STC professor and bodybuilder Dr. Maria Tello recently took first place in her debut, competing at the Dropzone Physique Showdown in April. Her guide to success? Dr. Tello says it is all about staying organized and embracing the power of family.

Tello said she sculpted her body for four years before deciding on competing. She debuted at age 46 in Dropzone, a natural bodybuilding competition in Stafford, Texas on April 21.

Representing the Rio Grande Valley, she competed in three categories as a bikini competitor in the novice category, where she placed third. She then participated in Dropzone’s Bikini Open for women under 5’3’’, and placed third as well.

She then took first place in the Bikini Masters competition for women 45 years and older, and just barely missed her pro card when she competed among women 35 years and older.

“It was just a great experience to be able to be on the stage with the potential of getting a pro card because that's kind of unheard of on your first show, so that was really, really nice. I got two thirds and a first,” she said.

Tello says she has always come from an athletic background. A former standout in high school sports and track and field in college, gym-time has always played a factor in her life, Tello said.

Then a little more than four years ago, she opted to pick up the intensity of her workout routine. She decided on competitive bodybuilding shortly after she became a mother in her late thirties.

Being a self-described “older mom” made her realize that she needed to work a little harder to keep up with her young son, so she used the gym to create a healthier lifestyle.

“The most challenging part of having bodybuilding as a hobby is that it is so time-consuming, but I find that if you're organized, and there's a true desire to do this, everything is possible,” Dr. Tello said. “It really requires strict organization so that in the morning you're not just running wild trying to get all of the different aspects of your life ready to go.”

Dr. Tello believes her personal story can motivate students to become more organized in their own lives, even if they are juggling responsibilities with work, family or school.

“I share with students and I let them know that even though I have a young son and I compete; it’s also important to have their essays ready to go,” Tello said. “I have to have all of these things working efficiently for me to be a good teacher, a good mom, a good wife, and then good at my hobby.”

The life adjustment is not easy, she said. Tello runs down a typical evening during the semester as she juggles all of her responsibilities as a wife, mother, teacher and athlete.

Every night after her husband and young son have gone to bed she spends an extra two hours preparing for the following day. The first step is her health and fitness routine. She meal preps, then she makes sure her gym clothes are packed away and placed in the car before work the next day.

The next step involves her responsibilities to her students. An associate professor with the Developmental English Department at STC for over 20 years, Dr. Tello says she always makes sure her grading is done, organizes her teaching materials in her bag, and places them in the car for the following day.

The final step is her duty to her family. As a working mother, Dr. Tello says she ensures her son’s backpack is ready for school, and his lunchbox is prepared in the morning.

“So in the morning, when I know my son is ready, my gym stuff is ready, my school stuff is ready, only then I know we're okay,” Tello said. “I would say that the biggest thing you have to be able to do is just stay organized. Even if one thing fails, even if I don't pack my supplements for the next day I'm already feeling a little flustered, because I know that's going to make a difference in my nutrition, so I have to do it the night before so I'm able to be more efficient the next day.”

Tello says she now looks ahead to November, where she plans to compete in the 15th annual Alamo Showdown Classic in San Antonio.

“The old saying ‘Where there's a will there's a way’ is really true. “I try to lead by example. My students will ask me ‘How do you stay so fit?’ Then, I share my experiences with them because it makes me more of a real person in their eyes. I am not just a teacher who has no other life.”