After giving birth to twin daughters in 2011, Tara Patras hardly recognized herself. She weighed 180 pounds, on a 5-foot-4-inch frame, and had lost all of the energy that had always been a defining characteristic of her personality, since her days as a standout multi-sport athlete at Pierson High School in the late 1990s—her most notable role was as a speedy and tenacious scorer for the state-finalist field hockey team.
A little more than five years after becoming a mom, she had undergone another transformation that left her unrecognizable to herself again. For much of September and October, she spent her Saturdays practicing to walk in 6-inch bedazzled high heels, wearing nothing but a skimpy, turquoise jewel-encrusted bikini. She had lost 55 pounds and was in the best shape of her life after preparing for more than four months to enter her first-ever fitness competition.
Patras graduated from Pierson High School as Tara Maxwell in 1998 and now resides in Rhode Island with her husband, Jason Patras, and their twin 5-year-old daughters, Taylor and Riley. She had her big moment on November 4, showing off the work she put in alongside 20 other women in the 35+ division at the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion New England competition in Providence, Rhode Island, at the Providence Marriott Downtown.
WBFF offers different divisions based on the physique of the competitors—such as bikini, figure model and fitness—and Patras entered in the fitness division.
Patras’s journey back to fitness and a healthy body weight was similar to what many women experience when they have children and are faced with balancing the often-competing demands of motherhood and self-care.
Going to the gym was not a challenge for the former high school athlete; changing her eating habits was. She worked out at different gyms and spin class studios, but it wasn’t until she joined Body Rock, Rhode Island, a year ago, when she found her niche.
The gym, operated by co-owner Nicole Costa, offers fitness classes for its clients as well as a fitness competition team. Joining that team was not Patras’s intention early on, but Costa had pegged her for the competition as soon as she set foot in the gym.
“She was always in great shape and muscular, so I would put that bug in her ear,” Costa said. “And she’d look at us like we had 10 heads. Anytime I’d watch her in classes, she always had that work ethic and that no-excuses mindset, and those are the types of people we seek out for fitness competitions.”
“I always said, ‘Yeah, no, I’m all set,’” Patras said with a laugh, describing the efforts of Costa and other coaches to get her to join the competition team. “But being a part of this team is what got me through this challenge,” she added. “It was long, stressful—and amazing.”
Costa is a former fitness model and has extensive expertise in nutrition as well, and along with the rest of the coaches and trainers at Body Rock, she creates a specific and strict exercise and nutrition regimen for every member of the fitness competition team—dubbed Team Body Rock.
The diet was, naturally, restrictive, particularly in the final weeks and days leading up to the competition. That’s when the support of teammates was particularly crucial, Patras said.
One teammate, Sara Laboissonniere, provided a crucial service for Patras—keeper of the peanut butter.
“We were only allowed two tablespoons of peanut butter each day, and it’s this high-protein peanut butter—it’s really good,” Patras explained. “So I would do two tablespoons, and then open the jar and just start eating it, and I’d be, like, oh my God, stop! I was, like, I have to ask Nicole to take away my peanut butter. But Sara said, ‘Give me your peanut butter—I’ll measure it out every day and drop it off for you.’”
Luckily for Patras, Laboissonniere lives in her neighborhood, and so each day Laboissonniere would measure out two tablespoons into a small plastic container and hand deliver it to Patras’s mailbox. Patras often would document the scene on Facebook and Instagram, expressing her joy in self-narrated videos while opening the mailbox to find the peanut butter inside.
Patras, who is active on social media, extensively documented every aspect of her preparation for the competition on both Facebook and Instagram, and she said keeping her posts realistic is important. She will proudly post photos flexing impressively ripped biceps in the mirror after a workout, but will also post photos where she lifts up her shirt to reveal her midsection, which still bears evidence of the twins she carried.
In captions that accompany the photos, she will talk honestly about the mixed feelings she has when it comes to certain areas of her body—pride that she nurtured two babies at once, yet also frustration at the extra challenge of toning that area in particular. She frequently posts before and after photos as well, documenting how far she has come.
“This is what we all go through, especially as women and moms,” she said. “Why would you want to just see these really awesome photos and not where it all came from? You keep it real, and people respect that.”
The sense of community and unconditional support that Patras aims to provide to her friends and followers on Facebook and Instagram is what she says she’s experienced at Body Rock
“The last time I had really felt like I was part of something and part of a team, and everybody was there to boost everybody up, was playing field hockey in high school,” she said. “This is exactly what it reminds me of.”
Patras did not finish in the top 10 in her division at the competition, but that was never the goal. The number on the scale these days—125—isn’t the greatest reward either, Patras said.
“I don’t want to be skinny,” Patras said. “I just wanted to be healthy and happy for my kids and my husband.
“I want to empower my girls,” she continued, choking up as she spoke. “I want them to see how strong Mommy is, and how strong they can be.”