The bodybuilding community mourns the loss of one of its legendary female bodybuilders who paved the way for others, Tonya Knight.
Cardio was an event when done outside. When she did her "serious" cardio, a typical session was on the stationary bike she kept in her living room. Next to it was a perfectly square tall pedestal table for her belongings - water, TV remote control etc. Tonya Knight searched for days to find this table. She was so proud of her little cardio arrangement at home and that she had found this odd pedestal table that was high enough for the needs; it motivated them to use it I suppose. The outer cardio was a quick walk. But not just any speedwalk, mind you.
As I said, it was an event. A few times a week we would start at her apartment just off Lincoln Blvd in Santa Monica and head south to the Plaza in Marina del Rey - three or four miles each way. There, near the movie theater, was a chicken shop, a well-known bodybuilder hangout called Kook-A-Roo. We would stop there first for chicken. Then to Heidi's for a sugar free/fat free frozen yogurt, then watch a movie (in the afternoon), then walk back. Fast.
At Kook-A-Roo, she always got the white quarter but kept the wing instead of dropping it like many bodybuilders who went there. She pushed herself into the seat and bit into the crunchy (by bodybuilders) most avoided part of the bird and said it was her "cheater," with a hoarse little mischievous giggle in her voice — as if she knew she was something did bad, just like a little kid.
These walks were epic. I had such a hard time keeping up with her. "Light up! This is heart! I'm not slowing down!" This was before her 1991 Ms. International win, which catapulted her into the stratosphere as far as our little world is concerned. It was hard to talk and walk at her pace, but we chatted all the way through Lincoln and back to her about what was going on in our lives. The girl was so busy in her head. She knew what she was about to do wouldn't last forever, so she milked it with all the strength it was worth.
This girl even left the house to take out the trash, it turns out. She always looked like she was doing a photo shoot - hair, makeup, her outfit - all perfect, the entire time. She figured she was lucky that the day she went out in a ball cap and no makeup for a minute would be the day an opportunity would present itself. that it would have mattered; Even with a ball cap and no makeup, this girl was stunning.
These walks in Lincoln were no exception. Have you ever heard the expression, "This girl could cause a traffic accident?" Well, one day she almost did. Right in front of us. The guy stared at her as he sped towards a stopped car and almost ran it over. I'm not saying that to praise her looks, but to say that her looks didn't define her, even though it may appear that way from the outside. How she looked was her job. Tonya - the actual person - was the ever-smiling, innocent kid from Missouri. She was as "girl next door" as you could get. Low key, friendly, humble and just about the sweetest person to ever talk to. And also shy. She spoke to me about dating a guy and had to sit across the room to do it. The first three sentences were total word salad until she got even more nervous. You would look at Tonya and think she wouldn't have a problem with anything. But she only played a superhero on TV.
While Tonya was doing Gladiators I introduced her to my friend John and they got married. She left Gladiators and moved away. I did too. Years passed and we drifted apart. We had spouses and children and divorces…. and we got sick and got better. We've recently reconnected, in the last few years. When she told me she had cancer, I figured she'd get over it too. I had no idea it was that bad. I don't think she did either, at least not to the end. We talked about it and not once did she say, "Why me?" In fact, she said, "Why not me?" A gladiator to the end.
Of all the things we did together, the travels, the trips, the mischief, the workouts, being with her when she was winning Ms. International... It was those long talks on those long walks in Lincoln that made me made it clear that I had a really cool friendship with a very special person. She is an undeniable legend in our industry. A symbol. Someone whose presence was unique and whose contribution was so impressive that Tonya Knight will never die. Always.