In March 2018, 28-year-old Danielle Brown was picking up a fast-food order and left her car idling just a few feet away. Moments later, someone stole into her vehicle and was driving away with her baby who was still inside.

“I ran after the car yelling about my daughter, who was only 11 months old at the time,” she says. “But the driver only paused a moment before taking off again. I tried to keep running, but I obviously couldn’t catch up.”

Danielle was devastated and waited all night for news about her baby. The next morning, an Amber Alert tip led the authorities to find Zoe, who was unharmed, as well as the car.

Although everyone was safe, Danielle fought with the Department of Human Services for several months over the custody of her daughter. Ultimately, she was granted an immunity deal from the police for her testimony against the carjacker.

After this mental, emotional, and physical ordeal, she started attending parental counseling.

“I was in a very unhappy place in my life and suffering from post-partum depression. Motherhood was so new to me, and then I had this huge mess up, and I really doubted myself,” she says. “I had gained 70 pounds during my pregnancy and wasn’t happy with my self-image. It was a wakeup call.”

Because Danielle is a former collegiate volleyball player from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, she already had the mindset of an athlete. Once she set a goal to get into figure competitions, there was no stopping her.

“After I graduated from college and left volleyball, I never wanted to see the inside of a gym again. Now I work as an assistant to my trainer and I’m in a gym eight hours a day.”

Danielle started working with trainer Roland Genesy in September 2018 through Sherika Fitness, a gym in Memphis. She first started tackling getting into a routine, calculating macros, and learning how to read nutrition labels. Next, she started prepping for Battle of the Bluff in May 2019.

“We started prep in January, but I had already been taking baby steps since September. I quit drinking, stopped salting my food, and stuck to low-carb meals. During prep, it was strictly by the book—necessary carbs, fats, proteins. That was it,” she says.

At her first competition, she won first place in true novice. Her competition weight came in at 113 pounds, almost 40 pounds lighter than when she’d started. Two shows later, she’s now a pro natural figure competitor.

“I was so nervous that first time. They said it was the biggest show they’d ever had and it was sold out. Looking at all the other girls backstage, I knew the competition was tight,” she says. “But my coach had prepped me and I was ready. I went in to win.”

After a full year of prep and shows, Danielle is now taking a break until 2020. “It takes a toll for sure, but I look forward getting back in it. Competing in Battle of the Bluff took me from like to love. It can get super addictive.”

Today, her daily workout and diet are geared towards her current goal of upper body gains. She and Roland work out together six times a week for three hours a day. She’s added seasoning back to foods and treats herself to a sweet treat once a week—maybe.

“If I eat clean, I know it makes it easier for me in the long run,” she says. “But even my carbs are still sweet potatoes and brown rice. I love ahi tuna and offseason I might go to Genghis Grill to eat out.”

Becoming a happier, healthier version of herself has also transformed Danielle into a better mom for Zoe, who’s now two.

“I can be a better role model because I’m in a better place mentally and physically,” she says. “Looking back, I wasn’t mentally all the way there. I wanted to fix myself and be there for my daughter, and I have.”

By India Nikotich

Photo by Tindall Stephens