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Being crowned Ms. Fitness Olympia three times is what makes Whitney Jones an icon among her bodybuilding and fitness peers. However, if the mainstream sports world knew of the Arizona native’s comeback stories—and there are quite a few to choose from—Jones’ status would be universally legendary.
Not all of Jones’ adversities—Jones has racked up more than a dozen surgeries to go along with her multiple titles—ended with her named called as the winner, but rarely has Jones ever just thrown in the towel. Nope, Jones rather be dragged offstage—or in one instance, crawling offstage—than having to withdraw.
Just before the finals of the 2015 Arnold Classic, severe back spasms during warmups had Jones on the floor onstage. She crawled backstage and tried to find a way to continue that night, even while she couldn’t get off the floor. Her night eventually ended with a DNF, despite trying to convince herself she could make it happen. “It was pretty bad,” Jones says. “I was lying flat backstage, and they kept telling me, ‘Show’s about to start—you’re not going to be able to make it.’ I was like, ‘No, that’s not true! Just give me five more minutes.’ In my brain, we were not done.”
Two years later, a severe neck injury not only shut down her 2017 season, but came close to ending her career. But eight months later, Jones was in full training mode and four weeks out from the 2018 Arnold Classic—only to suffer an ACL and MCL tear to her right leg during drills. She not only competed at the Arnold—Jones came out victorious.
Capping her comeback résumé was last year’s Olympia, in which Jones was looking to regain the crown she lost a year earlier to Missy Truscott. She brought down the house in Orlando with an electrifyingly showstopping routine to earn her third title—only to reveal afterward that she had performed despite suffering a broken tibia just three days earlier.
You can call her Fearless—just like the name of her clothing brand—because there’s no pain or obstacle that will prevent her from trying to find a way to compete. Jones would probably call her toughness a by-product of growing up with two older brothers. Now as the mother of two boys, she’s also a world champion athlete, trainer, gym owner, and entrepreneur in part she says due to her dedication finding ways to make the best of situations. Jones says that having the ability to adjust and adapt to stressful moments is a skill all of possess and can apply to almost any situation—if you have the right mindset.
“It’s all a mental game at that point,” she says. “You’ve done all the physical work. Now, it’s you who controls or not you succeed or fail. And I’ve had a lot of experience to kind of master that. And I just get into like that go mode, and you got one shot. I was gonna put it all out there. And if it works great, if it didn’t, it didn’t, but you there’s no tapping out. you got to make it work, make some modifications to your routine and you just go all in.”
Now just weeks out from this year’s Olympia weekend, Jones remains relatively healthy as she prepares to defend her Olympia fitness crown and attempt to earn a fourth title. There’s nothing left to prove, championship-wise, but as Jones says, doing what you love remains a motivating factor. Passion, along with learning to make adjustments as you push through life’s limitations are all part of her Winning Strategy.
“That’s what I am, and I take that approach with so many things,” Jones says. Because you can’t level up until you totally banish all fear and say, let’s just go for it. And if you have passion, and you’re strategic in what you’re doing, you should have the confidence that whatever it is you’re doing, it’s going to work out.”
For me personally, I never have a backup plan. Going into the 2018 Arnold Classic, my routine was set, then I blew out my ACL with four weeks left. I had to start from scratch and literally figure out what could I do without having to utilize my right leg. Since my neck was still recovering and there was so much atrophy in my shoulders at that point, it then became what could I do with just upper-body strength. I went back to the drawing board. I stopped thinking about all these like crazy skills I could do that I’d been working on for years, and went back to the basics and built it from there.
I was like, “I can do XYZ—but how can I make that more explosive and exciting?” Because I was thrown for a loop by the injury, It truly forced me to think out of the box with no backup plan.
This is where I feel a lot of people tap out—they don’t want to look at their true talents, realize what they’re capable of until they’re tested. I was tested. And there was just no way I was not going to show up for that show. And for me, I [already] had to prove that I could come back from a broken neck. So when the ACL injury happened, I was like, Okay, well, this is a true test for me as an athlete. Where’s my championship mentality coming from? Is it there or not? And I was dead set on proving to myself more than anyone else that I was capable of it.
Bottom line: You work with what you got. Don’t focus on your faults and what’s not working in your favor. Focus on what is and that’s the way I was able to be successful. But that was probably the closest I ever came to tapping out because of my neck, then my upper body and lower body was a little bit jacked. What am I going to do? But you just got to tap into that mentality and know like, I’m here to fight. I’ve worked hard. I want to get on that stage and I want my shots.
The best advice I have is to put yourself on the other side of the situation. So if it’s a friend or family member telling you about their obstacles, what would you tell them? It’s easy to fall into that victim, pity-party mentality. But everybody knows that serves you no purpose, it’s a waste of time.
If you have goals, if you want to achieve something, you’ve got to be able to learn from whatever mistakes you made. Life is not always amazing. You learn your lessons from failures. So if it was an epic failure, you should have epic lessons that you’re learning from. You have to look at it in that mindset to go, yeah, today sucked, and whatever the case is, you don’t want to relive it, but what can you learn from it? Because then there’s something productive you can take from that to improve on and it’s just constant forward thinking.
Again, something that I always say is, you know, everyone in our sport is focused on an outcome and a goal. Would you ever want to be outworked? Probably not. So guess what, when you’re sitting in your pity-party mentality and you’re wasting days doing sorry for yourself or dwelling on some negative aspect that happened, someone else is working you and that’s up to you so you can allow it or not, I wouldn’t allow it. I will not be outworked.
Focus on your goal—but that goal needs to be internal. You can’t be motivated by external validation
Our sport is subjective, so you’ve got to feel like a champion way before you hit the stage. You need to be like, “Hey, I already won, and everyone is in the audience to watch me win.” Having that mentality helps get you in a spot for that to actually come to fruition. If you have doubts or hesitation, bad stuff’s gonna happen because you’re not confident.
So if you’ve prepared properly, and have done everything you should have to get to that point, you should feel like a winner. You should feel like it’s your day to achieve success. And no matter what happens when you walk off the stage, you still need to be proud of yourself.
Never giving the validation to the judges is one of the most powerful things I’ve done. I haven’t won every show—Hello! everyone takes knocks in life—but I’ve learned something from it. And there have been plenty of times I’m like, I should have won. I felt amazing. I you know, I did the best I could, I didn’t. But guess what, as long as I felt proud of what I presented, then I won.
You’ve got to just continually be better than your previous self. You’ve got to show up better to every show. Your routines need to be better, more exciting, and with a higher degree of difficulty. Some people may require victory, but I feel like that’s the wrong mentality. If you do all of that, then you’ve won, with or without a trophy.
In the fitness industry, there’s so many opportunities for self fulfillment and financial fulfillment. You can monetize your fitness passion, but if you’re too focused on yourself you’re not enjoying this experience or keeping your eyes open to opportunities, friendships, even sponsorships. You’re also missing opportunities to really give back to the community.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned, without a doubt, is that you’re a champion not for those moments that you are onstage for two minutes, and they give you that trophy, it’s what you do the minute you walk off the stage, and that entire year that truly dictates what kind of champion you are. How do you hold yourself? What are you representing? Are you helping younger athletes benefit from the sport and gain everything that you have? For me, being a champion allowed me a platform and a voice that I’d never had before, to share my experience to share my excitement to share my love the sport.
I’m just like everybody else—no one on the street knows that I’ve ever won the Olympia, and they don’t care. But if I could motivate someone to start getting active, become healthier for their children, or help a young athlete recover from an injury and realize their life’s not over. It’s allowed me a platform to really help motivate and inspire others. And to me, that’s what a true champion is, you’re a good representation of the sport, you represent your division well, and you’re helping to share your passion.
What keeps me motivated? I truly love this sport. From a creative aspect, I love trying to challenge myself with, “Hey, can you do this skill?” People will throw ideas at me, and for me there’s only way to find out. I love thinking about new costumes, new music, new routines. That’s what keeps me motivated.
But also, being a mom, and coaching athletes all over the world, I’m also setting an example. So you got to walk the walk and also talk the talk. Not that I don’t have bad days, but I realize eyes are watching and what I do and what I say can absolutely inspire and motivate. My two boys are now teenagers and they’re getting into their own athletic careers. And they’re trying to dedicate their lives to schoolwork, so everything I’m doing is setting that example. So that motivates me to push harder every single day. Because if I fall down and slack, that’s giving my clients as well as my boys, a pass or an excuse to kind of do the same. So by modeling the behavior that I would love to see for my kids and my clients that holds me accountable, it keeps me motivated and I always just focus on enjoying what I do again. I don’t have to—I get to.