Tragedy to motivation!


TERRE HAUTE, IND.
Modern slang dictionaries define "soft" as being weak and feeble.
Isabelle Turell is nowhere near soft, physically or mentally.
After all, look at her photos that accompany this story. As Terre Haute's only professional bodybuilder, she didn't mold that unique physique by lifting toothpicks and devouring donuts. Not only did it require strength, it took daily discipline.
Numerical evidence also indicates Turell isn't soft.
Although she's never competed in a sanctioned powerlifting meet, she says she's deadlifted 315 pounds for 15 repetitions, bench-pressed 225 pounds for 15-20 reps and squatted 495 pounds below parallel for 8-10 reps while training in the gym.
An extreme workout fanatic, Turell is a member of almost every fitness center in town. She often trains two or three times a day, sometimes starting at 2 a.m.
Sound soft? No way.
Turell, 36, recently hitched herself to the front of a 10,000-pound 2015 Dodge Ram truck belonging to her boyfriend and pulled it several steps in a parking lot "just for the extra leg burn," she said, adding that this awkward exercise pumped up her calves and glute muscles as well.
She's done this more than once, by the way.
Standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing an ultra-muscular 167 pounds, Turell is confident enough to display the fruits of her labor on a brightly lit stage in front of hundreds of spectators. On June 11 in Nebraska, she won the International Federation of Bodybuilding Omaha Pro women's division for her first victory since she turned pro in 2008.
So how would one expect this tough, fit superwoman to react after seeing her dreams come true?
Maybe not how you'd think.
She cried.
For a moment, it may have appeared to strangers that Turell went soft.
This wasn't being soft, however. Despite her supreme strength, she's still human.
Like people who don't go to the gym two or three times a day (or at all), Turell feels sadness when unexpected tragedy strikes her family.
"I was overwhelmed," she admitted. "I cried because I had lost my mom a few months earlier."
Backtrack to March 24, 2016, a day that Isabelle Turell will never forget.
"I got a call from my sister (Erica) early in the morning and she's crying," Turell told the Tribune-Star. "I asked, 'What's wrong?' The next thing she tells me is 'Mom's dead.' I was freaking out. I grabbed a couple things and headed straight to the airport. I didn't even have a plane ticket."
She eventually purchased a ticket and flew to her original hometown of Orlando, Fla., where the reality sunk in that her mother Joanne Turell had passed away at 52.
"I lost it," Isabelle Turell recalled. "But at the same time that day when I found out she died, later on that evening I went to Gold's Gym and started working out. Because I told myself, 'Yeah, my mom has passed and I miss her and I love her so much.' But you know what? I didn't want to let her down. I was training for a (bodybuilding) show. . My mom was going to go to my show (the Puerto Rico Pro on May 29). I was going to fly her, my sister and my grandmother down there."
But on that day, she went alone to the nearest Gold's Gym and worked out while the rest of her family rested.
"I had one of my greatest workouts ever," Turell reflected. "I put all of my energy into my workout. Ever since then, I was on a mission. I was on a mission to make my mom happy and proud of me and to show her that I am the champion she always thought that I was. She really supported me in my bodybuilding. She always bragged about me.
"My mom was my best friend. It's hard, but I used that to fuel my furnace to be a really tough bodybuilder."
If you see Isabelle Turell with a serious look on her face in one of the Terre Haute fitness centers she frequents, please don't walk up and ask her how much she benches.
Or squats.
Or any other type of strength-testing lift.
She'll likely be in one of those "zones" that athletes reference when they're totally focused. If a "Do Not Disturb" sign wouldn't seem so rude, she'd probably tape one on her back.
"When I go to the gym, this is an actual job," emphasized Turell, who trains six days a week. "I'm coming in here to be the best bodybuilder that I can be because I'm up against the best in the world. . If I slack in my workout, I just gave my opposition an advantage."
This doesn't mean she dislikes giving advice, but she prefers to discuss sets and reps when she's not doing them herself.
When Turell goes to the gym, she often wears a gray, hooded sweatshirt so that nobody will notice her, so that nobody will notice she's different from the other members.
But rest assured, she is different. Much different.
"I am actually Indiana's first professional female bodybuilder," Turell pointed out.
As a youngster, Turell didn't understand the appeal of bodybuilders, calling them "silly." Instead, she focused on playing soccer in Orlando because she was a huge fan of Mia Hamm.
"I was not as muscular as I am now," she mentioned. "I started out at 147 pounds. I was a soccer player (in high school) and I was really big and stocky. I had the nickname 'Thunder Thighs.' I had big legs."
At 19, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee caused Turell to quit soccer. Recovered by 20, she turned her attention to bodybuilding and finished second in the women's lightweight division of her first amateur contest in 2000, tipping the scales at a toned 118 pounds. That wasn't long after she touched a barbell for the first time because another female bodybuilder had praised her "potential" during a conversation at Universal Studios.
"I wanted to be a professional athlete in something," Turell explained. "I was driven, so I said 'let me try this bodybuilding thing out.' If I like it, I'll take it forward."
Her 2000 on-stage debut opened her eyes to how much commitment was needed to become successful in this sport.
"I learned how to eat right," Turell recalled. "I learned that what I was eating was wrong. I'm Sicilian and Puerto Rican, so I ate a lot of beans and rice and lots and lots of pasta, which I don't really eat on a bodybuilding diet."
After years of making steady improvement as an amateur, Turell earned her IFBB pro card by winning the National Physique Committee USA women's overall championship in Las Vegas in July 2008.
Coincidentally, that's the same year she moved to Terre Haute.
Turell entered two more shows after that, placing seventh in the 2008 Atlantic City Pro (her first pro event) and sixth in the 2009 Arnold Classic at Columbus, Ohio.
Then she took what amounted to a six-year break from competition.
"I wanted to travel the world," explained Turell, who continued to train and maintain a decent physique while she refrained from competing, although she admits her diet was not disciplined.
"I wanted to give more hands-on personal training with people ... things I didn't have time to do when I was really committed to bodybuilding," she continued, adding that she still advises a few dozen clients on training, diet and posing.
In September 2014, the old competitive juices returned to Isabelle Turell and she acted on them.
"The little bodybuilding Hulkamaniac was coming out in me saying, 'I need to get back on stage,'" she said.
"This is something that I love. This is something that I've done for a very long time, something that I'm very good at. . It may not be the best sport in the world as far as making money, but it's a reward to me when I can take my body to another level."
Fourth-, third- and seventh-place finishes in pro shows at Chicago, Tampa and Texas followed in 2015.
Turell was getting close to her first pro title.
"I was pleased," she insisted. "It had been six years (since her last competition) and I had a lot of work to do."
As noted earlier, Turell entered the Puerto Rico Pro contest in May and came in second. The IFBB Omaha Pro in June finally made her a champion, but she claims she's not done winning yet.
If all goes as planned, her next competition will be the 2016 Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championships on Sept. 10 at Scottsdale, Ariz.
Turell rattled off a couple areas that could use improvement from the Omaha show.
"I need to get more conditioned and maintain size," she assessed. "I might try to weigh about five pounds less."
Turell estimates that she currently takes in about 3,000 calories a day, while codfish and chicken breasts are among her favorite sources of protein. Her diet coach is George Farah of Rochester, N.Y.
Looking farther ahead, she offered her simple long-term goal: "To be the best bodybuilder that I can be."
Turell believes her window of opportunity for making that happen won't close for another 10 years.
"I'm going to be doing this for a long time," she promised.