Her body has yet to acquire the likeness of a statue, but the self-proclaimed Greek body-building goddess of Signal Hill envisions the day it will.
Fortified with motivation and 2,000 calories a day, Stella Keriotis lifts weights and waits for her muscles to become as developed as her dreams.
"I want to be the best in the sport," Keriotis said at a recent Pro Muscle Management Inc. body-building camp at Loyola Marymount University, where she went by the name Stella Starr.
"My name means star in Gweek, " she explained in a voice tinged by many years in New York City. "With that name I can become that star I want to be. Plus, it's very catchy, you know."
Wearing a leopard bodysuit over a pink bikini, Keriotis sat in the skylighted Loyola gym full of barbells and black-and-white exercise machines.
To enlarge her back muscles, she strained to pull a bar down behind her head. Her teeth clenched. Her long-lashed, painted eyelids shut.
Then she rested, looking at a page in Ironman magazine on which Ms. Olympia, Cory Everson, was depicted in a pose of sculptured perfection.
"I want to surpass her physique," Keriotis said. "I visualize being as good as her or maybe even better."
Born 26 years ago in Montreal to Greek parents, Keriotis grew up in Brooklyn, N. Y., but only to 4 feet 10 3/4 inches, a height she is determined will not hinder her ambitions.
"I tell everyone I want to be Ms. Olympia, and guys laugh at me, 'Yeah, right,' they see this little girl. . . .," she said. "I'm not going to let them discourage me. My motto is, 'If you can dream it, you can achieve it; if you can imagine it, you can become it.' That's how I live life."
Keriotis was introduced to body-building when she was 17. "The next day I was so sore, I was crying," she recalled. "I never knew I had all these muscles. The power I felt in training that one day was an incredible feeling. It was in my blood after that."
In 1981, at age 20, she won the Ms. Brooklyn contest.
Snapshots she brought to the body-building camp showed her at that time in her classical Greek pose, but with dark hair and an indoor pallor. Since coming to California a year and a half ago, she has become blonde and tan.
Mecca of Body-Building
"I came here to become a professional body-builder," she said. "I wanted to be in that atmosphere, be around the winners. I went to Gold's Gym in Venice and I saw all these big guys with these beautiful physiques. This is the mecca of body-building; you can feel body-building here. The gyms (in New York) are just not that inspiring. You have a lot of good body-builders but the best are over here."
One of the best, Tom Platz, was the instructor at the Loyola camp, and Keriotis clung to his every word.
"In many ways, I'm like him," she said of the former Mr. Universe. "He's very emotional and wanted to be somebody unique. I asked him, 'Is it wrong to visualize having the best physique in the world, is that silly?' He said, 'No, it's not, you have a great sense of awareness.' That made me feel special."
Between sessions at the camp, Platz said of Keriotis: "A lot of her ideas are far advanced of the normal amateur body-builder." He said she has a chance to excel in the sport if she learns not to get frustrated too easily.
However, because of injuries, frustration has been hard for Keriotis to avoid.
She had a shoulder operation in 1985 and suffered a back injury last fall when the bus she was riding in was hit by a truck.
"I have to be careful when I work out," she said. "My body's very fragile now, and I'm frustrated that I might not be able to train as hard as I used to."
The bus accident forced Keriotis to quit her job as a secretary and cost her her musculature.
"I never thought even I would walk again," she said. "I was crying a lot."
But through therapy she has recovered sufficiently to train again and has regained her incentive.
Mistakes in Nutrition
"I want to learn as much as I can about training and nutrition," said Keriotis, who cleaned houses to raise part of the $525 camp fee. "I made a lot of mistakes in the past because of lack of knowledge about training. I would eat too much or too little. My muscles were not properly nutritioned."
Pointing toward next April and the Southern California Body-Building Championships, Keriotis works out two hours a day, five days a week, trying to increase her 105-pound weight.
"I want to go on stage and I want to be a girl, but I want to have a man's body," she said. "I want to come across powerful but sexy. I still want to be feminine and graceful."
She said she is prepared to take steroids. "I'm not for them, but to compete you have to take them."
A notebook Keriotis brought to the camp contained, besides muscle charts and workout schedules, poems and verses she has written. Among them:
Failure is a word which never entered her mind,
and only success could be seen
in her eyes, when the day finally came when
she was known as the Greek body-building goddess.
Many of her notebook notations are religious.