HACKENSACK, N.J. — There's a certain tenacity in Jelena Abbou's eyes as she sips her coffee in the Starbucks at Hackensack's Riverside Square Mall.
The 39-year-old's taut body is clearly one that belongs to a champion -- in this case one who has defeated international fitness competitors, fierce hormonal battles and a tumultuous divorce.
The years of strict dieting and early-morning cardio sessions are long gone for Abbou, who has since appeared in dozens of magazines, fitness campaigns and and advertisements.
But she isn't ready to give it up completely. Instead, she's pairing her knowledge and strength as a personal trainer and coach for other people looking to accomplish all that she has.
"I know what it's like," Abbou said of her younger clients. "I've been there."
The Serbian immigrant has been the only female in the weight room. She was once the one asking her coach question after question.
Abbou, who moved to Fort Lee and Palisades Park almost two decades ago, was once a beginner, too.
"I used to watch ESPN fitness routines and I liked that, but I didn't have a fitness background," said Abbou, who trains herself and clients at facilities in Montvale, Paramus, Englewood Cliffs and Cresskill.
"Then a new [International Fitness and Body Building] figure division came out and I wanted to try that."
That's when it all came together for the then-22-year-old, who flew out to California that year for her first of many photo spreads in "Oxygen" magazine.
Abbou trained herself for her first IFBB competition, calculating her macros to a tee and applying what she knew from lifting back home in Serbia and ESPN workouts to her muscle-building plan.
She bought her first competion suit from TJ-Maxx, something she can say with a smile, and learned her poses from another competitor moments before the show.
Still, Abbou came in fifth place. She went on to earn her IFBB pro card, become a personal trainer and in 2013, Abbou branded herself as the face of M.A.C's "Strength" collection.
Last year, she published "The Real Secrets Revealed" — a book filled with personal nutrition and exercise tips.
Abbou doesn't compete anymore but she makes sure to stay in shape just in case she gets a call for a spontaneous photoshoot — like the one she booked earlier this week for Sunday.
"It's more relaxed now," Abbou said of her diet and life without competitions. "I like helping other people."
- Instagram: @jelenafit
- Facebook: jelena.abou.3
- Email (online coaching/personal training): Jelenafit@gmail.com
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