Finding the Best In the Struggle

Tawnia Justice

Photography by Tine Hoffman


Tawnia Justice has a favorite kind of client. To be more precise, she has many favorite clients, but one favorite kind. What they share is that they’ve decided to forget what was and what is and, deep down, make a change.


You might think of them as overcomers. Tawnia mentions one in particular:

“His wife had just passed away. He was 65, he weighed 350 pounds and he wasn’t able to walk up a flight of stairs. He was with me six days a week. In 10 months, he lost 190 pounds. At the moment, he’s hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has met a woman, and they’re both on the trail.”

She tears up talking about him. As proprietor of Camargo Personal Fitness in Madeira, Ohio, she gets excited when people take hold of their lives and decide to do more. With Tawnia, it’s about what others have been able to do. To hear her talk, what she has overcome is no big deal. As far as she’s concerned, life has been nothing but good –although by most standards, this point could be argued.

Tawnia grew up on a quarter horse stud farm outside the small Clermont County community of Goshen. She wasn’t so much into horses, but she learned how to drive her dad’s tractor and bale hay. After you’ve baled hay, she says, any other work is easy. In every sense of the word, she is positive. It’s the only way to be, she says.

Tawnia is also an only child. Her parents taught her not to be afraid to fail, that the important thing was to go out there and try. She remembers her dad telling her that she’s not better than anyone else and no one is better than her.

At age 14, she won the all-around high school select team gymnastics championship for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Her first business was teaching the sport to kids at grade schools around the county – she got 60 percent of the proceeds, and the PTOs kept 40.

Tawnia married her first boyfriend, who was the “star everything” at Goshen High. They had seven children in nine years, which was fine with Tawnia. From the time she was a little girl, she knew she wanted to have lots of kids. She named them Wally, Cameron, Brent, Bonnie, identical twins Kelly and Stacy and her youngest, Grant, who was 27 at the time of this piece.

Her marriage wasn’t picture book. On the heels of a string of DUI convictions, Tawnia’s husband was sentenced to a year in prison. She held on to the marriage despite his several infidelities until the drinking reached the point where it was painfully clear her children were being affected.

She lost the house in the divorce. For the next three years, she held down five jobs all at once, working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. She was happy to have the work, she says.

Tawnia was hired on with Goshen schools, where she ordered meals for food service so the kids would have medical insurance coverage. Then she got a nail tech license because she could work evenings and weekends. On Wednesday nights and Sundays, she cleaned offices. One or two days a week, she taught gymnastics at the Lebanon YMCA and, in her spare time, sold jewelry for a multi-level marketing company.

During this time, Tawnia learned her eldest son was using heroin. She says he tried one program after another over six years, even working at one point as a drug counselor. On April 22, 2011, she found him unconscious in his room. His heart was still beating, but barely, and he was blue from lack of oxygen. At the time of his death, he was 29.

Tawnia is open about her past. Despite the dark patches, she insists life has been good. It’s a matter of deciding to put one foot in front of the other, she says. Tawnia is an overcomer.

She was 48 when she began doing figure competitions, which are similar to bodybuilding contests but without the heavy, vein-popping look. Figure competitors are leaner – the definition is there without the bulk. She took third place on the planet for her age group two years ago in Las Vegas.

What Tawnia believes is this: “If you want to make a change, one small step done every day will do it. Consistency, whether good or bad, will always show.”

Another of her favorite clients is a psychiatrist.

“She tells me I’m her psychiatrist,” Tawnia says. “She doesn’t understand why I’m as happy as I am. She can’t figure me out. But it’s not hard, not really. You have to make up your mind, and I’ve made up my mind to be a happy girl.”


Camargo Personal Fitness is located at 6919 Miami Ave. Madeira, Ohio 45243. For more information, call 513.561.4800 or visit