When Raquel Renda found herself immobilized after an inexplicable episode, the only thing that managed to move her muscles, was her mind.

Original Publication: Strong Fitness
Written by Kathryn Lekas, Editor-in-Chief
Photography by Paul Buceta
Hair & Makeup by Monica Kalra

Staring up at the ceiling unable to move anything but her eyes without excruciating pain, for the fourth week in a row, Raquel Renda told herself, this wouldn’t be it. This couldn’t be. “I knew I wasn’t going out like that,” says Raquel. “I was not going to live that way, so I asked myself, how can I move forward?”

It was something she had to ask herself again and again after the strange experience that changed the trajectory of her life. 

Last year, when Raquel had been walking on a day like no other, she had some trouble physically. And that trouble quickly turned into trauma. “It was true agony,” shares Raquel. “It would take 30 minutes just to move a couple of steps.” She then spent weeks bed-ridden, unable to move any parts of her body without pain. She laid flat to shower. 

Doctors couldn’t seem to diagnose her. Could it have been viral? Did COVID trigger Lyme, which Raquel had experienced? Was it her nervous system?

“The not knowing only amplified all of the physical pain I felt,” explains Raquel. “What I was experiencing didn’t have a clear label, and so, no scientific solution. Prescription medications didn’t work. Muscle relaxers didn’t work. Steroids didn’t work.” The ambiguity sent her down a path of self-reflection. “I couldn’t even breath without agony. Nothing was helping my body to move. I started to wonder if my nervous system had taken a hit from stress in my life. I wondered if God was telling me I was on the wrong path, and this was a way of repositioning me,” shares Raquel. 

Determined to save herself, she dove into anything she could to heal: physical therapy, pelvic floor therapy, functional medicine… acupuncture, lymphatic drainage, dry needling, energy healing… But still, nothing helped. 

“I spent the first four weeks of being immobile in despair,” says Raquel. “I was in such shock.” But eventually came that day, staring up at the ceiling, when she could feel a shift from within.

“It just hit me, lying there—this was was not my story. Staying like this,” says Raquel. “My inner voice told me to move. We are built to move. I knew I had the ability to work through the trauma with my physicality as a foundation but also with the power of my will and mind.”

So she did. 

“I realized that whatever this change was, even if it hurt, even if I didn’t want any of it , I had to trust it. It was what my body needed, what my life needed. I had blind faith in that.”

“It changed what I thought strong was.
What weight training and bodybuilding are for…”

And once her mind shifted, her muscles followed. Slowly. For months, Raquel read about neurological reset, neurofeedback training, and continued working with counsellors to process her trauma. She worked with physical experts/therapists, and energy healers to work through the physical pain and obstacles. Acupuncture began to have a noticeable effect on her nervous system, unraveling it from a frozen state of shock. 

Although she often felt like as she took one step forward, she took a thousand back, Raquel persevered. “I felt like Humpty Dumpty, working with all of these experts trying to help put me back together,” she admits, “but I stuck with it and started to move my arms and my upper body.” With time, she worked through her whole body. 

To look at her now, you would never know Raquel ever experienced such an ordeal. A testimony to how far she has come; a transformation she now embodies. 

“It was a real blow to my foundation of what I thought was important in life,” she says. “It changed what I thought strong was. What weight training and bodybuilding is for—there’s so much depth to it. I’m now grateful for any type of movement.”

With a focus on functional movement and stability, Raquel is now using her experience to help other women prioritize strength training because she believes having this strong foundation equips women with the ability to handle trauma. But more than that, Raquel says, “All women deserve a strong foundation to live our best and most fulfilling lives. Through the strength of my body and my will, I transformed my trauma into an empowered life story I am proud to share, and I am now grateful to help other women create their own transformation stories for themselves.”