ELOY — An amateur bodybuilder who grew up in Eloy is in the final round of a nationwide fitness competition that could win her $20,000 and a major magazine photo spread.

Anna Solis, a 1998 Santa Cruz Valley Union High School graduate and a recruiter in the Air National Guard in Tucson, is among the top 30 finalists in the Ms. Health & Fitness 2019 competition sponsored by “Muscle and Fitness Hers Magazine.”

Online voting ends July 3 and Solis is currently in first place.

“This competition means the world to me,” Solis said. “It’s something I’ve worked so hard for.”

If Solis wins the competition, she hopes to use the money to write a book about overcoming obstacles.

“I like to use my story to inspire others to not give up even when they’ve lost faith,” she said.

Solis, 38, struggled in her younger years, but fitness and the military changed the course of her life.

“I was a young single mom and receiving benefits when a case worker called me ‘just another statistic.’ I didn’t even really know what that meant, but it really bothered me. No one believed in me. Even members of my own family didn’t believe in me,” Solis said.

Hoping to better her life, she enrolled in college.

“Walking into Pima Community College the day I enrolled was one of the most intimidating things I ever did. I walked in the building and didn’t even know where to go,” she said.

Solis studied microbiology, earned a degree and then, at age 30, joined the U.S. Air Force.

“I was a military police officer in the Air Force,” she said. “I always wanted to serve my country and when I had the chance to do it, I did.”

While deployed to Kuwait in 2016, she started exercising and bodybuilding to socialize and pass the time.

“I had worked out off and on over the years, but this time, when I got back home, I wanted to keep at it,” she said.

She decided to enter an amateur bodybuilding competition and convinced her oldest daughter, who was turning 18, to join with her.

“I wanted to help her with her self-confidence, so we both entered,” Solis said. “My daughter went on to win her division and even though I didn’t win, it felt so good to see my daughter win.”

Last year, Solis entered three categories in the Dennis James Classic bodybuilding competition in Mesa and finished second in the open category and fifth in the novice event.

“I also entered the 35 and older division and didn’t place, but I was so nervous for that one. These judges judge you from head to toe and I had nerves and jitters,” she said.

Solis’ next goal is to achieve professional level as a bodybuilder and attain a pro card for competitions.

When she’s working to achieve a fitness, academic, work or personal goal, Solis often reflects on the lessons learned as a teen boxing in Eloy.

“I did boxing for 11 years and I hated it, but now that I’m an adult I think back to what I learned in the boxing ring because it’s a good analogy for life,” she said. “Every day you wake up and enter the ring of life and sometimes you get knocked down. At those times, you have to decide if you’re going to stay down for the full eight seconds or get back up and keep fighting.”

Throughout her teen and young adult years, Solis often exercised and tried to be healthy.

“But I wasn’t there emotionally,” she said. “As a teen I was so angry and then as a young single mother, I had a lot of stress. But now fitness is my outlet. It’s a way for me to decompress and realign my moral compass and help others.”

Solis transitioned to the Air National Guard a few years ago. She’s often asked to give motivational talks to young people, focusing on how to achieve a healthy lifestyle that combines good nutrition with fitness and emotional well-being.

“This healthy lifestyle is a learning process but it begins with simple steps,” she said. “You have to approach it like a child learning to walk. When a baby is learning to walk, they stumble and they fall a lot. But when they fall they don’t give up and say ‘walking isn’t for me.’ They get back up, smile and try again and eventually they get the hang of it.”

Fitness magazines sometimes discourage average people from trying to achieve goals, she said, because the photos tend to be of professional models or athletes.

“People look at these pictures and think they can’t do it,” she said. “But this competition is different.”

Although an amateur, the winner of the Ms. Health & Fitness 2019 competition will have a professional photo shoot published in “Muscle and Fitness Hers Magazine.”

“In this photo shoot, it’s a regular person, not a pro that’s pictured,” Solis said. “That can inspire people and that’s what I want my story to do. I want people to see me and hear my story and realize that they can do it too.”

To cast an online vote for Solis, visit her competition page at https://mshealthandfitness.com/2019/anna-solis.