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It’s a sunny, cloudless Monday morning in Denver, Colorado, and cool, fresh air flies in the open windows of my new car. A truck pulls up alongside, the window rolls down, and a woman screams, “Congratulations!” The car I’m driving is my trophy, emblazoned with the words “2018 IFBB Wings of Strength World Champion.” I give her a thumbs-up to thank her and get goose bumps. Tears form in my eyes as I remember the moment onstage when the emcee (and my close friend), Sara Hurle, declared me the 2018 Rising Phoenix World Champion, the No. 1 female bodybuilder in the world.

Then I feel deep gratitude in my heart for this moment, an amazing gift from the universe that fills my day with a wonderful, positive attitude that I know will be reflected in the people I come in contact with.

Still, I’ve never forgotten where I came from—my journey has been against all odds. I was born into a middle-class family in a small town in eastern Romania, and from a young age I dreamed of being independent, making my own living, and exploring the world. As an athletic child, I was into sports— track and field, martial arts, aerobics—but I never imagined that my strength and agility, along with my will to push my body further and further, would help me turn all this into a career. I never dreamed I would be a bodybuilder, and a successful one at that. But since my first local show in Romania 18 years ago, when I came in runner-up, and with each passing show after that, I have gained more confidence to push past my limitations and shoot for the stars.

Alina Popa 2
Courtesy of Wings of Strength

I don’t take for granted the natural talent and physique I was born with. This is a blessing I’m grateful to have recognized, and without it I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all I have. But in the sport of bodybuilding, an equally important component of success is hard work and dedication. I see that as either an inherited or learned trait. I’ll always be grateful to my parents, who gave me the best education, teaching me by example to have a strong work ethic and to be honest and ambitious.

Once I won the IFBB Overall Amateur World Championship in 2008, I started competing in the USA. My professional debut came in 2010 at the Arnold Classic, where I placed eighth. In every show after that, I never placed below top five, and in 2013 and 2014 I grabbed the runner-up title in Ms. Olympia. It was then that I realized I had what it takes to reach the very top.

Jake Wood created the Rising Phoenix World Championship in 2015, the successor competition to Ms. Olympia and the pinnacle event for female bodybuilders. I competed and placed third in 2016, and in 2018 I finally achieved my goal and won the title I’d worked 20 years for. Trust me, it’s an overwhelming feeling!

Today, Wings of Strength has become the true leader in the world of female bodybuilding, and my dreams were realized again when I joined the team, organizing bodybuilding competitions as the athletes’ representative. To me, getting the top title in female bodybuilding is more than just a personal success—it brings a duty to represent the sport in a gracious way, help others achieve their goals, and develop the sport by attracting new, talented athletes. It is truly a privilege to work with these amazing female athletes and encourage upcoming competitors and future stars to follow their dreams, too.

I have a lot of passion to give back to this sport, which has given me so much. It helped me build and strengthen my character, develop self-confidence, create a great life in a great country, and meet so many amazing people.

Being a proud bodybuilder is an expression of true freedom. If we master this, not succumbing to society’s pressure but harmoniously integrating the lessons we learn in our unique individual ways, then we succeed. We can then take what we learn and apply it elsewhere in our lives, and success will follow. I am just one example of this concept: Being free means bringing our own conceived reality into existence.

Spreading Their Wings
Courtesy of Wings of Strength


  • BORN: October 12, 1978; Brăila, Romania
  • HEIGHT: 5 ft 6 in (1.68m)
  • WEIGHT: Contest: 165 lbs (75kg); Off-season: 190 lbs (86kg)
  • PRO DEBUT: IFBB Ms. International, 2010
  • BEST WIN: IFBB Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Champion, 2018
  • REMARKABLE RESULTS: 2013 & 2014 Ms. Olympia Runner-up

This content is sponsored by Wings of Strength.