How This Guy Went From 98-Pound Marine to Bodybuilding Champion

Courtesy of Shawn StinsonThis story is part of Trans in Fitness—a series of profiles that highlights the fitness changemakers who are making the world easier and healthier for their community. Read the rest of the inspiring stories here.SHAWN STINSON, A two-time bodybuilding champion, has always been unapologetically himself. That’s why it comes as no surprise he joined the Marines at 18 years old, weighing in at a mere 98 pounds. Looking to start a new life outside of Peoria, Illinois, the small town he grew up in, Stinson was drawn to the elite nature and discipline (and okay, yes, the uniforms) of the armed forces. While deployed in Iraq, he worked out a lot more frequently, but his eating habits remained relatively the same as they were during his civilian life. Fast forward to 2013, eight years after leaving the Marines, when he experienced a moment that altered the trajectory of his health journey. “One day I stopped at a bank that I frequent and one of the managers came in and put her hand on my stomach and said, ‘You’re poking out there ain’t you?’” Stinson tells Men’s Health. “Now mind you, this was years after I had been working out. That did it right there…that was the turning point for me.”He immediately began to make the necessary changes, like cutting out excess sugars and only drinking water. He compares this to the 80/20 principle, which essentially implies that 80 percent of the transformation is determined by diet and 20 percent by exercise. As he had consistently exercised for years, the 20 percent component was effortless for him. However, it was the diet that ultimately transformed his body.One year later, he gained attention on Facebook for his major shredding results and was asked to join the first-ever transgender bodybuilding competition, FITCON (now referred to as the International Association of Trans Bodybuilders & Powerlifters). After winning first place two years in a row, he went on to become head judge in 2019, where he was able to mentor other bodybuilders who are continuing to build the legacy that he helped start. “I love an underdog! It’s good to watch that building process. That’s what fuels me today,” he says. “My accomplishments will make space for people like me to see themselves in this light.”Now based in Atlanta, Georgia, Stinson, 44, is a personal trainer, nutritionist, and life coach. His program, 80/20 Fit, is all about reprogramming people to believe that you can do anything you set your mind to, following the very approach Stinson used to achieve the body he has today. Below, Stinson chats with Men’s Health about living his life authentically and fearlessly, why bodybuilding brings him joy, and the advice he has for young contestants. Men’s Health: Can you share some insight about your experience transitioning and what it was like for you?Shawn Stinson: First of all, I want to acknowledge that everybody’s experience is different. We all come from different backgrounds, and we all have different families with different values. I did not have some of the same traumatic experiences that some other people I know had. My family was very open-minded. I didn’t have to have that table talk with them. I’ve always been what you see me as. When I started to make the hormone transition, I gave my family a warning prior to coming home that my facial hair started growing under my chin. And they were like “OK.”When I had surgery, I did it because of how I felt on the inside. I grew up very spiritual and grounded. Just being very aware and very in tune, feeling my environment. Yet I did not have anyone to talk to about it. As I grew older and gained financial independence, I realized that I had the ability to take action on certain matters. It wasn’t until after I transitioned that I found my community.Stinson getting a pump in.Courtesy of Shawn StinsonDo you have any role models you’ve looked up to throughout your fitness journey? Growing up, I was really big into Track and Field. Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner) was a big inspiration because they gave her so much negative feedback and tried to take her shine. There were several accusations of her using steroids for years when in reality, it was just her natural body build. I have always been attracted to the underdog, or people who have been overlooked, because I can see deeper than that. Serena Williams was another [person] who got a lot of negative feedback in the public eye based off of her body. But she always rose above it as well. I’ve learned that it’s all about having that mental strength, and formulating your own reality. That is the key to rising above.As I got older and began diving into physical fitness, the people that really stood out to me were Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Ronnie Coleman. I’m not saying that I ever wanted to be that big, but it was the heights they were able to reach, and the way they trained and structured their bodies. I love innovation and creation. I love watching people do the “impossible.” I am drawn to mental fortitude, not just physical attributes.What is it about bodybuilding that brings you joy, and how did you develop this passion?I don’t look like the average person walking around. It’s not to impress anyone—it’s just how I want to look and feel. I cater to myself in that way because that’s what makes me happy. And I help others find their happiness in that way as well. My purpose is much bigger than a bodybuilding competition. I’m here to save lives. I’m here to build people’s minds and help them develop into falling in love with themselves like never before. I’m here to give them the physique and the health that they wish to obtain. For me, the competition was an experience, but what’s most important is people’s livelihoods. I want to make sure people are able to take care of themselves by the time they hit an old age and can still be active.After winning first place two years in a row at the International Association of Trans Bodybuilders (IATB) competition, you became the head judge in 2019. What advice did you give the younger contestants?The highlights for me came after the show when everybody was relaxed. I liked to interact with the gentlemen and go over different tips and techniques as far as posing and whatnot. It’s not just about the physique! It’s all about posing and how to showcase it. You have to know your angles, how to contract, and how to transition between poses. You have to finesse the stage and give a performance.Stinson after winning his first bodybuilding competition in 2014.Courtesy of Shawn StinsonWhat are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the training and/or bodybuilding worlds?It’s a lot of dedication and time. You have to be very structured. The biggest challenge was balancing personal life and training. I get up at 3 a.m. every morning so that I can get my workout in without any distractions. Just because something comes up or you’re going through something you still have to go. And that really is the biggest challenge for everybody when it comes to this industry: consistency. In addition to being a bodybuilding coach, you’re also a life coach. One of your main pillars is to help your clients “live in their purpose.” How do you cultivate that within your sessions? And how do you exemplify that in your own daily life? As a life coach, I am a “People Renovator.” But I can’t do anything with your body if I don’t have your mind. It’s my job to let you know when you are being hard on yourself. I’m here to tweak your mindset and make you fall deeply in love with yourself. You’ll start to notice your environment changes. You’ll notice that you don’t put up with a lot of people that were in your life that don’t serve you. All of that comes together and blends into a recipe for success and happiness. But it starts with you. I stand on that because my whole program started with me. What advice do you have for other trainers who are training trans clients?Everybody has to be trained as individuals based on their needs and their foundations. The benefit of training with me is that you’re going to get one-on-one training so that you’re always comfortable. My position is to make you comfortable spiritually, mentally, and physically. We are spiritual beings first. This body is just an avatar. So all you have to do is get out of our own way and decide what it is that YOU want. So no, there’s no special treatment. We are all human.By sharing your story, what do you hope Men’s Health readers will learn about the trans experience?We are more the same than different. We are all working with the same anatomy. Anybody with the right mindset can build their body. Your results depend on how much you want to invest in your body and nutrition. But you have to start with you first. If you can develop the right mindset, it will take you so much further than you thought you could see. We put too much focus on those that don’t understand. Let them not get it—we have too much life to live.This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.Jaimar Brown is a personal trainer, and content creator that promotes Black Queer Joy through fitness. You can catch him leading Strength and HIIT classes throughout New York City. He is also a member of the Men’s Health & Women’s Health Strength in Diversity initiative. Follow him on Youtube (@JMalikFitness) where he posts follow-along workouts that are curated to playlists highlighting Black Queer artists! 

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