If one were asked to describe a superhero, the descriptions that come to mind may include courage, strength, intelligence, dedicated, and even muscular. Many people like Rachelle Cannon look up to superheroes, but if you were to ask her if she could ever become one herself, her answer wouldn’t have been very positive.
“I got picked on a lot for how I looked and not being popular, not wearing the most expensive name-brand clothes,” Cannon confessed.
Deep down, however, Cannon had an idea who she wanted to resemble.
“I was inspired by Wonder Woman because she showed so much other forms of strength and depth, right? It wasn’t just her looks. So I was like, ‘Wow, here’s someone who, even though she’s a fictional character, represents that a woman can be intelligent and physically strong, noble, and fight for justice.”
Fast-forward to today, and Cannon matches the description of what she refers to as a “she-ro” to a T. She is a veteran of the United States Coast Guard as well as an IFBB Pro women’s bodybuilder and physique competitor. As a child, Rachelle Cannon didn’t know that she would grow up to become involved in bodybuilding, but the goal of serving in the military was instilled in her, thanks to her father. Like many who commit to their country, Cannon has multiple members of her family who served.
“My dad was in the Army, he was a Signal Corps officer who served in Vietnam,” Cannon explained. “My grandfather served in World War II in the Army as an optometrist. There was also a distant relative of my dad’s that served in the Coast Guard.”
Destined to serve
The initial passion to serve began with a personal quest to attend a college she felt would challenge her. Her father was a history buff, and took the family on a trip to West Point while Rachelle Cannon was in high school. That family trip had a profound impact on young Rachelle.
“I just remember being so impressed with these pictures of these cadets in uniforms,” she says. “I loved how neat they all looked. I like the appeal that it was a ‘free education,’ and you have that guarantee that you have that job for five years afterward. It was that combo for me.”
Her commitment began with four years as a cadet in the Coast Guard Academy, which was followed by six years of active service in the Coast Guard itself. She was actually the fourth African-American female to ever graduate from the Academy. Many would consider that accomplishment the highlight of a career, but Cannon has an experience that ranks even higher than that.
“The highest of highs was when I was on duty in Portsmouth, and I coordinated a search and rescue effort for a boater lost at sea. The assets I had deployed for the search area my team and I plotted successfully brought the boater home to his wife,” Cannon said proudly. “Shortly thereafter, I received a unexpected handwritten thank-you note from the gentleman’s wife for saving him. To this day I have that note!”
By the time Cannon’s career reached its conclusion, she already knew what she wanted to do next. She wanted to pursue a career in the field of health and wellness. This is also where she was introduced to the sport that she is active in now — bodybuilding.
“The Health Promotion Program Manager billet opened up at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. After attending three extensive training courses, at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, TX, I was inspired to pursue my master’s degree in Health and Fitness Management,” Cannon shared. She would earn that degree and begin her professional career in that field. Today, she works for a Medicaid organization as a Preventative and Wellness Program manager.
As for the competitive side of that pursuit, Rachelle Cannon had competed in 17 competitions to date. She won her pro card in both women’s bodybuilding and women’s physique at the 2019 North Americans in Pittsburgh, PA. Cannon admitted to dealing with body-image issues in her younger years, but now she embraces the way she looks. She is even known in some circles as the “Queen of Quads.”
“I used to work at a gym that’s no longer in existence as a personal trainer,” she says. “One of the other trainers, who could’ve competed himself but never did, saw my quads and said, ‘You’re the queen of quads!’ As independent contractors, we had to market ourselves. He said, ‘That’s what I think you should do.’ So, I did.”
Cannon confesses that her shorter stature comes with having better muscle bellies, but those quads, as well as the rest of her physique, are thanks to years of tap dancing, jazz, ballet, swimming, track, and numerous competitive outlets she was involved with as a kid. While she brought her own gifts to the table, she credits the eight-time Ms. Olympia Lenda Murray as a mentor of hers in her bodybuilding journey. She also looked up to another Olympia women’s icon, Carla Dunlap.
“I saw ‘Pumping Iron 2,’ and I looked up to her and Rachel McLish, who looked like Wonder Woman with her dark hair,” she said. “I did synchronized swimming, and they had footage of Carla doing that. For me to see a woman of color do synchronized swimming was rare, and she was a bodybuilder. I went to an event that I knew she was going to be at, so I brought my DVD copy for her to sign.”
Fit for the future
Cannon isn’t sure when she herself will compete next, but she knows that there are girls out there that will see her the way she saw Dunlap, and she wants to share a positive message for those that aspire to achieve their own greatness, but may be faced with negativity along the way.
“Distance yourself from the negative energy, take time, even if it’s five minutes a week or a day, to sit in silence with yourself. Think about what you want in your heart and head. Also, seek out mentors that have experience under their belts and are willing to help her to draw her own conclusions as well as be available to bounce ideas off of. Follow what’s in your heart.”
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