Cel Thompson on embracing challenge and doing what it takes
Updated: Jan 12, 2019
Photos by @SayCheeseCLT
Celia (Cel) Thompson and her partner, Cathy Savage, are creating the first ever For Women, By Women fitness competition and showcase in the country. They’re calling it the “Be Amazing Weekend,” and it’s happening right here in Charlotte. Cel believes all women want to live a healthy lifestyle, and we should celebrate wherever we are throughout our journey.
I loved getting to hear Cel tell her story and why Be Amazing is not only her upcoming show, but her life story. Read it here:
What brought you to Charlotte?
I was born and raised here. I was born at Charlotte Memorial Hospital (formerly known as CMC and now known as Atrium).
What made you stay in Charlotte?
This is what I’ve known as home. For my childhood, my family lived between Charlotte and Fort Mill, SC. I did live in Huntersville for a while. I’ve always been in and around Charlotte. I went to school at Crown Christian (which was formerly Heritage, which was on PTL Grounds). I was a lifeguard at the pool and part of a dance group that performed dinner theaters on the grounds.
What do you do now?
My full-time job is working for Ready Fitness.
What is Ready Fitness?
A fitness equipment, design, and service company. I outfit fitness facilities for apartment communities, small fitness studios, assisted living centers, and campus rec for universities.
What is it like to be a salesperson of fitness equipment?
It is very challenging, yet extremely rewarding. I had to build a brand new sales territory in the Carolinas from scratch. I started four years ago when my company was moving into the Charlotte market and looking for a sales representative. I was selected for the job and was put into the field. I had 18 months to build a territory before my pay became 100% commission based.
That was four years ago, and I’ve done really well! My challenge was to hit $1.7 million in sales this year and I’ve already hit $1.1 million. So, I’ve pushed my goal to $2 million. I think it’s worth something that I’m the only female who stayed on as part of the team. There were three other women hired onto the sales team at the same time, and they’ve all since quit.
They quit because it’s just hard. It took me two years to build a business. I was doing the stuff that no one else wants to do. The willingness to work is innate within me. I do not know any other way but to show up and work.
I didn’t go to college, which is different from a lot of people I know. I started working right out of high school.
A big moment, and a constant propeller of my will-do attitude, started when I was working at Leroy Springs Recreation Complex in Fort Mill, SC. I wanted to work my way up to be the fitness director. A lady told me that would never happen because I didn’t have a college degree, so I’d never be in the running for it.
I said, “I’ll show you.”
So, I went from lifeguard to pool manager to aquatic director. I worked my way up to being Fitness Director and took over the cheerleading program. My cheerleading program became so successful that I started an all-star cheerleading team. I started with one team and ended up with four.
It was at that point I left Leroy Springs because a parent asked me to open an All-Star Cheerleading Gym.
So, I found myself with a new gym. By this time, I was also a mom. Plus, I had all of these kids at my gym and I was trying to keep it all in check. But, I really missed doing something just for me.
Around that time, I was at a restaurant and saw Dawn Butterfield perform her infamous Mighty Mouse routine and I knew I wanted to compete.
What does competing in fitness mean?
Doing a two-minute dance and strength elements and a physique round.
Why did you want to do that?
Because I had been in a few pageants when I was younger, and I had fallen in love with the platform. I did compete in a few pageants as I got older, but none of them had dance routines. The only place I could do my dance routines were in the fitness world. In my first year, I competed in NPC (National Physique Committee). I did terrible. I was coached by bodybuilders, and not those in the sport of fitness.
I decided before I competed again that I was going to get a real coach. I went on the Fitness America website. This lady named Cathy Savage was on there. I asked her if she’d coach me. She said yes; come to Boston.
I left Charlotte for the first time. I met this woman. She choreographed a routine for me. She encouraged me to go to Canada to compete. I had no idea who I was around, but Cathy was, and still is, a major player in the fitness world.
While I was training with her, Cathy got called by MTV for a show (2005 – True Life Story) and I was a part of her show. That year I did eight fitness shows. We were followed by cameras for eight months. I was also featured in Oxygen magazine.
How did you get fitness famous?
I stayed with Cathy and would do whatever she needed me to do. I was trying to survive, and fitness was my survival. It was the only thing that gave me life and kept me going.
Cathy poured into me. I would do whatever she said. She was my mentor. I listened, and I did it. I ended up in her rising star. I wanted to be a part of the world of fitness with her.
Are you still doing fitness?
Yes, but not like I used to do it. I went hard for seven years straight. My body was beat up. I was lonely. I needed a break. I was single and working nonstop. I was a Checkmate, coaching women, and a single mom. So, I took a break.
In 2014, I decided I wanted to go back to the stage again. I almost didn’t make it, but I placed 2nd and got my pro card.
What does getting your Pro Card mean?
You’re considered a professional at that point, which meant I could go into the professional division. I got my Pro card at the age of 40. At 43, I took the stage at Fitness America Nationals and placed 3rd. I went back with real intention. I completely cut out Diet Coke, which I was previously drinking at least 3 to 4 per day. I went through an intense evaluation and complete overhaul of my diet with a Naturopathic doctor, which forever changed my relationship with food. Once I saw there was a healthy way to get and stay stage ready, I went back to competing.
I achieved all I’ve ever wanted from fitness competitions and officially retired in November 2017. At that point, I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the show…
What is the other side?
I have an opportunity do something different. Cathy Savage and I are still together. We are giving women a platform to tell their story with the Be Amazing Fitness Weekend October 5-7, 2018.
We are hosting the fitness competition – the first ever For Women, By women fitness event. The morning event is fitness figure and fitness model (our version of bikini). The evening event is a showcase – a platform for women to share their stories. These are women who balancing career and family. These are VPs of companies. These are women who are not used to being the center of intention. This celebrates their journey and the people who helped get them there.
So, tell me more about the evening showcase? Is that something our readers can be a part of?
Yes! It’s for any woman. There are women out there who are on a health and fitness journey now. We have a woman who is wheelchair bound and a bodybuilder. A mom who is a VP and on a journey. Fitness looks different on everyone. It’s so cool that now it’s part of our culture.
Why did you decide to host the evening portion of Be Amazing?
It taps into where we are culturally with women; women uplifting and connecting with others. The “Tribe” is a very trendy term, and we wanted to open up a platform for those tribes to find each other and connect on a bigger level.
When is the showcase?
Saturday, October 6th, at McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square.
How can people get involved?
They can reach out to me email@example.com or find me on Facebook at Be Amazing Project. And @cel.thompson on Instagram. We still have a few slots for both women to walk in the show and for sponsors.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Cel, and for being such an advocate for women. Now, before we close our interview, will you tell me a few of your favorites?
Coffee: Not Just Coffee
Restaurant: Ru Sans Charlotte - love love sushi and Pinky's Westside Grill - love their burger
Sports team: Charlotte Hornets
TV show: Younger
Movie: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Book: The Go-Giver
Place to work out: I love the fitness community, so I bounce everywhere
New thing in CLT: Rail Trail
Old thing in CLT: Freedom Park
Cel has been selected as a star for the 4th Annual Dancing With The Stars Charlotte benefitting Carolina Breast Friends. From Cel, “I am both excited and honored to be part of Dancing with the Stars Charlotte benefitting the Pink House for 2019. Giving back in this way thrills my heart!”
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