Raising The Bar For Female AthletesDon’t be fooled b y Aniana Pursell’s petite stature. The former bodybuilding champion makes lifting heavy weights look like a breeze. The age-defying 65-year-old still can out-lift plenty of people, even though her days of flexing her muscles and posing for judges are behind her. She is a fitness icon and was the first woman to earn the title of Miss Garden Island during the 1980s.
“It was small, and the first time for Kauai to see this event on the island,” she recalls of the bodybuilding competition. “Women would not touch the free weights because they were afraid of having too many muscles.”
Not Pursell. After envying her friends’ toned bodies at the beach, she made it her mission to build her own muscles. Lifting weights was a passion she discovered in the early 1980s, during the same time Kauai Athletic Club made its premiere.
“As soon as the door opened, I joined,” she says.
She was there nearly every day and had no problem asking the men if she could train with them. She jokes that, at first, she could barely lift 10 pounds.
Sheer determination and practice — along with encouragement from Roland Sagum, KAC’s manager at the time — helped her land her first title. Now, she is encouraging others to follow the same path, hoping they will enter bodybuilding competition Kauai’s Cup Oct. 17. It will be held in four categories — Men’s Open, Men’s Board Shorts, Women’s Figure and Women’s Open Bikini — and Pursell will serve as one of the judges. The non-sanctioned event is strictly for Kauai residents, as well as former residents who now live off-island.
Pursell knows a thing or two about that. She got her bodybuilding start on Kauai before moving on to bigger leagues on Oahu. She took home her first trophy as Miss Garden Island in 1983 and vividly remembers the feeling of being on stage with all eyes on her.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she recalls.
The brave newbie worked hard to get there nonetheless, and learned all of the poses by flipping through magazines and mimicking the models. Still, even with preparation, it was no easy feat.
“When you look in the mirror and strike a pose, you have to make sure everything shows. When you wean yourself from the mirror, it’s harder; you have to see it mentally,” she says.
Something else that brings back nerve-wracking, yet exhilarating memories was her second competition, Miss Hawaii Physique, in which she competed just two weeks later.
“Boy, I was so nervous but determined to win and put Kauai on the map of bodybuilding here in Hawaii,” she says.
And that she did. “I was shocked,” she admits, regarding her first-place win.
After those primary accomplishments, Pursell continued competing in contests throughout the years, including KAC’s power lifting event, where she was able to take home first place in the lightweight division on several occasions, with stats like bench-pressing 177 pounds.
Her last bodybuilding competition was for male-female pairs, Mr. and Miss Hawaii, in 1986. She entered with her friend Royland Abuan, who now is a police officer on Hawaii island. They practiced together every day, hitting the gym and flexing their muscles as a harmonized team. Despite the butterflies she felt the day of the event on Oahu, the duo took home the trophy.
“Our heads turned at the same time, we smiled at the same time — everything was so synchronized and so on,” she says.
Traveling for competitions was taking a financial and time-consuming toll, so she left bodybuilding behind. But that never stopped her from continuing to take care of her body.
Today, she helps others achieve physical health and well-being, and continues to teach fitness at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, where she has been employed for some 25 years. Pursell also served as a personal trainer at KAC since the 1980s, but retired from that post last year.
“Ani is a Kauai fitness legend,” says Joshua Nations, current owner of KAC. “She whipped hundreds of butts into shape over the years at KAC.”
“I love being a mentor and inspiration to young and old,” says Pursell, who graduated from Kauai High School.
She might make it look easy, but make no mistake, it takes plenty of work to be as fit as she is.
“It doesn’t come naturally,” says Pursell, mother of Jeremy Foster. “I have to work at it. You have to keep doing it. That’s the secret to anti-aging.”
She admits she was a bit of a tomboy as a child and loved playing sports for fun and being outdoors.
“I always found myself challenging the boys — I could do better than them,” jokes Pursell.
Now she enjoys sharing that same spirit and athletic prowess with others.
“I don’t care about the money, I want to see you happy,” she says.
For more information about the upcoming competition, call Randy Ortiz at 482-0334 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.