A lifelong Union resident transformed her body in six months, winning awards and most importantly, accomplishing a personal goal.
In January, Juaniece Eison, 39, weighed 190 pounds and wore a size 12. By June, she weighed 139 pounds and was a size two. Her secret: intense training, strict diet, encouragement from loved ones and personal determination.
At the end of last year, Eison began talking with one of her supervisors at Spartanburg Public Safety about being healthier. She learned about the Carolina Supernatural bodybuilding competition which is held annually at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, and she decided she would set that as a personal goal.
“I would have to burn fat and build muscle within 5-6 months,” Eison said.
On Jan. 1, she began training.
“Fortunately, I love to jog, so cardio wasn’t an issue,” she said. “But I wasn’t knowledgeable of the technique of weight training.”
Eison contacted her uncle — Curtis Thomas Owens — who has more than 27 years of weight training experience along with numerous wins in powerlifting competitions.
“He agreed to assist, but only if I was serious and could stick with his program of strenuous training,” Eison said.
The uncle and niece trained six days each week, working every muscle group twice every week. They worked out at Bodymasters in Union, as well as a gym in Spartanburg, spending 4-5 hours each session. Eison said she worked her abs seven days a week, and her cardiovascular training included exercises such as running up hills and running with weights.
Eison also went on a strict diet, staying away from sweets, bread, salt and butter. She drank protein shakes mixed with water, not milk. She ate egg whites and plain oatmeal for breakfast and consumed lots of protein, green vegetables and water. Eison said her daughter, Winter, became the cook of the house and cooked her food separately from the rest of the family’s.
“I ate lots of steak, chicken and fish, and raw spinach became my best friend,” she laughed. “I ate almonds, grapefruit, strawberries… I also stayed away from restaurants. Restaurant food is full of sodium. Even salads. If you choose to have their chicken, it’s full of sodium.”
Eison said the hardest part was the leg workouts because she has problems with her knees, which were often swollen after workouts.
“They ache now; they ache all the time, but no pain, no gain,” Eison said. “And those squats hurt like I don’t know what!”
She said she owes much of her success to her uncle’s encouragement.
“He’s such a motivator, and I needed a push,” Eison said. “He said, ‘the mind is a powerful thing, and there’s nothing you can’t do.’ He has a way of pulling out the best in you and making you want to do it.”
Eison said she is thankful for the sacrifices made by her uncle as well as her husband, Bishop, and her children — James, 20, Winter, 18, and Janine, 16 — while she worked to achieve her goal.
“Janine and I wear the same size now!” she exclaimed during an interview on Wednesday. “This is her dress I’m wearing now. Can you believe that?”
The week before the competition, Eison consulted with bodybuilder Nora Justice, who has five years of bodybuilding experience and has several competition wins under her belt.
“She met with me and gave me eating tips,” Eison said. “She gave me a strict diet for that week to get the rest of the water off my body. She met with me at her home and worked with me on my posing for about an hour and a half. She told me I should always feel good and be confident.”
Eison was ready for competition when she competed in the 17th annual Carolina Supernatural — which its website declares is the only drug-tested bodybuilding competition in the state. The time, effort and dedication paid off for her as she left the competition with four trophies — Second Place Women’s Novice, Fourth Place Women’s Figure, Third Place Women’s Open Heavyweight (116 pounds and over) and Eison’s favorite, “Best Poser” in Women’s Open Heavyweight.
“I would have never believed in a million years I would have come home with these trophies,” Eison beamed.
She said when she arrived at the competition that morning, she pointed her competition out to her uncle, who told her not to worry about it and that she was already a winner. She said her co-workers also told her before the competition that she was already a winner.
“I heard that a lot, but it feels better to have that trophy in your hand,” she said.
Although the winners are chosen early in the afternoon, contestants each perform a 90-second pose down at 6 p.m. for audience members.
“You’ve worked so hard, and you just want to show people how hard you have worked,” she said.
Eison said with the dehydration the week before, the all-day competition itself can wear competitors down, but reactions from her loved ones made her forget that.
“My uncle loves for me to flex my traps, and he would say, ‘You’ve got to throw those traps out there and look mean,’” she laughed. “My husband had a big ol’ smile on his face, which is rare because he’s a serious, military man. My children were cheering me on. I just thought, ‘I did it!’”
Eison said she will continue to stay in shape now that the competition is over, although she did indulge in some of the foods she missed.
“Will I continue to dehydrate myself? No. Did I eat a cookie afterwards? Yes, right after the competition.”
Eison said she also enjoyed a cheeseburger, cheese fries and cake after six grueling months. She has gained back 13 pounds since the competition.
“Before the competition, people asked why I was so skinny,” Eison said. “I was embarrassed. At work they called me Bone-niece. They would say, ‘We want the old Juaniece back. We don’t know Bone-niece.’”
Although she said she misses some of those fatty foods, she will continue to eat healthy and exercise.
“It becomes a way of life,” Eison said. “I almost feel like I’m depriving myself if I don’t do it. Anything you work that hard for, you don’t want to blow it. Back to tuna, spinach and almonds”
Eison is experiencing a new self confidence.
“I feel like I can do anything,” she said. “I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do if I want to do it. I feel like living. I’m ready to go and do the next thing now.”
Eison said her future goals include learning to swim, competing in a triathlon and of course, next year’s Carolina Supernatural.
“I will compete again next year,” she said. “I want No. 1! I’m going for No. 1!”