Tosca Reno figures the best way to honour her late husband — fitness guru and publishing magnate Robert Kennedy — is to get her butt back in the gym and “re-enter the world of physique competition.”
So that’s what she’s doing.
“I don’t know if there’s a right and wrong way to grieve,” Reno, 53, says in a candid phone interview with Sun Media. “This feels right for me.”
The well-known Canadian swimsuit model and New York Times bestselling author let her own health fall by the wayside during her husband’s illness earlier this year.
Kennedy, whose successful stable of health and fitness magazines included MuscleMag International and Oxygen, was diagnosed Jan. 7 with lung cancer.
“No one saw that coming,” Reno says. “And it accelerated very, very quickly.”
The man credited with coining the term “hardcore bodybuilding” suffered a stroke Jan. 29.
“He recovered from that,” Reno recalls. “But at that time, we learned there were metastatic tumours in his brain that basically involved his entire brain and it wasn’t very long for him.”
Kennedy died April 12 at the family home in Caledon Hills, north of Toronto. He was 73.
Reno admits she has yet to come to terms with his death.
But her return to the gym has been cathartic.
“I wanted to compete in honour of Robert,” she says. “But I think I needed this more for the structure and a chance to get out of my own head a little bit because the idea of having lost Robert, it was such a shock to me. Bob and I were so close. We did everything together.”
The fitness covergirl and author of 11 books, including the popular Eat-Clean Diet series, has recruited Rita Catolino to help her on her journey.
Catolino, a resident of London, Ont., is a certified personal trainer with GoodLife Fitness, an online coach and fitness model.
“It’s more than an honour. It’s crazy. It’s surreal,” she says of the opportunity to work with Reno.
Of course, both women know they have their work cut out for them as they zero in on the target: the Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest Classic on Oct. 13.
Reno is aiming to earn a first-place trophy in the bikini category of the natural show sanctioned by the Ontario Physique Association and affiliated with the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB).
In about a dozen contests during her competitive career, Reno has always placed in the Top 5, but she has never actually won. Her highest placing was third.
“Against all odds, including advanced age, the fact that I’m going through all of this added stress because of the loss of my husband, and stepping into the role of president at Robert Kennedy Publishing, I want to try to place first or second,” she says. “Is that possible? I don’t know. But we’re going to find out.”
The 5-foot-8 Quebec native and one-time Edmonton resident began her journey late last month at 144 pounds.
She expects to drop 10 pounds by the fall, but the number on the scale isn’t the prime focus.
“It’s about an aesthetic look,” adds Catolino. “It’s what you’re presenting, your package. Do you have the right lines, the right symmetry?”
Reno trained through her husband’s illness, but she says she lacked focus.
“And I lost size because I was very stressed, and eating just wasn’t a priority. In fact, I found it almost impossible to eat most of the time,” she adds. “So when Rita got me, there were some bad habits to undo in the sense that I was really struggling just to eat and sleep properly.”
Reno has made it clear that she wants Catolino to be honest and straight up with her. As she puts it: “Kick my butt, not kiss my butt.”
The two train together once a week. The rest of the time they keep in close contact via email and phone calls.
Reno takes solace in the belief that Kennedy is also watching over her.
“When I’m training by myself in my own gym, I hear him pushing me or I’ll hear him correcting my form in a squat,” she adds. “Or I’ll hear him say, ‘The last reps are the ones that really count. Go hard.’ Things like that.”
She’s in good hands.
Visit toscareno.blogspot.ca to follow along on her journey.
Fast facts about Bob
Robert (Bob) Kennedy
April 18, 1938 – April 12, 2012
* Founder of Robert Kennedy Publishing (RKP), based in Mississauga, Ont.
* Grew up in Norfolk, England, and immigrated to Canada in 1967 — the same year he was crowned France’s Mr. Cannes
* Created MuscleMag in 1974
* Author of more than 55 books, including New York Times bestsellers Hardcore Bodybuilding, Reps!, Rock Hard!, Beef It!, and Pumping Up!
* Father of four daughters and one son
* Featured in this column in September 2008