With so many of our clients preparing to hit the stage for spring shows, whether their first, third or 10th,I felt compelled to tell you all a little about my own competition journey. I realized, while having a heart to heart with a client about her recent placing in a show that many don’t know my competition journey and what it took for me to get to the top – and you may be surprised by what I mean by the top.
My first figure competition was in October 2005, the OCB Charm City Classic (which will always hold a special place in my heart). I stepped on stage just 18 months after having my son, with the help of the best mentor and posing coach a girl could ask for, Mary Bell with Center Stage Figures. I was READY to really kill it on that stage. I wanted to win, it wasn’t about being the best I could be, I really really wanted to win (I was a fresh-faced newbie who didn’t know better). And what made matters worse for me? I was one of those genetically blessed gals who was born with the propensity to put on muscle very easily. Although I had been training with weights since my early twenties, I didn’t really take it seriously until I was about 30 years old. And I can tell you I didn’t even think about doing nutrition the right way until I was trying to lose the 50 lbs I had gained while pregnant with my son. It also didn’t help that on social media (before Facebook, IG, Titter, etc.) I was the SHIT! We had a chat board back then for the OCB where many of us would post our workouts, what we ate every day, etc. I had many followers, and many people in my corner rooting for me, and of course telling me that they just new I WAS GOING TO WIN! They were well intentioned of course, but it set me up for some serious disappointment down the road.
Ok, but back to my first show…I was ready, so very ready. I had the best posing coach, the best suit designer (Kira with Vandella Costumes), the best nutritionist (I thought at the time), and of course the support of my family. Yup, I was ready. I hit that stage the most confident I had ever felt. I was the “go-to” girl backstage helping everyone else with their nerves. When the results were in, I had won my novice short class, then took the overall for the novice and placed 2nd in my open class (there was no debut back then). While I was excited for winning novice and novice overall, I was a bit butt-hurt over losing in the open class. But looking back on photos, 2nd is what I deserved, so I quickly got past that and moved on to my 2nd show planned just a few weeks after. I WAS SUCCESSFUL STRAIGHT OUT OF THE GATE!
The 2nd show was SUPER small, only 17 competitors, but even though there were only three of us in our figure open class, it was pretty tough competition. I placed 2nd once again. I was a bit disappointed, but looking at the photos, I had to agree that I deserved 2nd. That ended my first “season” of competing.
The following spring, 2006, I had two shows planned. And with the success I had in my 1st two shows (1st novice, novice overall and 2 open 2nd place wins), I was SURE this was my time to win my pro-card (yes, having only competed in 2 shows…sound familiar?) Once again I felt on top of the world with so many people I was inspiring on social media (i.e. our chat board) and the support of my new nutrition coach and of course my posing coach and friend Mary Bell. My entire journey to the spring 2006 stage was me GOING FOR MY PRO CARD!
My first show was a warm-up. I once again placed very well in my open class. 1st place, but I lost in the overall. Once again, while disappointed, I could see why I didn’t win that overall. And really, that was ok because the show I was really gunning for was the 2006 OCB Spirit of American up in Massachusetts. I had a whole team of folks behind me going into this show. Lots of friends I had made on that chat board, everyone was rooting for me. It was the BEST I HAD EVERY LOOKED (in 4 shows mind you..but I worked my ASS off for it). I was confident there was no one who had worked as hard as me or wanted it as badly as me…THIS WAS MY SHOW!
When it was all said and done, I received my worst placing to date (remember 4 shows) and came away with a 3rd place in my open class. I placed below a girl I had beaten the week before in the show where I took first. I felt the judging was unfair (in fact still do no matter how many times I look at those photos). When I came off stage I cried for the first time, I was deflated, disappointed, and wanted to quit. After all, there couldn’t have been anyone who worked as hard as me or wanted it as badly as me. This was supposed to be MY show!
That year, my sponsor encouraged me to compete in one show that fall, again the OCB Charm City Classic. Much of the feedback I would get from judges in my previous 4 shows was that I was so muscular I should do bodybuilding. Back then, the figure division wasn’t as muscular of a look as it is now. I reluctantly agreed, but bodybuilding was simply not where my heart was, I wanted to be a figure competitor….but if the judges were telling me I wasn’t the right fit for figure, I might as well give this a shot.
It was the WORST prep of my life. This was my 3rd season in a row competing, 5 shows in 12 months. I was beat up and worn out. I cheated throughout my prep on my diet, my cardio and my training. In fact, I would set my alarm to get up to do cardio in the morning, but would turn it off and go back to sleep. Eric got so mad at me that I would set it, get up, then go back downstairs to sleep so he would think I was doing my cardio. I HATED AND RESENTED every minute of that prep. I also hurt…everything hurt. I had nagging injuries that just wouldn’t go away. But I persevered and hit the stage in the 2006 OCB Charm City Classic in my women’s bodybuilding debut. I WON the whole show and earned my pro card in my very first time on stage as a bodybuilder.
Would it surprise you that I wasn’t even excited about it? I knew that 1) I had NOT done my best or brought my best package to the stage and 2) I won that show by default because the others on stage with me that day just weren’t up to par. I won because I was the least fat on stage….at least that’s they way I looked at it. I had cheated my way through my prep and felt horrible about the whole process. I simply could not get excited about my win or my new pro card. Bodybuilding just wasn’t what I really wanted and I didn’t EARN it the way I should’ve.
That following spring, 2007 was supposed to be my next season. Again, going for that elusive overall figure win and my pro-card. But those nagging injuries from the fall 2006 prep just wouldn’t go away. And in January of 2007, just as I had begun my prep for the spring shows, I found out I had a torn distal bicep tendon and a torn labrum, both in my left arm. Instead of spring shows, it was spring surgeries for me…two of them to be exact with nearly a year of physical therapy between them.
I fell into a deep depression after this. I was such a balls to the wall person that if I couldn’t do the heavy lifting workouts that I wanted to, I didn’t do anything. I literally did not go to the gym for over a year. My only training was with the 1-2 lb dumbbells in physical therapy. It was demoralizing and depressing to not be able to do what I had once done so easily. I ballooned up in weight to over 140 lbs (I competed at 108-110 lbs). So not only was I no longer able to lift the way I wanted, I felt horrible about how I looked. It’s embarrassing to go back to the gym looking out of shape when people in the gym have seen you looking your best. I no longer looked like that elite athlete that everyone ooggled over every time I stepped into the gym. I couldn’t lift like I had the last time I was in the gym. And the worst part is that I had built my ENTIRE INDENTITY around being a figure competitor…and now that I was no longer a competitor (because I was sidelined with injury), I had LOST MY IDENTITY. I was simply lost, depressed and “fat.” I don’t think I need to go into all the other emotions that come along with that, things like worthlessness, etc. You know where all of that leads.
But there was hope. Sometime in late 2008, it hit me. I had to pull my head out of my ass and get back on track. I gave myself what I call my “inner bitch-slap” to get out of my funk and get back to being an athlete. I started at home; I was still too embarrassed to go to the gym as heavy as I was. I wanted to get a little bit back to myself before I entered the gym again. Once I got moving again, and started to feel more like myself and got back to the gym (now training around my repaired injuries – no more back squats for me due to my shoulder issues) I set my sights on shows in the fall of 2009. In 2009 I decided to hit the NPC and the INBF stage for the first time. The INBF had just brought on the FitBody category (women’s physique in heels) and I was freaking thrilled to be able to wear my precious heels, glam up with jewelry, and hit poses that showed of my muscles. To me, this was the very best of both worlds and what I thought was the perfect fit for me and my body. First was the NPC show. It was small, again only about 17 competitors, I placed well – 2nd place again to a girl far more muscular than me, but I didn’t complain. Then I flew out to Sacramento to compete with my friend and mentor Mary Bell in my first INBF show. I competed in figure and fitbody that day. When the results where read, I was devastated to learn that I had placed 4th in figure (my worst placing to date) and didn’t place AT ALL in fitbody.
This was a serious WTF moment for me, but also a turning point in my competition career. I had a complete 180 mental switch during the prep for this season and even following the show results. The 2009 season was about my COME BACK! What I had to overcome to get on stage that year was nothing short of a miracle (in my eyes). I had to fight through depression, injury and regaining my identity. This was also the year my son started kindergarten and we discovered his “special needs,” which was one of the most difficult times in our lives.
The moment I stepped off that stage in 2009, everything I felt about competing changed for me. I stopped thinking about the WIN and started thinking about ME VS. ME (yes, it took me THAT long to figure it out). I realized that my prep that season was the BEST I COULD BE FOR THAT MOMENT IN MY LIFE. Was I in my best conditioning? No, actually, I wasn’t. But considering where I started and what I had to overcome during my prep, it was THE BEST I COULD BE IN THAT MOMENT AND THAT PERIOD IN MY LIFE. From then on, every prep was a new chance to overcome a new challenge. I wanted to change my body to prove that I was, in fact, capable of winning a figure pro card, which required me to change the way I trained to change the way I looked. I was determined to do the best I could with my life situation at the time of each show I prepped for. I wanted to be just a little better mentally, physically and spiritually with each prep. Every prep became more about what I learned about myself (strengths, weaknesses and triggers for binges – yes, I suffered from binge eating disorder too.).
The next time I hit the stage was 2011. I had 3 shows planned that spring. INBF Natural North America, INBF Mr. America in NYC and the OCB Richmond. I was competing in figure, figure masters (I was finally old enough) and fitbody that year. I worked my tail off during this prep. Life at home was still really tough with our son and trying to figure out how to help him. Our schedule was full of challenges but I pushed and did the very best I could, and brought the BEST package I had ever brought to all three of the stages I hit that year. The final result was an IFPA Figure Master’s pro card and a WNBF Fitbody pro card. But damn, that figure open pro card was still just so elusive. I was in the top 2 in every one of my classes that year, and was thrilled with every result because my mindset going into that season was to look more like a figure competitor and I did. I had completely changed my body and my mind. What I defined as a win, was no longer a first place or overall trophy, it was what I learned and what I changed in myself.
My final season (although I didn’t know it at the time) was spring 2012. I was hitting the fitbody pro stage for the first time, as well as the amateur figure stage at the INBF/WNBF Natural North America and then headed up to Massachusetts for the INBF/WNBF Northeast Classic. I had a new, amazing coach, who helped me battle through my fear of carbs (my competition nutrition journey is a story for another time). He pushed me more than I’d ever been pushed….but I was eating more than I had every eaten! I had this amazing energy going into these shows. I didn’t know at the time, that this would be my last time on stage, but maybe someone else did. I felt great. It was my best prep ever. I looked and felt better than I ever had in all my years competing. Yet, I had NO EXPECTATION OF WINNING. I had already won a million times over with how I looked and how I felt.
My first show was the INBF/WNBF Natural North American where, to my surprise, I SWEPT THE SHOW and won EVERY SINGLE CLASS I was entered in. I WON MY FIRST PRO FITBODY TITLE, placed 1st in the Fit Mom category (a fun category just for mom’s), and FINALLY WON THE FIGURE OPEN OVERALL earning my Figure (not master’s) pro card – only 7 years after I started competing). Two weeks later, still riding that high, I went into the next show competing as a pro in both figure and fitbody (they no longer allow you to cross-over in the pros, but they did then.) In that show I place 2nd in pro fitbody and 7th in pro figure (I think I was 7th lol I like to pretend that one didn’t happen). However, strangely, I was NOT disappointed I hadn’t even placed in pro figure because I got to watch two of my dear friends have their dreams come true and place first and second in pro figure. And placing 2nd out of so many amazing fitbody pros was more than I could’ve asked for. The whole prep and competition experience that year was truly the best experience ever. Not because of the wins, but because of the experience. The wins were great, but I took so much more away from that prep than any trophy or medal or a few hundred bucks could ever give me.
My FINAL win that year, was in conquering the post-show binges I had always had. Because I was able to prep without dangerous, starvation tactics, I never felt deprived and no longer had the need to have that post show (weeks long) binge that I would always have. The nutrition light bulb finally came on and I was able to maintain being relatively lean for years after that, including now, four years post-retirement.
2013 was supposed to be my final year competing. It was going to be the year I retired, but after some major soul searching, Eric and I both decided we had accomplished enough in our careers and had nothing more we needed to prove. After competing for our son’s entire life (so far) it was time to hang it up and focus on our family and our clients. I had won everything I ever set out to win. I overcame injuries, depression, binge eating disorder, self-loathing, and found a new sense of passion and purpose in helping others “conquer the crazy” through this process.
So what is the point in me telling you this VERY long story? I want you all to realize that this sport is about SO MUCH MORE THAN WINNING A TROPHY, A MEDAL OR A PRO CARD. If all you focus on is that win, you will, no doubt, end up disappointed almost all of the time. While you believe that you are the one who WANTS IT MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE and HAS WORKED HARDER THAN ANYONE ELSE….every other competitor standing on stage next to you wants and had done the same. WE ALL BRING OUR BEST to that stage, what happens on the stage is up to a bunch of strangers and a little bit of luck! You CANNOT let the results from a brief moment on stage DEFINE YOUR JOURNEY. No one can define that for you, only YOU can define your journey and what it will mean to you. YOU DEFINE YOUR WIN, not a trophy, a medal or a few dollars. Don’t get so hung up on your goal of winning, or “doing well” that you lose sight of the real wins along the way. If you only define a win by earning a cheap piece of hardware, you have tragically missed out on what this sport can truly show you and the thing it can teach you.
FOCUS ON THE JOURNEY – REMEMBER IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION!