Disciplined body and soul

S.C. pastor Rev. Destine Spells embraces holistic wellness while competing in bodybuilders competition

By Jessica Brodie

Some pastors practice self-care by meditating or going on contemplation retreats. Others run marathons.

But for the Rev. Destine Spells, her brand of self-care took her all the way to Richmond, Virginia. There she competed and placed in the 2023 Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Competition, earning first place in her debut and fifth place in the open category.

“It was tough, but I trusted God and said, ‘OK, I can do this,’” Spells said.

Spells, 26, is a supply pastor for the Walterboro Parish, comprising Cumberland and Isaiah United Methodist churches. She has been working out her whole life, inspired and encouraged by her father and siblings, who are all committed heartily to fitness.

When she was younger, she discovered God had blessed her with great physical strength despite her small size. She started working on her strength and found she enjoyed it.

“People would look at me and see a small person and see me lift up something big and heavy and say, ‘Wow!’” Spells said. “I wanted to get stronger to preserve that.”

Still, God called her into the ministry, also, and so she’s had to work hard to balance a passion for fitness with her spiritual path. Currently, she attends Liberty University online, pastors the two-point charge and works at UFLEX Stronghouse, a gym in Charleston.

Working out helps her balance her life in a healthy, positive, disciplined manner, Spells said.

Many people don’t realize fitness has a strong spiritual and mental component, she said, and for her it serves both as a stress reliever and helps her cope with mental health issues, including occasional sadness.

“It’s working out my mind as well as my body, keeping me mentally strong,” Spells said. “It enables me to be able to be busy all the time but still carve out time for myself, have that discipline.”

While Spells has long desired to enter a bodybuilding competition, it was her clergy mentor, the Rev. Angela Ford Nelson, who encouraged Spells to commit to the training last year.

It wasn’t easy. Preparing for a major bodybuilding competition takes discipline and hard work.

Spells worked out every morning five times week for at least an hour and sometimes longer. Then she’d go to work all day, keep up with her courses and schoolwork at Liberty, and pastor the Walterboro Parish every Sunday.

She also put much planning into her nutrition. Bodybuilding at that level required her to eat five meals a day plus drink a gallon of water daily. Many times, she ate the same meal every single day: chicken, rice, and a vegetable.

“My favorites are sweet peas or spinach or turnip greens—got to make sure you get your veggies in!”

She also needed to be sure to take vitamins for her joints, plus a multivitamin and vitamin D, as well as other supplements, such as vegan protein, which was best for her digestive system.

“It was also about listening to my body, figuring out what works for me as far as meats and protein, seafood or red meat.”

During her bulking stage, cardiovascular exercises were off limits, but most of the time, she’d do 15-20 minutes of cardio before lifting, all with the December competition deadline in sight.

Midway through her training, Spells contracted COVID-19 and was concerned she wasn’t going to be able to achieve her goal.

But she took care of herself, got better and stayed on track with her goals, and she decided to do the competition anyway.

“It was all about staying disciplined, following the meal plan and trusting and believing,” Spells said.

She competed Dec. 16 against a number of other bodybuilders, some amateur, some professional.

Her experience was exhilarating.

“It really taught me so much,” Spells said. “Despite mistakes or busyness or whatever, now I know I have the discipline to go forward instead of being stagnant.

“I was really proud of myself.”

It also helped her realize that true fitness isn’t always what we think it is. It’s a holistic effort, much like all things in life.

“When I competed it was about being the strongest and the most flexible,” Spells said. “The biggest person not always the strongest. The biggest person can’t always run. It’s about being someone with that overall aesthetic, not about lifting the heaviest weight.”

Nelson said Spells has inspired her, for in spite of ministry, education and family demands, she not only achieved but exceeded her goal.

“Not only did she compete, but she competed in top form,” Nelson said. “Because of her determination and her willingness to share her fitness journey with me, I have embarked upon my own and am enjoying more energy as a result.”

Spells is taking a break from competing this spring, though she’s still working out and eating healthily. In August, she will consider another show.

To anyone considering a challenging goal like bodybuilding, Spells urges them to remember their “why.”

“Every day you’re not going to eat same thing, or go workout every day. What is your reason?” she said. “My ‘why’ is to better myself overall mentally, physically and emotionally. That’s what I hold onto.”

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