That “something kind of weird” was actually pretty “cool,” according to Duane. Melanie had thrown her name into the hat to become the next Ms. Health and Fitness, which would guarantee her $20,000 and land her photo on the cover of Muscle & Fitness Hers magazine.

Fierstine has now made the top 10 in the nationwide competition, which relies upon votes from the public to advance, and voting to pick the top five will wrap up later this week.

“It’s insane!” she says. “Just the support I’ve gotten — it’s actually blown me away. It’s just been awesome.”

The whole idea started when she saw a few posts on Instagram advertising the competition.

“I was like, ‘You know, why not? Let’s see if they want a 44-year-old book nerd who just loves fitness,'” Fierstine says.

The “book nerd” is actually an assistant professor of social work at Minot (N.D.) State University. She lives in Moorhead, and works out of the program at North Dakota State University.

When she’s not working, Fierstine, who is mom to an incoming high school senior, Emmie, is doing something physical. She’s taught XaBeat dance fitness for eight years.

Melanie Fierstine has been teaching XaBeat for eight years and values the friendship and support she gets from her

Melanie Fierstine has been teaching XaBeat for eight years and values the friendship and support she gets from her “XaBeat sisters.” Special to The Forum

“Our job is to inspire others. It’s not just to teach dance, it’s to become or develop friendships with women in the studio and help them feel their best and do their best,” she says.

She says she’s also part of an “amazing CrossFit community” in Fargo.

“They’re just amazing humans that do a lot of hard things, and they are so successful and they’re so supportive and just really good human beings,” she says.

Melanie Fierstine says she likes to

Melanie Fierstine says she likes to “mix up” her fitness routines, doing CrossFit a couple of times a week, teaching XaBeat and just running and walking. Special to The Forum

She says her “XaBeat sisters” and CrossFit friends have been there for her in what have been two tough years for her family, including some health issues, deaths in the family and the loss of their home to fire the day after Christmas 2018. After the fire, they were able to move into a friend’s home for a month while getting back on their feet again thanks in part to fundraisers from her fitness friends.

“If I didn’t have fitness in my life, if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have made it through these things like we did or the support from our community. You know, if I don’t work out, I’m not… good. I mean, mental health-wise,” she says.

She jokes that maybe she’s getting so many online votes in the competition because people want to throw her a bone.

“We’ve had a hard couple of years and maybe people are just like, ‘Hey, let’s give her something!'” Fierstine says with a big laugh.

It’s more likely her votes are coming from people who appreciate that she’s a survivor who doesn’t ever give up. During the pandemic, instead of wallowing in misery over closed gyms, she started teaching XaBeat online from her basement.

“It started out with a handful of people and turned into a group of 460 or so people,” she says. “It kept me going because I knew that I had to show up for those people even on days when I didn’t want to, when the weather was so cruddy and we were stuck inside and miserable. But I knew that they were counting on me. So I had to be there. And it was so cool. So even though I was downstairs in my basement, dancing by myself, I wasn’t dancing by myself.”

Melanie Fierstine, pictured at Minnesota's North Shore, says she feels

Melanie Fierstine, pictured at Minnesota’s North Shore, says she feels “empowered” by fitness and hopes to help other women feel the same way. Special to The Forum

Fierstine wants to keep encouraging people to get fit. She says if she wins the $20,000, she wants to use it to help other women access health and fitness opportunities.

“A lot of times, a gym membership is an absolute luxury. And even if you are able to get one, you still face barriers, like do you have child care or transportation, those kinds of things,” she says.

She’s still figuring out exactly what her plan would be, but it would likely include fitness scholarships.

“I think it would be helpful, because I feel empowered by fitness, I would love for other women to have that opportunity as well if they so choose,” she says.

To vote for Melanie Fierstine for Ms. Health and Fitness, visit MsHealthandFitness.com. Top 5 voting will end at 10 p.m. Central on Thursday, Aug. 20. It’s free to vote once a day, otherwise website visitors can purchase votes, which benefits the Homes for Wounded Warriors Foundation that provides handicapped-accessible housing for veterans.

Melanie Fierstine says if she wins the national competition, she'd like to use the winnings to help other women access health and fitness opportunities. Special to The Forum

Melanie Fierstine says if she wins the national competition, she’d like to use the winnings to help other women access health and fitness opportunities. Special to The Forum

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