Clara Paris, a Sykesville resident and personal trainer and life coach who has dedicated herself to family and fitness, recently entered a competition for the title of “Ms. Health & Fitness.”
The national Ms. Health & Fitness competition is hosted by Whitney Jones, the champion of both the 2018 Ms. Fitness International and 2018 Ms. Fitness Olympia competitions, according to the competition’s website. The winner will receive a $20,000 prize and will appear on the cover of Muscle and Fitness Hers magazine, read by more than 500,000, the website says.
Paris, 39, advanced through four weeks among hundreds of competitors to place in the top five of her group. The groups were narrowed down first to 20, then to 15, then 10, then the top five. Only the top winner from each group moved on, though, so Paris fell short of the quarterfinals.
Had she won the prize money, Paris said she would have wanted to help as many charities and people as she could.
“Every year I dress up as Elsa [from Disney’s “Frozen”] and go to children’s hospitals and visit the children and pass out crowns and things like that,” Paris said. “So, it’s more along the lines of helping those that really need it.”
When she was 17 years old, Paris was approached at a gym where she was teaching kickboxing and was asked if she wanted to train people and make money doing so. She started helping people around the gym and progressed to working in a physical therapy office in 2009.
“I always tell people to not focus on excluding things, rather focus on including things because then your body will naturally want to include more healthy things,” Paris said. “Once you tell yourself mentally and physically that you can have something, you want it that much more.
“Instead of trying to go that way, I work on more of including healthy stuff whether it’s more protein at breakfast or more vegetables at lunch.”
Paris has earned over a dozen Maryland fitness titles, including Ms. Physically Fit Maryland America for three years, Ms. Ocean City and Ms. Carroll County through the Miss American Pageant System, she said.
As a single mother of three, Paris still manages to pursue her passions. She takes care of her horses, works full time as a Johns Hopkins phramacy tech and goes to school to pursue a career in occupational therapy. Juggling multiple tasks at one time has helped Paris remain physically active, and she said it has continued to benefit her in the long run.
Paris broke her foot in a car accident in 2002 when her son was just four weeks old. She was told she would never walk in heels again, but she said she was able to do so shortly after her cast was removed because she correctly rehabilitated her muscles.
She also underwent spinal cord surgery in 2014, six years after receiving the initial diagnosis, and attributed that length of time to her fitness level.
“Things they said I wouldn’t be able to do, I’m able to do now,” Paris said. “Cancer runs in my family, and I’ve been able to fight it [off] so far. My mom died from breast cancer, and almost all of my aunts have died from some type of cancer. My dad has COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], so I think fitness has helped me beat a lot of genetic illnesses that I wouldn’t have been able to beat otherwise.”
Paris said her experience participating in previous fitness competitions prepared her for the Ms. Health & Fitness contest. Her competitive nature combined with the ability to work well with a solid team of people behind her has motivated her to be a driving force for her children.
Her advice to other mothers who might want to get involved with fitness is this: Start small, find something you like and stick with it.
“Whether it’s working out on the playground with your kids or when you take a break and work to do push-ups on the wall or squats, whatever it is,” Paris said. “Just start small, don’t try to go in too heavy too hard because you’ll burn yourself out.”