When Jenny Worth left the fitness stage in 2003, she was 26 and had already known the highs and lows of stardom. Having gotten her pro card in 1998, during the so-called golden age of fitness, she dazzled among legends like Susie Curry, Jen Hendershott, and Adela Garcia. Her routines were high wattage and entertaining, not to mention risky. She once rode a Harley onto a tiny stage in Nice, France.

Worth's best performance was a win at the Arnold Classic Fitness International in 2001, but she stopped competing after plummeting to 10th at the 2003 Olympia.

There were negative stories around that time, bad behavior that she says she took the heat for, and an episode in which her longtime coach and mentor unleashed his temper on the Olympia judges.

After retiring from fitness, Worth worked as a personal trainer. She had celebrity clients like rocker Lenny Kravitz and members of the Miami Heat basketball team. She also worked as a professional deejay. But, internally, she'd become lost, overcome by the emptiness of no longer being number one in the world.

Worth at the Tampa Pro 2017

Years went by at the bottom. Bad relationships and bad luck seemed to plague her. But now Worth's back, mounting an assault on the 2018 competition season.

Here she reflects on the ups and downs of her journey, and her return to the stage.

Why did you stop competing?

There was a lot of drama in my career, and my heart just wasn't in it after a while. Plus, my coach was gone, and I didn't think I could continue without him. So, I started picking up a lot of clients to train, and I got tied up in that. Business was good, and I thought, "I'm just going to do this."

And so, I left the dream behind. But I was lost.

When did you start deejaying?

I was deejaying before I got into fitness. But when I moved to Miami years ago, I sold my turntables. Then, as luck would have it, I was training Lenny Kravitz, and he brought my equipment back for me. So, I got back into it.

How did you end up in Los Angeles?

I was trying to make it work with the father of my son, who was in LA while I was in Miami. He was very abusive, but he said he'd changed, so I stuck around. My dad was not around when I was growing up, and I wanted to give my son's father a chance and not spend the rest of my life wondering if he could have been better. So, I left all my clients in Miami, and came out to California. But, he went right back into [his old ways]. I said to myself, "I could go back to Florida, where it's safe, go back to my old clients, go back to my old life, but what if I can stay here and make it? It's a great place to raise my son." So, I stayed, and I met my current boyfriend. I'm happy, and it's the best thing that's ever happened to me.

Worth and her son, Dominic

It sounds like a California dream, but it didn't happen right away, did it?

That's just the surface of the story. When I came to California, I had only $5 in my pocket. I didn't have a car. My relationship with my son's dad was horrible. Like I said, he beat me, but I ended up trying to get back with him anyway, to make it work for my son.

The goal was to launch a website so I could start doing boot camps and build my name, because nobody would hire me. Then I found a local gym, M2 Fitness Pros in Long Beach, California. They knew who I was and let me teach classes there. From there, I started adding clients. Then I found a gym that I could run my own business out of. It was called No Limits Sports and Fitness Academy in Signal Hill, California, and I started building and building, one client at a time.

That was 2011. It took a good year to start getting known—to have recognizable client transformations—but then people started coming in. Then it was just word of mouth.

Do the work, and you'll see the results.

Let's talk about your competitive comeback. How long were you thinking about it?

About five years. I gained 85 pounds when I was pregnant. Of course, I didn't work out, I ate crap, and I did everything I wasn't supposed to do. Competing wasn't even in my thoughts. I thought there was no way I would be able to bounce back, but I lost the weight within two years, although it took a good five years for the skin to start tightening back down to my body.

Worth and her Worth It Fitness crew donning jump boots for cardio

Now, I'm older and smarter, and I thought, "Why not give it a shot?"

After doing the Tampa Pro last year, and taking third next to some top girls, I decided to become a real competitor again.

You've talked about having "unfinished business." What is it?

To show the fans, competitors, and organizers that I have a chance of winning the Fitness Olympia. I feel that I left on such a horrible note. I feel like I stepped out too soon. I let what my trainer did to the judges dictate my feelings, and I should have stayed in it.

Your comeback fitness routine was very competitive, even though you had some physical issues. What are you working around?

Worth and Worth It Fitness crew members at Muscle Contest

I have back problems. I have a degenerating disk, I have an out-of-place vertebra, I also have a disk bulge of 5 millimeters. And, I'm recovering from a shoulder injury.

You're working with four-time Fitness Olympia winner Oksana Grishina, but you used to do your own choreography. Why did you seek her out?

I'm so busy that I don't have time to sit around and work out a routine like I used to. She has the best routines in the business, so I reached out to her.

How did it feel to get back onstage after so many years?

I didn't remember how everything went. I felt like a newbie, thinking, "What do we do again?" [laughs] It felt really good. I have bad stage fright. I used to pass out before I went on. I used to have panic attacks. Now that I'm older, I've learned how to control it. It felt really good to be there again, fighting all my fears and being more relaxed, and having more fun with it.

Your trainer, Milos Sarcev, is known to be insane in the gym. How hard are you working compared to what you were doing before?

Worth and her trainer Milos Sarcev at Fit Nation Gym

It's what I was doing before but multiplied by ten. I was already being pushed, but with the inclusion of giant sets and supersets, it's a whole new level. At 40, I'm really feeling this, and I'm sometimes thinking, "Jen, this is crazy!"

I started by just picking up some weights, getting a little pump, but now he's taking me to the point where I'm just trying to survive. He's pushing me past my limits, just tearing the muscle up, and he goes: "Suffer more! Suffer more!" I say to him, "What do you mean, suffer more? I'm already suffering!" [laughs]

Do you have to work around your back injuries?

The doctor told me never to do heavy deadlifts and squats, but I kind of have to go with how it feels, and the next day see if it was too much or not enough. I don't do heavy squats, but I do heavy leg presses. I'm supposed to keep Milos aware of what hurts and what doesn't, but I wait until the end because I don't want him to take anything out. So far, it's been good.

What body part is he pushing you the hardest on?

We're focusing on back, shoulders, and legs.

Describe a typical gonzo workout on one body part.

Let's say we were doing legs. You're basically doing a giant set. We would go from leg press with four plates for 50 reps, and then leg extensions for 100 reps with heavy weights, right into walking lunges with 45 pounds, and then right into sumo squats. So, it's one thing after another after another, from 50-100 reps, to the point where the muscle feels like it can't move.

Worth with her boyfriend, Ashkan Shahniani, after his Muscle Contest So Cal win in June, 2018

After one crazy shoulder workout, I couldn't pick up my arms. I thought, "This is crazy. I don't even have any weight in my hand, and I can't frickin' pick up my arms."

After your third-place finish in Miami, what's next?

I'm doing the Chicago Pro in July, then Tampa in August, trying to qualify for the Fitness Olympia. I'm happy with where I'm at, but I know there is a lot of room to improve. My routine definitely could have been sharper. I wasn't at my best, and I will add in some more elements. I'm not stopping yet.