It was a clear day with a full moon to follow in Orlando, Florida on Halloween. I took a drive down from Jacksonville to meet Iris Davis. Iris is a 76 year old bodybuilding competitor. The #MidFloridaClassic was being held at the Rosen Hotel & Conference center.
Iris & I crossed paths on social media sometime within the last few months. I was inspired by her energy & enthusiasm. My Dad lives in South Carolina, as well as Iris, and I’m guessing that’s why the algorithms worked as they did when I was on social media during one visit there. During the onset of Covid, I was in SC every weekend from Florida seeing family.
Iris is a native of Dublin, Ireland. She was working at a young age of 14 there, in a sewing factory making 1.50 a week. She married at age 17, & later gave birth at age 18. Tragically, her 1st baby died at the age of 2 months of SIDS, (Sudden Infant death syndrome). Her husband was a Trinity college grad, & after the death of their child they moved to the U.K..
She started walking to combat depression & took up lifting weights at age 22. In the U.K. there were no gyms, & only men worked out with weights. Iris started mirroring their workout routines, & now jokes that back then no one (including the men) really knew what they were doing. Nothing was structured into reps or sets, you just showed up at a pit to train.
Her first husband passed away at a young age and Iris moved to the United States from the United Kingdom and became a nanny. It was a job she enjoyed & she moved to California. Most anyone will tell you California is one of the havens of fitness in the US.
Fast forward to age 39 where she would meet her husband Bob in California. He was 23 then. Iris moved back to the U.K. at age 40, and Bob couldn’t stand her absence & flew over to the U.K. to be near Iris. They would later marry and relocate back to California & have been married over 36 years. They now reside in South Carolina.
In California, Iris did a number of things in fitness from walking, lifting weights to running. At age 47, she was bedridden with encephalitis for 2 years. Can you imagine? She emerged stronger than ever, & hit the gym even harder. Why train so hard and stay so dedicated? Iris said she does this to combat depression & uses fitness as her medication. There’s no stigma with needing any medication or counseling, Iris just prefers to train & motivate clients & said that keeps depression away.
In 1994, at age 50, she entered her first bodybuilding competition & placed 2nd. Iris uses no supplements, takes no steroids or body enhancing substances & is all natural. She doesn’t count macros, calories, fat grams or protein grams. Her diet consists of a clean variety of mostly the following items : cabbage, broccoli, sweet potatoes & chicken. She said when she’s being strict, she’ll take all of those ingredients combined, make an enormous portion with a chicken, and eat it everyday. (This reminded me of the late Robert Kennedy, who was a Canadian fitness pioneer that once wrote an editorial on sticking to 7 essential foods when eating clean. Oh how I miss his funny editorials in Oxygen Magazine. Bob’s widow Tosca Reno is still a writer & puts out books on the subject, as well.
For contest prep, there are no cheat meals for Iris. She starts 9 weeks from contest date, eats a solely clean diet & consumes only water. For the #MidFloridaClassic, she started 9 weeks out at 109 pounds, lost a pound a week and weighed in on contest day at 100 lbs.. Iris is 5’1”.
Like many a retired pro athlete, Iris loves to train & does so to the tune of 3-4 hours a day. This includes weight training & cardio, and she runs a personal training studio out of her house & will train along with her clients. This isn’t uncommon, as many retired pro athletes or retirees at Lodgemember.com will train this hard as well. What is unique with Iris is at 76 she does it with a crystal clean diet. Iris mentioned she does high reps and lower weights to stay lean.
She said she was entered in women aged over 40, 50 & 70 in bodybuilding, and only knew those poses. For categories in figure, bikini or wellness, she said she’s unfamiliar with most poses.
I did a quick video before the contest & took a few pictures. While in the lobby, we were greeted by radio personality Lisa Vasquez who came up from St. Petersburg, Florida to interview Iris.
Such an inspiration, & worth the drive to meet her. I laughed more than once at her antics, and look forward to reading about what Iris’ next adventure will be.