updated 05/28/2014 AT 6:30 PM ET
•originally published 05/27/2014 AT 1:15 PM ET
Barbie Thomas didn’t win any major awards at the recent NPC Junior USA Bodybuilding Championship in Charleston, South Carolina, but the audience made her feel like a star.
The 37-year-old, who is missing both her arms, was given a standing ovation after completing her routine, reports the Daily Mail. This is just one of many inspiring performances by Thomas, who hasn’t let losing both her arms in a childhood electrical accident keep her from exploring her passions.
The mother of two started bodybuilding in 2003, after reading about the competitions in fitness magazines for years. Able to cook, text, shop and drive – all with her feet – Thomas decided to push her doubts aside and call local bodybuilding officials about the rules for participation. After receiving the go-ahead to enter, the single mom now follows a rigorous training schedule and regularly competes in events.
“The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself. Everyone has limitations and handicaps in some way or another – mine are more visible than yours maybe,” Thomas told the Daily Mail.
“I’m sure people were wondering what I thought I was doing up there. Obviously it’s a physique competition and I’m missing part of my physique and I don’t have the symmetry of what they are looking for. But after I did my routine for the first time, people realized that I was an athlete just like the rest of them – and I did belong up there,” she continued.
Her biggest victory so far is finishing fifth out of six participants in a 2012 event. While fifth place may not seem like much to some, Thomas says being able to beat a fellow bodybuilder with both arms is a meaningful accomplishment to her.
Thomas plans to continue using bodybuilding competitions as a way to challenge herself and feel empowered by her differences. And when she isn’t stretching and flexing, this upbeat mom is dedicated to raising her children and keeping a positive attitude.
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