NORMAL, Ill. — From near rock bottom to within an eyelash of the top of the world. That’s been the four-year fitness journey of 33-year old Jessica Kite of Bloomington.

It began with a stressed and somewhat overwhelmed single mother showing up at the doorstep of the Be Strong Gym, then on Bell Street in Bloomington.

While there, Kite discovered a new passion that’s taken her through the ranks of women’s strength training all of the way to a second-place finish in the lightweight division of The Strongest Woman in the World 2016 competition on Aug. 27-28 in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It was extremely exciting,” said Kite. “Even to just get an invite to compete was amazing.”

Be Strong owner Drew Whitted has been Kite’s coach every step of the way. He agrees her progress has, indeed, been amazing.

“When Jessica started her fitness journey, she was at the point where she just about gave up, like a lot of people have and a lot of people do,” said Whitted. “She had stepped on the scales one day and it was over 200 pounds. She decided she wasn’t going to step on the scales anymore.”

Raising a young daughter and working around 60 hours per week, a despondent Kite also decided to give the gym a try. An initial goal of losing weight became a quest to become more toned.

“She said, ‘I’m going to take control of this,'” Whitted said. “She came in and started strength training. She realized she loved conditioning and she liked finding her limits, so she pushed them.”

Finding and exceeding her limits came incrementally, but by her second year of dedicated training Kite felt she was ready for competition. Her climb to the top is a testament to her drive.

“Her very first national championship (meet) she took last, or second to last,” Whitted said. “That’s a big test for an athlete. When you realize you’re at the bottom of the pack, I’ve seen a lot of athletes walk away from the sport. It crushes them and it’s hard to stay passionate.”

If anything, the performance left Kite more determined.

“Jessica was in the gym training the next day,” Whitted said. “She was ready for more. She knew if she kept pushing, she was limitless and that’s what she’s done. She’s kept pushing all the way to the pro level.”

The Strongest Woman in the World meet was Kite’s first event as a professional. She earned an invitation to play for pay by finishing third in the lightweight division of the Arnold American Strongman World Classic in Columbus, Ohio, in March.

Prior to that, she gained her spot in “The Arnold” with an overall victory in the 148-pound women’s division of the United States Strongman National Championships at Indianapolis in 2015.

Kite sometimes arrives in the pre-dawn hours at Be Strong, now located at the Crossroads Center in Normal. Her workouts help her to manage her weight, but it still can sometimes be a struggle to get below 140 to compete in the lightweight class. That was the case when she headed for Florida in August.

“The drive was very long and tiring and I was cutting weight and couldn’t eat and drink,” Kite said. “I just had to sit there and chew gum and spit the entire 15 hours. The drive was not fun.

“Once I got there and made weight, I was able to rest, eat, drink, then the real excitement started.”

The excitement came in six different events over a two-day period that were a test of strength and endurance.

“Two of the events are my favorite events and the others, I’m pretty good at,” Kite said. “So I was excited and pretty confident I was going to do well and it would be one of my best shows.”

She was the leader among 10 competitors after the first day of competition.

“I get in a zone to the point where you can’t really hear people around you,” said Kite, of her intense focus during the events. “You might have someone four feet from you coaching you or giving you encouragement and you just kind of zone out and don’t really hear them.”

Kite and veteran competitor Leslie Hofheins swapped the lead throughout the meet. In the end, Kite was within two-tenths of a point of the world lightweight title that was won by Hofheins.

Back in the Twin Cities, Kite continues to work at a local Monical’s Pizza and also is now doing some coaching at Be Strong.

Whitted sees her success as an inspiration to others at the gym.

“She has a certain type of motivation and passion she brings to every training session that can’t be matched,” Whitted said. “It’s one of our most popular days when she’s out here coaching. She just does it right when she enters the gym. It’s all business for her, but it’s done in a fun, passionate way that inspires everybody around her.”

“It’s just dedication and motivation,” Kite said of her success. “I could go home and watch TV and catch all of my favorite sitcoms, or I could go to the gym and make myself a better, stronger person.”

While focused on a world title, Kite and Whitted will cherish the memory of coming close and leading on the final day of her first professional meet.

“It was an exciting day,” Whitted said. “It was a phenomenal feeling knowing that Jessica Kite, Bloomington-Normal’s very own, was (at one point) in first place in the world.”

Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph,

Information from: The Pantagraph,

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Pantagraph.

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