Barbie Thomas, armless body builder, surprises and inspires

Barbie Thomas, the competitive body builder who lost both her arms at the age of two, opens up about growing up in a positive home and following her dreams.


Barbie Thomas lost both her arms in an accident involving a power transformer at the age of two.

"They were like charcoal," she writes in her biography on her website, Fitness Unarmed "They were completely dead and had to be amputated at the shoulders."


No one expected her to survive after she climbed off a transformer and burned her arms to the bone, but Thomas is no quitter.

Thirty seven years later, she has become a competitive body builder and model.

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"I was not allowed to be negative and say I can't do something," Thomas said of her childhood, explaining that she was brought up in a positive attitude type of home. "I was always taught to focus on what I can do, not what I can't do. It probably has a lot to do with my personality -- I can't imagine being a negative Nancy all the time."


Thomas, 37, -- who lives in Phoenix with her two sons, aged 13 and 17 -- has learned to use her shoulders as her arms.

In addition to having a beautifully sculptured body, Thomas has figured out a way to do two-minute performances that incorporate dance, cheerleading and gymnastics for her fitness competition.

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"She chose the most difficult division of all," said Miles Nuessle, Arizona chairman of the National Physique Committee.

"We were thinking, 'How can she do that routine?' but she blew our minds," he said. "She was absolutely beautiful. She was on the floor jumping up and doing splits. I don't know what half the moves were called. She was rolling all over the place and shaking it -- sexy, athletic, fun and emotional. The crowd went nuts."

Thomas began competing in 2003, she said that fitness had been a part of her life "forever" and that she was encouraged by a friend to participate in one of the fitness competitions she often read about.

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"In the first few competitions I felt that when they were calling me to go up, in their hands and their manners, they looked at me like, 'What the heck is she doing here?'" she said. "I put their doubts to rest when they saw my fitness routine.


"There are certain routines that you use your hands for that I can do -- I can kip-up," she said. "When you are laying on the ground it looks like you are falling backward and then you come up. Most people use their hands to push themselves up."

Thomas, who clearly thrives on challenges, admits that the reason she keeps going is to prove to herself that she can do anything she sets her mind into. In the end, she's grateful for her life and concedes that things could be a lot worse.

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"I realize it inspires many people, and not just those with physical challenges," she said. "Follow your dreams and keep pushing and where there is a will, there is a way. We all have our own stuff to deal with and our own limitations and handicaps. Mine are just more visible. There's always someone else out there who has it worse."

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