Since her young adult life, Samantha Wray has proven she is a force to be reckoned with. Samantha joined the military at age 20 and began serving in the Security Forces of the Air Force. She quickly became one of the first two female boxers for the Air Force, which allowed her the opportunity to train three times per day – and so began her love of fitness. 

Soon before her expected deployment with the Air Force, just shy of four years of service, Samantha became pregnant with her first child and began her education in dental hygiene school and eventually nursing school. 

Throughout this time, Samantha was looking to fill the gap she felt was left when she retired from her Air Force boxing group. She always feared weightlifting would cause her to look too bulky and that it would not fulfill her in the same way she was fulfilled by the endurance training associated with boxing. However, Samantha’s brother encouraged her to come to the gym with him, and she quickly fell in love with lifting. 

Samantha began preparing to compete in her first bodybuilding competition in 2015, again encouraged by her loving and supportive brother. Unfortunately, when he unexpectedly passed away that year, Samantha felt she also lost her inspiration to compete in bodybuilding. 

Samantha continued weightlifting but did not feel inspired to sign up for another bodybuilding competition until January 2020. “I didn’t consider myself outgoing, so the thought of getting on stage was way outside of my comfort zone,” Samantha remembers. However, when it came time for her to get on stage and hit her first pose, she realized the song playing on stage was a favorite of her brother’s. Moved by the moment, Samantha gained the courage to continue through the competition and many others since. 

When explaining her passion for bodybuilding, it is clear that the focus on discipline, structure, and accountability fuels Samantha. She explains, “Every decision you make, even months out from the competition – from your diet to your sleep schedule, to hitting your workouts – they all make a difference in your physique.” 

Despite her focus on self-discipline and motivation, Samantha has made many friends in the bodybuilding community and now feels inspired by others. She says, “It used to feel like me against the world; now I have people alongside me building a team and a community.” 

As a single mom with four children, three grandchildren, and a full-time nurse, Samantha finds that her life can often feel out of control and chaotic, but her training gives her a sense of control. Samantha says, “Remember to keep that champion mindset even when things get tough.” 

Samantha will continue to prove her champion mindset at a local bodybuilding competition here in Memphis on April 8 and then at the National USA Bodybuilding Competition in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 19. But she isn’t stopping there. Samantha will continue to compete and aspires to be a full-time athlete and fitness model by 2024. 

By Zoe Harrison 

Photo by Tindall Stephens