My Return to the Stage: Oh How Times Have Changed

Same show, 11 years apart!

Same show, 11 years apart!

On April 12th,2014, I returned to the stage to compete in the NPC figure division for the first time in nearly six years.

I am truly grateful for the experience and for everyone that helped me reach my goal. It was a long and arduous road but ultimately I am so happy that I overcame my personal hang ups (and significant metabolic damage) to once again don my rhinestones and heels.

Honestly, it was a bit surreal.

Standing back stage among what I consider a heavily competitive lineup of beautifully sculpted and bedazzled women, I found myself wondering “what the hell am I even doing here??!”

I definitely felt like the “old lady” of the group, and secretly hoped that I wasn’t about to make a tremendous fool of myself.

Additionally, several significant things have changed since my last competition (Team Universe, September 2008).

Some for the better and, in my opinion, some maybe not so much.

Here are a few of my observations:

1). The last time I competed there were still two swimsuit rounds

 For those that are new to the sport, you may or may not know that from the dawn of the figure division in 2001 until 2010, figure girls presented in not one round but two: first in a one-piece suit and second in a two-piece suit.

Rocking the One Piece round at the inaugural Arnold amateur, 2007

Rocking the One Piece round at the inaugural Arnold amateur, 2007

The theory being this: the one piece allows you to more accurately judge a competitor’s shape and overall presentation, while the two piece focus is overall body conditioning. The scores are then averaged to determine the class winners.

The benefits of this system include

a). A chance to more thoroughly showcase your assets to the judges ( I personally always faired better in the one-piece, conditioning has never been my strength)

b). More time onstage. I mean, come on! You just busted your butt for 12-16 weeks, let’s maximize the time to show it off, right?

The downside? Double the cost for the additional suit in a sport that is already really stinking expensive, and a really long, drawn-out show.

Ya’ll think shows are long now? You have no idea.

Ultimately, I think the decision to eliminate the once piece was a smart one for everyone.

However ,I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that my total time onstage this show totaled a whopping 10 minutes, maybe less.

Yes, months of work for less than 10 minutes onstage.

I remember thinking to myself “ that’s it??”  I imagine maybe this is how an elite sprinter feels, training 4 years for the world championships for a race that lasts 10 seconds.

The bottom line: If you’re going to compete in physique sports, you’d better learn to love the journey.

You’ll get more lasting satisfaction from the fact that you trained your hardest, did your best, and saw it through to completion than you ever will from the competition itself.

Trust me, if you stake all your worth and all your energy on 10 minutes, you’ll have a very disappointing show experience and set yourself up for a major letdown post-show.

2). The men’s and women’s physique and bikini divisions did not exist.

Back in my day ( ok now I really do sound old!), there was bodybuilding, fitness, and figure. That’s it.

I chose figure due to my complete lack of dancing and gymnastic skills ( fitness) and the desire to build and athletic physique but not add too much muscle or attempt to become leaner than I think my body could reasonably achieve ( bodybuilding).

I remember the uproar when the figure division was created over the fear that a “softer” physique would “dilute” the sport.

It was indeed confusing for a few years. This scenario has repeated itself with the addition of the bikini, men’s and women’s physique divisions. What’s too hard? What’s too soft? What’s the best way to pose? All of these factors are now being sorted out just as they were when figure was invented. This is sometimes very confusing to competitors, coaches, and I’m sure the judges as well. Why a particular athlete placed where they did becomes instant fodder for the trolling internet armchair “bro analyst”.

Ultimately, I’m encouraged by the growth in the sport. It gives so many more people the opportunity to observe or try something that they may never have otherwise.

Do I still love muscle? Yes.

Are there things about the bikini division that annoy the hell out of me?

Yes, and I’m sure that bodybuilders said the same things about the figure division. More divisions allows the athlete to strive to achieve a look that appeals to them, and not a narrow range established by an organization or a panel of judges.

The bottom line:  Train for the look you like, not to please a panel of judges.

These days, there’s some place for everyone. To each his own.

3). Social Media Was Brand New and Virtually Nonexistent 

The impact of this one may not seem significant at the outset, but hear me out:

In 2008, social media was in its infancy.

Sure there was MySpace, and we all know how that turned out. Facebook was just coming on the radar, and people were trying to figure out exactly what Twitter was for ( some of us are still trying to figure it out).

No Pinterest, no Instagram. Imagine the competitive world before selfies and daily pictures of food porn (sigh).

This time around, Pinterest kept me occupied during recovery cardio sessions, making the time pass much faster.


The obligatory “backstage selfie”

I was able to share my competition experience with a wider audience via other social media sites and provide real-time updates and let other competitors experiencing metabolic rebound know that it is indeed possible to compete after you’ve healed your body.  These are good things.

However, with today’’s prevalence of social media just a click away ( on your phone no less! That’s another point. In 2008 I didn’t have a smartphone), we are constantly bombarded with images of girls with six pack abs, boulder shoulders, killer quads alongside gym check-ins, post-workout selfies and the ever-present meal prep/cheat meal “food porn”.

This constant stream of information makes it very tempting to get caught up in the “comparison” game.

It used to be if I wanted to obsess about my competition at an upcoming show, I’d have to log on to some bodybuilding forum or muscle website and view photos and read commentary from random fitness pundits. Now, all I need do is open my Instagram feed.

The Bottom Line: At all costs, resist the temptation to compare your journey to that of your fellow competitors.

This sport is hard enough without having to compare yourself to so-and-so who is training for the same show as you and posts body update photos daily.

I admit I’ve fallen victim to this myself, to the point where I’ve had to uninstall social media apps from my phone and just say “no” at certain points in my prep.

The tendency for people to only post their best moments on the internet can be disheartening at best. Social media can be used for good or evil. Choose wisely, and make the best decision for you.

Remember, you only see what people want you to see. Focus on your journey, and resist the temptation to compare yourself to others.

Ginormous Kudos and “Thank You’s”

It may sound cliche’, but really, I couldn’t have done this without the help and support of some freaking amazing people and I must thank them here:

My family and my amazing partner James. Hopefully I wasn’t too terrible to be around this time! Thank you for your unconditional support and being my biggest fans

2nd place!

2nd place!

Amanda and Chris of Iron Bar Physiques. Hands down the most talented training duo in the industry. If you’re looking for a contest coach, please contact these two. You won’t be disappointed!

Kevin Myles of  Coach, you brought me out of metabolic damage. I am eternally grateful for your guidance, and patience, and for always believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Isatori. Thank you for making your amazing, high quality supplements. Readers, visit and enter code ISAFIT2002 at checkout for a sweet discount.

-Mancakes. I think I seriously had these amazing high protein pancakes for breakfast every single day of prep, and pretty much ever since. Simply delicious.

 -AccuFitness. Where do I start. You guys are the best! Thank you for your support and for keeping me around for all these years!

Jeff Taylor of Muscle Quest and Rocky Mountain NPC. Thank you for putting on quality shows and for your amazing, caring and professional staff. Despite the length, the show ran like clockwork and everyone had a ton of fun!

And of course, thank you to everyone that reads this blog and left encouraging messages on Facebook. I so appreciate your support and encouragement. Hopefully my journey will continue to inspire you to go after your dreams. 

Physique sports will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the next ten years just as they have since I began competing in 2002.

Different “looks” and body types will become en vogue, new champions will be crowned, and thousands will grace the stage for the first time. That’s what I love about this sport. It gives so many the opportunity to achieve what at one time may have seemed impossible. From the weight loss success story to the novice teenager, to the lifer (like me) who’s striving to add just a little more muscle each year, bodybuilding gives you the gift of constant improvement and lifelong challenge, should you choose to accept.

Although I’m unsure as to when I’ll compete again, I know it won’t be long before I’m called back to that stage.

Because, when all is said and done, I love the challenge, I love those lights, and I love sharing the day with such an amazing group of champions.

Thank you for sharing your journey with me.

Are you planning to compete or have you recently competed? Please share your experiences below! 

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