Lauren Antonenko and Mick Sippell.
Lauren Antonenko and Mick Sippell. Cordell Richardson

Ipswich influencer proves beauty comes from within

ON the outside, she has it all.

She's super fit, a successful business owner, drives a fancy car, is a bikini model, happily married and a previous winner of the Ipswich Chamber of Commerce's Young Business Person of the Year.

But behind the person you see today is a woman who has a list of health issues that have plagued her since she was a kid. She's even been through the gut wrenching pain of losing the man she loved after a long battle with depression.

The definition of a champion is not how you win, but how you get back up when life knocks you down.

Despite life trying to knock her down, she's got back up every time, and is now on a mission to help other people be the best they can be.

Meet Lauren Antonenko, an Ipswich woman who decided to draw a line in the sand one day, and at 33, is now focussed on being healthy, strong and happy.

Here in her own words Lauren shares the story of her life, with all the ups, and the many downs.

Despite playing state level basketball and representing my school at regional level in a variety of athletic pursuits, I struggled to fit in and was always teased at school for having a big bum. Subsequently, I've despised my body, battled depression and low self-esteem most of my life.

Growing up, I was always known as the 'smart' kid and I found it challenging to make new friends. I yearned for validation from my peers. I loved dance and drama and threw myself into musical theatre as a way of escaping the reality of my awkward youth. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with ADD and prescribed anti-depressants to help me cope and up to 22 years of age I always weighed around 52kg.

This just seemed like it was the weight my body was comfortable with and wasn't fit but I wasn't fat so I was unmotivated to exercise and just sort of went sideways through life.

Half way through studying my university degree, (in Information Technology...I changed degrees many times) and not long after meeting the man who would become my first husband, I fell very ill and started unintentionally losing weight rapidly. I was living a very unsustainable lifestyle - drinking, partying, sleeping all day and making poor food choices. I was hospitalised and diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and I dropped to 42kg. I was put on an aggressive steroid medication for over 6 months and my weight jumped, up to 62kg. Soon after, I was also diagnosed with a tumour on my pituitary gland and multiple ovarian cysts, so went on further medication.

I deferred my studies and tried to get on top of my health. I was unable to get out of bed most mornings and my depression increased. I spent a lot of time and money with doctors and specialists, who diagnosed me with everything from glandular fever, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, Pyrolle Disorder and adrenal fatigue.

I developed an intolerance to gluten and dairy and started to eat gluten-free foods, only to develop a sugar addiction for 2 years because I didn't understand that when they took gluten out of food they typically added sugar to compensate for taste!

Life was very challenging and if it had not been for the support of my husband Brian, I'm not certain that I would have made it through this uncertain and stressful period of my life.

Lauren Antonenko
Lauren Antonenko

Thanks to regular medication, my Ulcerative Colitis went into remission for about 2 years. I educated myself about nutrition, started making better choices with food, and got my self back on track with my wellness. I weaned myself of my medications, started a business, got married, finished my degree and went back to my usual weight of 52kg. My Colitis flared up regularly but I was able to manage it quite well by following a very plain but limited diet, abstaining from gluten, dairy and added sugars. I started attending Zumba at my local PCYC and it was enough to keep me reasonably healthy. My body lacked any muscle definition and I was basically just thin and skinny. I still really wasn't confident in my own flesh. I was still quite pear-shaped and flat-chested so I found it very frustrating to buy nice clothes.

On the 4th January 2014, I woke up on the first day that my gym was open for the year and made a last minute decision that morning that I was going to start weight training. Over the next month I attended my gym 3 days per week, and as the months progressed, I increased my frequency and diversity of exercises. I also started going to Pilates. Later that year I had a rhinoplasty to help boost my self confidence (plus I needed a nose operation anyway to straighten my septum!). I decided to teach Zumba and became the instructor at my club. I was getting stronger everyday and soon I noticed my body changing shape. Brian was such a fitness inspiration and he motivated me to try harder. Over the next 2 years my lower body went from a size 14 to a size 8. I progressed to training 4 days per week with my husband and it was great.

In 2015 I became a Pilates instructor and commenced my Cert III in Fitness. Unfortunately, my new found confidence interfered with my relationship and my husband and I temporarily separated so we could focus on improving ourselves. We became best friends and spoke everyday, supporting each other on our individual journeys to authenticity.

In March 2016, my aspiring Muscle Model husband, Brian, committed suicide. It was the worst day of my life and changed my life changed forever.

Despite being so young, fit and healthy, with a body that was the envy of his peers, he had suffered from depression. As a male, he found it challenging to talk about his mental health issues with his friends and family. I was his go-to person - his coping mechanism - but I, alone, wasn't enough. For weeks, I felt empty and lifeless. My husband had always told me I was beautiful and that I could do anything. He told me in times of stress he isolated himself, and he didn't like to talk about it. He felt ashamed about suffering depression. He worked in the disability sector and met so many people worse off than him, and things have now come a long way. He was like an angel amongst humans.

He told me a couple of weeks before he died that I should compete in some bikini competitions because my body had come so far. At the time, I didn't believe him or believe in myself, but after he died, I made it my mission to not only live on his legacy, but paved my own path to happiness using every beautiful and amazing gift of wisdom and advice he had given me. To channel my grief, I embarked on a journey of self-love, but in a different way.

Just over a year later, having just turned 32, I entered my very first bikini show, with absolutely no idea what I was doing but with an intention to just have a go and own my space as a confident woman with a mission to inspire. I weighed in at 54kg and was happy with how my body looked and felt.

Lauren Antonenko
Lauren Antonenko

In July 2017, I remarried in Las Vegas when my boyfriend proposed to me only one week prior while we were travelling in New Zealand and it was such an amazing experience.

We eloped without telling our friends and family and subsequently, people did not understand how I could move on so soon after my first husband's death. To me, it was an emotional priority to move on with my life because no amount of tears or wishing could bring Brian back.

This time was quite a challenge for me because I lost every single childhood friend who could not relate to the way I engaged with my new life. This experience forced me to end relationships with friends and family that were simply hanging on by history. I created new friendships by rising to a greater energy and connecting with people who understood me.

I am so grateful for every single moment I have been given in my life so far and no matter what happens on stage or in other aspects of my life, I will always be a winner because of the journey that has taken me to where I am today. The legacy Brian has left has made me realise I can do anything because I am strong, brave, beautiful, authentic, wholesome and enough. The competitions give me a goal, a way to channel my competitive nature.

You are the only person who is in charge of your life.