HACKENSACK, N. J. — It took courage for Hackensack bodybuilder Kenny Kelly to stand on a stage at less than 4 percent body fat among the best in the U.S. for judging.
That was last month at the biggest national competition in Miami, where he placed eighth.
There with him was his girlfriend, Dumont native Krysten Wondrack, who came in 22nd in her class of 50.
Kelly knew that when he came home, though, he'd have to muster up even more courage than he had for the show and pop the question to Wondrack.
The pair now has plans to tie the knot. But before that, they've got one more challenge to face together: earning their IFBB pro cards.
They say they can do it.
"You know that expression, 'If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best?'" Wondrack said.
"Well, we've seen each other at our best and our worst."
Thanks to competing.
But only 20 months ago, Kelly — who works at the HackensackUMC Giants Gym — and Wondrack — a trauma nurse at HackensackUMC — were perfect strangers.
They often surfaced on each other's Instagram feeds but it wasn't until October 2015 that they met in real life at the same show and formed an unbreakable bond.
Kelly, then living in Tomkins Cove, N.Y., and Wondrack drove out to a special bodybuilding gym on Long Island (Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym), both smiling and laughing the entire trip.
Over time, the pair found similarities in background and bodybuilding. For starters, they'd each placed nationally in every show they'd ever done.
They both played the saxophone and, as they spent more time together, they realized that each was just as competitive and goal-oriented as the other.
Wondrack began spending almost every night at Kelly's place, even if it entailed a 55-minute commute back to Bergen the next day for work and graduate school.
As the pair began prepping for more competitions together, they couldn't see themselves doing it without each other again.
Neither could the crowds.
"People cheer for us like they know us," said Kelly, of his and Wondrack's supporters at nationals.
"We definitely have supporters, people who genuinely care how we do and wish us the best of luck, sincerely."
"I think they understand that it's tough to be this compatible in bodybuilding."
Wondrack and Kelly had both dated non-competitors, who couldn't relate to their goals, which made achieving them all the more difficult.
Even their family members don't quite get it.
Dating someone else in the industry isn't a necessity, but it helps, the pair said.
"There will be the people who can't relate, and you'll lose some friends because of that," Wondrack said. "It's part of growing up, and that's OK."
But Kelly doesn't think twice when Wondrack brings her meal-prep bag to a family function. And one doesn't hold grudges when the other snaps on a low-carb day.
"It's a selfish sport because you become obsessed with your self-image," Wondrack said. "Everything is about you — what you're eating, when you get your workout in.
"But having someone who gets it makes it easier."
But Kelly and Wondrack say they bring out the best in each other, on and off the stage.
"Ever since we've started seeing each other, we've just been getting better," Kelly said.
"She pushes me to excel as a person."
Beginning Jan. 2, Kelly and Wondrack will begin a 20-week prep together for their next national show where they hope to earn their pro cards.
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