Alexandra Dunek ’14 (professional and technical communication) has been through a lot mentally, emotionally and physically.
Now, the 27-year-old deaf bodybuilder and fitness writer from Mount Laurel, N.J., is sharing her story of struggle and triumph to help inspire others who may be going through trying times of their own.
Through her Instagram account (@TipsFromAFitChick), as well as other media outlets, she is using her voice and her story to advocate for the deaf community and to encourage anybody facing challenges in their own lives to persevere.
Stronger, a short documentary released in December 2016, is one of many recent media projects to chronicle Dunek’s journey overcoming cancer, depression and an eating disorder, as well as her rise in competitive bodybuilding. The film, directed by Eliu Cornielle, with the help of director of photography Drew Saracco, is available on Vimeo.
Dunek was born in 1989 with germ cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that is most common in multiple births.
“My mother had trouble getting pregnant and miscarried before I was born, so she took fertility drugs and ended up with triplets,” said Dunek. “She was supposed to have quadruplets, but the fourth baby didn’t develop properly and instead became a tumor attached to me.”
By the age of 2, Dunek had undergone six rounds of intensive chemotherapy and won her battle with cancer. As a result of the chemo, however, she lost most of her hearing and suffered damage to her vision.
Attending RIT wasn’t always a part of Dunek’s plan.
“My mom was in a really bad car accident my senior year of high school, and I picked up some bad habits while trying to cope with her recovery,” Dunek said. “I was depressed and I started drinking and smoking regularly, and my eating habits were really unhealthy.”
Dunek was attending a local community college at the time but dropped out during her first year. Once her mother made a full recovery, she encouraged Dunek to continue her education, this time at RIT.
“I made a deal with her and agreed to visit one college of her choice,” said Dunek. “We visited RIT in spring of 2010 and I immediately fell in love with the way the school took the deaf and hearing worlds and combined them into one.”
It was during her time at RIT that Dunek became focused on her fitness and began bodybuilding. “I needed something to help me get out of my depression, and I chose the gym,” Dunek said.
Athleticism runs in Dunek’s family. Her father, Ken Dunek, was a Philadelphia Eagle during the 1981 Super Bowl.
Following graduation, Dunek began prepping for a competition of her own. She competed in her first bodybuilding national qualifier in June 2015 and placed second.
“It is important for me to tell my story,” said Dunek. “Now I have the opportunity to come forward and share my journey. I just became a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer so that I can open my own gym and inspire others to develop healthy lifestyles of their own, no matter their circumstance.”