PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Toni Soto may have cerebral palsy, but she doesn't let those obstacles keep her from following her dreams. She's living proof that courage and determination go a long way toward achieving the seemingly impossible.
When Toni walks through the door at Top Guns Gym in Pass Christian, her trainers know she means business. The 31-year-old is striving to be in the best shape possible, despite the fact that she struggles with the effects of cerebral palsy every day.
"It affects me with mostly with my walking and my balance," Toni said.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. It is usually caused by brain damage that happens before or during a baby's birth. Toni was diagnosed with CP shortly after her first birthday.
"I didn't hit the milestone of walking at a year like most children and my family noticed I was unusually stiff in my movements," she said.
Living with CP has never been easy. Toni said it was especially challenging during her childhood.
She explained, "It was a little difficult coming into my own. People did not understand why I walked the way I did. I got teased and made fun of. That was very hard for me when I was trying to always be kind."
She worked hard to stay positive and always do her best.
"I've always strived to be the very best person. My parents instilled that in me at a young age," she noted. "They were definitely a driving force."
That foundation and support from family have only strengthened her.
"They set the foundation for who I am and how I handle obstacles and situations. They are the ones who said you can do anything anyone else does. You just may have to go about it differently. It doesn't matter how you get there just that you finish," she said.
Toni has a determination her trainers say is beyond inspirational. Clark Henegan, the owner of Top Guns gym, says, "As soon as she walks in that door, that smile lights up the room. Watching her has inspired me to be better."
Her personal trainer Ed White says her dedication is unwavering. "The attention she gives to her exercise is amazing. I can be having a bad day and I look at what she has to go through every day and think my problems aren't so bad," said White.
She never stops challenging herself. Her latest passion is taking her fitness path to a new level. It started about a year ago when she went to an NPC bikini division contest. Toni was impressed with the fitness level of the women on stage.
"I was looking at all these women in their bikinis and they were in their best shape. And in the back of my mind, I'd been looking for something in the fitness world to challenge me and take me to the next level."
Now, Toni is training harder than she ever has before. Reaching goals she thought were impossible.
"Once she started seeing what she could do these fear factors she had started decreasing," White said. "We're doing things now she never could've imagined. Sometimes she gets emotional doing things she never thought she would do in her lifetime."
Toni is competing and winning in so many ways. "I'm more fit, I have more energy, and my walking has improved significantly," she explained.
She's currently preparing to compete in the NPC Battle on the Gulf Coast has no plans to slow down. Toni declared, "I just want to see how far I can push myself, to give the best package I can deliver."
Toni's next competition is June 16 at the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi.