Armless Body Builder Inspires Fitness World With Her Ability

Good Morning America
Armless Body Builder Inspires Fitness World With Her Ability
.

View photo

Armless Body Builder Inspires Fitness World With Her Ability (ABC News)

Barbie Thomas lost both her arms at the age of 2. She was playing outside her Texas apartment complex and climbed onto a transformer, grabbling on to the wires. The electric current traveled through her little body, from her hands out her feet, burning her arms to the bone.

"They were like charcoal," she writes in her biography on her website, Fitness Unarmed "They were completely dead and had to be amputated at the shoulders."

No one expected Thomas to live. But today, at 37, she has accomplished what was once regarded as the impossible: Thomas is a competitive body builder and model.

"I thank God I am alive," said Thomas, who now lives in Phoenix with her two sons, aged 13 and 17. She uses her shoulders as arms, which her children call her "nubs."

TV Host With One Arm Is Teachable Moment in Britain

Thomas said her positive attitude is rooted in her upbringing.

"I was not allowed to be negative and say I can't do something," she told ABCNews.com, holding the phone between her ear and her right-hand shoulder, which is more substantial than her left side.

"I was always taught to focus on what I can do, not what I can't do," she said. "It probably has a lot to do with my personality -- I can't imagine being a negative Nancy all the time."

Fitness competitors, in addition to having beautifully sculpted bodies, must do a two-minute performance routine incorporating dance, cheerleading or gymnastic flexibility.

"They are in the same realm as body builders, but instead of seeing the deep-cut muscles, they want to see a nice feminine shape," Thomas said. Experts say something in between a body builder and a bikini girl.

Her dance routines include splits and high kicks and even the ninja kip-up. Thomas placed sixth in June at Jr. Nationals and fifth in August at the North American Championships.

The National Physique Committee (NPC), which is the amateur division of the International Federation of Body Builders, was so impressed with her performance in their fitness division last year, they gave Thomas their first-ever Inspiration Award.

"She chose the most difficult division of all," said Miles Nuessle, Arizona chairman of the NPC.

"We were thinking, 'How can she do that routine?' but she blew our minds," he said. "She was absolutely beautiful. She was on the floor jumping up and doing splits. I don't know what half the moves were called. She was rolling all over the place and shaking it -- sexy, athletic, fun and emotional. The crowd went nuts.

"You can't use the word handicapped with her or she may punch you in the face," he said. "Barbie is not handicapped."

After the childhood accident, doctors said Thomas might live like a vegetable for the rest of her life. But her mother prayed that if that were the case, "God would just take me," Thomas writes. "She also made a promise to God that day -- if he let me live, she would make sure that I became 'somebody.'"

"The doctors were boggled by my recovery," she said. "They decided I must have survived because of the rubber soles on my tennis shoes. True, they may have played their part, but I believe I survived because God saw the bigger picture and had plans for me."

Thomas went through extensive physical and occupational therapy. Adapting to a world without arms was a challenge and even years later, when she was independent, she'd have to improvise to do ordinary tasks.

"Every now and then, we would have to put our thinking caps on or call a therapist," she said. "I learned to be creative and think out of the box."

She makes full use of her feet in both dance competitions and at home, using them to open doors, plug in her music and grab her bags. She uses her mouth to fasten the Velcro snaps on her dance shoes.

"Reaching for high stuff in the grocery store is hard, especially if it's breakable," said Thomas, who uses her shoulder. "If it's a cardboard box, I can usually reach -- I am tall enough -- and knock it into the grocery cart. Sometimes I have to go get help. When I had long hair, I couldn't put it up in a ponytail."

Thomas raised her first son with the help of a husband, though she is now divorced.

"I did have to pick my therapist's brain to help with a few things with the newborn baby," she said. "But the second one was a piece of cake. I had to kind of prop them up on a pillow and lay next to them as a holder when I nursed them. I could hold them the right way in my lap by using my leg when they were a little older."

Thomas said fitness had been part of her life "forever." Growing up, she played soccer, danced and did aerobic running. When her first child was born she got into aerobic lifting with weights and later became an instructor.

"I'd go to the gym doing aerobic lifting with weights after the oldest son was born," she said. "I read about [fitness competition] in athletes' magazines and thought it was cool. Finally, I was encouraged by a friend and decided to go for it."

She began competing in 2003, and she faced some odd stares.

"In the first few competitions I felt that when they were calling me to go up, in their hands and their manners, they looked at me like, 'What the heck is she doing here?'" she said. "I put their doubts to rest when they saw my fitness routine.

"There are certain routines that you use your hands for that I can do -- I can kip-up," she said. "When you are laying on the ground it looks like you are falling backward and then you come up. Most people use their hands to push themselves up."

Thomas admits she is anxious about doing a back flip, which requires arms to get height and momentum, even though she is capable.

"I have to compensate and use my upper body more and my leg a lot," she said. "My core is pretty strong.

"The reason I keep going is to prove to myself that I will get on stage and do my damn flip," Thomas said. "I know I can and I will."

Nuessle, who runs NPC Miles Productions, said he once made a comment to Thomas that she said gave her the "fuel" to keep competing.

"At one of the shows I said without pulling any punches, 'It's hard to win when you don't have upper extremities.' The judges look at symmetry," he said. "She got a fire in the belly and said, 'Don't tell me I can't win. I'll use that to motivate me.' … She did make me eat my words."

The sport is grueling, demanding weight training five days a week, and cardio work every day. Athletes like Thomas must pay attention to the nutrition in their diet and stay focused.

But Thomas thrives on the challenge, especially because it sends a strong message to others.

"I realize it inspires many people, and not just those with physical challenges," she said. "Follow your dreams and keep pushing and where there is a will, there is a way. We all have our own stuff to deal with and our own limitations and handicaps. Mine are just more visible. There's always someone else out there who has it worse."

View Comments (2218)

Recommended for You

  • 2 Trains Collide in Germany, 10 Dead, at Least 100 Injured

    Two morning commuter trains have collided in Bad Aibling in southern Germany, raising the death toll to 10 people and injuring more than 100 others, police said.The train manufacturer, Meridian, released a statement in German, saying two trains collided just after 7 a.m. today local time. One…

    Good Morning America14 mins ago
  • Baby Sloth Flies in Private Jet to New Home at National Aviary in Pittsburgh

    A baby sloth was recently flown on a private jet from a breeder in Florida to his new home at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 3-month-old Linnaeus sloth "enjoyed the flight very much," National Aviary marketing coordinator Laura Smith told ABC News today. The tiny sloth,…

    Good Morning America20 mins ago
  • Slain Virginia Teen Discussed 'Her Boyfriend' Before Abduction, Friend Says

    A friend of the 13-year-old Virginia girl who was allegedly abducted and murdered last month said the teen had told her about an older "boyfriend" before she went missing. Nicole Lovell, 13, was found dead four days after going missing in late-January and Virginia Tech students David Eisenhauer,…

    Good Morning America32 mins ago
  • Husband Settles Bed-Hogging Debate With Laser Down the Middle

    If your significant other hogs the bed, this man has a solution: Set up a laser down the middle.Jon Nagel, of Dallas, Texas, posted this hilarious photo to Reddit where it’s now going viral with nearly 1 million views. The caption reads, “In our house there is no debate, ONLY DATA.”He said he…

    Good Morning America55 mins ago
  • Brie Larson Hasn't Seen or Spoken to Her Dad in 10 Years

    Brie Larson is up for an Oscar for her emotionally-wrenching performance of a woman held captive in a garden shed for seven years in the film "Room."Some of the inspiration for her performance, the 26-year-old actress told Elle in a new interview, comes from her own life and difficult childhood.…

    Good Morning America57 mins ago
  • Zika Virus Outbreak Updates: Florida Expands State of Emergency to 7th County

    As the Zika virus outbreak continues, including in wide swaths of Central and South America, concerns are growing, especially for pregnant women, because the mosquito-borne virus has been linked with a serious birth defect called microcephaly, characterized by an abnormally small head and brain. …

    Good Morning America59 mins ago
  • Incredible Footage Shows Pedestrian Tripping Suspect as He's Running From Police

    Officers were on patrol in Kingston, United Kingdom, on Saturday when they were made aware of a report of two males dealing drugs, police said in a statement. The officers chased one of the suspects through the town center "when they received some unexpected assistance from a member of the…

    Good Morning America
  • 'Serial' Convict Adnan Syed's Hearing Wrapping Up

    Lawyers trying to get a new trial for Adnan Syed, the convicted killer at the center of hit podcast “Serial,” and the state attorneys who are hoping to keep him behind bars are making their closing arguments today after resting their respective cases in Syed's bid for a retrial. Syed’s lawyers --…

    Good Morning America
  • Behind the Scenes of ‘Fresh Off the Boat’

    Yang, together with 11-year-old Forrest Wheeler, who plays Emery, and Ian Chen, 9, as Evan, had to get up to speed on the pop culture of the mid-1990s, when the sitcom is set. "I probably had to learn, a lot, too, like, about the rap music, about the culture," Yang said. ABC News’ Chris Connelly…

    Good Morning America
  • Jeb Bush's Fall (or Maybe Rise)

    On the eve of today’s New Hampshire presidential primary, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush finished his day at the Frank Jones Center on the seacoast, the same locale where another unlikely GOP contender, John McCain, once hosted his final town hall in a state that he ultimately won eight…

    Good Morning America
  • Officers Give Basketball Hoop to Neighborhood Kids Playing Without Backboard

    Three Ohio police officers gave a big assist Friday night when they gave neighborhood children a new basketball hoop. "This was something that was basically from their hearts," Chief Jim Toles of the Lockland Police Department in Lockland, Ohio, told ABC News. Toles said that Officers Drew Jones,…

    Good Morning America
  • Teresa Giudice Reveals Why She Doesn't Blame Her Husband for Her Prison Term

    In her first live TV interview since being released from prison, Teresa Giudice said she does not blame her husband, Joe Giudice, for the couple’s legal troubles. “No, I don’t,” Giudice, 42, said today on “Good Morning America” when asked if she held Joe responsible. The “Real Housewives of New…

    Good Morning America
  • Zika Virus Outbreak: Consumer Reports Shares Best Zika-Fighting Repellents

    With concern surrounding the Zika virus at an all-time high, Consumer Reports has re-released its exclusive ratings of mosquito repellents that best protect against the mosquitoes that spread the virus. Officials Monday announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency…

    Good Morning America
  • UCLA Gymnast's Floor Routine Goes Viral With Dab, Nae Nae Moves

    One gymnast is tumbling into Facebook glory with more than 22 million views on her epic hip-hop-themed floor routine.Sophina DeJesus, a senior at UCLA, nailed her floor routine versus Utah with moves that would make even Beyoncé proud. She struts, she dabs and she Nae Naes in her shiny silver and…

    Good Morning America
  • Marco Rubio Believes He Must Be ‘Doing Something Right’

    Sen. Marco Rubio today brushed off recent attacks by his GOP rivals, saying he must be "doing something right," and expressing confidence despite what he called the "unusual set up" in today’s New Hampshire primary. Despite Christie's attacks, Rubio believes he had "a very strong debate," and…

    Good Morning America
  • John Kasich’s New Hampshire Primary Day Prediction: ‘We’re Going to Finish Very Strong’

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose campaign has maintained a laser-like focus on performing well in today’s New Hampshire primary, declined to predict exactly how he would place once all the votes are counted here, but sounded a note of confidence in an interview today on "Good Morning America.""We’re…

    Good Morning America
  • Hong Kong 'Fish Ball Revolution' Erupts in Violent Crackdown

    Violent clashes erupted overnight in Hong Kong after protesters defended unlicensed food vendors, set up for Chinese New Year celebrations, from being shut down by police. The group said on its official Facebook page that its candidate for local council, Edward Leung Tin-kei, had been arrested.

    Good Morning America