The bodybuilding community is mourning the loss of one of the legendary female bodybuilders who paved the way for others, Tonya Knight.
Cardio is an activity when it is done outdoors. When he does his “serious” cardio, a typical session is on the stationary bike he has in his living room. It has a perfectly square tall columned table next to it to put his things – water, TV remote, etc. Tonya Knight shopped for days to find the table. He was very proud of his little home cardio setup and that he found the odd column table tall enough for the needs; it encouraged him to use it, I believe. Outdoor cardio is brisk walking. But not just any old brisk walk mind you.
Like I said, it’s an event. Several times a week, we would start at his apartment, near Lincoln Blvd in Santa Monica, and walk south, down to the Marina del Rey plaza – three or four miles each way. There’s a chicken place there, near the movie theater, which is a known bodybuilder haunt called Kook-A-Roo. We will stop there first for the chicken. Then to Heidi’s for some sugar-free/fat-free frozen yogurt, then see a movie (mid-afternoon), then walk back. Fast.
At Kook-A-Roo he always got the white quarter, but kept the wing instead of discarding it, like many bodybuilders who went there. He wrung himself up on the seat and bit the most exciting (by bodybuilders) part of the bird, saying it was his “cheat,” with a little mischievous giggle in his voice – as if he knew he was doing something. bad, like a little child.
Those walks are epic. I had a hard time with him. “Come on! This is cardio! I’m not slowing down!” It was ahead of him 1991 Mrs. International victory that took him to the stratosphere as far as our little world is concerned. It was hard to talk and walk at his pace, but we chatted all the way to Lincoln and back to his place about what was going on in our lives. That woman is very busy in her head. He knew what he had going on right now wouldn’t last forever, so he milked it for all it was worth.
That woman left the house, even if it was to take out the trash, it was done. She always looks like she’s doing photo shoots – hair, makeup, her clothes – everything is perfect, all the time. She thinks she’s lucky that one day she’ll spend a minute in a ball cap and no makeup the day she has a chance to come. No, that it matters; even with a ball cap and no makeup the girl is very beautiful.
Those Lincoln walks are no exception. You’ve heard the expression, “That girl who could cause a traffic accident?” Well, he’s almost a day old. In front of us. Dude stares at her as she runs into a stopped car and nearly rear-ends it. I say this not to praise her looks, but to say that, even if it looks like it on the outside, her looks do not define her. Her appearance is her job. Tonya – the real person – is the ever-smiling, innocent kid from Missouri. She is as “girl next door” as you can get. Unassuming, kind, humble to a fault, and the sweetest person you could ever talk to. And shy too. She would talk to me about dating a guy and have to sit across the room to do it. The first three sentences are general word salad until he works on some extra nerve. You look at Tonya and think she has no problem with anything. But he only plays a superhero on TV.
While Tonya was doing Gladiators, I introduced her to my friend John, and they got married. He left the Gladiators and moved. Me too. Years passed and we drifted apart. We have wives and children and divorces…. and we were sick and healed. We just connected, in the last two years. When he told me he had cancer, I thought he would beat it too. I didn’t know it was so bad. I don’t think he did either, at least until the end. We talked about it and he never said “why me?” Indeed, he said, “why not me?” A gladiator to the end.
Of all the things we did together, the trips, the outings, the trouble, the training sessions, being with her when she won the Ms. a very cool friendship with a very special person. As far as our industry is concerned, he is an undeniable legend. An icon. A person whose presence was extraordinary and whose contribution was so impactful that Tonya Knight will never die. Always.