Venzara Balances Rigorous Training, Challenging Work
By Maria Sonnenberg // April 17, 2013
FITNESS SPOTLIGHT: Nikki Venzara
Pediatric ICU Nurse, Pro Fitness Competitor Balances Rigorous Training, Challenging Work
CENTRAL FLORIDA, USA – Three days out of the week, 24-year-old Nikki Venzara thrives in the stressful and challenging environment as a nurse at the pediatric intensive care unit at Florida Hospital for Children’s Walt Disney Pavilion.
The remaining four days are spent training for fitness competition. And training. And training. Her regimen is no easy task, but Venzara is as committed to succeeding in the field of fitness competition as she is to saving the lives of children.
Both careers require dedication, discipline and energy – attributes with which Venzara has been abundantly blessed.
In May, 2011, Venzara went pro when she won in her class at the Junior Nationals of the National Physique Committee.
Her achievement is that much greater considering that Venzara is a relative newcomer to the sport and was graduating from college, passing her nursing board exams, and moving back to Central Florida from Hawaii, all while maintaining the rigorous training regime needed to earn top honors in bodybuilding.
“It was a busy time for me,” she said.
Earning her pro card entitles Venzara the opportunity to compete with the nation’s top athletes in bodybuilding, fitness and physique. For the daughter of Merritt Island plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Venzara and wife Cheryl, choosing the sport was a no-brainer, although she admits her parents were initially a little surprised by her choice.
A cheerleader since second grade, Venzara is highly competitive and focused on keeping her body in perfect condition. Her nursing courses at Hawaii Pacific University left her little time for cheerleading, however, so Venzara cast about for something to take its place and realized she could not only fit bodybuilding into her schedule, but also excel at it, as she took off into the world of fitness competition.
Venzara’s mentor and coach is Nancy McDowell, owner of Freedom Atheltics Cheer and Dance in Rockledge, Florida. “Nancy has coached me since I was five years old and has helped me tremendously,” said Venzara.
“She has gone to every show and opens her cheer gym for me to practice, even if she cant be there.”
She prefers to call herself a fitness competitor rather than a bodybuilder, because many folks don’t understand the differences.
“I feel there is still a stigma to the word “bodybuilding,” said Venzara.
“My family is very supportive and come to all the competitions all over the country, but I’ve come to the realization that some people are never going to get it.”
At work, many of her colleagues are perplexed at the number of meals – and the uninspired menu –Venzara consumes.
“I have to measure all my food,” said Venzara, who relies on the advice of a North Carolina nutrition coach for her caloric intake. “Nutrition is the most important part of training and the hardest.”
She pecks at food six times a day, eating stuff like egg whites, white rice and oatmeal.
“It gets very boring,” she admitted.
Almost every Saturday, she heads home to her parent’s house, where her father typically cooks the extremely lean chicken she will eat the following week.
“If I go out to eat with friends, all I usually have is coffee or tea, but I do allow myself to cheat every once in a while and I’ll have a cheeseburger and dessert at the Cheesecake Factory,” said Venzara.
State-of-the-Art Health Care, the Magic of Disney
Venzara’s working environment is the outstanding Disney-themed Florida Hospital for Children. The facility, which opened last year, blends the magic of Disney “Pixie Dust” with state-of-the-art health care.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful hospital, but working in pediatric intensive care can be pretty rough some days, because you are dealing with children who have had seizures, cardiac arrest or have been in near-drowning incidents,” said Venzara.
“I’ve always wanted to work with children to challenge myself, and this job does test your knowledge.”
Like many nurses, Venzara works three 12-hour shifts, but unlike most of her colleagues, she prefers to take her four days off one at a time instead of in a clump. “It works well with my training,” said Venzara.
Every week, she visits three different Orlando gyms to mix things up. With her Ft. Lauderdale trainer, she practices the acrobatic routine she will use when she participates this fall in two major Florida competitions.
Making the cut at these two events will be critical for Venzara, because the top five contestants will get to go to the Olympia, Venzara’s ultimate goal, a competition that has seen the likes of bodybuilding icons such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and defines the crème de la crème of physique sports including fitness.
“I would like to go to the Olympia in the next year or two,” said Venzara.
Thrill of Being Onstage
When, and if, she eventually leaves fitness competition, she does not plan to depart the gym.
As a birthday gift this year, her parents gave her the classroom materials needed for her to test as a personal trainer accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Venzara acknowledges that the requirements of fitness competition – countless hours working out at the gym and practicing her routine, plus a highly restricted lifestyle – can be tough on a social life.
“It’s hard finding a balance between life and training,” she said.
“I can’t imagine having a family and having to juggle all this. It takes a lot of dedication, but I love the thrill of being onstage. It’s made me a better person.”