February 22, 2016 | Posted in:How Do They Do It? Series
Inspiration, Motivation and Perspective. Brittany Culp was the first blind competitor in the NPC Bikini Division – I am honored that she granted me an interview. Brittany and I became friends as co-members in an exclusive online community called FitnessModels.com/
She talks candidly about life, fitness and blindness. Sometimes we all need a little inspiration to put some pep in our step and recommit to our goals, regardless of the forces we feel are working against us. I hope this interview with Brittany does that for you.
“We can create our own future. We can travel different paths, decide which way to go, and we can find the positive even in not so positive situations. We have a choice. I did not choose to be blind… unfortunately, I did not have a say in that. I do however, have a say in what I am going to do with my life.” – Brittany Culp
LS: Give us an introduction to YOU. Tell us your story! I know this will include your vision, so please share.
BC: I’m 24 years old, born and raised in the south Texas area. Currently I reside in Corpus Christi, Texas, where I work part time at a gym called Body Shop, as a front desk attendant. In 2014 I graduated
with my bachelors double majoring in Psychology and Sociology.
At the moment, I’m a full time graduate student, pursuing my masters in Psychology at Texas A&M University- Kingsville. Once I graduate, I will take the state exam to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC).
Long-term, I want to open a private practice where I can do counseling, and on the other side of it have a fitness studio to train people. This will allow me to not only incorporate the two things I am
most passionate about, but also give my clients that total mind and body connection. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand when it comes to the overall wellness of a person.
I’m hoping to have some free time this summer, to get my personal trainer certification. Outside of school, I’m a model. I enjoy doing photo shoots, and have placed in the top at all local bikini model
competitions I have competed in. I also compete in NPC competitions, and am sponsored by a supplement store called Rock’s discount vitamins and more. They have expanded to having over ten locations around Texas, and plan to open even more.
I’m the first blind NPC bikini competitor.
LS: How did you lose your eyesight? You seem to cope with it positively – did that come naturally or have you struggled?
BC: At six months of age, I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has caused me to lose my sight with age. It took me a long time to fully accept my disability.
When I was a child, I did not quite understand what it meant to be blind, especially because at that time I was what you would call “visually impaired” or “low-vision”. I could see a lot more than I can
now. Back then, most of my trouble was at night and in dimly lit places, being near-sighted, and having tunnel vision. I could read large print with glasses, and did not use a cane at that time. I was
always at the top of my class academically, so I was not in special education. Even my class mates and teachers did not understand the extent of what I could and could not see.
I always tried to fit in as best I could, and I suppose in a sense, try to pass as a sighted
person. I cannot tell you how many times I would try to participate in dodge ball in P.E and would get hit in the face, causing my glasses to break. At that time, I would have rather the other kids think I was
just super clumsy, than have to explain I was different from them.
Honestly, I did not want to admit it to myself either; I was indenial. There was that fine line where I was too sighted to be considered “blind”, but too blind to be considered sighted. At times I felt very alone and depressed inside. I also had no outlet to express myself. I wanted to participate in sports so badly, but my vision loss was always getting in my way. I wanted to run track, but the coaches just saw me as a liability. I eventually even got taken out of P.E, because the coaches did not know what to do with me. Looking back on things, they could have let me participate on days when we went to the weight room, but I was too shy and self conscious at that time to even begin to think of suggesting ways they could accommodate me.
As I got older, my vision got worse, so it became harder to deny and hide. My glasses stopped working for me, I was getting even more near-sighted, and even large print became difficult for me to read.
Still, I resisted. I began learning Braille, getting mobility lessons to learn how to travel with a cane, and other useful skills every blind person should be taught, but I found it to be ridiculous. I had no idea how much I was cheating myself. By my teenage years, my grades began to suffer. I was once an honors student, and suddenly became a barely passing student.
From middle school to junior year of high school, my vision plummeted dramatically. One day our guidance counselor spoke to my class about applying for colleges and getting ready to take the SAT’s. It was at that moment, it hit me. I was barely making it in high school. How was I going to succeed in
college, let alone pass the SAT’s to get into one.
My mother suggested putting me in the Texas school for the blind, which I reluctantly
agreed to try out. I was only there for two weeks however. I hated it! I was so used to public school, and being around my sighted friends, going to parties, and all that stuff that high school kids typically
It was odd… in public school I felt out of place because I was the only blind kid, but at this school full of blind kids I still felt alone because I was so much more social than they were. Don’t get me wrong; there were some pretty cool blind kids there, but since this was a boarding school of sorts, there were too many rules. I made an agreement with my mother. I said that if she let me go back to public school, I would try harder in the classroom and be more open to learning blindness skills from the vision teachers they appointed me.
When I came back, I began using my cane every day. Once senior year rolled around, I was an A-B student again. Even then though, I still felt unready for college, so I decided to take a year off after
graduation, and went to a vocational rehabilitation training program for people losing their vision in Austin, Texas called Criss Coll Rehabilitation Center.
I was there for seven months, and was blind folded Monday through Friday, eight hours a day. I learned how to cook, clean, travel, and use assistive technology as a blind person.
The most memorable accomplishment I remember from my time there was my first drop off. Drop offs were done during Orientation and Mobility training (O&M), where they would drop us off blind folded with our canes at a random place in town, and have us find our way back to the
training center. They would observe from across the street or in a car of course, but they would not help you out unless you were in immediate danger, so you felt completely alone. Traveling alone was my
biggest phobia at that time, so I was freaking out when they dropped me off that day! Nevertheless, the skills they taught me just kicked in, and I found my way to a bus stop 3 blocks away, asked the bus
driver which route his bus was taking, and road it back to the training center.
Once I made it back, I felt so liberated. I never knew what independence felt like until I went there. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. After I graduated the training program, I came back to south Texas and began college as a new person. The rest
LS: What’s it like to stay physically active without your eyesight? Do you have any special challenges at the gym?
BC: Staying physically active without vision, is not as hard or different as some people may think. I lift weights, do my cardio, and have even participated in group classes before. It’s all just a matter
of making it work. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
The only things I have had trouble with, are things that require a lot of balance. Since quite a bit of my vision has deteriorated, I don’t have that total hand-eye coordination; its more like just hand coordination. So I try to avoid doing box jumps and one legged movements, unless I have
something or someone to kind of stabilize me. I also avoid doing squats with the squat rack, because now that I have gotten stronger and lift heavier weight, it’s just not safe if I were to be off
balance that day, so I do squats on the smith machine instead.
My left eye is my “good” eye, so I can see a little bit out of that one. It is hard to explain to what extent. I will say this though… I have good eye days and bad eye days, hence why my balance may be thrown off more one day versus another. Rarely does it ever become a serious issue though.
Aside from that, I’m just your typical gym goer! For two years, I worked out with personal trainers, but these past 5 months, I have just been working out with my boyfriend and friends. I hold on to their arm as we walk from machine to machine, just because it’s faster, especially during those peak times. For this prep I’m in right now, prepping for the Phil Heath classic on March 12, I’m working with David Schachtrle of Siccmade Muscle via online coaching. He has been a joy to work with, and I can’t wait to show off the new package he has helped me bring in this season.
4. LS: You were the first blind woman to compete in the NPC – Wow! How did you become interested in showing? Were you extra-nervous about any aspects of doing a show?
BC: I think there might have been a blind women’s physique competitor who started competing before me [LS: My error, But Britney IS the first in the bikini division]. I came across a video of her posing routine with her guide dog one day on google. There havealso been blind men who competed in body building before me, so I
cannot take all the credit [for being the first in the NPC].
However, I am indeed the first and currently only blind competitor in the bikini division of the NPC. I
became interested in competing in the NPC back in 2014. I came across an ad for a local competition they were having right here in Corpus Christi, called Battle on the Bay. All my life I wanted to be able to
participate in a sport, and body building never crossed my mind, until that moment.
I figured I was already modeling, working out, and had a sparked interest, so let’s just go for it. I hired a personal trainer a few weeks later, and began preparing for it. I did not become nervous until I began looking up videos of how to pose. I was completely lost. I knew it would be a challenge getting down the
posing and doing my model walk not only well, but independently. I wanted to be as independent as possible on that stage.
I did not want the judges or audience knowing I was blind until afterwards, that way I knew I was being judged on my body, not my disability. I was also hesitant about finding the right coach, because I wanted somebody who was going to take me seriously. Luckily, I found a local posing coach, Lee Trapasso, who is now my boss at the Body Shop, and he helped me out a lot. It was funny, because when I first contacted him on the phone, we were talking about what would be covered in a posing session
and he said, “I tell all my clients that when you are out on stage, you don’t have a mirror, so you should have practiced posing so much at that point that you should be able to do it blind folded.”
I had not told him I was blind yet, so I responded, “Well, that’s perfect, because I was about to tell you… I’m blind.” He then said, “Shut up… Really? Awesome! I can’t wait to work with you, and have you show what you learn to the competitors in my posing class.” I knew at that moment, I was in the right hands. He taught me how to pose and walk more confidentlly, and I came up with the counting steps idea.
Before every show, I get to the venue early to check out the stage, and once they lay down the tape, I practice walking from line to line a few times and count my steps. Like I said, I like to be as independent as possible on stage. I trained, dieted, sweated, and sacrificed for months for my time on that stage; its my moment to shine, and I don’t want some random person in my pictures.
At my first two shows, a majority of the people watching did not know about my disability. Shortly after though, I was featured on the news and on social media, so the word traveled quickly. At shows after that, I was getting recognized, and I was initially worried that people would begin to treat me like an outsider because of it, but that wasn’t the case at all. I had never felt more welcomed.
LS: What do you feel your biggest obstacle is, whether due to your sight or not?
BC: At times, my blindness is an obstacle, I won’t lie to you about that. However, it is not my biggest obstacle. I think of it more as an inconvenience. Nevertheless, it is a part of who I am, so I can either accept that and embrace it, or let it interfere with my life, which I refuse to do. My biggest obstacle, is that I am extremely hard on myself at times. I get wrapped up in my own head, look at all the
things I did wrong, don’t give myself enough credit for the good I do, and by the time I realize what I’m doing, I have already made myself an emotional mess.
It took me a while to realize this about myself, and I have had other people point it out to me. I suppose it just stems from wanting to be more than people expect of me. In many things I have accomplished, people expected me to fail. In turn, that made me fear failure even more, and I saw it as not an option. I suppose you could also call it compensation or perfectionism, but that’s just the psychologist in me talking.
Let’s just say, we are our own worst critics sometimes. I try to not be so hard on myself, but another way
I see it is… If I’m not hard on myself, who’s going to be? I need to make myself accountable.
LS: How do you approach obstacles in your path?
BC: A wise professor once told me, “There are no obstacles in life, only challenges to be met and overcome.” Whenever I am faced with a challenge, I first ask myself, “How badly do you want it?”. If what I really want is on the other side of that “obstacle”, then I start thinking of how I am going to get through it. Then I just take it step by step.
If for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then I let out some frustration in the gym or sing it out in the shower. What I’ve learned is, that when something absolutely does not work out, there will eventually be something that will work out completely in your favor. You just have to keep moving forward, and take some things with a grain of salt.
LS: How do you make time for exercising and eating well? What are your other commitments?
BC: Fitness has become such a huge part of my life and daily routine now, that it’s just a way of life. I can always make time for the gym. The only times I absolutely cannot is around finals when I have exams,
presentations, and 20 page papers due all at once. I do fasted cardio 3-5 days a week at 6-8am, depending on if I get to sleep in, and weight lifting 5-6 days a week. In between that time, I’m either in
class, eating, doing homework, or spending time with my boyfriend and friends and family. On my rest days is when I will schedule photo shoots every now and then. I do have those days where I’m just not
feeling the gym; I’m only human. Whenever I feel like this I ask myself if I will regret not hitting the gym once the next day rolls around. If the answer is yes, I force myself to go. If my mind and body are just flat out exhausted and need the time off, I’ll take it. My boyfriend and I prep food throughout the week, so we are prepared.
If you don’t have your food prepped, you are more likely to want to go eat junk instead, so we try to stay prepared. If we ever go out to eat, I order my food as healthy as possible, unless it’s a cheat meal,
which I save for after I train legs on leg day. Since I am in full on prep mode right now, I put my meals into containers and take them with me when I’m on the go.
My friends and family used to give me a hard time when I would do this, but now they understand the dedication and hard work this sport takes, and are more supportive. Fitness is truly a lifestyle change. It is a commitment, but it is one that I am glad I have made. It has made me better mentally and physically. I could not imagine living my life any other way ever again.
LS: What motivates you, both in fitness and in life?
BC: The future is my motivation. Years ago, I could not imagine one for myself. I didn’t even care what happened… I thought there was nothing out there for me. Now, I know different. The possibilities are
endless. We can create our own future. We can travel different paths, decide which way to go, and we can find the positive even in not so positive situations. We have a choice. I did not choose to be blind…
unfortunately, I did not have a say in that.
I do however, have a say in what I am going to do with my life. I am pursuing higher education,
in a field that interests me, and is about helping other people. I am competing in a sport, that has given me the opportunity to meet wonderful people, given me a platform to inspire and educate others,
and to transform my mind and body into something great. In addition to that, I am not an outsider in this sport. I am training like everyone else, dieting like everyone else, sacrificing like everyone else, and
I am a blind athlete on that stage posing next to sighted athletes.
In this sport, I am not seperated from others; I am one hundred percent included.
LS: Do you have a “mission” as a person? Something you feel you were put on this earth to accomplish?
BC: My purpose is to live my life. That should be everyone’s purpose. Live the life you want to live. Try new things, meet new people, don’t take things for granted.
LS: Is there anything else you want readers to know?
BC: People often come up and tell me what an inspiration I am to them. At first, I did not know how to take that, or understand why. Part of me thought it was because people have this misconception that
blindness should be a death sentence. If you live in the dark, then your life should reflect that. Sit inside your house, be a shut in, keep your head down, and be hopeless. Then here I come with my pink cane, tattoos, blonde hair, and muscles, not being a stereotype. I guess I could understand how that would be inspiring. T
hen I realized… if that is your reasoning, that’s not inspiring. That is you being
uneducated about blind people. It’s okay though… I used to be uneducated about blindness too. Fact of the matter is, there are plenty of blind people out there just like me, living their lives independently, successfully, and happily.
The only reason you know about me, is because I am in the spotlight more than they are. I used
to shy away from the spotlight when I was younger, but now I welcome it. Somebody needs to bring the reality of blindness into the light. Sometimes yes, I do hate having to answer all the ignorant questions
from people. Yes, sometimes I get p****d when someone says an ignorant statement like, “You don’t look blind…”. What is blindness supposed to look like? If you need a certain look to be associated with blindness, I’ll gladly take on the challenge of creating a new look. The look of a person accepting blindness as nothing but a characteristic, and living their life as they were meant to do.
In this, I finally understood why people are inspired. People do not take advantage of their blessings or appreciate them. Instead of living the lives they want to live, they make excuses, they find reasons not to do something, and then they wonder why they feel as if something is missing. Take a risk people! Have some blind faith. *giggle*
LS: Where can readers keep track of you? Do you have a web site or social media?
My instagram name is @culpbrit. I have a facebook page, facebook.com/culpbrit but I’m more active on my instagram. I have a website, but I have not been posting on there because it needs some serious reconstruction, so if you know anyone who can help me out and make it screen reader accessible, I’ll definitely start up my blog again! I have been wanting to.
LS: Thank you so much, Brittany Culp!
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