This is a guest post by Annamarya Scaccia, a writer, fitness expert, and kidney cancer survivor. Follow her on Instagram @stillwellfitness.
“In second place, number 87.”
I relax and sway to the front of the stage, the lights bright overhead. Feet planted, I move into my front pose and bend my head slightly, a medal placed around my neck.
It’s near the end of November, and we’re at the Natural Fit Federation’s Texas Classic, the last bodybuilding show of the season. I am competing for the first time on stage, as a Novice Figure athlete. My coach and I were aiming for first place but coming in second is still an impressive showing, I’d say.
With a roar of applause, I could hear people cheering my name. My coach, my boyfriend, my son, my close friends—there, in the audience, my circle of support. And it is in this moment, as I feel the energy around me, that I know I’ve found my true calling: to be the one-kidney bodybuilder.
If you’ve followed my story so far, you’d know that, as an athletic kidney cancer survivor, I am vocal about the lack of content and support for athletes who live in the grey areas of fitness and wellness. This gap is particularly pronounced in the nutritional space. If you can’t have copious amounts of protein or must abide by certain dietary limits—but aren’t required to follow a specialized diet—then you’re out of luck for advice or guidance. Most of us are left with one vague rule to follow: “Watch your salt and watch your protein.”
In bodybuilding, protein is the holy grail. Protein repairs and rebuilds muscles, aiding their growth. The more protein you could eat, the better for your physique. Or in other words: eat a lot of protein, get buff. Rinse, repeat.
I am a competitor at heart—and as a competitor, I cannot shy away from a challenge. For me, building a strong, sculpted body without the ability to eat all the egg whites and tofu in the world was the challenge ahead. And as a fitness professional, I wanted to prove that you don’t need to have two kidneys or eat copious amounts of protein to stand on stage with other bodybuilders. I have lived my life in service of shattering the status quo and competing as an adaptive, one-kidney bodybuilder was another way to fulfill this purpose.
I decided to compete in the NFF Texas Classic because I wanted to change what it means to be a bodybuilder in today’s world.
There were many times, during my six-month journey to the stage, when I thought I would quit, never to compete. After all, I have only one kidney, and with one kidney, this means my health concerns become magnified in a way unbeknownst to the average bodybuilder. Plus, I have very strong feelings about my stomach—how it looks and why it looks that way. The skin that hangs, the scars, the folds, the reality. My muscles will never be massive, and my body will never be smooth and taut.
These were truths I had to confront and accept on multiple occasions during training season (or “on prep,” in bodybuilder parlance). My confidence, it’s fair to say, had been shattered more than once.
But then, my coach, Shaylin, would remind me why I embarked on this process in the first place—the greater mission I had to fulfill. Competing in a bodybuilding show wasn’t just a bucket list item for me. Becoming a competitive bodybuilder is my way of changing the narrative—of carving out a space for other kidney cancer survivors who aspire to compete. After all, as a friend told me, I may have taken second place at the NFF Texas Classic this year, but my competitors could eat their bodyweight in protein and I, well, can’t. “You really won,” she said.
I built this body while eating far less protein a day than most bodybuilders do. I built this body while taking more rest days than most bodybuilders do. I built this body while deviating from the standard. So if you’re ever told you can’t build the body you want, let my body be proof that that’s not true.