• "Chronic disease is a worry for our mob," says Rhonda Purcell. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Meet Rhonda Purcell: an Indigenous natural bodybuilding champion. She’s 46-years-old and has rock-hard abs. Her pure grit comes from her heritage, culture and determination to improve the health and lives of her mob.
Rhonda Purcell, Presented by
Shannon McKeogh

3 Nov 2016 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 3 Nov 2016 - 11:57 AM

Every time I step on stage at a natural bodybuilding competition I feel proud and think of my mob. It’s my way of giving back to them.

I’m a proud Aboriginal Quandamooka female natural bodybuilder with family also from Koa (Winton) and Wakka Wakka (Cherbourg). I’m 46 years old, live in Brisbane with my husband Daniel and cat Jesse, have heaps of nieces, nephews and grandkids.

I work full-time in administration and corporate services, and as a Deadly Choices Ambassador for the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health. I speak to kids at schools about health and fitness and how they can stay away from negative stuff like drugs and alcohol. We try and make healthy choice; a deadly choice for the community.

I’m currently training six days a week. I’m 46 years old, I’ve got abs, it’s just amazing.

My alarm goes off at 4am and I head to the gym in the morning for one hour to do a cardio and weight session and work on a specific body part, like back or abs. I do a heavier workout in the evening after work for up to two hours. I eat six meals a day to fuel my body and drink three litres of water a day.

I don’t get home until 8pm and then I try and have a good night’s sleep. I just love working out, you’ve got to have a passion for it. People say, “How do you do it Rhonda?”  Well, I just love it.

I came from a harsh background. We grew up really tough, a lot of domestic violence and alcohol. I’ve seen lots of things kids shouldn’t. I was a wild child and didn’t complete my schooling. I lost my mum quite late in my teens, there’s generational trauma I have that I only recognise now.

But I am who I am today because of my mother. I’m a survivor. I get knocked down but always get back up. My brother and I were always into sport but when I got older and got a job I didn’t do much. I was drinking a wine a night and not eating well. Chronic disease is a worry for our mob.

I’ve always tried to push myself, people have said “You can’t do this,” but I can. You gotta get out there and have a go. I’m strong minded: at age 40 I thought I had to do something about my health.

I went to a boxing gym to lose weight and the joy I got out of it was amazing. You have to do it the hard way, because you get so much out of.

I lost weight and saw a body building show and got asked if I wanted to do the Queensland show. I first competed in the Queensland Physique Titles at 42. 

I just kept going from there and have won gold and silver medals at an international level at the INBA/PNBA Natural Olympia in San Diego, USA and at a national level in INBA AFC (all females classic) and Queensland Physique titles.

For an Aboriginal woman to get up on the international stage is amazing. 

I’m heading to Olympia again in November and for an Aboriginal woman to get up on the international stage is amazing. There’s nothing like the buzz of comp time. I can’t believe it when I’m on stage, but it’s a time to show off that I’ve put in the hard yards.

I’m just normal Rhonda, but if I can inspire people in some little way and make them happy and healthy, that’s great because I feel the best I’ve ever felt.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @shannylm Facebook @shannonmckeoghfreelance 



First Contact (season 2) airs on 29 November, 30 November and 1 December 2016 at 8:30pm on SBS. Across 28 Days, six well-known Aussies take an epic journey into Aboriginal Australia. Watch the trailer here, and catch-up on episodes after the program airs via SBS On Demand here.


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