By Greg Gelpi
Her hands tightly gripping the bar and eyes focused skyward, Cheryl Brooks pushed the 135-pound bar of weights from her chest into the air as if it were nothing before repeating the smooth motion nine more times.
Brooks, 31, admitted her true passion is basketball, but surgery a year ago sent her on a path to becoming a bodybuilder.
The R.T. Smith Elementary School physical education teacher donated a kidney to her father a little more than a year ago, and doctors said sports with physical contact were no longer acceptable.
"After the surgery, I got frustrated," she said, describing life before her rebound.
A friend's fianc? pointed her in the direction of bodybuilding and she hasn't put the weights down since. In the year that she has taken up the sport, she has won first place in both of her competitions and "maxed out" at 215 pounds on the bench press, the 153-pound Brooks said.
She "tunes everything out" when she takes her place on the bench and readies herself for her competition lift, she said. Her concentration so complete, she didn't even hear her mother cheering for her.
Brooks can be found at Southlake Fitness Club in Morrow five days a week, running on the treadmill for 30 minutes before hitting the weights for another hour.
Firing through a set of 10 reps on the bench press, Brooks doesn't pause before advancing to her next exercise.
"If you do that, you get too lackadaisical, and you won't finish out," she said.
Alternating between her upper body and lower body, she said she would even be in the gym working out on Saturdays if she could fit it in, explaining that she has too much energy and needs an outlet.
Her determination to get back into athletics and remain positive at all times is passed on to her students at Smith Elementary.
"I just try to tell them that they can always do anything they put their minds to," Brooks said.
Her newfound understanding of the body and bodybuilding enables her to share the knowledge with them, teaching them how particular exercises build muscle.
With her headphones on, she always plays R. Kelly when she practices and Tupak Shakur's greatest hits when she competes.
"I have to be listening to my CD player," Brooks said. "That's a given. That actually gets me pumped for competition."
Brooks graduated from Georgia State University and played a year of basketball as a scoring guard at Morris Brown University. She also tried out for the WNBA.
Her father kept a work-out bench in the garage, and she followed in his footsteps, starting in seventh grade and hit the weights, Brooks said, and with high school and college sports it was "mandatory" that she be in the weight room.
She said she wants to return to school and earn her master's degree to pursue a position in school administration, although she's keeping her options open.
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