Donna Salib is a well-accomplished IFBB pro, Olympia qualified, bodybuilder living just outside of Louisville, KY, where, as she says, “we are known for our bourbon and horses.”
A look over her bio will find items such as: retired paramedic/ firefighter, personal trainer, prep coach, certified strength and conditioning coach and ambassador to charities such as Active Heroes (military veterans and their families) and Hannah’s Care Packages. Clearly this is someone who’s interested in helping people. To find such a selfless person in a sport dedicated to selfishness is quite refreshing.
While earning her IFBB pro card at the 2017 North Americans, and winning the KY State Open Women’s Champion, and earning a Michael Soong’s all time historic world record in raw powerlifting are pretty cool to have on your résumé, Salib is also one of those Olympia-bound bodybuilders whose career has spanned the now infamous Ms. Olympia hiatus.
The nearly four years that the Ms. Olympia lay restlessly in her grave was a significant epoch for several of the ladies whose careers, were disrupted. To this day, it’s impossible to ge around the fact that they actually dropped the top women’s event in bodybuilding history in the name of greed. Argue all you want, but that’s what it was — greed. It certainly wasn’t out of reverence for the office of Ms. O.
It’s hard to place an actual label on this group of ladies whose sights were set on the Olympia prior to its stoppage in 2015, kept the fire burning during its hiatus, and got back in the race when the Ms. O finally came back, but suffice it to say that they personified the “Rising Phoenix” competition that held the spot open while the grand dame of women’s bodybuilding rested.
In 2019, Jake Wood and his team brought back the Ms. O and put the brass ring back up within reach. Donna Salib is one of those ladies who was reaching for it when the O perished and is reaching for it again now that Ms. O got back up on her feet. That, in and of itself, is a great story. But, there’s way more to Ms. Salib than her impressive accomplishments and her return to the fight for the post hiatus Ms. Olympia. The coolest of which, and least talked about, is her role as a pro wrestler on TV!
“Coolest” is, of course, indicative of what I think of wrestling, particularly because of how it created “somewhere for bodybuilders to go.” While you may dismiss it as something cheesy, finding out that Salib is actually Ms. Marvelous — wife and valet to Mr. Marvelous, aka Melvin Maximus — your ears would perk up.
How did you get into Pro Wrestling?
It started with Ohio Valley Wrestling.
*[Note: At one point, OVW was one of the incubators of the WWE, launching the careers of several WWE Superstars, including Bautista and John Cena. Later, OVW became the developmental territory for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (or TNA)].
My husband Hany had been wrestling for awhile and he was a bodybuilder too. I always wanted to be involved with him. So I’d go with him to all the events. People started telling me I should do something with him. We started playing around with some things, then I thought, oh my word this is fun!
What was your act?
I started as his valet [manager]. He was really flashy. Known as a big spender. Ms. Marvelous would come out with him to the ring in a gown, flexing and looking scary. I ended up in the ring doing tag team stuff. My career ended with me doing a tag team with my husband!
Did the gown and the hair and the jewels come naturally to you?
NO!! I’m the biggest tomboy – no hair, nails, shoes… Ugh, it’s just not me. But Ms. Marvelous needs to do all this girly stuff. But, I went with it any way, because my husband was enjoying it and having fun. It went over so well too. The fans loved us. Every time I came out, Ms. Marvelous was always dripping in jewels. I’d always take off a bracelet and give it to one of the girls in the audience. It became a big thing to get one of my bracelets. On the 1,000th episode of OVW, Hany proposed to me after our match!
Aww…That’s a memory you’re not likely to forget! What about now? Are you guys still wrestling?
I guess you could say I’m semi-retired now, for several reasons. First, we’re beat up. People think wrestling is all fake, but it’s not. It’s definitely choreographed, and we are cautious, but the impacts are real. It’s very taxing physically. And, in OVW, it’s a grind. You really don’t get paid unless you’re hustling – on the road. We sold a lot of merchandise and it was a lot of work.
How is doing contest prep while you’re on the road wrestling?
Well, that was another issue. During prep I have to be very regimented. A lot of the places we go don’t cater to contest prep. It’s a huge hassle to pack everything you need, bring food, and there wasn’t always a refrigerator. I had to make a decision because bodybuilding is No. 1. I wanted to be with my husband, but wrestling takes too much away from bodybuilding. And, it was just time to move on. My husband was so beat up. We’re in our 40s, WWE is not picking us up. They asked me, but not him. There’s no way I would do that. This is his thing. I’m just here to have fun. We just enjoy going and watching now. It was just time to go and move on. It was not worth the risk of getting hurt and disrupting bodybuilding.”
Did wrestling contribute anything positive to bodybuilding?
I’d say it made me better at entertaining people. It really helped take the jitters away on stage.
Do you have a dog?
Yes!! Two bullies.
Are you cooped up in a condo or do you live in a house with a yard?
This is embarrassing, but my husband does real estate and he’s really good at it. We live in, let’s just say a REALLY nice house.
Are those accommodations similar to how it was when you grew up?
Heck no! I grew up one of six kids. My dad worked construction. We lived in an old farmhouse with no indoor bathroom. We had a “ringer washing machine” attached to the kitchen sink. You know what that is?
The thing with the crank that rings out the water between two rollers kind of thing?
Yes, that! There was no bathroom; we used an outhouse and we pulled water out of a well. It was the hickest time you could think of! We had a big river behind us and a creek on either side of us. When the snow melted, our property would flood. We literally had to take a boat to the main road so we could get to the bus to school. No phone, no TV… We were always outside. When it came time for dinner, mom would go out to the car and honk the horn a certain number of times. One long honk if it was an emergency.”
Sounds like Waltons Mountain. Did you live off the land or have a big garden? Did you hunt?
“With six kids – we had a humongous garden! My dad hunted. A farmer who lived next to us would give us goat’s milk to help feed the kids. If I was good, I got a Mr. Goodbar. It was simple country life.”
So how did you go from being a paramedic/ firefighter to where you are now?
“I was firefighter and paramedic for 17 years. I saw too much, I guess you could say. I had to leave because of PTSD. I fell back on personal training and that kept building. I actually suffered from the eating disorder bulimia – kicking that got me into bodybuilding because I had a reason to eat.[Salib’s husband chimes in: “Now she wont stop eating!!”]
The man upstairs puts me where I’m supposed to be. I feel like I was put here to help people. If I can’t do it as a first responder, then I’ll help people get fit, lose weight, get stronger… I love seeing people happy and thriving. I use this platform now to reach people at all different stages of their journey. I always have good things to say about people to lift them up. I hope people remember me because I was nice to them. Not because I was a paramedic, or wrestling on TV, or in the Olympia. I’m very simple.
You may be, but the sport you’ve chosen isn’t. Women’s bodybuilding has taken some lumps. How do you see it recovering?
Women’s bodybuilding is striving to make the sport look good again. We’re out to dispel the misconception that women with muscles are manly. I like the look of girl muscle. Olympic sprinters who are muscular don’t get called manly. We’re definitely in a different era now. The feedback now is to make you look more feminine. That allows us to feel beautiful and pampered… it allows us to be more magnificent. The manly stigma has made girls step back and reassess what they’re doing and where they’re going.
I have issues with guys who coach women and get them to use drugs that a guy would use. I’ve seen some bad things happen and some girls be ruined bitterly. Who coaches you and how do you deal with the 8,000-pound pink elephant in the room?
My husband coaches me. We research. I talk to my doctor. I think about longevity. I don’t want to go out to dinner with my son and have him be embarrassed. Moreover, I want to make sure I stay safe. My health and longevity are number one. Girls have to choose their coaches wisely and then listen to them! If you don’t listen to your coach then why do you have one? It’s not the coach’s fault if you don’t listen to them.
There seems to be more of a sisterhood these days. I see a lot of you ladies really showing reverence and respect for each other rather than the old school overt cutthroat competition. How do you support your sisters?
I kill people with kindness until they like me. I’m always genuinely friendly and I like bodybuilders! When the competitor’s list comes out for the show I’m doing, I make goodie bags for each of the competitors and give them out at the finals.
Goodie bags? Isn’t the word “goodie” another term for sabotage? You can’t tell me there’s no chocolate in that bag.
Yes there’s chocolate! And different candies…coffee and truffles too. This year I did soy candles, glass fingernail files, hand lotion and chocolate – always chocolates. I give the bags at the finals, after it’s all over. Being a female in this sport is not easy. If someone brings me a gift, it’s going to put a smile on my face. Maybe my little goodie bag puts a smile on another girl’s face; it makes me happy.
The charities you champion are interesting. Particularly your support of my fellow veterans. Can you tell me a little about that?
I come from a long line of military family members. Deployed everywhere. Even my son served, (he’s out now). I’ve always been very active in supporting vets. The big thing I’m involved with now is called Active Heroes – in Louisville (Shepardsville). It’s a 148-acre ranch with gorgeous land and wide-open spaces with log cabins, pavilions. It’s a Retreat for Vets and their families, where they can come and reduce stressors of everyday life. If they’re having trouble, we try to serve them. Suicide is a huge issue vets deal with. We lose about 22 a day. That’s almost one every hour. It’s really terrible. Going on the retreat – totally free – with their families puts them in a place where they can worry less about things, get away from the world.
What’s your role?
I was an event coordinator and dealt with a lot of events to help veterans and their families. I would have food and other things brought in that were donated by vets who own businesses. They are very supportive and glad to know that it’s available. There are so many charities that sound good, but you don’t know where the money is going. With Active Heroes, it’s obvious where the money is. It’s eight years later and I’m still at it.