Hello friends! I’m writing this from my hammock at the beach, basking in the glow of the warm sunset and the memories of my first bodybuilding competition 10 days ago.
So as not to keep you in suspense, here are the results: I placed 2nd in Fitness Model Master’s (over 35 years old) and 4th in Fitness Model Open (all ages… though every competitor with the exception of myself and the other Master’s competitor was under 25.)
This was an absolutely thrilling outcome for my first show, regardless of the fact that there were only 2 of us in the Master’s category and 5 in Open. Because this was an international competition, all these women had qualified (i.e., won or placed) in competitions in their respective provinces in Australia and New Zealand. So I felt honored to share the stage with such experienced & beautiful competitors!
The day was a perfect culmination of my 11 months of prep, and I realized just how much I’ve learned through bodybuilding, from the simple to the profound:
- It’s best to try to stay as calm as possible for as long as possible before your event is called. My events were the last of the day and went off around 2pm. I had arrived at the venue at 7am for my last coat of tan, and hair/makeup sessions. I’m telling you, I had plenty of time to kill in between! And I couldn’t kill it by eating or drinking, because I needed to stay as dry & tight as possible (more on that in #3!) But I had arrived early enough to stake out a little spot in our prep room backstage with my pillow and all my stuff. So in the down times I just lay back on my pillow, closed my eyes, & let the buzz of excitement swirl around me.
- Getting to know the other competitors is FUN!! No matter if you’re in the same category or not, making connections with the other men & women is amazing. You know they’ve put in as much effort as you have, and understand on a deep level what you’ve gone through to get here… because they’ve gone through the same. Knowing you have a common ground in this sport gives you comaraderie and instant connection. And while there’s competition onstage, backstage there’s just goodwill… sharing weights and exercise bands for pumping up, helping each other with loose strands of hair, chatting to pass the time and calm the nerves… I feel like I have a new circle of friends after this event.
- I learned the trade secret to “getting vascular” (i.e., having my veins pop out) for my performance. After fluid overloading all week, I pulled it up the night before the show, and sipped water only minimally on show day. In addition to the fluid restriction, my coach instructed me to eat some candy & “pump up” about 15 minutes before I hit the stage. So I slammed down a handful of gummy bears (they tasted sooo sweet after not having had sugar for more than 6 weeks!) and did a few high-rep exercises with light weights and bands, and boom! My veins were popping out like I’ve never seen them before! This magical effect sadly lasts only a few minutes though, so timing is everything. Fortunately we had a backstage handler who gave us the signal on when to pull the trigger on this amazing phenomenon.
- The adrenaline rush onstage is UNREAL!!! I can’t compare it to any competition or performance I’ve ever experienced. Imagine… stage lights, smoke, the MC’s voice booming in the microphone… all that hype and glamour just added to the nerves that were already pulsing through my body. And yet, despite the high, I felt hyper-focused and very present. I heard the shouts & cheers of my beautiful friends from bootcamp, I saw their signs above the bright stage lights, I made direct eye contact with the judges… everything just seemed to slow down for those 90 seconds I owned the stage, and I truly enjoyed it. This is unlike any experience I’ve ever had, and I have to say, IT IS ADDICTIVE.
- The “let-down” in these subsequent days has been a very real thing. I’m not surprised by it, but I’m definitely affected by it. For one thing, I’ve been simply exhausted. I poured out so much energy physically, mentally, and emotionally in the weeks and even months leading up to this event, and even more so on the day itself, that my energy systems could not possibly sustain that kind of output without payback. And so I’ve been sleeping… a LOT. It feels heavenly to truly rest, with no pressure on my horizon. I’ve also struggled a bit with up & down emotions… reliving the details of the day, watching videos, trying to re-capture the incredible high that the whole day brought. I’m pretty sure these are normal feelings after a performance event like this. To help myself cope, I reconnected with a few of the other athletes and my posing coach on the Monday after the show for a photo shoot. It was so great to just laugh and be silly and eat and be together during the shoot.
- My stage physique was a one-day phenomenon. I knew it would be! This type of look is simply not sustainable, nor is the effort it took to achieve it. At 5’5” I was 119lbs & ~8% body fat on show day, and at the time of my performance, I was dehydrated to a moderate extent as well. I couldn’t have been happier or more proud of the look I brought to the stage… but it is a fleeting thing. And that’s what the 85 million stage pictures are for!! I’ve really been ok with getting back to my “normal” weight, though I’m not so sure exactly where I will land with that. But it feels sooo good to eat until I’m full! The first thing I ate after the show was this vegan caramel bar (ok, I ate 3!) that I made early one morning during peak week when I couldn’t sleep. THIS is what I was craving, not donuts or pizza or anything else. And the taste of these bars just burst in my mouth like I’ve never tasted anything before in my life… it was just heavenly.
- This sport has helped me learn to love my body at every weight. The perception is that bodybuilding is extremely restrictive, and athletes stay lean and stage-ready all the time. But actually, they don’t. The way to get better is to build muscle… and gain weight… and that’s a sign of progress! Finally, after a lifetime of considering only lower weights to be better, I’m truly seeing weight as just a number, and that sometimes, higher numbers are better. My body has changed a lot over the last year… from thin and lithe, to strong and heavy with muscle, to lean and tight for the stage. And it’s all just me. All these looks are appropriate, and none represent my inherent worth as a person. That was determined by God at my birth. It’s so ironic that in this “super-disciplined,” “super-restrictive” sport, I’ve finally found freedom in the area of body image. Praise God for this.
- This is only the beginning for me. I wondered at several points along my journey if this would be a “one and done” thing for me. But no. It’s not. Everything about bodybuilding suits me and my personality and what I love… the long-term investment, the cyclic nature of it, the discipline it requires… the power of lifting weights, the science of nutrition that supports it, and especially the beauty and adaptability of the human body.
No, I’m only beginning, at age 47, ha! We’ll see how far and how long I can go, but for now, I’m a bodybuilder.