Wife, mother, registered nurse, certified personal trainer, bikini athlete, and once avowed Dr. Pepper enthusiast, Gheri Terry maintains a daunting schedule by anyone’s standards.

“I plan like nobody’s business,” she says. On a typical day, she leaves her nursing job at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to pick up her two kids, ages 7 and 9. With workout clothes in tow, they head to the gym. Afterward, they get home for dinner and homework and are in bed by nine. On her days off, Gheri works with clients to help them reach their personal fitness goals.

Gheri’s own journey to fitness began with a simple desire to lose weight after the birth of her second child landed her in the hospital for seven weeks of bed rest. “I gained so much weight with family catering to me.”

Naturally competitive though not always athletic, she first began in aerobics classes at St. Jude’s new gym. She then set a goal of running her first 5K for St. Jude. ”I do well when I have something to work toward,” she says. Anyone’s first 5K can be intimidating, but Gheri’s was especially so. Diagnosed at age 12 with scoliosis, she underwent surgery at 16 to help correct and stabilize the severe curvature of her lower spine.

“I know what life would have been like if my parents hadn’t gotten me the surgery and I never want to feel like I can’t move around.” Pushing through the pain of that first 5K, she’s since run many more races. A favorite is the St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run—a four-day relay. Beyond pushing through pain and completing races, she would see every event as an opportunity to set a personal record. “I told myself, ‘You can do it. It’s supposed to hurt. Keep going.’”

As others noticed the healthy change in her body, they turned to her for fitness advice. “Because I’m educated and I’m a nurse, I wanted to give the right advice to help people. That’s when I got my personal training certificate.”

When Gheri decided three years ago to enter bikini competitions, it was a surprise to her husband. “He didn’t believe me. So I said, ’Watch me.’ And three months later I entered my first competition.” To keep herself in shape, Gheri’s workouts focus primarily on intensive strength training and steady cardio. She still encourages her clients to seek out aerobics classes as a fun way to motivate them into fitness but cautions them that a healthy diet is really the key to fitness success. “If you’re eating bad, you’re working against yourself.”

When not competing, Gheri maintains a diet high in protein and fat and low in carbs. It’s full of fresh vegetables, fruit, chicken, and fish. During competition season, she cuts out carbs completely. At any time, her go-to treat is a burger with crispy sweet potato fries.

Helping clients change unhealthy eating habits can be a challenge, but Gheri encourages them to stick with a structured diet for 21 days. She says it’s important to hold on for that long because that’s how long it takes a new habit to form. “Old foods won’t taste the same,” she insists. And she has taken her own advice: “Dr. Pepper? Oh, I hate it now but back in high school it was my thing.”

By Pamela Poletti

Photo by Tindall Stephens