. The quarter-final round ends at 11 p.m., on Thursday, Sept. 10. (You can vote for Toolan here).
Toolan started the quarter-finals at the bottom but has steadily risen, she said, from ninth to fourth to third. Recently, she’s moved between first- and second-place depending on the day. As of Friday, she was in second.
Participating in the competition was an unexpected turn for the normally-private Toolan. The 42-year-old’s personal training business, VT Training, is a solo operation run out of the basement of her house. She doesn’t bother with advertising or marketing, just word of mouth.
Toolan doesn’t have any family nearby to drum up support either. Thirteen years ago, she fled the political conflict in Venezuela and moved to the U.S.
After working in the hotel industry for several years, Toolan turned to fitness after she was involved in a major car accident. The crash left her temporarily paralyzed, and it took Toolan more than two months to start walking on her own. Even then, she was in constant pain as she worked with physical therapists and personal trainers to rehabilitate injuries to her back, shoulders and knees.
Frustrated by her lack of progress, Toolan started to do her own research and “learning about the way the body works,” she said.
“There’s a lot of trainers that don’t understand that the body is a whole unit,” Toolan said. “If one thing breaks down, multiple things are going to break down because your body is going to compensate.”
Toolan studied body movement and the connection between different muscle groups, and what she found was that the pain in her back and shoulders and knees could be best fixed by strengthening her core.
During her research, Toolan saw ads to become a personal trainer. She became a licensed NASM and AFAA trainer. A recovery that most told her would take at least two years she accomplished in a year and a half.
“That’s when I realized there’s a need for people like me,” Toolan said. “I could not find a trainer that could help me with my injuries because they don’t understand the pain and how it works.”
In 2018, Toolan quit her job and devoted herself full-time to personal training. She started small, partnering with an experienced trainer who sent her clients and it’s grown from there. Toolan primarily does one-on-one training with clients now along with classes through the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation department, though those have become virtual during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Much of Toolan’s support during the Miss Health & Fitness competition has come from her clients, she said. They have helped push her closer to the final prize of $20,000 and being featured on the cover of the magazine.
“This competition has shown me how much love is around me and how much support there is,” Toolan said. “It’s just been so rewarding. All the hard work I’ve put in has paid off just knowing I have all that love and support.”Supporters can vote for Toolan for free through Facebook, or they can purchase votes; the proceeds benefit the Homes for Wounded Warriors Foundation.
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