Friday, June 15, 2007

Balance key to Cramer's success


NDIAN HARBOUR BEACH - You could bounce a quarter off Karen Cramer's glacier-like abs and probably get change.

The 52-year-old mother of two, with more energy than a couple of Energizer bunnies, is proud of her rippled physique.

"Check out those calf muscles," she says, flexing her right leg and showing off a pattern of capillaries and veins that sort of resemble a road map of Rhode Island.

She's in the gym by 6 a.m. six days a week, hasn't eaten a Whopper in about seven years and feels like she's in the best shape of her life.

A few weeks ago, she won the Lightweight Open and Top Overall Female awards at the Hawk's Gym Brevard County Bodybuilding Contest at Eau Gallie High's auditorium.

"I was in a state of shock," she said. "I was so nervous. No matter what you see, I'm very scared on the inside, like maybe I'm not good enough."

It was Cramer's first competitive appearance in seven years after overcoming fibromyalgia, a connective tissue disorder that results in severe pain.

"To do your best at any age is something you strive for," she said. "I've done this in my 30s and 40s. But being up there in your 50s . . . it meant a lot."

Not bad for a former flower child who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and once hitchhiked to California wearing jeans and carrying a guitar.

"I was never athletic," she said. "I was a cheerleader in elementary school -- yecch! I hated high school sports. I was a hippie."

She admits her entire family was "big."

"I was on an ice cream diet," she said, laughing. "I always wanted to be thin, but just never knew what to do. I dieted, but the weight came back. I lifted weights, I got bulky. My life was out of balance."

Then, through trial and error, she found the proper balance -- the lessons she still teaches as a personal trainer and motivational life coach (she is a licensed clinical social worker) in her private practice, called "Coach for Life," and as a member of Our Club Health and Fitness Center.

"Finally, I found the right balance between cardio, diet and weight training," she said. "Everything in life is balanced and based on three things. It takes three points to draw a triangle. Water, light and heat are needed to make things grow. I see people try one path and wonder why it's not working. But you need all three."

Cramer is 5-foot-21/2 and 112 pounds, although she dropped to 107 for the contest, getting as "ripped" as she could be without "being deathly thin." Her body fat is a lean 5.7 percent. The American Council on Exercise classifies women as needing an essential 10-12% body fat.compared to say, baseball slugger, Barry Bonds, who once lowered his body fat from 12 to 8 percent, although reports of steroid use have been linked to him.

"I'm all natural," said Cramer, who has competed in both natural and drug-tested events. "In order to win, you need symmetry, size and definition. Well, just about everybody is bigger than me, so I have to rely on the other two."

Now, she has to compete against women who make gymnastics part of their stage routine, some in spiked heels and others who have had cosmetic enhancements.

Melbourne Beach's Sharon Schwarze, a long-time personal trainer at Our Club, has been impressed with Cramer's work ethic.

"She's very dedicated," Schwarze said, "and a good inspiration for everyone. With what she's achieved . . . I mean, if she can do what she does, then maybe I'd start thinking, 'Yeah, I can do that, too.' "

Cramer, who advertises her practice on her own Web site ( and has her Toyota Celica decorated with a photo of herself running on the beach in a sundress, usually works out for a few hours with free weights, picking up 45-pound dumbbells for the bench flys, and using 30- or 35-pound weights for arm curls.

"I'm not a weightlifter," said Cramer, who has never had a coach or who's never finished worse than second place in a bodybuilding competition. "I've learned to speed up my metabolism. When you do that, you have more energy.

"People always ask me how many sit-ups I do. It doesn't matter how many. It's the intensity and the desire, and you've got to have passion. More is not better."

She only sleeps 5 to 6 hours a night and, true to her faith, she rests on Saturday, the day of the Sabbath.

She said she eats five to seven times a day, but won't publicly disclose exactly what she consumes, although "protein, occasional chocolate and a wine glass or two" are part of her diet.

"I keep my food clean," she said. "None of that fast-food stuff. I prepare all my meals the previous day and have them all ready. It's all about discipline. Sure, if I go to a restaurant, I'll order a lean steak and a sweet potato or a plain baked potato. I see people ordering salads and just covering it up with dressing. Once you can't see the separation in your food, you're in trouble, and that's what I tell my clients."

She has many fans, including her husband, and her two children, Ethan, 19, a Marine Corps reservist who is headed to Iraq later this month, and Rachel, 22, who "doesn't do weights."

Our Club coordinator Chuck Slater, a former Marine who still has a chiseled body, enjoys Cramer's contagious, friendly personality.

"Karen is a very dynamic person, the kind who can inspire others," he said. "As pretty as she is outside, she is just as beautiful inside, a wonderful person."

"She's very motivated," said Shelly Kinner, who has trained with Cramer. "She pushes you, and she's generous with her knowledge to help you do it right."

Judging by the constant smile on her face, Cramer is enjoying life.

"I can't wait to get up in the morning -- I have to beat the sun," she said. "Tomorrow morning might be a different matter, so while some people would say party to the fullest now, I try to live the fullest through discipline."

After the bodybuilding event, she at least gets to ease back into her normal weight by gaining 5 to 10 pounds.

"I can get that right away," she said, smiling. "A couple of chocolate cakes, and I'm on my way."

Better make it three. Perfect balance, you know.

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