Dani Craig isn't your average mom, nor is she your average manicurist. This 41-year-old mother of three and well-respected nail technician is a head-turning, bodybuilding babe who's got determination, strength of will and good attitude wrapped up.
Since her 2009 debut at the National Bodybuilding Championships in Florida (where she placed 15th), Craig has redoubled her efforts to move from amateur to professional standing — a shift she hopes will happen at the Los Angeles Bodybuilding Championships in July.
Ever fantasized about being able to eat seven meals a day? Dani Craig will be the first to tell you it's not as fun as it sounds.
"Everything is about getting the right food in me at the right time," says the bodybuilding mother of three who has been known to excuse herself from giving a professional manicure in order to munch down another meal.
Her current diet is 50 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat — a formula designed to build muscle so she can meet weight-class requirements for a bodybuilding competition this summer.
For optimal competitive edge, Craig's body weight should be between 160 and 170 pounds with body fat between 9 and 12 percent; right now she's at 150 pounds with 9 percent body fat.
"I start at 6 a.m. and then eat every two and a half hours for about 3,200 calories a day," says Craig. Her first daily meal is a shake with oatmeal, low-fat yogurt, banana and protein powder; Craig adds flaxseed oil for the omega-3 fatty acids.
"Meals two, three, four, five and six are all the same," she explains. "That's five ounces of skinless, boneless chicken breast, one and a quarter cups of white rice and one to one and a half cups of steamed greens — my favorite is broccoli, but I also mix in asparagus and Brussels sprouts. And right now, I can use lots of sauces for flavoring — I like soy and barbecue sauce."
Before bed, Craig sips another protein shake, this time without banana. Three times a week, she switches one chicken meal for 8 ounces of steak. Until about four months before competition, she's also allowed a few "cheat meals" each week.
"In the off season, where we are now, I'm a big advocate of 'cheat' meals to keep her mentally OK," says Craig's personal bodybuilding coach, Mike Best. "When you eat the same meals day after day, it gets difficult. So she might have pancakes, eggs, syrup for breakfast, burgers for lunch — and the dirty food actually works really well to spike the metabolism."
Once competition nears, meals change to tilapia, white rice and broccoli for every meal except breakfast (still a protein shake), with no carbs allowed after 3 p.m.
"Some days it's not pretty, and I'm almost gagging to get all my food in," says Craig. "But you've got to feed your muscles when you're working them so hard, breaking them down and building them back up."
The payoff? A body that's incredibly shredded, thin-skinned, cut, ripped, defined and detailed.
"Absolutely sculptural!" declares Craig.
Every moment she's not hanging out with her kids, doing nails or walking her Jack Russell terrier, Macy, Craig is either in intense training or eating one of the seven meals a day needed to boost her weight to competition class.
"My ultimate goal is to get my pro card because I've won all the amateur competitions I can," says Craig, clad in summery aqua and green workout clothes, body jewelry sparkling as brightly as her smile. "That means putting on as much muscle as possible because bigger is better — with symmetry."
Craig's blond head bobs as she picks up her phone and checks a text message from Jason Tonkin, her trainer at Superior Athletic Club in Eagle Point. "I've put on 4 pounds of muscle! Cool! Sweet! That shows that everything is working."
"Everything" is the detailed formula she and her trainers have developed — a custom plan designed to land her on the first-place podium this summer.
"The part I love the most is weight training ... That and getting the trophies — my beautiful ones are all displayed on my mantel," says Craig, who works out on the stairs, treadmill and with weights five days a week. She does early-morning cardio workouts at Superior and does most of her weight training at Oz Fitness on Biddle Road in Medford.
The bodybuilder admits her sport of choice isn't for everybody, calling it a "passion" and something she has an inner need to pursue.
"I didn't really feel like I found myself till I started competing and doing well — it's the thing that put everything together," says Craig, who has been competing for six and a half years. "I guess it's my extreme personality that says if I have to do something halfway, I'm not going to do it at all."
Craig credits her oldest son, Zachery Glanz, with introducing her to weight training. Before that, she had been using a weight-loss and workout program she'd ordered through a television infomercial late one night when she was depressed by how she looked in some vacation photos.
"I was into wrestling in high school, so I was in the gym a lot," says Glanz, now a 21-year-old musician in Medford who regularly escorts his mom to "chick flicks."
"I finally convinced her to start going to the gym with me, and then some people convinced her to do figure competitions because her physique was smaller, more womanly."
Once she won every figure competition she entered in Oregon, Craig started competing and winning in Washington and California, all the while pushing herself to attain more intense goals.
"One day she lost because she was getting bigger, and it got to the point where she either had to start losing muscle or go into bodybuilding," recalls Glanz. "Some friends and I convinced her to go for it, and she's just outstanding, she puts so much dedication into it."
To help her stay on track, Craig works with a personal coach based in Phoenix, Ariz., whom she met at the 2007 Emerald Cup in Seattle.
"Every successful bodybuilder works with somebody else because you're so focused on working out and how you're eating that you need someone to help you," says Mike Best, the current Mr. Arizona, who will be competing with Craig at the Los Angeles championships and nationals this summer, where they both hope to qualify as professional bodybuilders.
"We speak every week, and she sends me all of her body-weight and body-fat numbers and pictures of herself so that we can keep her right on the numbers."
Craig has the perfect blend of will and skill to take her to the top, says Best.
"She trains incredibly hard, and she's got mental toughness — on the bodybuilding and personal levels — and she does it 365 days a year, all through being a mom. She really is somebody I look up to."
Devon Stephenson, who competed with Craig in mixed pairs at the Oregon State Championships and Oregon Iron Man, agrees.
"We won both of the competitions because she made me look so good," says Stephenson, 41, who met Craig in the gym over five years ago. "It was great working with her because she's really motivated and it was so fun to witness her astonishment when she learned all the new things she can do."
These days, Craig and Stephenson spend more time talking on the phone or fishing in Mexico than sharing time in the gym.
"Now she's competing, and I'm getting fatter," he jokes. "But I still keep up, share photos, create a good support network. She's just got such a knack for being good at this."
It's not all green lights as Craig bulks up to meet her new self-imposed challenges; there are times when her mom and her teenage daughter seem to wish she'd adopt a more conventional approach to womanhood.
"The last couple years, since I've gotten the size, they don't like me so muscular," says Craig, recalling the time they gave her a blouse designed to cover up her impressive biceps. "But when I last talked with my daughter, she said, 'Mom, you've gotta go for it.' "
Craig pauses, takes another sip of coffee and looks straight ahead, eyes set on her future. "That was great, but she didn't know that, for me, that means getting bigger."
And as Craig's muscles get bigger, chances are her reputation as one of the West Coast's leading female bodybuilders will, too.