Erica Perna grew up around beauty pageants.
Her grandmother organized them, and Perna sometimes would travel with her, handling scoring sheets and doing whatever she could to help.
But she never entered one.
Tribune Chronicle photo / Andy Gray
Erica Perna of Niles, who has lost 105 pounds since the birth of her son in May 2008, will be featured on the TLC program “How I Lost 100 Lbs.”?She is seen working out on the elliptical machine at Fizek in Niles.
''I was never able to do beauty pageants," she said. ''They would laugh at me and I knew it."
Perna described herself as ''kind of chubby" growing up, and as an adult she did the same yo-yo dieting that is familiar to anyone who has struggled with weight loss.
The birth of her son, Elijah, in May 2008 was a wake-up call in more ways than one.
''Being a parent, I wanted to have the energy to play with my son," she said. ''I wanted to be healthy. Having a child put it into perspective for me."
The bigger jolt, though, came from the number on the doctor's scale after her first post-delivery doctor's visit - 235.
''That was after the baby and the water and everything," Perna said. ''The rest was all me. That was a reality check. He was out of me and I still weighed that."
Perna, 34, set out to transform herself, a journey that is one of four stories that is chronicled in an hour-long documentary that premieres at 10 p.m. Friday on the cable channel TLC. How successful she was is revealed in the title: ''How I Lost 100 Lbs."
Because she had a C-section, Perna had to wait to start exercising, but she immediately started a diet. She added an exercise regimen as soon as she was cleared by her doctor, despite being exhausted from the challenges of being a new parent.
''Some days I'd come to the gym not having slept the night before because I was up with Elijah," she said. ''That's why I started spinning classes, because you could sit down, close your eyes and hold on."
The producers of ''How I Lost 100 Lbs." contacted Perna after they saw her photo on a website. Initially, she was hesitant to commit.
''It was scary at first, sharing my story with so many people that would be watching it, but I realized it might inspire someone who was watching it," she said.
In addition to talking with Perna, the segment features interviews with her husband, Pasquale; her father, Steve Feingold; her personal trainer, Karen Miller; and her doctor, Sanjay Sheth, who diagnosed her with a hiatal hernia that temporarily derailed her workouts.
The director and crew spent four 14-hour days with Perna to produce a segment that runs about 10 minutes.
''It's very time-consuming and exhausting," she said. ''When I see a documentary now, I know what goes into it."
Perna now works out two hours a day six days a week doing a mix of cardio and free weights. The 1994 Niles-McKinley High School graduate has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Toledo and taught there until she decided to move back to the Mahoning Valley to raise her son.
She plans to go back to teaching when her son is old enough for school, but she has parlayed her devotion to fitness into a more flexible career. She has taught classes at Fitness One in McKinley Heights and will start teaching a class this week at Fizek in Niles, and she recently received her personal trainer certification.
And she is less than two months away from completing her ultimate goal - competing in an International Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness Federation event.
''The first day I went into the gym, I knew I wanted to do a competition," Perna said. ''I had that goal. I knew I had to reach a certain weight to stand on that stage. ... I don't want to be bodybuilder huge, but to have that symmetry and definition. I admire the commitment and dedication it takes and the outcome."
The hiatal hernia kept her from competing at her scheduled goal meet, but Perna is training for the Cardinal Classic in Struthers on Sept. 25.
And talking about the event, Perna admitted her desire to compete may be connected with pageants she was shut out of growing up.
''It's kind of a beauty pageant for people with muscles."