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Nudist competes as blind weightlifter

This partially blind weightlifter wins awards across the country and finds security in her community - Paradise Lakes nudist resort.


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 21, 2000

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Edie Jones is preparing to compete in an international power lifting competition in Holland.
LAND O'LAKES -- Add up Edie Jones' main characteristics and you've got someone uncharacteristic of the sport of power lifting.

First of all, she's partially blind, the victim of advanced retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease.

Second, she's a slender woman in a sport dominated by grunting eastern European men with prominent guts.

Last but not least, she's a nudist who has lived the past nine years behind the walls of Paradise Lakes nudist resort in Land O'Lakes.

"Everybody kind of takes care of me here," Jones said from the weight room of the resort's Genesis Life Center, about a dozen naked adults sunning and swimming behind her. "If they see I'm going to walk into a lake they stop me."

Jones, who wears her light-brown hair in a pony tail, is a slight, tanned 124-pounder. But don't be deceived. She can squat carrying 275 pounds on her shoulders, bench press 195 pounds and dead lift 315 pounds.

Since taking up the sport in earnest in 1994, Jones has cleaned up power lifting medals. She'll represent the U.S. Association for Blind Athletics at the World Championships in Arnhem, Holland, the week of Thanksgiving.

Earlier this month, she placed first among several competitors at a national blind power lifting competition in Wilsonville, Ore.

As if that weren't enough, she also sweeps the boards at nude body building competitions at several of Florida's nudist resorts.

"She eats the competition alive," said Paradise Lakes spokesman Bob Moore.

Jones' athletic intensity is something of an oddity at Paradise Lakes, where hedonism usually trumps huffing and puffing, and where the definition of strenuous is naked pool volleyball and sipping pina coladas under tiki huts.

"We build them up over here and tear them down over there," said fitness center manager Sarah Robertson, comparing Jones' workout area to the languid bar and restaurant yonder.

Before the opening this summer of an air-conditioned weight room, Jones trained with rusty free weights in a screen enclosure where summer temperatures topped 100 degrees.

Except for an occasional topless workout, Jones usually hits the weights fully dressed. Clothes sop up sweat and swaddle her muscles during repetitions.

With her well-defined, almost fat-free frame, she competes in the 124-pound category. At age 41, she's resigned herself from ever competing at her former girlish 114 pounds.

"One time in competition I walked around spitting for three hours to drop another few ounces," Jones said.

Jones didn't learn about her eye disease until she was 24. On the threshold of middle-age, Jones' sight has degenerated to blurry tunnel vision.

She wears baseball caps to the weight room. That way, the visor will hit a wall or a weight rack before her forehead does. Her shins are scarred from collisions with furniture and other obstacles.

The feeling of safety is what attracted Jones to Paradise Lakes, home to 600 permanent residents and about 80,000 annual visitors.

She and her boyfriend of 19 years, Dale Harp, live in the resort's RV park off Brinson Road. The couple first tasted nudism years ago while skinnydipping in Oklahoma. They discovered Paradise on a trip to Florida.

When residents notice Jones walking with her cane, they're apt to give her a lift on their golf carts. Muggings are a minimal concern. Where would a larcenous nudist hide his weapon?

"I love it here," Jones said as a male nudist outside the weight room dipped into a hot tub. "It would be very hard to be anyplace else."

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