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Profiles: Cory at 50

By: Babs Hogan

Her goal is no longer to win the Ms. Olympia, which she did six times. Now it’s to build a great life as well as a great body. At 50 Cory Everson’s priorities are home, family and relationships with friends. She still trains religiously; it’s just not the focal point of her life. She continues to support adoption agencies and saving lost dogs—and encouraging full, happy living through her books and seminars.

Today Cory looks fit and strong and doesn’t seem to notice her age. Shannon Farar-Griefer, a close friend, says she can’t believe Cory is 50. “Does she know this?”

Others agree. “She may be retired from bodybuilding,” Cory’s sister, Cameo Kneuer Bernard, says, “but she hasn’t stopped building for a minute.” She is always building something: landscapes for neighbors, gift baskets for the elderly, relationships with agencies for families seeking to adopt children. Cory and her husband, Steve Donia, D.D.S., are responsible for nine international adoptions for American families. Their own two children, Boris and Nina, were adopted from Russia. With her family set, Cory’s lifelong dream of motherhood finally came true.

Cory’s fans know how hard she trained as a bodybuilder, but few know that her strong work ethic began early. “Cory was an intense, hardworking athlete, determined to get it right,” says former high school gymnastics coach Barb Jirka. 

Her one-time training partner Tom Spagnola recalls their first workout, which took place many years later, as Cory prepared for her second Ms. O contest: “It was leg day, and although I’d been training hard with the guys for several years, I threw up three times during the workout. Cory is relentless. The first week with her was a living nightmare.” With a smile, he adds, “But the three years I trained with her were the greatest years of my life.”

The same work ethic propelled her in other areas. Recipient of an academic/athletic scholarship from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Cory was expected to excel in both worlds. No one was disappointed. In addition to winning the Big 10 Pentathlon four years in a row, she graduated number one out of 1,500 from the university’s school of interior design. 

“It is unusual to encounter a student with as many diverse talents as Cory,” says art professor Robert Bartholomew. “She excelled in design and was an outstanding illustrator—one of the best I had the pleasure of teaching. She was also driven to succeed.” 

Cory began to train seriously as a bodybuilder after graduating from college. During a contest prep in 1981, blood clots in three veins in her left leg almost ended her athletic career and threatened to end her life. Doctors discovered a protein C deficiency, a condition that causes blood to clot too easily. As the size of her leg doubled, unrelenting pain, constant fever and the inability to walk plagued her. For 10 weeks she remained in intensive care.

When Cory saw her emotionally strong mother cry for the first time, she realized that having a blood clot was indeed serious—dead serious. With only a few personal setbacks in her young life, she had little to draw on to face the crisis. 

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