Just as there was only one Arnold in bodybuilding, there was only one Cory. Is it a coincidence that women's bodybuilding enjoyed its greatest popularity while Cory Everson was Ms. Olympia, from 1984 to 1989? Hardly. With all-American good looks and a physique that always looked functional and athletic, she inspired an entire generation of women to work out. Showing that a woman could be sexy and strong at the same time, Cory also helped redefine the feminine physical ideal. Following her retirement from competition in 1989, she went on to success in television, films and business. Years after she stepped out of the bodybuilding limelight, Cory is busier and more successful than ever. We caught up with this living legend, now a mother of two, to find out what she's been doing recently.
IM: You're one of the few professional athletes to get out of your sport while you were still on top and go on to success in other areas. Did you have a long-term plan to do that from the start of your bodybuilding career?
CE: No, not at all. My degree is in interior design for commercial buildings, which is what I planned on pursuing as my career. I never planned on being a bodybuilder. I've always been an artist at heart. It ended up translating well into the art of sculpting my body into the ideal shape I envisioned and creating moving posing routines. Most people don't understand that bodybuilding and artistic creativity actually go hand in hand. I never intended my bodybuilding career to go on as long as it did, but I loved it and continue to love fitness in general. I always sign my name with a heart under it because whatever I do, I love it with all my heart. The results the readers and viewers get from my books, TV shows and tapes bring tears to my eyes. I've created so many friendships online with those I have been fortunate enough to have an impact on.
IM: How long do you see yourself being an active part of the fitness industry?
CE: I'll be involved in fitness until I'm 85. When I was 20, I almost died from a blood clot in my leg, which gave me an appreciation for life and health that many people can't grasp. There was another clotting scare in 1997, which was a result of protein C deficiency. I still worry about it and live with it 24/7. Most of the people who suffer from it are of German descent, like me. But the condition has also been found in women on birth control pills and those in their 50s taking estrogen for hormone replacement therapy. It's more common than you think.
IM: Did the discipline and work ethic that took you to six Olympia titles transfer well to your other business ventures?
CE: I'd love to say yes, but I'm not sure that's accurate. Hard work has been the key to what success I have had. If a company hires me to represent a product, I work at it with all I have in me. Professional athletes aren't always the best in business, though the work ethic does help. But in bodybuilding, the harder you train and the more strictly you adhere to a diet, the better your results will be. It's not always the same in business. Many other people and factors are involved, so it's a lot more complicated. In business you're not always 100 percent in control of your destiny, as you are in individual sports.
IM: Some people may not know you have a husband and two children now. Tell us a bit about them.
CE: I've been married to Steve Donia since 1998. My sister, Cameo, and I actually had a double wedding. Steve is one of the most respected dentists in Hollywood, but he's also incredibly supportive and a wonderful father. A lot of people don't know Steve is a superb athlete. He kicks my butt in most sports, which isn't easy to do. He's a true adrenaline junkie and races cars in his spare time. My son, Boris, is six and a half. We adopted him from Russia four years ago. My family is the best thing that's ever happened to me. Though I have so many great memories and feelings from my six Olympia wins, they don't compare to how my husband and my kids make me feel.
Seven months ago we adopted our daughter, Nina, who's six. She learned English in three months and forgot her Russian. Nina had her very first birthday party recently, and she thought she was one year old! She is adorable in so many ways. At the orphanage all of her meals were soup and juice, day after day. Now she is so curious about food. She looks at our meals and asks what this or that gives you. Nina knows that protein helps build muscles, like Mommy has, and carbs are for energy. She and Boris both use the word athlete constantly and say they want to exercise, even if it's just walking down to the stables. I asked Boris what the food groups were, and he said, protein, carbs, fat and crap! Crap refers to sugar, candy and junk food. He sees Arnold on TV and calls him Arnold Schnortneckers. It's funny that now I'm asked to write articles on parenting, yet I've never changed a diaper.
IM: Where does your parenting guidance come from?
CE: My best friend from bodybuilding to this day is Bev Francis, who often gives me parenting advice, as she has two of her own. It's so neat to have someone I used to compete with whom I can now share this with. Bev actually helped me pick out Nina from videos and photos. There's a misconception about adopting children that they won't thrive emotionally if you haven't been there to raise them as infants. Wrong! As long as you give them all your love and let them know you're their parent forever, that's all they need, and it will quickly make up for the time that was lost.
IM: Adoption is notoriously difficult. What kinds of problems did you have?
CE: The first agency we used adopting Boris was a challenge. But the agency Nightlight Adoptions, which we used for Nina, was awesome. Steve and I had to go to Russia in April of 2003 for all the initial paperwork and so on, the first of two trips for each child. Just before we left California, the war with Iraq broke out as well as the SARS epidemic. I knew God was testing me to see if I was really committed to Nina. There was another scare at the Russian embassy. A group of huge security guards all came up to us and asked to see my visa. I didn't know what was going on. So I handed it over, and the guard says, 'Ah, yes, Muscle & Fitness, Cory Everson, we knew it was you!' They all wanted autographs and to take pictures with me. It turned out they even knew about Boris from a bodybuilding magazine article'I think it was actually IRON MAN. They made us feel so welcome.
IM: You were disappointed by one surrogate mother who developed uterine cancer and another who decided at the last minute to keep her baby. Talk about the obstacles you had to overcome before becoming a mother.
CE: I think people who adopt children are more grateful for their kids because they really and truly wanted them. That's not to say that birth mothers don't, of course, but often pregnancies are unplanned, and the mother isn't prepared to raise a child. I've never given birth to a child, but I look at my beautiful children while they're sleeping and think, 'I saved their lives.' A few years ago there were 800,000 orphans in Russia'the figure may be up to a million by now. Only 5,000 to 10,000 of them get adopted each year. The rest grow up in the orphanage system. Unfortunately, many of them are uneducated and will become involved in crime or continue the cycle of having their parental rights revoked when they become adults. The particular orphanages that my kids grew up at were fantastic'more like a school. They had gym class and art and music, for example. ALL IM: In what ways might a woman be better prepared for motherhood in her 40s than in her 20s?
CE: First of all, she could be where she wants to be in career terms. I talk to so many women who had children in their 20s and wish they'd waited until finishing their education or becoming more established in a career. In your 40s you're also more likely to be with the man you'll spend the rest of your life with.
After the blood-clotting episode at 20, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it would be way too dangerous for me to have children. I didn't know what I was missing. I wonder, too, if adoptive parents may be even a little more appreciative in some ways because we've had to go through so much'physically, emotionally, even financially'before we can finally hold those children in our arms. It's not as if we're sacrificing anything, though. Instead, we're getting the biggest gift of all.
IM: How aware of the whole adoption process are your children?
CE: Boris and Nina play this game where they pretend they're parents packing up to adopt their children in Russia. We were at a monster truck rally not long ago, and Boris asked a man sitting near us if he had kids. The man replied that he did not, so Boris told him to go get some kids from Russia! Boris even draws a comparison between dogs at the pound that need a home and orphaned children. So, yes, they are well aware of what adoption is and have a very healthy attitude about it.
IM: How else has your growing family changed your life?
CE: I enjoy a much more balanced life now and enjoy completely different things. Life is a lot more stable. Years ago I was so much more into having the perfect body to win a contest, traveling and retaining my Ms. Olympia title. I don't train twice a day for two hours anymore. It's more like three times a week for 30 minutes.
IM: And your drawing, painting and interior decorating? How active have you been lately?
CE: The last piece of artwork I did was a tribute to Muhammad Ali that you can see on my Web site. I work full time, and I'm constantly traveling, plus taking care of two children, so there hasn't been a lot of time to pursue my art. But I'll get back to it.
IM: Most people wouldn't expect a woman from Wisconsin to get so interested in Western-style decorating and artwork. Why so in your case? CE: Probably because we didn't have anything like that in Wisconsin'just a lot of brick houses. I was always a little cowgirl, drawing horses, cowboys and Indians, and desert scenes. I love the Southwestern style because nothing has to match. It's more of a happy, nontraditional atmosphere'none of that 'look but don't touch.' Everything is meant to be used. Ellie May from 'The Beverly Hillbillies' was always my role model. I adored her, and she was a bit of a tomboy cowgirl.
IM: Do you still follow women's pro bodybuilding? What do you think of the direction some of the physiques have taken?
CE: I admit I don't follow it the way I used to. I respect all professional athletes so much. One of my very best friends is Jennifer Chandler, who won a couple of Olympic gold medals for diving. I follow more of the fitness and figure part of the sport these days. I enjoy watching figure and think it was one of the greatest ideas the NPC and IFBB have had in many years. Women's bodybuilding has gotten away from where it was. Then again, Rachel McLish probably said the same thing about me and the other women of the mid-to-late '80s. I don't want to sound hypocritical, but I believe that physiques should always have long, graceful lines and appear functional'not so stocky or squatty that the person can barely move. Men like Frank Zane and Arnold looked as if they could play football or tennis as well as lift weights. When the muscular development becomes overbearing, it's gone overboard.
Ultimately, though, God doesn't care whether you won six Ms. Olympias or are wearing an Olympic medal and a Super Bowl ring. I follow people who treat others well and are looking out to help others. They're my heroes.
IM: Do you ever miss competing?
CE: No. Looking back, I don't even know how I did it back then. I was so strict and regimented with my training and diet'actually not as strict as some of my peers. I remember being hungry and exhausted constantly when I was preparing for the Olympia each year. We didn't have supplements like creatine and L-glutamine, either. I used to drink Weider's Weight Gainer shakes because that was all we had available, and it turned out to be totally wrong for what I was trying to accomplish with my physique in terms of getting lean. Today's bodybuilders have all sorts of low-carb protein shakes and bars, thermogenics and recovery drinks. I was lucky if I took a multivitamin every day. But even though I haven't competed since '89, I do get to be around the same fan base at the contests, trade shows and expos. I still feel a part of it all. Even though it's going on 15 years now, it doesn't seem that long ago that I was competing. IM: Are you surprised that Lenda Murray beat your record of six Olympia wins and now has eight titles, or did you always see that potential in her?
CE: Lenda came right after me. I loved her honesty. I always respected her athletic abilities'she'd been a track-and-field athlete as well as a USFL cheerleader before becoming a bodybuilder. It's no surprise that she has done so well and achieved so much in bodybuilding.
My only concern is that the women are getting so much bigger in recent years. Wayne DeMilia told me that women's bodybuilding had its highest level of appeal in the years when I was competing. Perhaps that had something to do with the physiques being easier to accept, or that it was still a new sport. I can't say for certain. I love bodybuilding because it gives people a sense of empowerment and courage. Not everyone can be a six-foot-tall skinny model. I'm 5'9' and 148 pounds, and in most mainstream people's eyes, that's too heavy. Bodybuilding gives you an option if you don't look like a fashion model. You can be an athlete and be very strongly committed to your training and nutrition'and so much healthier than a lot of these malnourished-looking models with metabolisms like snails.
IM: With the combination of your books, exercise shows, tapes and many public appearances, it's safe to say you've inspired millions of women to get in better shape.
CE: That's kind of neat. I have a unique situation in that I seem to inspire both men and women. I competed in my 20s and 30s, and as I'm getting older, so are America's 80 million baby boomers. As I learn and gain new experience and techniques, I can share that with them in articles. As we age, our ligaments aren't as resilient as they used to be. We may have injuries that have accumulated over time, especially those of us who were athletes. Many people I talk to in my age bracket are all dealing with similar issues. Some of us are in our 40s and caring for infants and toddlers while also experiencing hormonal changes.
IM: We also don't seem to have many female sex symbols over the age of 40, yet you still have legions of dedicated male fans. Do you think you have actually gotten better with age?
CE: I don't know if I think anyone gets better with age. I think you gain more wisdom, but I have little wrinkles here and there, like any woman my age. I have aches and pains I didn't notice before. I do have a strong musculature that I've worked hard to maintain, and a certain shape, though you can't really see it unless I'm wearing tight clothes. Steve sees some of the pictures from photo shoots, such as with Mike Neveux, and says, 'How come you never dress like that at home?' At home I'm usually in baggy sweats. But I think a lot of women these days over 40 are still very sexy. Viveca Fox is amazing. I adore her and think she's just the bomb. Madonna's still as alluring as ever. Kim Basinger is gorgeous, without a doubt. Sharon Stone as well. There are many more.
IM: What type of exercise regimen do you follow now?
CE: I have a circuit-training approach now. Cameo is my training partner. We do weights three times a week, using lighter weights and with higher reps than during my Ms. Olympia days. We don't rest between sets, so it's very aerobic. My new favorite is the Star Trac elliptical trainer. I have one in my home and get on it every day. I've had problems with my lower back and plantar fasciitis [heel-tissue damage causing foot pain], but no matter how bad they get, I can always use that machine without pain. And we always do cardio, four or five times a week. At the end of each workout we do deep stretching, which keeps my back pain free. My friend Michelle LeMay, who used to appear on my ESPN2 show 'Gotta Sweat,' comes to my house often and puts me through her stretching routine that is so soothing and nurturing. She just came out with a tape called 'Essential Stretch' for baby boomers. It's a must, if you ask me.
IM: Do you have any new tapes coming out?
CE: Yes. Right now the working title is 'Trim and Tone.' It's a series we'll be testing on TV. The workouts are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and the sessions change every four weeks. It's a holistic combination of weight training, cardio, stretching, yoga and trouble-zone targeting for areas like the abs that most of us want to focus on. And of course it includes diet'a healthful, realistic diet that you can follow for life. I'm unaware of anyone who's come out with new exercise tapes you receive every month, but it's important because workout tapes can get boring. Most important, your body needs variety so you can keep making progress. Otherwise you hit a plateau. As Arnold says, the secret is to stay hungry. It's not the first month of training that matters. Anyone can sustain motivation that long. Follow-up and consistency will give you success, and you need to keep shocking your body with new routines and techniques. After six months you'll be doing some pretty tough training. You can send us e-mail at [email protected].
IM: You must realize that even though you haven't competed since 1989, a lot of people recognize your name as a female bodybuilder but don't know any of the current women.
CE: It makes me proud and excited to be recognized so often. It means I did something right and touched a lot of people. My fans tell me the most important thing I taught them was motivation and to believe in themselves and their capabilities. Anyone can show you how to do an exercise, but actually motivating a person to want to exercise is harder. That involves teaching directly from your heart. Then I know someone is listening.
IM: Are you still close friends with your first husband, Jeff Everson?
CE: Yes, and a good friend of his girlfriend, Karen. She just gave me a nice rug for the house. She's an excellent decorator with a real eye for what will look fabulous. They live pretty close to us. Life is too short to not communicate with someone you were in love with for many years. People should wash themselves of grudges. They only hurt you in the long run. IM: What is your younger sister doing these days?
CE: Cameo is married to Randy Bernard, the CEO of the PBR (Pro Bull Riders). She has a son and two stepdaughters, and I see her every day. She just drove a monster truck, believe it or not. Her son has been asked to play with the U.S. Junior Olympic volleyball team. They live close to us too. A lot of people don't know we also have an older sister, Charmaine, who lives in Chicago. She's so smart and funny and speaks several languages fluently. Charmaine has three giant boys now, so we're all mommies. She was my role model growing up and also an amazing athlete in her own right. I always envied her emotional and physical strength.
IM: How did you become the global spokesperson for Z-Trim, the fat-replacement product from FiberGel Technologies?
CE: I received a call from Greg Halpern, the CEO of Circle Group Holdings, which owns FiberGel. He knew of my past athletic accomplishments but was more interested in my views on health and diet. Greg wanted me to become the global spokesperson for Z-Trim only if I believed in it and could be 100 percent honest when talking about it.
I took the time to research Z-Trim, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A zero-calorie fat replacement that has the same texture and mouth feel as fat without any change in taste. It's made from corn and is 100 percent insoluble fiber. It sounded too good to be true, but it was true. The next thing I had to do was taste it. I got a small supply and started preparing food with it'cookies, brownies, lasagna, sauces. It all tasted great. With the use of Z-Trim daily, you can easily cut 100 to 200 calories out of your diet. That would add up to a net loss of about 10 pounds in one year without changing the types of foods you eat and before any exercise. Sure, people start diets and exercise, but sticking with it for for any length of time usually doesn't work. Z-Trim is the answer. It's patented, has zero calories, lowers carbohydrate absorption, decreases calories and generally improves digestive function, increasing healthful insoluble fiber in a variety of products, including cheese, baked goods, processed meats, dressings and other prepared foods. You can get more information about it at www.ztrim.com.
IM: And though it's hard to believe you have the time, you now appear on the QVC network. What are you promoting there?
CE: I just came out with my own line of home exercise equipment by TKO. A lot of older women or those with very hectic work schedules and family responsibilities don't have time to go to the gym. What really attracted me to the company was its integrity. So many companies put 20-year-old girls who don't even train on the boxes or in their infomercials. TKO wanted me to represent their products because I'm part of the same market it's targeting. I just got back from QVC in Philadelphia, where I met so many neat people, including Pete Rose. I love him, and he knew all about me, which was flattering.
QVC isn't just about selling products. All the products are tested extensively before they're deemed worthy of being sold. The TKO line of women's exercise equipment will also be carried in selected sporting goods stores. We also give you a fitness guide and journal to record your progress. Research has shown that pretty much the only people who lose fat and keep it off are those who keep regular journals.
IM: You also have fitness clubs. How are they different from other women-only clubs?
CE: We're just starting to launch them. The biggest complaints I hear from women are that some clubs treat them in a condescending manner, lack follow-up and don't give one-on-one direction. Some have inexpensive (and in my opinion ineffective) equipment that you'd never see in a co-ed club. They give you one 20-minute circuit that you're supposed to do forever. Our clubs will be more personal. They'll have much more involvement with the members, treat them with utmost respect and provide progressive and advanced education, to accommodate everyone's growth and keep all members reaching their goals week after week.
Women like to understand exactly why they're doing what and for how many reps and why one exercise is better than another. We owe them explanations. We'll have circuit training and huge cardio theaters, with different options so you never get stale in your workouts and never hit a plateau. We want you to see results daily and have a positive experience. We'll be encouraging and motivating, and, unlike some of the other clubs, we'll always provide child care so you have no excuse to not come in and get fit.
I'm going to be 100 percent involved with the owners. That's the only way I can make sure my standards are being followed. The clubs will have yoga and Pilates and other stress-relieving classes. I can guarantee we'll have the best equipment on the market, because women deserve the very best. Our mission is to foster physical and emotional growth and success for our members and create an atmosphere of financial freedom and success for our owners. Anyone interested in becoming a club owner can contact me through my Web site, www.coryeverson.com.
IM: As a parent, how does it make you feel to see American children getting fatter and less active by the year?
CE: It upsets me a great deal, which is why I am very committed to getting physical education back into the schools. One day I was having lunch with some executives from SGMA (Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association), the group that puts on the successful Super Show every year. One of the professionals there was a beautiful woman who also happened to be the publisher and president of Sporting Kid magazine, Tina D'Aversa Williams. She knew I was a mother of two and that I was doing everything I could to influence them to live a healthy and active lifestyle even at age six because that is when habits are created. She invited me to become involved in a PE 4 Life (www.PE4Life.com) event in Washington, D.C. Schools all over America have cut art programs, music and physical education to trim their budgets, but they're losing sight of the synergy of a healthy mind and a healthy body. Studies have also shown that kids who are physically active, especially in sports, are far less likely to get involved in drugs, gangs, violence or teenage pregnancies. We need to make the schools understand how critical exercise really is, beyond the obvious health benefits of improved cardiovascular and physical strength. It doesn't even have to be about competitive athletics'just teach kids the benefits of fitness. Give them heart-rate monitors and let them know it's cool to be in the zone. IM: You've accomplished so much. What other goals do you have for the future?
CE: As you finish one task, another one starts. Accomplishments are like stepping-stones, but you never stop moving. My life has always been about helping others. Even in grade school, I'd always befriend the underdog. I want to fill my kids with the spirit of love and compassion. We all need a little of that. That's why the movie 'Pay It Forward' touched me. I have a huge love for women and children, and too many women are raised with low self-esteem and have just given up. I'd love it if there were no more abuse toward women and children. I'd also like to help stop the obesity cycle that's become an out-of-control killing machine. Food manufacturers, restaurants, households and individuals all need to start making foods that are more healthful, with fewer calories and smaller portions, before it gets any worse. Those are things still on my to-do list, if you will. Well, one more small thing: Let's also leave this planet for our kids in a better condition than how we got it. So much to do, so little time. Editor's note: For more information on Z-Trim, visit www.ztrim.com. Cory's Web site is www.coryeverson.com. Visit www.envan.com for info on heart-rate monitors for kids. IM