How Janine Delaney Became an Instagram Fitness Sensation at 49 Years Old
"You are only as old as you let yourself feel."
I've never been a typical or predictable person. In fact, if you were to ask my teenage daughters my number-one piece of advice, it would be to not fit in.
Growing up, though, I was very shy. It was difficult for me to express myself physically and emotionally, but I was able to do so through dance. Ballet, in particular, became an important part of my life as a young girl-and I happened to be quite good at it.
But when it was time to go to college, I had to make a choice. When I was 18, women didn't really have the option to dance professionally and get an education, so I gave up ballet to pursue a career in psychology.
Falling In Love with Fitness
Giving up ballet wasn't easy for me. On top of being an emotional outlet, it was how I remained physically active. I knew I had to find something else to fill the void. So in the early '80s, I started teaching aerobics-which would end up being my first of many side gigs in the gym. (Here's How to *Really* Commit to Your Fitness Routine)
Through my years in college and grad school, I learned a lot about fitness. Given my background as a ballerina, I knew that being fit isn't just about looking a certain way; it's about being agile, elevating your heart rate, building strength, and working on your athletic capabilities.
I held those values close to me for years as I became a psychologist, wife, and mother to two beautiful girls. But as I turned 40, I found that I was beyond settled into my career and had watched my little girls become young women. While my friends around me seemed to be embracing their maturity and relaxing into this era of their lives, I couldn't help but want to challenge myself in a way I hadn't before.
Entering Figure Competitions
I'd been attracted to physique-based competitions for years. My husband always loved lifting weights-and I was fascinated by the discipline that comes with building muscle with such methodical intention. So when I turned 42, I decided to enter my first figure competition. While similar to bodybuilding, figure competitions focus more on fat-to-muscle percentage and definition versus overall size. It was something I'd thought about for a while but had never gotten around to. And instead of saying I missed the boat, I thought, better late than never.
I competed for three years and, during my last competition in 2013, I placed for the first time. I won first place in the NPC Women's Figure Competition in the Masters category (which is specifically for women over 40). And I also placed second for all age categories, which was truly a sign that my hard work had paid off. (Inspired? Here's How to Become a Female Bodybuilder)
I learned a lot in those three years of competing-specifically about the relationship between food and building muscle. Growing up, I always thought of carbs as bad, but competing taught me that they didn't have to be the enemy. To put on more muscle, I had to introduce good carbs into my diet and began eating a lot of sweet potatoes, whole grains, and nuts. (See: The Healthy Woman's Guide to Eating Carbs, Which Doesn't Involve Cutting Them)
Over the course of three years, I put on over 10 pounds of muscle. And while that was great for competing, it was still disconcerting to watch the scale go up (especially having grown up as a ballerina). There were moments when I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if I wasn't able to lose weight in the future. (Related: This Fitness Influencer Is Getting Candid About How the Scale Can Really Eff with Your Head)
That mentality made me realize how easy it is to have a poor relationship with the scale-and it's also part of the reason I decided to leave bodybuilding behind. Today, we don't have a scale in our house and my daughters aren't allowed to weigh themselves. I tell them there's no point in getting obsessed with numbers. (Did you know that more women are trying to gain weight through diet and exercise?)
Becoming a Social Media Phenomenon
As life went back to normal after my last figure competition, I realized that I wasn't stressed about losing any of the weight I'd gained. Instead, I was just excited to get back to the gym and continue doing the workouts I loved most.
I returned to teaching aerobics, and several students and fellow gym members encouraged me to get on social media. (At this point, I didn't even have a Facebook page.) I was immediately interested in it as an opportunity to inspire others-if I could prove to other women that they didn't need to let their age hold them back and that they could do anything they put their minds to, then maybe this social media thing wasn't all bad.
So, using a dinky tripod, I shot a video of myself doing some jump rope tricks and posted it to Instagram before I went to bed, not knowing what to expect. I woke up to messages from complete strangers telling me that I was good. So far, so good-so I continued posting.
Before I knew it, women from around the world began reaching out to me, saying they were both inspired by the workouts I could do at my age and motivated to challenge themselves more.
In just two years, I've gained 2 million followers on Instagram and have been hailed the #jumpropequeen. It's all happened very fast, but I feel fortunate to create a new and exciting adventure for myself at this stage in my life-one that continues to grow on a daily basis.
It's no secret that Instagram isn't always empowering. I've tried to represent regular women and hope to inspire them to feel good in their skin. (Related: 5 Body-Positive Illustrators You Need to Follow for a Dose of Artistic Self-Love)
And, at the end of the day, I hope that my story helps women realize that you don't have to be a pro in the gym or be in your 20s to look and feel great. You just need to be motivated, have a positive attitude, and a desire to take care of your mind and body. You can accomplish anything you want-whether that's setting a new fitness goal or pursuing a life-long dream-at any stage of your life.
Age is just a number, and you are truly only as old as you let yourself feel.