Growing up, Mauri Peterson was an avid gymnast and surfer who thrived on competition. But around age 10, she began suffering from fainting spells and blackouts. She was misdiagnosed with anxiety and hypoglycemia for several years, but then she experienced a cardiac arrest. An EKG determined she had sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) long QT type 2 — a dysfunction of the heart’s electrical system that causes rapid and irregular heartbeats. Peterson had surgery to implant a defibrillator, which administered a shock to her heart each time it went into arrest.
But perhaps worse for Peterson was the news that came next. “My cardiologists said I could never again participate in physical sports because my heart was unable to sustain a rapid heartbeat,” she says. “I felt sorry for myself and went through a lot of emotional turmoil trying to accept my fate at such a young age.”
Her Heart’s Desire
After high school, Peterson got certified as a personal trainer because she knew her calling was to help others. But even though Peterson had made peace with her diagnosis, she still refused to give up on her own dreams.
“I didn’t want to let my disease define my life or control how I lived,” she says. “So I discussed my desire about competing in fitness with my cardiologists. They had never been up against this disease with someone so young, but they understood that I wouldn’t be fulfilled living a sedentary life.” Together, they devised alternative training options and created a strategic plan that wouldn’t put her at an increased risk: Peterson was to take frequent breaks while lifting weights to control her heart rate and her risk, and while brisk walking was OK, high-intensity interval training was not.
A few years later, Peterson was stable enough to step onstage and win the Miss Muscle Beach 2015 bikini division. “I was in disbelief that I won because it felt like my whole life the world was telling me ‘no’ and that my dream to compete was impossible,” she says. “But here I was, proving it could be done.” She also placed in the top 20 at the 2016 NPC Nationals in Las Vegas.
Because SADS is often genetic, Peterson’s doctors conducted testing on her entire family and discovered that her mother and several of her aunts, uncles and cousins also suffered from the disease and were given defibrillators.
“My No. 1 goal is to bring further awareness to this disease,” says Peterson, whose last cardiac arrest was in 2017. “My mother started a nonprofit, which provides funding to families that cannot afford genetic testing. She is my role model, and I have never met anyone with a bigger heart than her. I love how she has turned this disease into something positive.”
Mauri Peterson/Las Vegas
weight: 130 lb
occupation: Online personal trainer, coach and bikini athlete
Veggie meal: Sweet potato tacos: Fill corn tortillas with sauteed sweet potatoes, cilantro, peppers, garlic, avocado and fresh lime juice.
Coaching mantra: As a society, we need to adopt a mindset of appreciation. Your health on the inside is much more important than how you look on the outside.
Advice: We only get one body and one life, so it’s important to take care of it in the best way possible. Have patience, listen to your body and practice healthy choices.