Face of FITNESS Contest Finalists
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Face of FITNESS Contest Finalists

After sorting through more than 2,000 amazing entries and completing several rounds of "narrowing it down," the judges chose these fit and inspiring women as the 2012-2013 Face of Fitness Contest finalists!

GRAND-PRIZE WINNER: Phylicia Jackson, 27, Los Angeles

Not only did Phylicia score an all-new 2013 Ford Escape, she was in a FITNESS photo shoot! You can see her full-page photo in the "Pulse" section of our May 2013 issue.

A recent fitness accomplishment: Climbing to the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Personal "I Did It!" moment: Catching a wave and managing to stand up on the surfboard -- on my first try, ever! -- at Surfers Paradise in Australia.

A health challenge she's had to overcome: I have endometriosis and have had two major surgeries for it. Both took several months until I could get back to my normal physical endurance, but I'm much stronger now because of what I went through.

Favorite (healthy) things to eat: I LOVE seafood! So grilled fish, veggies, and rice would be my ultimate meal. I love sushi, too!

Favorite workout: Definitely hiking! I just love a good, long trail. I get so distracted by the nature and scenery that I forget that I'm actually getting a really good workout -- but I definitely feel it the next day!

Personal fitness motto: Everyone has their own body type, like a thumbprint. So just be active, eat right, and rock what you've got.

How she influences others to be healthier: I always encourage my friends and family to cook more instead of eating out. I post a lot about healthy recipes and fitness on my blog, Sexy Domestic.

On her fitness bucket list: Hiking Machu Picchu, Snowdonia, Kauai, Thailand...I have so many!

At-home fit buddies: I have two French Bulldogs, a breed highly susceptible to obesity and breathing problems. I love them so much and want them to live long happy lives, so I keep them on a strict diet and make sure they get tons of exercise every day. They even try to do yoga with me in the backyard -- they might be the fittest Frenchies in town!

READERS' CHOICE FINALIST: Melissa Bender, 30, Pittsburgh

Melissa received the most votes from readers and Facebook fans, which netted her an extra $500 (in addition to a weekly $250 prize)!

A recent fitness accomplishment: I just competed in my first NPC bikini competition; I wanted to celebrate turning 30 years old by feeling healthier, happier, and fitter than ever before. I feel better than when I turned 20! I was nervous about getting up on that stage, but I am proud of myself for setting a goal and going after it.

Personal "I Did It!" moment: Getting a medal in my second-ever 5K. (I was never a runner, but I married a very talented runner!) When I first started running, I couldn't go more than two blocks without stopping to walk.

A health challenge she's had to overcome: A few years ago, I found a lump in my breast. The lump was surgically removed and luckily it was not cancer -- but it was one of the most emotionally challenging experiences of my life.

Favorite (healthy) things to eat: Vegetables! Especially eggplant.

Favorite workouts: I love body weight workouts and interval workouts. I love any variation of the plank, Burpees, and core exercises.

Personal fitness motto: You are only limited by the things you think you can't do. Fitness should never be about how you compare to someone else. It's your personal journey, so celebrate every accomplishment along the way.

How she influences others to be healthier: I started a fitness blog when I was in graduate school and it's now surpassed a million views! I have been very blessed in being able to share my workouts on my blog, YouTube channel, and Facebook page. Getting pictures from people who have achieved their goals, or improved their confidence through my workouts have brought tears to my eyes, many times.

On her fitness bucket list: Outdoor rock climbing, run a half-marathon, create a fitness DVD, and run a sub 20-minute 5K. Just to name a few!

Upcoming goal: I want to start an occupational therapy-based life coaching business to help people live fit, functional lives. Fitness means so much more to me than achieving an aesthetic goal. Fitness is about strength, courage, and learning what you are physically and mentally capable of.

Trinity Salazar, 28, Spring Lake, North Carolina

A recent fitness accomplishment: Running my second half-marathon in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2013. It was the first major fitness event since having bilateral hernia surgery in my pelvic area, a few months ago.

Personal "I Did It!" moment: Running my first half-marathon in November of 2012, as a way to honor a friend who I lost to cystic fibrosis.

Favorite (healthy) things to eat: Pretty much anything green is my absolute favorite -- my mom used to call me a little rabbit when I was growing up.

Favorite workouts: Aside from running, I really enjoy kickboxing and hot yoga. Also, because I subscribe to FITNESS on my tablet, I am able to use the video exercises that come along with the subscription each month!

Personal mission statement: I have this one life and the quality of my life is indicative of how well I take care of myself -- physically, mentally, and emotionally. When my mom was on the waiting list to receive her double lung transplant at Duke, I would go with her to her workout sessions. I would look around and see individuals carrying oxygen tanks, all due to illnesses that they could not help. I would think about how I am still perfectly healthy, and I should not take that for granted. I owe it to myself -- and others -- to remember this.

How she stays motivated: When I want to stop running or give up, I usually think about how much worse off I could be. I think about the people who are more than survivors, they are overcomers. I'll think about my mom, or the fight my friend put up before she passed. When I ran my first half marathon, I will never forget how I thinking that my foot was starting to bother me. And right as that thought was becoming louder in my mind, I looked over to see a man fixing music on his iPod; however, when I looked at him in his entirety, he was running with a prosthetic leg. Instantly my mission came back to my mind.

On her fitness bucket list: To run in all 50 states, US territories, and perhaps a few countries! I will tackle Seattle in June and, if I am lucky, Ireland in August. In the meantime, I am looking at running Tennessee and Virginia within the next few months!

Potential professional ambitions: I'll receive my Masters in Social Work in May and currently work at Fort Bragg, for the Join Special Operations Command Social Work Department. I'm humbled and honored to serve the population that allows me to breathe easy because they are willing to give their last breaths for me.

Sunita Goldstein, 43, Foster City, California

A recent fitness accomplishment: I just got certified in Yoga, which is great because it's great to be able to offer that to my students and clients who already take my other classes.

Personal "I Did It" moment: When I switched careers to start my Shapin' with Sunita fitness business, seven years ago, it was a very risky decision. But now I have a thriving business and feel very proud of how far I've come!

A health challenge she's had to overcome: Not long ago, I had two major surgeries done at the same time: a hysterectomy and colon recession. It was one of the most challenging moments of my life. My doctors had to make an urgent decision to have both surgeries at the same time. I've had many side effects since the surgeries and the only way I was able to overcome them was exercising every day.

Favorite (healthy) things to eat: Fruits like papaya, mango, and watermelon.

Personal fitness motto: "A fit healthy self is not ready made, it comes from taking action!"

How she stays motivated: I visualize teaching one of my high-intensity fitness classes with 50 to 60 dedicated students. I imagine hearing the awesome music and how energetic I feel at that moment.

On her fitness bucket list: Trek the Himalayas!

How she's evolved her passions: Before I started my fitness career, I was a first-grade teacher. I eventually put the classroom on hold to raise my twins, but then combined my love of teaching and fitness when I started my Shapin' with Sunita business. As a mother, teacher and fitness instructor, I instill the importance of fitness and a healthy lifestyle to my kids, students, and clients alike -- while keeping the workouts as positive and enjoyable as possible.

Jessica Mason, 27, San Diego

A recent fitness accomplishment: Becoming a personal trainer and then becoming a group exercise instructor!

A personal "I Did It!" moment: Becoming a finalist in this competition :)

A health challenge she's had to overcome: Accepting who I am and the body I have has meant being okay with not being "perfect." I now just strive for the best I can be.

Favorite (healthy) things to eat: Greek yogurt and homemade granola.

Favorite workouts: I love mixing it up: Hiking, swimming, hot yoga, barre, strength training -- it's something new every day!

Personal fitness motto: "You can do it!" and "Get over yourself!"

How she stays motivated: To be totally honest, a lot of my exercise motivation is to be able to eat more and treat myself! Plus, I know that after a workout I will feel more balanced.

How she influences others to be healthier: Being a trainer, I try to give my clients the best knowledge and tools I have. Consistency is key, so I try to instill that in them by texting them constant reminders of what they should be doing!

On her fitness bucket list: Mini-triathlon and skydiving.

What she tells her clients: Being "fit" is so much more than how you look. It's a lifestyle. It's trying to make the best decisions for yourself everyday and fitting that into your schedule. Exercising might not always look and feel as ideal as you might wish, but every little bit adds up to create a fitter you.