Dr. Christine Cave Uses Her Superhero Might to Help Her Patients and Wow at Figure Competitions

Figure competitor and Nurse Practitioner Dr. Christine Cave is successful now, but she has experienced her share of physical setbacks and emotional traumas. As a young gymnast, she had dreams of performing at the elite gymnastic level, but that was cut short when she was injured by an adult who chose to operate a jet ski while drunk. Christine was able to continue performing through her love of dance during her university years.  Dreams changed and evolved. A trip to the emergency room to treat a terrible bout of food poisoning convinced Christine that nursing was her true calling even though she had just received her degree in communications. She immediately began taking classes to become a nurse. In her mid-20’s, Christine discovered bodybuilding and figure competition. She was drawn to the strength needed as well as the beauty, stamina and grace. Through all this, health and exercise have always been central in her life. Her next stop? Teaching students that are pursuing their doctorates in nursing practice and getting her figure competition pro-card.

As a girl, what did you enjoy most about being a gymnast?

My parents divorced when I was four years old, so gymnastics became a pseudo-parent. I had wonderful teachers and coaches, and I think they knew about the drama that was going on at home. I felt accepted into a family, a big class of sisters, and we all just bopped around in leotards feeling like amazon women. I always had tough coaches. They impressed upon me that I was strong, able, capable and needed to be brave. Gymnastics taught me discipline, persistence and rewarded my efforts to continue a daily practice. As my skill level grew, my confidence grew. I think the lessons gymnasts learn in general is that pain is a part of the process of performance. Gymnastics is a high-risk sport. It’s hard, it hurts when you fall, and you get injured a lot, but this engaged my daring and bold interest to defy gravity. I loved all of this about gymnastics.

Over the years, how have you developed a balance between the art of performance and the pressures of competition?

The more graceful and effortless your performance appears, the tougher you are in your competition. In the sports I have pursued, the element of performance is an integral part of the overall competition battle. You’re not judged for your beauty, stamina or grace when you are getting to the finish line in a triathlon, but you are in gymnastics, dance competitions, color guard and in figure competition. I see the art of performance as a component of your overall package when it comes to one-upping the next competitor. 

In my current sport as a figure athlete, the art of my performance, in many cases, places me above other athletes who walk out like they’re walking into a gym to lift weights. But figure athletes must come out with an element of grace, poise and beauty. Not that it’s a Miss America pageant, but the feminine physique is still expected to appeal with controlled stamina while displaying the conditioning and muscularity. Wendy Fortino is my inspiration. She is a pro and certainly has set the standard in our industry for how to properly present on stage.

Tell us about the injuries you suffered at 15 and how you found dance when you couldn’t go further with gymnastics.

What a travesty. I was having a great time in Blue Springs, MO with family. We were on jet skis out for the sun. A friend of my uncle had too much to drink, got on a jet ski, lost control of it, and slammed into me. I flipped into the water and suffered blunt trauma. I had a life vest on and I remember hearing my left arm crack and feeling my hand go numb. The guy was too drunk to even take it seriously, and I’ll never forget how he laughed. 

I was only 15 years old and cried so hard because I knew this was going to change everything for me. I had big dreams of being a college athlete at the University of Missouri. And I was right, my dream was over. I grew and put on weight after having surgery. Wearing a cast and sling then brace after brace and physical therapy, I returned to the gym and felt awkward, slow, and deconditioned. By the time I got my conditioning back and was in better shape, I fell behind my teammates and just couldn’t get back my tumbling capacity without pain in my left elbow. 

I still had my grace and turned to my love for dance. In high school, I got into the marching band color guard, auditioned for show-choir and took springboard diving classes. I stuck with dance after graduation and took classes at my university while I majored in communication studies and nearly minored in modern dance.

Looking back, what did you learn from this traumatic experience and shift in your life?

Life is not fair. Accidents happen. I didn’t deserve it. Drunk driving is bad. But you move on and find something new to be good at. For about a year, I was so mad. I wasn’t depressed. I was angry. I felt so cheated out of a chance to be great at something. My mom, however, is a faith-filled woman and was very gentle in her guidance to move away from bitterness and helped me find something new and enjoyable to do. And I did. I found dance, pole-vaulting, distance running, hiking, singing and music. 

What was one of your most memorable dance performances?

A semester final at Cal-State, University Northridge, a women’s trio performance we choreographed ourselves. My dad and my stepmom were there, and it was a rather risqué piece. I guess I kind of felt like I was coming into my own sense of self at that time, but I had total support from my parents.

We had a piece of music from “O Brother Where Art Thou,” a slave trade sounding song and we came out scantily clothed in these very feminine night-gowns that looked tattered, dirty and frayed. We didn’t wear bras. I felt so defiant and powerful.

It was a push back against feminine expectations. We had talked through our choreography. We wanted to show strength, stature, and power. We picked the song to impress upon the audience that no person should ever own another person.

With my gymnastics background and my capacity to leap and the other girls who were also strong, we looked like powerhouses out there. I remember seeing the video playback, and we looked like badass chicks who had been sleepwalking in a pasture!

You have a BA in Communication Studies. What made you jump right back into school and train to become a nurse?

The night before graduation, I was so sick after eating some contaminated food. Acute gastroenteritis landed me in the hospital by midnight. I puked my brains out. And because I had such amazing care there, and also because my step-mother was an RN and was the one to say we needed to go to the ER because I looked so bad, I changed my plans that night.

The miracle of two IVs running fluids plus zofran and antibiotics helped me walk the graduation stage the next morning. I was pale and puffy, but that day I graduated knowing I wanted to be a nurse.

I graduated in May 2000, and I was enrolled in human anatomy and physiology in September the following semester.

What do you love about being a nurse?

I love feeling like there’s nothing I can’t do. I have no fear. Being a nurse has given me a whole-person, whole-world perspective about problem-solving. There isn’t an emergency I can’t handle. And that makes me feel very confident, brave, and courageous.

Why was it important for you to go all the way and become a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)?

There’s a theory about nursing that has been widely accepted: the novice nurse moves into an expert level of practice with experience. The theorist to credit is Patricia Benner (Novice to Expert Theory of Nursing), and some nurses will accelerate quickly through this process; others move slowly.

I am a nerdy, overachiever. My ingrained approach from my life as a gymnast is that you do “it” until “it” is perfect and once “it is perfect” you find something harder to do and do all of “it” again.

I am someone who asks why are we doing anything again when it doesn’t work? There are a lot of loopholes in medicine where we do the same thing over and over because “we’ve always done it that way.” However, with new technologies and standards of care, those loopholes waste time, increase the risk for a safety threat and ultimately may lead to medical errors, communication breakdown and patient harm. The DNP is an academic doctorate for the advanced practice nurse who seeks to solve a global, system-based problem.

My DNP took all of my years of practice as a rehabilitation registered nurse and as I moved into my role as a Nurse Practitioner, I studied how to properly care for and manage bowel and bladder dysfunction in post-acute care settings.

My work on this subject was published and stays alive and well today online. I created online virtual learning and training modules for nurses and acute care teams, and I published a chapter in the Core Curriculum for Rehabilitation Nurses.

Tell us about how you became interested in physique competitions and your training journey.

When I was about 26 and working out in a local gym, I saw pictures posted of some gym members who had competed. They had tan silky bodies, were wearing sparkly suits on stage with numbers on their waists and were standing there all lined up. “What in the heck is that?” I asked someone behind the desk and she answered, “That’s a bodybuilding contest. That girl right there is one of our trainers.” So I connected myself to the trainer, and I told her, “I want to do that!”

I competed for the first time when I was 27 years old. I placed like eighth out of ten girls, and I was so proud of myself. Only in the last few years, I have started to do well. I placed first for the first time in 2017, then again in 2018, and in 2019 I won two overalls. Last year I placed 3rd in the over forty national show. Now I am in pursuit of earning my pro card.

What do you like about developing your muscles for aesthetics? Talk about your gorgeous photoshoots too!

First, before aesthetics, I love feeling strong. I love lifting heavy and having the power and ability to do anything. Nothing intimidates me. 

You need me to get your patient out of bed? Okay.
Push your car off the road? Okay.
Pick my dogs up and put them into the car? Okay.

Aesthetically, I think that’s why I love the nutritional and conditioning requirement of the body of a figure athlete. I’m not just strong; I look like a superhero. And that feels good. I stay covered up in average clothes; I look exactly that, average. But you can see my muscles. And I love that.

As for photoshoots, and this is really important to me, at every photo shoot and each photographer I work with, what has been most important is that I am not objectified. I do not ever wish to portray my physique in a way that makes me appear sexual. I have always wanted to have photos of my muscular physique to portray that a woman can be strong, graceful, independent, talented, and playful without being hypersexual, arousing, or judged for tits and ass. That’s not me; that’s not what I work hard for.

I want my pictures to give testimony of my desire to be an honest, wholesome person, a fierce competitor, a thoughtful and insightful educated woman, and a strong, healthy and rested human.

Any tips for the ladies to help ward off disrespectful men in the gym?

Ha! I’m actually very confrontational when it comes to this issue. I have no problem letting a lazy ass dude know that he needs to rack his weights. “Excuse me, is your mom here? No? Then go rack your own weights, bro, because I’m not gonna.” 

I also have no problem letting a creepy voyeur know that I am not there to be stared at. It happens less now because, apparently, I intimidate men, or so I have been told. I guess because I have muscle and because I lift with knowledge and skill. But for men who look a little too long, I let them know it’s unwelcomed. And that’s what I say, “Hey, you looking at me is not welcomed, what’s your deal?” That’s my line. Posing a question usually leads to a response of “I have no deal” or something like that. I also have been known to pick my nose or farmer blow a snot rocket at a man who’s staring. That brings me right back down to a human level for them, and they stop looking. Good to gross a guy out from time to time!

Look here’s the reality; nobody should be disrespectful anymore, especially men towards women in the gym setting, but it does still happen. And let me just say some women actually seek this attention. Which is why I can understand the confusion. I chide women too. So here’s my message on that, ladies conduct yourself respectfully, and you won’t have anyone messing with you. But if a woman wants to objectify herself and throw her ass out there for men to gawk and stare, she’s getting what she wants.

At what point in your life did you actively incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle?

I was raised eating a Weight Watchers diet because that’s what my mom was eating when I was a teenager. Healthy food was just part of my life. When the food pyramid came out and carbohydrates were supposed to be awesome for you, and all fats were bad, I just followed along. I think my knowledge of nutrition flourished when I became a nurse in 2015.

And now as a doctorally-prepared nurse practitioner, my healthy life is a testimony of my knowledge and skills to counsel and educate about nutrition and fitness. I earned a certificate as an exercise physiologist, and I coach and counsel my patients about dietary management for all kinds of chronic diseases.

Nutrition is truly medicine. So is exercise. I perform group visits with my physician partner in our medical practice on a monthly basis. Pre-pandemic up to 30 patients at a time sat with me and I would do a cooking demonstration, talk about chronic illness and disease, and methods of prevention. 

Share a few helpful nutrition tips with us to help keep the pounds off as we shelter in place:

Keep your relationships healthy. People are going crazy and feeling stuck with their housemates. People are also going crazy for feeling isolated from their outside, less significant relationships. 

Get good sleep. Sleep is immune-boosting and immunoprotective. Supplement with Vitamin D3, zinc, a daily multivitamin and stay hydrated.

Master your time management. Keep a routine schedule, especially if you’re working from home and doing a lot of online stuff. Your enemy is screen device distractions i.e. your smartphone or the internet. 

Stay active. If you’re stuck at home, get up and go outside and get your fasted morning cardio done.

Don’t cope with alcohol. You’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Make your space do double duty. Home gyms can be in your family room.

How have things changed for you during the pandemic?

I am regularly testing patients for COVID-19 and am regularly exposed to the possibility of the virus. 

I know I said being a nurse I have no fear. That was true, except this. I am afraid for my patients.

There is no road map right now for the U.S. to navigate this pandemic. At this point, it’s just day by day. And I hate that, because I’m a planner.

I have acquired some home gym equipment, and I train in my backyard. I have found a small private gym and pay an arm and a leg to train on limited days when no one else is there, which allows me to keep my heavy training routines too.

What ways have you found to still do what you love during this time?

I’m introverted and love being home. I love to paint, knit, sew, garden, plant things, arrange flowers, sing, play my piano, play with my dogs, and hike the outdoors.

What does a typical workout look like for you?

Fasted morning cardio is 30-50 minutes, which may include intervals like burpees, jacks, and box jumps. My average weight training time is 5-6 days per week, sometimes twice a day. Training sessions are about 1 hr 15 minutes.

Training focuses are: legs/quad dominant, shoulders/chest, back/lat dominant, legs/glute-ham dominant, full shoulders, back/rear delt dominant. By the end of each workout, I am exhausted. I push hard, heavy, and am unrelenting.

Where do you and your dogs like to go for an active outing?

Anyplace with water, they love the water. Olivia is a golden retriever/lab mix and she is the faithful fetcher. Charlotte is a seeing-eye-dog flunky. She was too distractible to work with the blind. She is a love and gives kisses and snuggles. She is playful and a best friend to Olivia and me. We are an inseparable #familyof3

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I left an abusive relationship. If you ever have to promise your mom, that you’ll leave a relationship “if he ever puts his hands on me,” you’re in the wrong relationship. If you ever have to have a bag ready and packed in case he ever puts his hands on you, you’re in the wrong relationship. If you’re afraid of him when he’s drinking, you’re in the wrong relationship. If he comes home drunk on the regular, you’re in the wrong relationship. If his ex-girlfriend seeks you out to warn you about him, you’re in the wrong relationship. If he is condescending of your success because it makes him feel insecure, you’re in the wrong relationship.

I was engaged to a man who had too much to drink one night and put his hands on me. He struggled to control his temper and like most men who have a problem with anger management, he was passionate, interesting and charming. But, leading up to this there were multiple red flags, I just kept ignoring them.

I guess I just want to make sure I share a dark and sad story because I have shared a lot of successes and wonderful experiences, but I have had my disappointments and made my mistakes too. I’m human. I am so human, and I want to be sure that I share how much I believe in the resolve and aptitude we all possess to change the direction of our lives and uphold something great and seek to be our best selves.

The good news is that I left the relationship, have kept my boundaries and learned a very valuable lesson: the independent power and capability of a woman in her life often begins with her ability to say no to a man. I whole-heartedly believe this.

I left a relationship. I said no to a man. And now I sleep with peace of mind and heart. I feel I am living my best life and living out the best version of myself. I have aspirations to be so much more year after year with a 10-year plan on the horizon.

My next adventures include earning my pro card, continuing to teach doctoral students and to own and operate at least two board and care homes in the next 5-10 years. And, I hope to bring home two new puppies too!

By Rosalidia Dubon