By Anita Panda
If there’s anyone who embodies the idea that age is only a number, 64-year-old Swedish grandmother of three Eva Birath fits the bill. At 5’11”, this stunning bodybuilder is accustomed to standing out in a crowd and has no intention of giving up her passion for fitness anytime soon.
Eva first shot to fame at 47, clinching the first place in a local bodybuilding competition in 2003. This led to coverage in myriad Swedish publications, the New York Times and a Swedish television show. She is also an artist with her works displayed at several exhibitions in Sweden and once in Norway.
Born and raised in Gothenburg (also called Göteborg), a seaport town in Sweden, sports and fitness came naturally to her through her family; her parents often took her for skiing in winter and swimming in summer. She began playing volleyball at 12.
“My father taught me that there is a solution to every problem, and from my mother I learnt to cook simple meals at home and to avoid junk food,” says the power-woman.
She met her first husband, a Brit in Saudi Arabia, when working as a nurse in the Middle Eastern country. They had a daughter together, but separated after five years of marriage. Eva moved to London and began working as a model with her baby girl in tow.
Soon, however, despite prestigious assignments and frequent appreances in fashion magazines, she got tired of “feeling like a brainless object” and quit modelling.
She met her second husband many years later in Sweden and re-educated herself to become an architect. She had another child, a son, but began facing health issues at age 35, with hormone problems due to a pituitary tumour. Her second marriage lasted 13 years, and she entered a dark phase of her life soon after, suddenly laid off from her job around the same time.
She sold her house and car, and moved into an apartment. She had no idea what to do next but was told she had a good physique for bodybuilding. So, she signed up for a tournament with scant knowledge of diet, training or poses.
It was unusual for someone to begin bodybuilding at her age and yet, despite the late start in her forties, she competed at the national level and finished first! It was enough to persuade her to commit to her training as an amateur bodybuilder in the Swedish national championships in 2006.
But it wasn’t easy to combat the popular and uncomfortable perceptions about bodybuilders in Sweden. She was even questioned by one of her co-workers if she was on steroids or a lesbian!
Unfazed, she ignored people’s views and stayed on her path of doing what she loved most – training and painting.
“I chalk out concrete goals and make routines to achieve them,” she says. Her children, who are now parents themselves, support her completely.
Her health challenges, however, returned time and again. When she was 50, she got tumours on her parathyroid glands. At 60, she was operated for an abscess in her brain that had given her dizzy spells for over a decade. At 61, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery to remove the tumour and almost 12 inches of her colon.
But she continued training three or four times a week, changed her diet, and says she has now recovered completely.
She advises women to “stay strong, healthy, independent” and cherish their self-respect. “You can’t change other people’s attitudes, only your own. Take yourself seriously and value yourself,” is Eva’s firm belief.
The spunky sexagenarian goes on: “There is no such thing as ageing. It is a myth. Just be bolder and braver. The secret of ageing well is to be the best you can be. Defy all laws of what you should be!”
First published in eShe’s December 2020 issue
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