Runnin’ with Rani: Kailua-Kona’s Winona Chen is striving to be the next Ms. Health & Fitness
If you want to be a part of an inspiring story about a small-town girl pursuing big dreams in the fitness world, then you’d want to read about Kailua-Kona’s Winona Chen and, you will want to vote for her.
Chen is currently among 64 women in the semifinalist round, all competing for the coveted title of Ms. Health & Fitness 2020. One might wonder how big of a competition this is? Well, it’s big considering the online fitness competition began on July 20 with a whopping 64,000 contestants!
Ms. Health & Fitness is a fan voting competition that has grown to become the world’s largest virtual fitness event in just the last three years. Online votes through Facebook are counted toward each contestant, moving them through qualifying rounds while dwindling down the field, and eventually determine who will be the next Ms. Health & Fitness.
According to the Ms. Health & Fitness website, the competition “is open to all women, ages 18 and older, who are dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle, whether their goal is to stay in shape, pursue a modeling career or compete in fitness or bodybuilding events. The competition attracts contestants from all over the world.”
Chen, a 30-year old certified personal trainer at Kukio and event coordinator for Aloha Tri Sports, said entering the competition was a spur of the moment decision.
“I follow a lot of fitness accounts on Instagram and I often get a lot of ads on social media,” Chen said. “So this ad kept popping up on my Instagram, ‘You could be the next Ms. Health and Fitness,’ and it kept popping up so I finally clicked on it to see what it was all about.
“It was totally something spur of the moment but I read through it and thought, wow, to be featured on this internationally published magazine, and of course this was all happening during COVID, I just thought this would be an incredible opportunity to reach even more people to spread my philosophies of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And, there’s a massive cash prize which would be very helpful.”
Fitness industry giant Magnum Nutraceuticals is sponsoring the competition which means participants can look forward to exciting ongoing prizes and promotional opportunities. The grand prize winner, chosen by members of the public who cast their votes online over a nine-week period, will not only receive the honor of gracing the cover of Muscle & Fitness Hers Special Olympia Edition, but she will also take home a cash prize of $20,000.
Chen’s fitness journey began as a 16-year-old girl who had an epiphany after realizing she was out of shape.
“I’ve never really been an athlete in school as I never really played sports,” she said. “I was more of a book nerd and I did some dance classes and took intramurals. I had no hand-eye coordination and certainly I wasn’t athletically competitive.
“On a spur of the moment, I decided to go for a jog around my neighborhood. I couldn’t make it down the street without having to stop because I was so winded. Then I realized that something as simple as a short jog was something I couldn’t even do. I realized I needed to work on my health and fitness. From there I kept at it, trying to get a little further each time and eventually, I made it all the way around my neighborhood block.”
And, she didn’t stop there. Chen continued to work at changing her lifestyle from being an unfit and uncoordinated teenager, to becoming really passionate about health, fitness and endurance sports. She became certified as a personal trainer to teach fitness classes before dabbling into her first triathlon, Lavaman Waikoloa 2012.
Her perseverance and hard work ethic have been rewarding as Chen accumulated numerous awards and accolades over the last decade. She is a two-time Hawaii Ironman World Championship finisher (2014, 2019), winner of the 2015 Hilo Triathlon and a consistent top age-group podium finisher at varying swim, bike, and run events.
Chen has also proved to be a fierce competitor at endurance cycling hill climb events winning the prestigious Sea to Stars, Mauna Loa Time Trial, and this year’s Dragon Race. Pretty impressive for someone who didn’t think she could ever be a skilled athlete or a competitor. This is why her story is an inspiration as it proves one can accomplish anything through hard work and dedication.
When asked how she would describe herself, Chen paused before explaining she is not the typical contestant.
“I’m not a body builder, I’m not a figure competitor, I don’t follow a specific diet plan,” she said. “In my earlier years when I first began getting into fitness, a lot of it was grounded around wanting to look a certain way. I remember guys telling me that I had fat thighs. I was trying to pursue a certain image even if I never competed for aesthetics. I was training in my mind that I wanted to look a certain way.
“Finally, getting into triathlons and endurance sports in general has really opened my mind to dig deep personally, spiritually, emotionally into my ‘why’ and really that why being more connected to really who I am. Just wanting to feel at home and happy with myself and focusing more on the performance aspect, not necessarily to win a race. But really being able to celebrate life by being active. Pursuing a healthy and fit lifestyle has really opened these doors and opportunities to have different experiences that has been so enriching and I really hope to share that with everyone else.”
Chen says she has already been through seven rounds of the Ms. Health & Fitness contest, a daunting process that requires her supporters to continue voting throughout every round. During the start of each round, Chen is grouped randomly with other women ranging in ages from their 30s and well into their 50s, with the previous votes returning back to zero.
“These rounds are tough— it’s been a roller coaster,” Chen said. “I started out in eighth place which is really far back, but thanks to my community rallying and spreading the word and getting the word out there, I was able to win and progress on to the next round. I’ve been calling this the ‘ultra-marathon’ of online voting competition because it’s so long and has required so much dedicated support for people to keep voting for me.
“This journey has also been incredible, and it’s been something that’s been uplifting. People have been so supportive, so committed, so dedicated that I just appreciate their positivity every single day. I went from applying to be in this competition, to being accepted but not really thinking much of it other than I might make it in one or two rounds and probably not amount to anything as I’m not the typical contestant, to people really getting behind this to diligently vote every single day. I’ve had people also donate Warrior Votes which has been incredible to receive that kind of support.”
While votes may be cast for free once every 24-hours for anyone with a valid Facebook account — yes, you can vote for Winona every single day — additional votes may also be cast by purchasing Warrior Votes that benefit Jared Allen’s Home for Wounded Warriors. The non-profit organization owned by the pro football star, Jared Allen, seeks to support veterans and service members who have experienced a physical injury while serving in the military.
Chen says she spends her days keeping fit by teaching fitness classes a few times per week at Kukio while fitting in several swims in Kailua Bay, bike rides that typically involve a hill climb, and a few short runs to keep her run legs moving.
When asked what it would mean to be the next Ms. Health & Fitness, Chen didn’t hesitate to answer.
“It would be a dream come true in a way that I never imagined that I could reach that level. Through this entire thing, I felt so much amazing love and support from my community that it would mean a lot that me and my community could make it this far. I would feel incredibly thankful and it would be a career game-changer. I would be able to reach so many people and hopefully share my perspective on how to improve their lives through health and wellness.”
Online voting through Facebook is happening now through Sept. 24 and may be accessed through Chen’s profile link at: https://mshealthandfitness.com/2020/winona-chen. Once you click on her link there are two ways to cast your vote: a free vote through a valid Facebook account or purchase a Warrior Vote that will also benefit Jared Allen’s Home for Wounded Warriors. Supporters are welcomed to vote daily to help Chen move through the semi-finals and into the Finals, which will be the last round of eight women. For more information about the Ms. Health & Fitness Competition visit mshealthandfitness.com.