Stepping out on to the stage ready to start posing in her bikini, Diane Cuthbert’s life flashed before her eyes.
As a child she was chubby, as a teenager overweight and, in her 20s, too fat to wear pretty dresses.
She would cover herself up in what she calls ‘tents’ so as not to draw attention to herself.
Now, aged 47, she was about to be judged in the final of the World Amateur Female Natural Bodybuilding Competition – in Miami.
After months of preparation, eating a high protein diet and pumping iron twice a day, Diane was ready to flex for the judges.
And she became the Novice Female Natural Bodybuilding World Champion, Miss Physique Class.
That is no mean feat for a girl who was once so shy she just wanted to hide away. Now she was on stage in front of hundreds of people in just a tiny royal blue bikini, flexing her toned and sculpted muscles.
Beaming from ear to ear, Diane says: ‘When they didn’t call out my name for either second or third place I thought ‘‘that’s it, I’ve blown it’’.
‘Then they called out my name as the world champion and I couldn’t believe it. I jumped for joy.! I was absolutely over the moon. It still feels like a dream now. I’m still on a high.’
It has been a long journey for Diane, a cleaner, from Juliet Court, Waterlooville.
It began 20 years ago when her elder sister, Marion Cuthbert, lost weight.
Diane says: ‘I was always chubby. At my heaviest I was 16st and smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
‘All the time I was conscious about my weight, especially in the summer when my thighs would rub together. I was always a bit of a tomboy. I did like to dress up nicely, but I couldn’t wear the dainty dresses that other girls could wear.
‘My sister and I would try to be fit and go for walks, but we’d stop at every shop on the way and buy chocolate bars.
‘You name a diet, I’ve tried it – the cabbage diet, the grapefruit and egg diet. They didn’t work.’
But, in her late 20s, Diane went on a low-fat diet and shed almost seven stone in seven months.
‘I couldn’t believe how good I felt – emotionally and physically,’ she says.
‘I felt like a new woman. When you’re overweight everything, even just getting out of bed, is an effort. Losing the weight made me feel so different, but I was still smoking.’
Diane joined Fitness First in Waterlooville and got a personal trainer who was her inspiration.
She says: ‘My trainer was an ex- army PTI, an amazing guy.
‘He set up a running club and asked me to join. When I started I couldn’t even run to the corner of the road.
‘But, thanks to his encouragement, I went back to college to re-train as a personal trainer and gave up cigarettes for good.’
With the use of free weights, Diane’s body become ever more muscular. A friend suggested she enter a bodybuilding bikini contest and, at first, she baulked at the idea.
‘I said there was no way you’d ever get me up on stage in a bikini,’ laughs Diane, ‘but it sowed a seed.’
And, in 2011, she entered her first competition in Gosport. She learned the poses – including how to show off her bulging biceps, triceps, abs and thighs, while covered in a thick tanning liquid to highlight her muscles under competition lights.
She says: ‘I’m a naturally anxious and shy person and I was so nervous before getting on the stage.
‘Once, I was overweight and basically hated myself. But the reaction I got on stage was really good and I won. I loved the whole experience.’
Diane got a taste for it and won more and more competitions.
She came second in the national final in Liverpool in September, which meant she automatically qualified for the world championship in Miami. But getting there wasn’t easy.
It was only down to the kindness and generosity of friends from the gym and family members she was able to pay her expenses to make the trip with her sister.
Once there she knew all the hard work was worth it.
‘I went over with the British team. Because we are natural bodybuilders there is not too much testosterone pumping round. It was absolutely brilliant. Everyone was so friendly to each other. It was an honour to be part of the British team, no matter what happened.
‘I made so many friends from around the world. Everybody there was the best of the best. And I couldn’t believe I was there.’
After the initial judging the finalists were called back to the stage where they had a ‘pose-off’ in front of family and friends.
Diane explains, ‘It’s a bit of fun where you pose and get in each other’s way.
‘I feel so honoured to have this title. Especially because I’m in a minority because I’m a woman.
‘If you talk about female bodybuilders people automatically think of women who look like men. But I can dispel the myth.
‘A lot of women are scared to do weights at the gym because they think they’ll get really big, but I’m proof that you don’t.
‘I’ve completely changed my life through bodybuilding. And, if I can do it, anybody can.’
To sponsor Diane, e-mail email@example.com.
‘I’m totally against drugs’
Bodybuilding has been dogged by problems with people taking steroids to pump up their natural physiques.
But Diane Cuthbert competes in British Natural Bodybuilding Federation competitions.
The federation was set up in 2000 and operates a stringent anti-drugs policy.
There is strict drug testing for all class winners at every show. And every finalist must take a lie detector test where they are asked if they have taken any muscle-enhancing substances.
Out-of-competition random tests for members are also commonplace to ensure that bodybuilders remain drug-free.
Diane says: ‘The finalists at each competition are not allowed to leave backstage until they have been escorted to the toilet for a urine test.
‘It’s pretty embarrassing but it’s so they can be 100 per cent sure the competition is drug-free and I’m completely in agreement with that.
‘I’m totally against drugs.’
When Diane is in optimum competition condition she weighs around 9st. To get down to that weight, her 12-week programme starts with a five-mile run each morning before breakfast.
Breakfast is a bowl of oats, one whole egg and four egg whites, scrambled.
Throughout the day she eats four to five portions of 100g of protein and 100g of carbohydrates with an unlimited amount of vegetables.
She also fits in two daily weight sessions focusing on different muscles.