Dana Shemesh, an Israeli female bodybuilder, made it to the top 10 of her category at the Olympia Masters event this past weekend in Cluj Napoca, Romania.

“I’m very proud to have represented Israel” said the 48-year-old Shemesh, who is the first Israeli woman to have competed at the prestigious IFBB PRO (International Fitness and Bodybuilding Federation), the leading authority in the sport.

Shemesh had announced her retirement from competitive bodybuilding in 2020. She later changed her mind and decided to participate in the Olympia Masters this year.

The Olympia Masters was created for older athletes who wanted to keep competing in the sport. Shemesh took part in the Bodybuilding category – which has the biggest contestants physically.

She said that the Masters first said that competitors had to be over 45, but then changed it to those over 40.

She said that younger athletes always had the edge, but Shemesh proved her wrong.

Shemesh’s journey to bodybuilding began when she was a graphic designer in Tel Aviv. A friend invited her to watch a bodybuilding contest, and she was hooked. She felt a strong connection to the sport and decided to make it her way of life.

She was 29 when she stopped smoking and started running and lifting weights for the first time. She also changed her career and became a personal trainer.

“People thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I followed my dreams and did what made me happy.”

She entered her first competition at 35 and won the first prize in Israel. She said that even if she had lost, she would have been proud of herself for trying and persevering.

She had an “average” build when she served in the IDF at 18. She had played some sports before, but nothing like bodybuilding.

Since then, she has participated in many competitions and won several trophies. But she thought she had retired from the professional scene until the Olympia Masters event. She decided to give it one more shot.

She did everything by herself, without any coach or trainer. She planned her own diet, schedule and training routine.

“I had to be my own motivation and coach. I did this on my own.”

Some of her family members came from Israel to support her.

“We [Israelis] are often portrayed negatively in the news,” she remarked. But she hoped that her victory would show a different side of her country.

She also remembered her family’s history of suffering from antisemitism. Her mother’s family lost relatives in the Holocaust in Poland and her father witnessed the Farhud in Iraq in 1941 – a violent pogrom against Jews inspired by the Nazis.

“The Jewish people are still strong and cannot be broken,” Shemesh said.

The Olympia Masters event was held for the first time in 11 years and for the first time in Romania.

“It was the biggest dream come true in my bodybuilding career,” Shemesh exclaimed. “I am happy and grateful to IFBB Pro League and Wings of Strength for bringing back Olympia Masters and inviting me to compete on the biggest stage in the bodybuilding world.”

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