Photo by Casey Withers of C Withers Media Group
Brittany Culp’s nerves settled in as she stepped on the competition stage for the first time in July 2014. She’d practiced posing and walking rigorously with her coach, and for her first Bikini competition, her only goal was to get up there and get it done. All her work and training boiled down to this singular moment, a feat many aspire to, but only the select elite can accomplish.But it wasn’t just the pressure of hundreds of judging eyes on her; Brittany navigated the stage without being able to see.
Born in 1991 with a rare retina disorder involving the loss of cells over time, Texas-native Brittany grew up knowing she’d eventually be blind. She received occasional low-vision training, but the denial and embarrassment she felt about her condition held her back from taking full control. Reality hit during her senior year of high school when her vision had deteriorated so much that she needed to rely on a cane. She knew then that she needed more skills training if she ever wanted to be independent.
In 2009, Brittany spent eight months living in the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, a facility which provides life-skill training to individuals who are losing their sight. Blind-folded for most of the day so she wasn’t able to rely on the sight she had left, Brittany learned to cook, clean, use assistive technology, and travel independently. With her newfound confidence, Brittany was able to attend university as a double major with her first seeing eye dog, Oma.
Settled in school, Brittany became a frequent gym goer. She was able to navigate the weight room after memorizing the layout, enlisting a workout buddy, and feeling for numbers on dumbbells (a note for all you lazy weight organizers: “If a blind girl can rack her weights properly, so can you!”).
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It was during this time she became interested in competing in a local bodybuilding competition in the Bikini category. She hired her first personal trainer, and was fully committed. “I knew it would be something I was either going to do once for the experience, or I’d compete and would have to continue doing it,” she says.
“I won’t stop until I reach my goal of becoming the first blind IFBB Bikini Pro.”
During the summer of 2014, Brittany prepared for the competition, getting her body in top shape, and hiring a posing coach. “I scheduled my first session with him over the phone and at the end of our discussion said, ‘By the way, I’m blind.’ He responded, ‘Shut up! This is going to be so much fun.’ Needless to say, he made me feel welcome immediately.”
She had hopes of finding other blind Bikini-division athletes to get advice from, but at the time, her research turned up empty. But that wasn’t about to discourage her. She came in 14th place and was hungry for more. She continued competing in other shows, never satisfied with her placing. “It’s nice meeting people and hearing their stories, but at the end of the day, I’m a competitor. I attend shows to compete, and nothing less.”
Making the tough decision to switch coaches, Brittany’s ranks started steadily improving on the stage. After taking a year off from competing to focus on pursuing her masters degree, Brittany returned to the stage with a completely different mindset in 2017 for her seventh competition. “I worked harder for that show and felt more positive than I ever have before,” she says. And it all paid off when she won her division at the Texas Cup in Houston and qualified for nationals in Miami. “I won’t stop until I reach my goal of becoming the first blind IFBB Bikini Pro,” she says. “Even then, I’ll have new goals to strive for.”
Today, she’s a sponsored athlete, a licensed professional counselor, a personal trainer in her hometown of Corpus Christi. She also runs an online training business, Blind Fury Fitness. Brittany describes the little sight she has left like “tunnel vision” or looking through a straw, and she has a harder time seeing in the dark or dimly lit places, with only about a five-foot range of sight. But her sight isn’t what defines her. “I’m an athlete who just happens to be blind. Blindness is a characteristic, and it’s a small part of who I am.”