Theresa Ivancik found purpose through strength

Theresa Ivanick personifies toughness, and not necessarily just in the physical sense, although one look at her Olympia-caliber physique and you see she ticks that box as well.

We’re talking mental toughness, and in this case, Theresa Ivancik is the real deal. Simply put, it does the job. She proves it by sharing some of her most personal moments of her life. She used her house arrest as motivation to get her life in order.

She also beat bulimia, a devastating condition made up of a vicious cycle that is very difficult to break without a strong motivating factor, and a condition that many women in body sports suffer from. “Bodybuilding got me out of bulimia,” she said. “I can eat now because I’m a bodybuilder. I eat for a reason.

Why I say this comes from several different elements of her life that Theresa shared with me. The first is how she overcame her eating disorder. Bulimia is a devastating disease. It is composed of a vicious circle that is very difficult to break without a strong motivating factor. I’ve been very aware lately of how many women in body sports suffer from it. Theresa Ivanick is no exception.

Courtesy of Wings of Force

What do you like about being muscular?

Being bulimic was good to have a purpose. I also wanted to be different. I believe in daring to be different.

How did the bodybuilding bug bite you?

I was under house arrest in 2001 for a DUI. My parents had an old Weider system in the basement, and I started playing with it. Then I saw an “Oxygen” magazine and said I wanted to look like that! I got a job at a local gym and gave it a try. When I started asking about the competition, someone told me to go see Jeff Harlan. He had his own gym and he was the only guy in town who knew about sports and competition. He told me I had to eat and I didn’t want to hear that, so I left him and thought I’d do it myself. While under house arrest, I was able to research all the shows and focused on just one the day after my house arrest ended. I did this show myself. Then we got back with Jeff and prepared for the 2008 Mr. Pittsburgh figure. After that, we agreed to move on to bodybuilding. I took 2009 off so I could eat and grow. In 2010, I did my first bodybuilding show with my 83-year-old grandfather.

That was it then, were you addicted?


When did the drug appear?

Shortly after. I went from 120 to 180 in a few months. So, yes, it was an easy decision to take drugs.

Like exchanging one addiction for another?

Not specifically drugs. The whole thing – the lifestyle, the competition – but yes, drugs are part of it. There are some things you don’t take. You have to be smart about this. I was able to keep my femininity for 15 years without any downtime.

You have obviously been well advised and have done things well. What about girls who don’t do it right?

They don’t last – one and it’s done…. maybe two years, then they drop.

Well, they don’t fall. They just go in another direction and start serving the sordid end of things.

It’s true, I guess. It shouldn’t go that far.

Porn, Sessions, Only Fans – Is that what you mean?

Yes. I treat this like a business. You don’t have a second chance. If you want to be a bodybuilder, you have to act like one. I don’t like what some of these girls end up doing, but I get it. It’s just not bodybuilding. I can’t cross that line because I have a business.

Some girls cross that line quite easily. They don’t seem to mind, but you never know what they’re up to later. All I can tell you is one minute you’re on stage and the next thing you know a porn star is standing next to you.

“It really happened! I didn’t know that was what she was doing before the show, but it was interesting.

And the appeal of female bodybuilding? Why not one of the other divisions?

I understood. I was too big for that. Then we thought I was too big for WPD. I was not home”. I am a bodybuilder. I’m proud of it. I have pictures of me when I was 6, flexing in a connected two-piece swimsuit! Tried to post on TikTok and they took it down because it was “kids.

But it was YOU!

I know, it’s crazy.

Do people in your town know you?


Where do you live?

Butler, Pennsylvania. It’s about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh.

Kind of a small town vibe?

Yes. Everyone knows us. People say hello to us on the street by our name. Then I ask Jeff who it is and we don’t know.

Was it always like this?

At first people were rude. If I was out without Jeff, I would have to cover up.

The usual ignorant comments.

It got pretty bad at one point. I spoke to the local college about breaking standards. How to deal with bullies and that kind of stuff. When I first did it, I was in the paper and the article was saying horrible things about me! While I was there, I was doing something positive for the kids.

How did you overcome this?

I continued. I kept winning. I kept going into the diary – I would kill them with kindness. Finally, they accepted me.

Now that you and Jeff are part of the local community and appreciated, what does a typical day look like in Butler? I imagine you are rather busy.

We have our own gym (Harlan’s Elite Fitness) which we run and do personal training and online coaching. We are also working on a film called Beyond bodybuilding. It’s an independent film project that a local girl has taken on. She approached us with the idea and we pitched it. We revisited it around 2020 when we did the first shoot. We are three in the film. He teaches girls to be powerful and beautiful and away from sessions and drugs.

A noble cause, of course, And the clothes? I think I read somewhere that you have a t-shirt business.

We do – Harlan’s elite customs. We initially launched it to get rid of the middleman. When we started the gym, we had a funder. Instead of us paying him back, he wanted us to pay him back. So, we bought two presses and we gave this opportunity to a kid we know who comes to the gym. He was a good boy who needed a chance. We said let’s try, and it took off.

Don’t you also work for Jake Wood to some extent?

In fact, I first worked for Jake in 2011 when I did a Wings of Strength photoshoot. Then I met him again in 2016 when I turned pro. I’ve worked for him as a fully sponsored athlete since 2017 when I made my professional debut.

Did you live in the Muscle Mansion with all the girls who made Buff Dynasty?

I did it!

How was it?

It was very well managed. All the girls were very well presented. They really cared about the athletes. That’s how I ended up being accepted into the family. All old episodes are on the Wings of Strength YouTube channel if you want to watch them.

What is the overall message you put out there? What should people notice about you and your portrayal of the female bodybuilder?

That I practice what I preach. Bodybuilding plays a role to the extent that I play that role. When people come to us at the gym, we want to help them. Reversing diabetes, getting people off drugs – that’s the big deal. Presented correctly, people will seek you out for your knowledge.

How has it been during COVID?

We have not entered into negativity. We have kept the gym open during COVID. We didn’t let people tell us what to do. Instead of living by a bunch of rules, we just did what made sense. Everyone has their own personal mechanism of what is right and wrong. You know what’s really right in your mind. And it’s not always popular. I posted a lot of things that weren’t talked about – fraud, lies, manipulation, bullshit as it happened, corruption – I gained followers, but then I had to think about my business . I had to stop alienating people.

And bodybuilding? Would you say things differently?

It’s a very difficult question. It gets to a point where we can’t afford it anymore. Preparing for an average trade show costs around $5,000 – that’s hard for people to afford. Something has to be done in terms of spending. We are the only professional athletes who pay to play. Pay per view helps and gives the audience easy access. But the money has to come from somewhere. It’s almost like a non-profit organization; usually there is no money. I don’t know if there will ever be enough money. Maybe the top 5 or 10 will be sponsored? $2,000 for first place is not enough. We have to pay for coaching, posing, flight, hotel, food, choreography, costume posing, tanning, hair, makeup, etc. It adds up.

Give us your final thought: what message would you like to leave us that defines your role as a human being?

Do what makes you happy. Do what you like. Live without regrets. Do everything you can to be positive and motivating. Our goal is to help everyone we can be better and put them in front of us.

Teresa E. Burton