Hard gainers might understand where Yarelis Gonzalez is coming from. a scrawny, underweight girl for most of her life, she made every training and nutrition mistake you can make before finally figuring out that the only path to greatness is the one paved with truckloads of hard work in the gym and nonstop attention to diet. Her efforts have paid off beautifully, and after just three years of training, she took home top honors in the 2011 Flex Bikini Model Search. Now she’s got her sights set on becoming a top competitor in the pro circuit—while likely breaking a few hearts along the way.

What’s the main difference between other contests and the FLEX Search?
Everything’s different—from the way you do your hair to the shoes and jewelry you wear. You have to have some sass in the FLEX show. I walked in feeling like I was the person to beat, and that came across to the judges. do you visualize other goals? Yes. Every time I visualize where I want to be and how I want things to be in my life, it turns out that way. If I’m going to work like a champion, then I have to think like one.

Before competing, what was your life like?
I had no clue about health. My idea of working out was using a treadmill. I was small and needed to gain weight, so I tried to eat ice cream before I went to sleep so I could look healthier or fuller. I come from a Spanish background where women have that full look. Grandma would look at me and say, “You look sick.”

We’re guessing the ice cream diet didn’t work out that well.
[Laughs] It didn’t. I still wasn’t gaining weight, and I didn’t look healthier or feel good. I finally went to the gym and hired a personal trainer. We started a new training and nutrition program. I was eating six or seven times a day and lifting weights. I fell in love with it. That was three years ago.

What sort of guys do you like?
Personality is huge, of course, but an understanding of this lifestyle important. Fitness competition is so all-encompassing it affects your whole family. So he needs to know that. Big shoulders are good, too! So they can hold me tight.

Do you pretty much have your pick of any guy you want?
Pretty much. [Laughs] I’m not trying to come across as cocky or anything. That’s just the way it’s always been.

Height: 5'1"
Weight: 102 lbs.
Residence: Greensboro, N.C.
Twitter: @Yarelis_Gonzo