COVER STORY – Katie Acuna’s Journey To Health: From Near Death To Pro Athlete

“I wasn’t ready to die because I had not truly lived yet.”

At the May 2022 IPL California Championship Katie Acuna earned her IPL Pro Cards in Women’s Athletic Masters and Evening Gown Masters. She also placed 1st in Bikini Masters 40+ (missing the Pro Card by ONE POINT) & 1st in Evening Gown Novice.

Katie was certainly an exciting competitor at that contest. And I would learn much more about her later that day during our photo shoot, and in the days and weeks to come. She has such an incredibly powerful story.

     After that contest I interviewed Katie for the Fall 2022 issue of SEAM Magazine. After learning so much about her struggles and triumphs we felt that she was the perfect cover girl to launch our new magazine, INSPIRE.

“The doctor turned to me and said, ‘You need surgery now, or you’re going to die.’”

BEN YOSEF: Welcome back to the mags! You have been popping up all over the place in these publications since your show. And now the cover of INSPIRE! Your head must be spinning a bit! [laughs] How are you feeling about all of this?

KATIE ACUNA: Spinning is an understatement! [laughs] It is something I would have never thought would be my reality. I look at the cover and publications and think, “Hey! That’s me! I’m her!” [laughs] “I did that!” Ha! However, if I had to sum it all up to one feeling, I would say that I feel extremely grateful.

BEN: Love it. Every time we post something about you…photos, an article or interview on social media, the post blows up! [laughs] You have such supportive friends, family, followers and let’s admit…fans. You are inspiring so many people, around the world. What does that feel like?

KATIE: This is going to take me a second, because this really chokes me up. I am very blessed to have such an amazing, eclectic and beautiful support system. My family has been nothing more than supportive and encouraging. My friends continue to cheer me on and send me love.

     My friends (including my friends on social media that I have never met) have shown me so much kindness and support. I honestly cannot express how it feels, other than I feel blessed. It was the support and encouragement from everyone that has really touched my heart. On the days I felt down, or like giving up, it was all of their words of encouragement that kept me going.

     I really have never seen myself as an inspiration. Just someone trying to navigate life and what it throws at you. I feel humbled and honored that others find my journey inspiring. I just want others to know that their dreams are not impossible. Knowing that what I have done in my life has inspired someone to not give up, make a change, or just go for their goals is a fulfilling and beautiful feeling.

BEN: I definitely encourage everyone who has not read your story featured in the Fall 2022 issue of SEAM Magazine to go and give it a read. Your story, challenges and background are very touching and are pretty sensitive subject matter. And you spoke about a lot of it in SEAM Magazine. But what can you tell us about the darkest moment for you, particularly your near-death moment(s). And what it was that pulled you out of it? Also, what is it that drove you to the stage and what does competing fulfill for you?

KATIE: Thank you so much. I hope it can help inspire others to know that they can get through challenges that are thrown at them. The first thing I remember is having pending doom. I was at home and trying to walk down the hall and I could just feel everything in my body working so hard just to function.

     I remember watching the emergency doctor pace back-and-forth calling people on his phone over and over. I remember he turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you’re still awake.” My blood pressure was extremely low and continuously dropping. And I remember being surrounded by doctors and nurses as they were all talking about things. I had no idea what they were saying. My mind couldn’t keep up with the conversation. The doctor turned to me and said, “You need surgery now, or you’re going to die.”

     Within a short period of time I was taken down to the operating room. Once I was there they were asking me what my faith was and if I wanted a clergyman. My daughters were still somewhat young then and they were down in the waiting area of the operating room with me. Then they took my bed into another room and separated me from my family.

     My ex-husband wouldn’t let the girls come in and pray with the clergyman who was reading me my last rites before surgery. I started crying. I told the clergyman I don’t want to die. I am not ready yet. That clergyman stayed there and held my hand and prayed with me the entire time before they took me into the operating room.

     I wasn’t ready to die because I had not truly lived yet. I remember being taken into the operating room and they were looking at all of these x-rays they had taken of the leg and chest. Then the surgeon said, “I may have to take your leg to save your life.” I was terrified.

“Thank you so much! It is an honor to be on the cover. I am still wrapping my head around it all.”

     I spent a little over two weeks in the hospital rethinking my life. This wasn’t the first time I had brushed shoulders with the Grim Reaper, so I figured I better do something to change. So that when my moment comes, where it is my final day, I can say I lived. But it wasn’t that easy and there was a long road ahead. A road I was not prepared to take. They say the road of Heaven can be a painful journey and I can attest to that.

     When I came home, my life changed drastically and was followed by misfortunate event after misfortunate event. I went through years of physical and emotional pain and health issues. I had forgotten how much I wanted to live my life and instead struggled to get out of bed every day and face the fact of my current reality. At one point I accepted my lost battle and dwindled down a dangerous road. I was miserable.

     After having my son I really started taking the bull by the horns. My health kept deteriorating. My mental state was deteriorating. My morale was extremely low. My current husband had a lot of faith in me and supported me completely along the way. He asked, “What would make you happy? What would make you feel good?” That was something I had to think about because I didn’t know what it was like to be very happy or feel good. It had been such a long time.

     I’ve always been into fitness. I’ve always adored and admired other people that were able to push limits and get past barriers and these warriors that go out there and just get it done. No matter what! They’re dedicated to their passion, to their health and they look amazing. I wanted to look and feel the way they did. So my husband and I would start walking around the local reservoir and I got a gym membership. It was baby steps and I failed many times. I would have to remind myself that I feel good when I do this, so get up and get it done. Life is short.

     I also wanted to give my kids a positive role model and show them if you stay consistent and don’t give up, you can achieve anything. So eventually I would make it a point to get up every day at the same time and put work in. I was going to show everybody that I could live my life and I could make it the best life I could.

     So I kept going and kept exploring. My friend Brenda is a health, posing and nutrition coach. One day I said to her that I want to compete. My sister had always wanted to compete and was training for it a long time ago and my cousin had won a competition recently. I thought, wouldn’t that be a great goal to have. Brenda really pumped me up and said do it, let’s go. Then I hired a trainer, Jamir, Who is amazing and told me about the IPL.

     So when I say I’m gonna do something, I do it. I think everybody thought I had lost my mind. [laughs] I had more supporters than naysayers, though. And both of them fueled me to keep going.

BEN: Once again, I am almost at a loss for words. Such an incredibly powerful story. And you are so brave to share it so freely like you do. Your story is certainly inspirational for everyone who hears it. And you are such a perfect cover girl for this first issue of INSPIRE Magazine!

     We are now just a little over one week away from your next contest where you will be making your Pro Debut in Women’s Athletic! What a long and strong road for you! I am so excited to see you back up on the IPL stage. What can we expect to see from you on October 29th?

KATIE: Thank you so much! It is an honor to be on the cover. I am still wrapping my head around it all. You will definitely see a bigger smile, because I am so happy to see you and all of my friends I have made in this wonderful league. We are really one big family.

     This time around has been a bit of a challenge. I only had my trainer for about a month after my last comp due to work/family balance. I’ve managed to put on about 3 more pounds of muscle. So you will see a more defined back, legs and arms. I have focused a lot on posing because that was a weak point for me. I am actually shy, so I rushed a lot last time and I was so nervous. This time you will see more confident and polished posing.

     I truly love this league. No matter how I place during the competition, I know it will be a win. Because I will meet many more amazing and inspirational athletes that I can learn from and call friends. I wouldn’t change that experience for anything.

BEN: And this league loves YOU! See you soon! One week out!

About the interviewer:

Ben Yosef

Ben Yosef

Ben is the Publisher of INSPIRE Magazine and the President & Founder of the International Physique League.

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