Jana Roller had always been a part of the bodybuilding world — her father was a competitor and she shot many fitness athletes through her work as a professional photographer — but the British Columbia, Canada-based mom never thought she would compete herself.
Roller, 29, had struggled with anxiety and depression her whole life, and even though she had reached 307 lbs., she found it hard to motivate herself to make any real changes to get get healthy.
“When you’re depressed, you tell yourself, ‘No I can’t’ and ‘You’re not good enough’,” she tells PEOPLE. “It got to the point where I knew that I needed to go after something that I wanted to do for a very long time in order for me to actually do this, because I told myself that I wasn’t worth it and that I couldn’t do it for so many years.”
A traumatic incident gave Roller the push she needed to finally take up bodybuilding, something she had always enjoyed but had never pursued.
“My ‘aha’ moment was when I was at the park with my son,” she says. “He ran away from me and almost got hit by a car because I couldn’t catch him. I thought, ‘This needs to change right now.’ ”
At the beginning of 2015, Roller began working with a coach and began a rigorous strength training program. By January 2016 Roller had lost a significant amount of weight, and decided she wanted to compete in a bodybuilding competition the following year.
“I started strength training six days a week and doing cardio and tracking my macros,” she says. “I had less and less cheat meals, my time in the gym increased, and when we got to September, I officially went into contest prep.”
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That meant going to the gym every day at 5 a.m. for a cardio session before work and returning for strength training and more cardio at 8 or 9 p.m. after her son had gone to sleep, and carrying Tupperware containers with her five daily meals everywhere she went.
“It’s been very, very busy for a very long time,” says Roller. “I felt like I lived at the gym!”
On May 6, Roller stepped onstage for her first bodybuilding competition, the 2017 British Columbia Amateur Bodybuilding Association Kelowna Classic.
“Being someone who used to be 300 lbs. I was always finding excuses to put layers on, so getting closer to stage day I realized, I have to take it all off!” says Roller, who now weighs 172 lbs. “I was excited [to compete] because I had seen my body change, and I was seeing muscle definition. I had worked two years to get to this point, and I’m incredibly proud of myself.”
Roller was proud of the way she looked up on that stage — loose skin and all.
“When I look at [photos from the competition], I see the progress that I’ve made, but also I can see what I can do to improve in terms of where I want to take myself in competition,” she says. “Bodybuilding is amazing because you get sculpt and define yourself, and mold yourself into the person you know you’ve always been. When I look at that photo, I see one small step in a very long journey. It was really important to have that to see it, and it made me really excited.”
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Roller — who has become a certified personal trainer and coach — hopes her journey can inspire others.
“I realize what bodybuilding has done for me, and I want to be that inspiration and support for people that want to do it for themselves too,” she says.