Penfield woman with multiple sclerosis trains for a competition
Chris SwingleStaff writer
(April 11, 2007) — Lynn Inzinna of Penfield curls 20-pound hand weights in each hand under the watchful eye of her personal trainer. Her biceps tighten and bulge with each lift.
"Feels like 50," the petite secretary says of the weight. Her upper arm muscles quiver and she grimaces on the last repetitions in this round. But then she willingly moves to a machine for 48-pound bicep cable curls.
She completes the 45-minute session for biceps and triceps at Boundaries Gym in Irondequoit and does two hours of cardiovascular exercise. By day's end, she'll have eaten a dozen egg whites and drunk more than a gallon of water, all in preparation for a natural bodybuilding competition this weekend.
Inzinna will be one of just a dozen female bodybuilders at the competition, which bars steroids and other banned substances, along with about 40 male bodybuilders.
She is also part of an even smaller group, bodybuilders who have multiple sclerosis.Inzinna has had the chronic, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system for 18 years. At times it has caused severe numbness or double vision. But her main symptom is fatigue. You'd expect heavy exercise to be tiring. But she says the MS brings a different exhaustion.
"It's like somebody will turn a switch," says Inzinna, 42. "As soon as the switch goes on, you just have to lay down."She bounces back after resting. So the disease hasn't kept her from her love of bodybuilding, of seeing her muscles take shape from hard work. She was first drawn to aerobics classes — leg warmers and all — when that was the rage in the 1980s. She was 19. A few years later, the aerobics studio added a weight room, and Inzinna has been hooked on weightlifting ever since. "I like having that toned look," she says.
Her neurologist endorses exercise for people with MS, both for physical fitness and mental well-being. Certain activities may be more challenging because people with MS may have more symptoms when overheated, says Dr. Anne Moss, whose practice is affiliated with Rochester General Hospital. "It depends on the person as to how much they can do and what they can do."
The 5-foot-2-inch Inzinna has slimmed down to 128 pounds for the competition, so it's gotten harder to find a non-muscle spot to inject her daily MS medication.
In a typical T-shirt and sweatpants, she doesn't look like a bodybuilder. In a tank top and shorts, her muscles show. "There's certain clothes you can't wear or you look like a freak," she says.
Her friends at the gym encourage her. "She's our muscle bunny," says Dave Nichols of Irondequoit, using the nickname given to Inzinna by the father of the gym's owner. Nichols, 47, an emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter who also has multiple sclerosis, adds, "She's our champ."
Inzinna is like the Energizer bunny. When she's not at work or working out, she's walking the dog, cleaning the house — rarely sitting down except when she needs a power nap.
She works three days a week in a social work office at Rochester General. She has a 13-year-old daughter and stepchildren who are 16 and 19. Her husband, Joe Inzinna, was the one who encouraged her to pursue her long-held dream of competing in bodybuilding. Joe is a firefighter and school bus driver who previously competed as a power lifter.
"I said, 'What are you waiting for?'" he recounts. He says his wife has always looked out for the needs of her family, and he encouraged her to pursue this personal goal as well.
"On a scale from 1 to 10, she's probably an 11," her husband says of her dedication.A 1983 graduate of Irondequoit High School, Inzinna says she was a shy and quiet teenager and lacked the confidence in her 20s and 30s to compete. It takes guts to hold the required bodybuilding poses before the judges, wearing nothing more than a bikini, then take the stage solo for a 90-second routine to music showing off your muscles.
Judges look for symmetry and developed, well-defined muscles, says Joe Christiano, promoter of the Rochester event and Inzinna's trainer for the past 16 weeks. (Christiano is not a judge at his event.)
Inzinna's first competition was four years ago, at Bishop Kearney High School, where she placed fifth. Between then and now, she underwent foot surgery. She thinks she's in better shape now for her second try. Now that she's older than 40, she's in the master's level.
She misses Cheerios and jelly beans, which are not on her training diet, and finds it hard to fit in all of the exercise, but she does it."It's a lot of work," she says. "You just want to show it off: Hey, look what I've done."
Christiano says Inzinna follows through on everything he recommends. "I'm not any easier on her than on a male bodybuilder."Women have to work harder than men at bodybuilding because women have less natural testosterone and a harder time losing body fat, Christiano adds.
After weeks on a strict diet, Inzinna says she's looking forward to jelly beans after the show.CSWINGLE@DemocratandChronicle.com