Each month, The Fine Line features a special guest — a woman who thoroughly embraces her age and lives her life to the fullest. This month: Wendy Ida, award-winning body building pro, fitness expert and lifestyle coach, best-selling author, mother, and domestic violence survivor. We are inspired by her story and know you will be, too.
When Wendy Ida tells me that I can have abs like hers, I don’t believe her. I hardly believe that she has abs like hers. But the L.A.-based fitness expert, who turns 65 this month, defies many norms. Her six-pack is only the beginning.
Ida grew up in New Jersey. She and her three sisters and brother lived with their mother in public housing; her father was not around. Ida’s mother died of colon cancer at 43, when “I was just turning from teenager to adult, so I didn’t get to experience my mom too much. It took me 20 years to get over that.”
In fact, Ida still finds it difficult to talk about her early adulthood. She chokes up when she talks about the years after she lost her mother, when she married a man who would abuse her for more than a decade and had two children just 11 months apart. Already in poor shape and with low self-esteem, Ida gained 50 pounds during her pregnancies. Her husband prevented her from completing college and forced her to give up the things she enjoyed. She suffered from postpartum depression for about five years.
“I was living a nightmare,” she says. “I felt a lot of despair and hopelessness. I was stuck in a life I didn’t belong in, but I didn’t know how to get out.”
I was living a nightmare. I felt a lot of despair and hopelessness. I was stuck in a life I didn’t belong in, but I didn’t know how to get out.
After two failed attempts to leave her abusive husband and 13 years in that physically and emotionally violent marriage, Ida gathered her courage and her children and, with only the clothes she was wearing, fled as far away as she possibly could. She was 32 years old, overweight, undereducated, broke, and broken when she got to California. “I didn’t have a sheet,” she says. “I didn’t have a spoon.”
What she did have was an unwavering resolve to build a better life for her children.
It wasn’t easy.
“For five or so years after I got to California,” Ida says, “I walked down the street and was still looking for [my husband] to come around the corner and snatch me up and take me back to New Jersey. It was horrible to live with that constant fear.”
Despite post-traumatic terror and the discrimination she says she faced as a single mother, Ida got her young children settled and enrolled in school. And then she enrolled herself, earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting in her mid-30s. She also sought out counselors and coaches to help her heal and learn from the mistakes of her past.
A few years later, Ida found herself in the gym. “I had no understanding about it,” she says. “I was just doing it because other people were doing it. My attitude was that I was over the hill. That I was big boned and destined to be overweight.” What’s more, Ida had undergone a hysterectomy and the sister to whom she was closest died from complications related to a brain tumor.
Despite the tremendous personal strides she’d made, things weren’t great.
Then a trainer pestered her into lifting weights.
“I was born to be in the fitness world!” Ida says now, 25 years after giving in to the man who became her mentor.
Through a combination of weight training, cardio, and diet, Ida lost 80 pounds. While still working as an accountant, she became a certified fitness coach and began helping others with their fitness journeys on the side. After meeting the man who would become her second husband, she moved from numbers cruncher to full-time trainer — taking a leap of faith and reinventing herself once more. “I was afraid of losing that paycheck,” she says, “but I had to make that transition. The real me wasn’t in that accounting office.”
Ida’s fifth decade was unlike any of those that came before. Being a trainer, as it turns out, wasn’t enough. Ida had tapped a passion and well-being like she’d never dared dream. Fueled by her obsession with her new way of life and a conviction of purpose, she built a brand, became a frequent guest on TV and radio shows, wrote a best-selling book, and began helping women shake their resignations about aging and reclaim health and vitality.
Just before her 57th birthday, Ida entered her first bodybuilding competition. She took home three trophies: second place for women over 18, second for women over 35, and first for women over 45. Since then she has earned eight national championship titles. She also holds two Guinness World Records: one for the oldest active exercise instructor/trainer in multiple disciplines and the other for doing 37 burpees in one minute.
I am not just here, but I am representing! I am the new baby boomer!
This week, Ida will be 65. She is “over the moon” about that “sweet round number.” As well she should be. Anyone with the good fortune of meeting this sexy sexagenarian knows without a doubt that she is not your grandmother’s grandmother. She’s an extraordinary example of how exercise, nutrition, and self-awareness have raised the bar on aging.
“I am not just here, but I am representing!” she says. “I am the new baby boomer! There was a time when I thought my mom in her 30s was old! That’s how we used to think. We couldn’t even fathom 50 or 60 — and yet here I am at 65, and I feel 30!”