Millville woman returns to bodybuilding at 63 and wins

Date Published: 
Jan. 12, 2018

Coastal Point • Submitted: Donna Hall won first place in over 60 and second place in over 50 age groups divisions at 2017 Eighth Annual NPC Amanda Merinelli Body Building Competition in Florida.Coastal Point • Submitted: Donna Hall won first place in over 60 and second place in over 50 age groups divisions at 2017 Eighth Annual NPC Amanda Merinelli Body Building Competition in Florida.Donna Hall, a trainer at the Bethany Beach World Gym, recently came out of “retirement” from bodybuilding competitions. And, after an 18-year hiatus, the 63-year-old won first place in one age group and second place in another, younger, age category.

Hall, who lives in Bethany Bay, near Millville, decided to compete in the 2017 Eighth Annual NPC Amanda Merinelli Body Building Competition in Florida, because, she said, “They had an over-60 division,” which she said is rare for such competitions.

Hall competed in the “Figure” division, which differs from the “Body Building” division in several ways. Those who compete in “body building,” she explained, are seeking a “more muscular” look. “It’s a little thicker in muscularity,” she said. In the “Figure” division, the emphasis is on “being toned” and on a “total symmetry” in body shape.

Another difference between the two divisions: bodybuilders compete barefoot, while “figure” competitors wear platform heels. Their outfits are also a bit more “blingy” than the body builders’, Hall said.

Having competed for about a five-year period 18 years ago, Hall decided to get back into the competition circuit last year and began training for her return about four months before the Nov. 4, 2017, competition, which was held in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“I told Jim,” Hall said of Jim Miller, World Gym manager, “I have to do it one last time.”

Her training regimen focuses heavily on nutrition, she said. While many competitors expect to lose 20 to 30 pounds while in training for a competition, she was already very slender. At 5 feet, 4 inches tall and 113 pounds before the competition, she was down to 108 pounds by competition time.

“I had to be a lot more meticulous with my nutrition,” said Hall, adding that she already eats “clean” and “pretty much organic.” Because of the need to build muscle for the competition, she said she added more protein to her diet, adding bone broth, protein powder and even some lean chicken — although she normally doesn’t eat much meat.

She also ate more often than usual, she said, and “paid a lot more attention to eating super-clean,” avoiding processed foods as much as possible. Hall said that, as far as training, she continued her work with heavy weights.

“That’s really important in order to maintain that level of muscle,” she said, adding that she had to “stop doing so much cardio,” because she was losing too much muscle.

Her body type was a major contributing factor to her entry into the “figure” competition, since it focuses less on bulk.

“I’m a small girl,” she said, and “figure is a lot more appropriate for my physique.”

The goal in the figure division, Hall said, is “good, athletic lines” with definition in the back and shoulders; thicker, muscular legs; and also a nicely shaped rear-end.

“The butt is big,” she said, adding that “having a tight butt — that’s hard for women over 60. The two areas I wanted to bring ‘up’ were my butt and abs,” she said.

As a trainer whose “specialty” is helping older women lose fat and achieve more toned bodies, Hall said that, with her clients, she focuses on a “lifestyle” approach, teaching them how to eat well, as well as finding an exercise regimen that works for them.

“I’ve always been into working out and staying fit,” Hall said.

Her routine started with running, and at one point she was running 3 to 5 miles a day. Once she reached her 30s, “after I had my kids,” she said, she moved into aerobics, eventually adding step aerobics to her repertoire and then adding 3-pound weights to that. Hall said she first became interested in bodybuilding when she read a book titled “Flex Appeal” by Rachel McLish, a pioneer in women’s bodybuilding.

“I remember looking at the cover, and I said, ‘How do you get your body to look like that?’” Hall recalled.

She started going to a gym to work out in the late 1980s, she said, and now, working out is such an integral part of her life, “It’s like taking a shower.”

A native of Hockessin, Hall moved to Sussex County six years ago and has worked as a trainer at World Gym for four years. As a trainer, she emphasizes nutrition, as well as fitness, along with the benefits of meditation and getting proper rest.

“It’s a lifestyle,” she said. “It’s not about just going to a gym to lose 20 pounds.”

In order to keep her clients on track, Hall said, “We make working out fun and make good nutrition doable.”

By the end of the November competition, Hall had taken first place in the over-60 division and second place in the over-50 division. Her sons, now 28 and 32, are “very supportive” of her commitment to fitness, she said.

“They are both very much into working out,” she said. In fact, she noted, her older son competed in a powerlifting competition the week after she returned to the body building arena.

Hall said she hasn’t decided yet whether she will take part in more competitions. She admitted that her first foray back into completions was fun but added that finding competitions with over-60 divisions makes competing more challenging for her than it was a couple decades ago.

“I don’t know,” she said. “You kind of get the fever…”