“I had some people think I was some sort of S&M dominatrix. I had to tell them no.”


Graphic design and Web
development manager,
Wharton Reprographics

Length of service:
11 years

Other stuff:
Has baked a cake shaped like Pokemon Jiggly Puff for her daughter Rose, 11. “That’s probably about as Suzy Homemaker as I get.”

Sitting at Beijing restaurant on a recent afternoon in a brown business suit and with short gray hair, Mary Colangelo, 42, looked like any ordinary mortal. She ate a meal of steamed chicken with mixed vegetables with no sauce and brown rice. She had the usual worries any single working mother might have.

But hidden beneath that drab business suit, Colangelo flashed a pair of shiny black bike shorts, which gave a hint of her secret life. She trains religiously, using a mixture of aerobic and strength exercises.

With six bikes to her name (“My kitchen looks like a used bike shop,” she said), this fanatic biker has ridden in the 70-mile Freedom Valley Ride and hopes to compete in bodybuilding contests next year.

A published poet, Colangelo currently writes and edits (without payment) the Wharton Wellness Newsletter, which is distributed to Wharton staff.

Q. How did you get into bodybuilding?

A. I had my daughter when I was 31. On her third birthday, there was still baby fat -- but on me. I decided to start working out. My friend Benny weight-trained so I went with him to the Gimbel Universal room. I also did a half hour of cardio and I walked my daughter from Grays Ferry, where I lived, to the Penn Daycare Center before and after work.

As I got stronger I found out I really liked that. I saw results in about six weeks. By three months everyone else was saying something too. I tease Benny, “You created a monster.”

Q. Did you ever feel self-conscious being the only woman in the weight room?

A. No. I even wore Spandex. I really didn’t care. I was more concerned about how I was feeling myself. I’m more internally driven than externally driven. I didn’t care because I was getting results. It feels really good being a strong woman.

Q. Do men find your physique attractive?

A. Some do, but I don’t want to do it for what other people think. I want health first. I had some people think I was some sort of S&M dominatrix. I had to tell them no.

Q. Can you give me an idea of your schedule?

A. I get up at 4:30 and feed the cat and dog. I make a grain and egg white pancake. I let it simmer in a nonstick pan while I do some kind of cardio exercise -- bike, run, step aerobics. By the time I finish the pancake is done, and I pack it up to eat at work.
   At 6:30 I brew coffee while I get my daughter up. I lay out clothes for her and make her breakfast. I pack her lunch. I walk the dog, and pack a backpack. Then I walk my daughter to school and hop on a bike to go down to the gym.
   By 7:45 I’m weight-training at SWEAT [gymnasium]. I’m at work at 9. At lunchtime I might ride my bike or work on abs -- I might work on a smaller body part. I keep cans of tuna and something like string beans in the fridge at work to eat.
   After work I pick up my daughter from her after-school program. Then we have dinner, do homework and get ready for the next day.
   Most nights I’m in bed by 10:30.

Q. And on weekends, do you allow yourself to sleep in till, oh, 7 o’clock?

A. Yeah, on weekends I sleep in till 6:30, then I go biking. On Sunday I go to church instead. I might swim later in the day or do something with my daughter, or bike to the zoo, but it’s not like it’s a training ride.

Q. What keeps you motivated?

A. There are times when it is a push, but most of the time when I see a personal best in cardio or weight training, I get a good feeling. It helps me to emotionally deal with other challenges. The discipline I apply to training also transfers to work. And by time I’m at work I’m in a good mood.
   Bodybuilding for me is more than working out with free weights. It’s not only strength training but cardio training; flexibility and nutrition are important too. Then there’s the most important component: your mind. There is a philosophy and meditative part involved. People are aware of that with the martial arts, but the same discipline is involved in any other type of training.

Q. What benefits have you seen?

A. I have such a high level of energy -- and just being strong. The other day I carried two bags of groceries and a backpack with no problem. So it’s very functional strength.

Q. So when will you compete?

A. My goal is to lean out a little more and stay in a holding pattern for winter so when spring comes, I think I might do a competition. At the ripe age of 43. I just want to put a really good routine together and get in competitive shape and get up onstage with practically nothing on and just get up the guts to do it.

Q. What are your long-term goals?

A. I want to be jumping rope with my great-grandkids at 100. I want to just drop dead at a very old age.

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Originally published on September 30, 1999