After years of hard work, preparation and training, Mary Eva Simmons has earned her International Federation of Body Building professional card. Competing in the Women's Physique Division at 125 pounds, the 5-foot-5 Simmons achieved the feat when she recently captured both her class and the overall championship at the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) IFBB Nationals.

Simmons is believed to be Helena's first-ever IFBB pro bodybuilder.

"I prepared to beat the top person, so yes I planned to win it; announced it publicly (in May) and have been training specifically to do that since 2011," answered Simmons, when asked if she thought she had a chance of winning beforehand. "We left no stone unturned and the judges said I blew them away with my glute leg shots. I knew that's what wins shows for the ladies, so the last three years I'd been hammering lower body to make sure it was game over when I turned around (back poses).

"My coach, IFBB pro bodybuilder Abbas Khatami, told me I was ready. We were not playing games -- it's an expensive sport and takes a lot of dedication, and is frankly painful to be on size like that. So yes, all intentions were to win. I wouldn't have gone if I didn't know that it was my time."

Simmons, 42, first started lifting weights as a teenager growing up in Utah. At 18, she won the Western States Natural Body Building Contest. In 1996, she competed in her first International Bodybuilding Association (INBA) contest.

She then had a Top 3 placing at a pro INBA show, receiving her pro card in 1999.

After a brief retirement from competition and relocating to Helena in the early 2000s, Simmons went back on stage and placed runner-up in the figures divisions at the 2009 Emerald Cup NPC Bodybuilding and Fitness Expo.

Next, while training in Colorado, at the 2011 USA Nationals, she finished in the Top 15 among 800 competitors.

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She then began working for her IFBB pro card. She also returned to Helena earlier this year, opening her own gym, The Fitness Factory.

Simmons said she had her moments getting ready for Pittsburgh, "There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears ... but I had a whole community behind me, and my coach is a lifelong friend" who has helped others at her level turn pro.

"Abbas wakes me up at night to eat based upon how I'm looking the night before the show ... it's a very precise science," related the mother of two teenagers. "And my boyfriend, Brandon Dulaney, surprised me and showed up in Pittsburgh at 2:30 a.m. the day of the contest. He was on call for fires, so didn't know if he would make it. He's very helpful and puts me at ease.

"As always, I'm thankful to the man upstairs, and promise to him is to keep helping others achieve their goals and improve their health. And now it's time for me to set another goal."

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