Joanna was born on 12 December 1976 in Truro, Cornwall, England. She became interested in bodybuilding at age 14 when she saw a bodybuilding magazine that belonged to a college student that was staying with her family. While Thomas was a chronic asthmatic since childhood and was unable to do any sort of strenuous physical activities at a young age, she became inspired by the way women looked and knew she wanted to someday be like them. Thomas was very shy at a young age and did not pursue her desire to become a bodybuilder until she felt comfortable enough to do it. Three months later (at age 14), the 107 pound Thomas went to a nearby gym and began to train with the help of the gym owner who gave her a training plan to follow. She followed the training plan for two years and gained 91 pounds with that program.
By the time Joanna Thomas turned 17 bodybuilding had become a life style for her as well as for her sister, Nicola Thomas who like her also became inspired to become a bodybuilder. By this time Joanna had decided that she was going to become a competitive bodybuilder and set her sights on become a professional in the field of bodybuilding. From the age of 17 to age 20 she began competing in order to become a professional with the goal of winning the British championship. In 1997, at age 20, she finished third in the championship finals. In that contest, her sister Nicola became the first lightweight to win the overall title and pro card (Nicola retired without competing as a professional). Joanna won the British championship in 1998, becoming the youngest woman in the world ever to win a pro card.
At that point, Joanna felt that her physique needed substantial improvement before she could compete successfully as a professional, so she did not compete again until 2001. During this time Thomas finished two years of nurse training, but later left her schooling in order to focus on her bodybuilding career. During this time Joanna moved to the United States in order to compete in the IFBB shows. She entered the 2001 Jan Tana Classic and won the lightweight class; there was no overall champion for Jan Tana that year which made Joanna a co-champion with the other female bodybuilders who won their classes. This became Joanna's first victory as a professional. This also qualified her for her first Ms. Olympia. She placed 10th in the light weight class.
Thomas then decided to take a break from competitive bodybuilding and focus on making improvements on her body in order to be more competitive. In 2005, Joanna was featured in a one-hour documentary on the British channel five called Supersize She, also broadcast in the US on The Learning Channel. The show followed her training leading up to the 2004 Ms. Olympia contest. The documentary talks about her life, her parents' feelings about her decision to become a bodybuilder and nude model, her stringent dieting requirements, and her passion for bodybuilding as well as all the sacrifices she had to do to become a professional bodybuilder, and physical changes. The documentary was a huge success in the UK and in the US where it had high ratings. This gave Joanna a solid amount of exposure in her country and in the United States. In a small article in Robert Kennedy's MuscleMag International, Joanna talked about finding a small level of fame after appearing in the documentary. She mentioned being recognized on the streets and being asked for autographs by people who saw the documentary.
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