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Tinker recreational aide conquering female natural bodybuilding sport

Exercising at the Bldg. 3705 gym, Elle Paronuzzi-Rucker recalls that what began as something to keep her busy while her husband was deployed has bloomed into a passion as a serious physical fitness competitor. She attributes dedication, changed nutrition habits and specific exercises that have toned her physique and carved almost 10 inches off a once 32-inch waist. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Exercising at the Bldg. 3705 gym, Elle Paronuzzi-Rucker recalls that what began as something to keep her busy while her husband was deployed has bloomed into a passion as a serious physical fitness competitor. She attributes dedication, changed nutrition habits and specific exercises that have toned her physique and carved almost 10 inches off a once 32-inch waist. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Italian native Eleonora Paronuzzi-Rucker knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it. Since May 2011, she's been chasing a dream to become a National Physique Committee professional bikini competitor.

The recreational aide for one of Tinker's gyms has competed in six natural bodybuilding contests, often placing first or second. Proving she could take on a rigorous and strenuous schedule, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker, or Elle to friends, will take off the following year to recuperate and find sponsors and endorsements to represent her. But that doesn't mean she's any less motivated; just ask her.

"I competed every two weeks, which most people don't do," she said. "Sometimes I don't realize it, but I am blessed. In my first competition here in the United States, I won first place and second place and in most of the other ones, I placed first, so it is a big deal. I just hope I will find an endorsement or sponsor that will help me keep competing so that I can make pro."

Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker's journey to become an NPC bikini competitor began in her hometown of Aviano, Italy, in 2010 when she accepted a job with the Aviano Air Base Health and Wellness Center. No stranger to health or fitness, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker taught belly dancing in the evenings and pursued a second degree through the University of Maryland's online school. She studied exercise physiology and nutrition, completing the degree in 2011.

Prior to working at Aviano Air Base, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker managed European sales for an international company. Her interest in fitness and nutrition grew from a part-time hobby to a full-time passion.

With a new appreciation for nutrition and fitness, she decided to try competing.

"Well my wife, also known as 'the Italian Sarah Connor' was always into fitness," said Tech. Sgt. John Rucker of the 3rd Combat Communications Support Squadron. "While I was deployed to Iraq during the summer-fall of 2011 she dedicated herself to body fitness. I was a little wary at first but then I realized how much dedication goes in to this work."

She competed in her first two competitions -- 2011 Bikini Musclemania Championship and 2011 Figure Musclemania Championship -- in Italy.

"I wasn't sure exactly what category to go for, so I competed in both figure and bikini. I got second place in figure and second place in bikini," she said. "But, that did not help me decide which one was best for my body, so I just went for the look I prefer, which is bikini."
In June, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker competed again; this time in a bench press competition. She placed first.

Nine months later, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker and her husband moved from Italy. Sergeant Rucker received orders to report to the 3rd Combat Communications Group here at Tinker.

Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker prepared for a new life outside of everything familiar to her. She said she set new goals and was determined to achieve them. No longer would she be what she called "a heavyset" 132 pounds. Those days would soon be behind her. She was sure of it.
"I moved here and even though I was working out every day, I wasn't following a proper nutrition plan, which shows how diet is pretty much 90 percent of everything," she said.

The couple lived in an on-base hotel for three months and ate out for every meal, but Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker still made healthy choices. In four months, she dropped 25 pounds. In July 2012, she began training for four back-to-back competitions, her first ones in the United States.

To lose weight, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker changed her eating habits and ate six times a day, every three hours. She eats a diet high in protein and carbohydrates. She cut out juice, soda and alcohol, opting for a gallon to a gallon-and-a-half of water each day.

"I do have a cheat meal -- such as pizza, steak with a baked potato or sushi -- but, not a cheat day," she said.

In the gym, she lifts weights and does cardio five days a week. As she gets closer to competition, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker lifts weights and does two hours of cardio a day for six days a week.

In her prime, she has only 9 percent body fat. Despite what others might say about the competitions, she said it is purely the result of hard work; supplements are banned from the sport. Before each contest, she is tested and if caught with them in her system, she faces a $50,000 fine and is banned from competing.

Since her arrival in the United States, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker has competed in four contests including the Ft. Lauderdale Cup where she placed first in the Bikini Novice category and second in the Bikini Open A category, which allows women of levels and experience to compete. She competed in the NPC Oklahoma Grand Prix and won first place in the Bikini Open A contest. She also placed first in the Bikini Open A category of the NPC Eastern USA competition, and fourth place in the Bikini Open A category of the NPC South Beach Classic in Miami.

"Numbers don't lie and simply put, she is one of if not the best," Sergeant Rucker said.
Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker said she's seen her confidence and self-esteem increase, she's become more independent and she feels good about herself inside and out.
Her husband agrees.

"She has changed quite a bit both physically and mentally. She is in fact a model for fitness. Her hard work and complete dedication have her confidence through the roof," he said. "At the competitions she attends, confidence is the key to winning. I can see that this is a calling for her and this is what makes her happy."

Despite her success, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker said competitions are expensive and so far have been an out-of-pocket expense for her. To help compensate the cost of flights, hotel stays, custom-made bikinis and spray tans, Ms. Paronuzzi-Rucker does fitness modeling and various fitness-related side jobs. She is a personal trainer, conditioning coach and fitness and dance instructor. She works one-on-one with up to nine local clients and tracks the progress of five others through her website.

Should she become a professional as she hopes she'll be able to win cash prizes, which can be used to enter other contests.