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How Ballroom Dancing Helped Trish Marmo Regain Her Competitive Edge

The back and forth of sickness and health have been a very real reality for Trish Marmo, BSN, RN, NBCHWC, and physique athlete. From debilitating autoimmune issues to gracing the competition stage and beating women half her age, one thing is for sure, Marmo has been on a rollercoaster ride with the highs and lows of life.

Although Marmo has won several contests over her career, her struggle to gain sustaining health has been a real challenge.

After years of trying to get to the bottom of her health issues, Marmo is on the path to healing and now training to compete in ballroom dancing, something she had to give up early on due to battling sicknesses.

For those battling health issues, Marmo looks to share encouraging tips to help you hold on to your health and take the first step in healing.

Between 2011 and 2020, Marmo would experience a variety of “unexplained” health issues—some, as annoying as “Bell’s Palsy” and others, more serious, like uncontrolled hypoglycemia, which landed her in the ICU. However, it wasn’t until 2021, that she began to notice a new set of concerning symptoms: sudden weakness and pain in her left leg, severe dry-eye, numbness and tingling in her hands/feet, neuropathy in both feet, unexplained, debilitating low-back pain and neurological symptoms (difficulty swallowing/walking/holding her head up; heart palpitations/irregular heart rhythm; eye-droop; brain-fog; mind-numbing fatigue, to name a few).

From there, it took another 18 months, more than a dozen different specialists, and an exhaustive battery of tests, before being identified with two autoimmune diseases: Sjogren’s disease and mixed connective tissue disease.

At 55, Marmo has a team of specialists who help her manage the symptoms of this disease. Currently, Marmo’s team of health professionals includes: In addition to her primary care provider, rheumatologist, cardiologist, pulmonologist, ophthalmologist, neurologist, and lymphatic massage therapist.

If there’s one thing this journey has taught her, it’s that it’s OK to ask for help. It just might be the only way one can heal when struggling.

In 2011, Marmo joined a “bikini boot camp” with the hopes of getting in the best shape of her life. “At the time, I was more concerned about losing weight than I was competing on stage,” says Marmo. “Like many women, I had the misguided impression that losing weight was going to fix all my problems.”

Marmo lifted weights six days a week, adding in hour-long cardio sessions once, sometimes twice-per-day—all while consuming a little over 1,000 calories a day. As you can imagine, it was a recipe for disaster.

As a professional nurse, Marmo knew early on that the meal plans she was given were not sustainable, and yet she ignored her academic background in her desperation to shed the pounds.

Thankfully, even as health issues continue to pour in, (a misdiagnosis of mini-stokes and a plethora of auto-immune issues), Marmo, knowing that 1,200 calories a day were unhealthy for her, found a trainer who helped her regain her strength and balance in the gym and encouraged her to heal the body with food, not starve it.

“It was the first time that I’d come across a trainer who focused on Nutrition and “whole body” health, instead of the “quick fixes” the fitness and diet industries seemed to perpetuate at that time,” she recalls.

That premise not only helped Marmo to do a complete 180 in her life, but it also turned out to be a life-and career-changing catalyst as she realized she could use her own experiences to help others avoid the same painful experiences she had to endure.

From there, Marmo spent the next eight months weaning off medications and focusing on her recovery, and although her strength was low, she fought day after day to heal her body and gain the strength she needs to grace the stage and be the best version of herself she could be.

In May of 2013, Marmo stepped onstage with over 120 other competitors–and while winning the Masters Division Title was a big achievement, it didn’t compare to winning 3rd Place in her height category, against women who were the same age as her daughters.

She then celebrated later that summer by summiting Mt. Fuji at sunrise, and felt like she was on top of the world. Following another huge win in 2014, claiming 1st Runner Up in a fitness bikini contest, Marmo wanted to do more than just compete.

“I was certain that I was called to help others who had reached a crossroads in their own lives, by helping my clients feel better and more confident in themselves,” she says. “I found that their weight loss became nearly effortless, and even secondary, as their focus shifted from the number on the scale to healing their bodies and their spirits, as well as their unhealthy relationship with food.”

While Marmo is still regaining her strength, she’s currently training to compete in ballroom dancing—something she’d begun when she started experiencing her most recent auto-immune flare up thinking she’d have to set it aside, forever. “I love ballroom because it challenges me mentally and physically and since I’m naturally competitive, it pushes me to do better than before,” says Marmo.

Marmo is proof that no matter what you’re going through, it can be used for the greater good. And when you’ve walked through muddy waters, helping others through hard times is where the reward is at.

“When it comes to dealing with health complications, staying well and active can feel almost impossible, particularly when extreme fatigue is a part of the equation,” says Marmo. Here are several things found to be helpful in her recovery and might be helpful for you:

As difficult as this journey has been for Marmo, she has learned a lot facing these trials and encourages those who are struggling with undiagnosed health issues to ask for help; remember, it’s a sign of strength.


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