Shenai Johnson of Beaufort gives new meaning to the strength of motherhood.
She is the mother of two active boys, ages 9 and 5.
She was a military wife for six years when husband Jason served in the Marine Corps. She's a first responder's wife now that he is a firefighter at U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
She works full time at the Dore Law Firm on Lady's Island.
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She's a few weeks short of earning a bachelor's degree online.
Her family is active at the Bethesda Christian Fellowship church on St. Helena Island, where she will spend Mother's Day.
But then there's this. Even though you wouldn't know it sitting down to talk to her, this mother is ripped.
She's ripped with the rippling muscles of a competitive bodybuilder.
She has even dared to pose in a bikini under bright lights before a group of judges and a room full of people.
"It's really hard," she said. "You have to stay focused."
She keeps her family focused with schedules and a calendar on the refrigerator at their home in Laurel Bay.
She drops the third-grader off at Mossy Oaks Elementary School at 7:45 a.m., then takes the 5-year-old to preschool at the Wardle Family YMCA of Beaufort County in Port Royal.
She works out there every weekday morning until it's time to change and head to work.
She gathers strength from this quotation on her Instagram feed:
"I'm not telling you it is going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it."
'That lady look'
Shenai ran sprints for the Dunbar High School track team growing up in Baltimore. She even went into the school weight room sometimes to out-pump some of the boys.
"I was competitive," she said. "It was just to show off."
But it was her husband who got her into bodybuilding. It's a hobby they share.
"I saw him and I said, 'I'm going to try to get that body.' "
She went to a competition with him and said, "I wanted to look like those figure ladies. I wanted to get really toned."
She started working out with Aisha Davidson at a gym on Parris Island. That was in August 2016.
She ventured onstage in March 2017, and again that May. She plans to compete this August in Charleston.
She's in what she calls a middle division, where the women are not bulging with muscles.
"I don't want to get real big, to lose that lady look," she said.
She eats six meals a day for a total right now of 3,500 calories. It's protein, carbs and a lot of green vegetables and vitamins.
The weeks just prior to a show are the hardest.
"It's stressful," she said. "Your calories are low. Your energy level is low, so my patience is low."
'See it through'
But patience is what Johnson learned most from her own mother, a nurse and pastor in Baltimore.
Shenai is the oldest of three girls, a ponytailed tomboy until about 10th grade, when boys started calling.
"My mother is awesome," she said. "She took care of the girls, home and work."
Her mother's patience is reflected in another quotation that fuels Shenai:
"Until God opens the next door, praise him in the hallway."
Bodybuilding takes a lot out of her, but it gives her a lot as well.
"You'll get better. You'll look better. You'll feel better. You'll have more energy. You can focus better."
She'll soon pour some of that energy into a master's degree in developmental counseling.
She'll pour energy into the husband she met at a Baltimore swimming pool when he was a lifeguard.
A year after they married, Jason joined the Marine Corps. "I was heartbroken," she said, "but wanted to support him." She wrote love letters to the Parris Island boot camp. He named his rifle for her.
She'll pour a lot of that new energy into the boys, both born at Beaufort Memorial Hospital in a lovely place they call home.
She tells the boys that if they eat their vegetables they'll get strong. They take a bite and pump up their muscles like little Popeyes.
And, maybe later, this mother of literal strength will tell the boys — or show them — what she told me:
"Consistency is important to anything you do. If you don't want to stick it out, you will fail. If you say you'll finish it later, it never gets done. Keep sticking to it. See it through."