1. My first figure show
2. Journey

Jungle Hijinxs

My early motivations for training began with the desire to create an aesthetically pleasing physique. This initial effort to build myself up never included quarter turns, walking in five-inch heels, carbohydrate cycling, or supersetting biceps with triceps. Instead, I became fascinated and interested in strength and power. Therefore, my focus led to the basics, where, over the years, I serendipitously found myself surrounded, guided, and mentored by powerlifters. It wasn’t until 2008 when Shelby Starnes, a bodybuilder/nutritionist, came into my life. I had requested his services to make weight for a Strongman competition. Little did I realize that this simple request would influence and transform my purpose when moving weight.

Ropey Rampage

In early January 2010, the decision to prepare for a figure show came forth. Shelby suggested the NPC Ron Love Classic in Detroit, Michigan. His reasoning behind choosing this August show was that it would be a smaller show; it was located in his stomping ground, allowing him to help me pre-show; and its placement in the year would give us ample time to get ready. Overall, he was fancying how I would hang while getting my feet wet.

Reptile Rumble

Nineteen weeks out—before I could step on to the stage as a figure competitor, many things had to “fall into place.” Prepping for the show became a job in itself. Within this sport, many things need to happen in a very strategic way. Specifically, diet, cardio, training, suit fitting, tanning, and posing need to be spot on.

My diet, cardio, and lifting regimen was controlled and manipulated weekly. Like clockwork, I sent updates to Shelby, which included pictures, the current macronutrient count, and notes on how I was feeling, functioning, and sleeping. Based on how I looked and felt, he made the necessary tweaks to my diet, cardio, and training. Overall, he made this process quite comfortable. My stamina while lifting and performing cardio was through the roof. I felt strong in the gym and looked forward to each and every session.

During the initial stages of the preparation, my lifting scheme resembled a DC training protocol. About halfway through, I adopted a Mountain Dog training scheme with more volume, all while maintaining/increasing intensity. This switch seemed necessary because it was inevitable that at some point, my ability to beat the log book would be impossible. With the change in training, I found it exhilarating to use an amount of weight with which I could perform perfect form while squeezing the shit out of the targeted muscle until failure.

Coral Capers

This level began by thumbing a phonebook. I was on the search for a posing coach. Making countless phone calls to every gym located within a thirty-mile radius, no one had a clue as to what I was seeking. Eventually, I remembered a friend of mine who recently competed in her very first figure show. Through Facebook, she provided me the contact information of who she worked with. Thankfully, my recollection directed me to a talented individual who in her heyday was an American Gladiator, bodybuilder, and fitness competitor. At the present time, she trained both figure and bikini competitors along with other fitness enthusiasts. After speaking with her via phone and sensing her high energy and willingness to get started, she seemed to be a perfect fit. We began working on posing approximately sixteen weeks out, connecting once every two weeks.

Barrel Cannon Canyon

Continuing with cardio, diet, training, and posing, it was time to make sure that I had the appropriate supplies at this point in the game. Thirteen weeks out, I began searching for the perfect suit. There are so many companies out there with beautiful suits! This makes this portion of the preparation challenging. As a reminder, yes, it’s important that you have your body in tip top shape, but presentation is just as important!

I remember spending a considerate amount of time just looking at fabric swatches. It’s important that you like the color but also that the color compliments your hair color, eye color, and skin tone. I decided to go with Suits by Amy. This online company has many two-piece pre-made and made-to-order suits. On the site, I searched through the pre-made suits and found a cut that I absolutely loved. The top was a basic triangle style while the bottoms were a 'V' cut with straps at the waist. Customizing the design, I chose a slinky style colored with multi-purple swirls with shimmery and sparkly accents. In addition to the fabric, clear crystals were fixated throughout the suit for extra glam. I sent in waist, hip, and bust measurements every couple weeks ensuring that by the show date the suit would fit perfectly. In addition to ordering the suit, I also ordered heels, competition color, water pills, and bikini bite at this time.

Very Gnawty’s Lair

As summer approached and my duties as a school teacher had come to a close, I thankfully had the opportunity to solely focus on competing, training, cardio, posing, and eating at approximately eleven weeks out. I was outside every day, regardless of rain, humidity, fog, or sunshine. Each day I woke up and instinctively knew what I’d do for cardio that morning.

Living in the center of Saegertown, Pennsylvania, I had a bag full of choices. One option was going to the Woodcock Dam. The route options here are endless! For example, there were times I’d walk on the outskirts of the dam, climb the dam wall, go over the bridge, hit the trails within the park, or combine routes. Another option was walking through town and going past Green Leaf Corporation. This route includes one large hill and the opportunity to greet Mrs. Mulligan and compliment the current weather situation. A third option was again walking through town over a one-lane bridge to a dirt road and eventually climbing a very steep muddy hill. A fourth option was going through town but walking through the residential area. If you can, imagine one large hill. Off this main road, imagine multiple dead end outlets to the right. These outlets were downhill. So with this route, I’d climb one main hill and then every so often take a turn on to the side streets going downhill. Then, I'd go back up the hill to continue walking up the main road.

Sometimes, if it was absolutely impossible to breathe outside or storming with lightning, I’d stay in the house and press play on my DVD player to sweat with Tony Horton. I alternated between Kenpo and his level 3–4 sweat workout. I usually added jump rope in between rest periods or when he felt it was necessary to do four rounds of punches. In the level 3–4 sweat workout, the workout begins with Tony introducing his two fitness helpers. As he’s introducing them, he innocently makes fun of the “the new guy,” which in turn cracked me up every time I played the tape. With all these options, in addition to hitting the treadmill or the bleachers at Edinboro University, I never got bored with the moderate cardio protocol. I mixed it up and sometimes did the same route twice in a row.

I can say that I definitely became in tune with nature, survived many near car collisions, and swatted endless amounts of flies during these bouts of cardio. On another note, as the weeks went by, I began to leave my iPod at home. I found myself looking forward to hearing the sounds of rustling through grass, trampling on stone covered roads, and trudging up mud covered hills. I focused on the sounds of birds, bugs, traffic, wind, and my breathing. I became immune to change and adapted well to the versatilities of Mother Nature.

Jungle Jinx

Once we got down to the ten weeks out point, Shelly and I began to practice posing weekly. During an hour session, we practiced presentation, the individual routine, mandatories, poise, and walking. Mind you, we practiced all these components in an open gym with me wearing only my figure suit and heels. This was awkward at first, but now I understand that it was necessary to get over the “I’m practically naked in front of the world feeling.” It was interesting to see former powerlifting buddies lift and watch me as I posed. Although, in one sense, we were both in training.

Black Ice Battle

Six weeks out, I began concentrating more on hair styles and make-up. Because I was competing in Detroit, it made sense to begin searching for help there. I initially contacted Stefanie Lindsey, IFBB Bikini Pro. At that time, Stefanie had her name attached to the show and would be guest posing. I felt that this would be a great place to start! Through email, she quickly responded to my queries and was quick to suggest that I work with her stylist. But as we got closer to the competition, I lost contact with Stefanie and needed to find an alternate route. I then contacted Nicole Wilkins, IFBB Figure Pro, who is also located within Michigan. I absolutely love her natural yet elegant appeal! She was quick to respond and offer her help, but due to schedule conflicts, she and her staff were going to be out of town the day of my competition.

Still searching for help, I contacted the sponsor of the show, Jay Pratt, and questioned if he could set me in the right direction to find hair and make-up assistance. He was so willing to help and immediately had me covered. Within the day, we talked via phone, and he gave me the number of an angel. After playing phone tag for a couple days, Anita and I finally connected. During our first conversation, she was interested in the color of my hair, its thickness, and its length. She suggested that I find some pictures of styles I liked and send them to her via email. At this point, we also solidified the fact that we’d meet that Thursday before the show. The day before leaving for Detroit, I called her again just to remind her of our meeting plans for Thursday.

Continuing our small talk, she revealed that her boyfriend, a bodybuilder, lifted with a Shelby—Shelby Starnes. I realized that I had trained with her boyfriend! Making it clear that I was working with Shelby and was good friends with him, the tone of our conversation and our level of comfort immediately became meaningful rather than just respectable. We couldn’t believe that we were already connected without ever meeting.

“Shelby...I know Shelby,” Anita said as an afterthought once our conversation traveled to a new place. She said this in a relaxed way, different from her previous professional tone. The phone call that started out as a reminder quickly turned into a forty-minute conversation, sharing personal stories and making fun of her boyfriend and Shelby, and ended with words of wisdom and motivation, including safe travels while rolling into Detroit.

Klobber Konnage

I was about three to four weeks out when I really began to hurt and feel as if I were “dieting.” Once we began to hit morning and afternoon cardio sessions, removed all carbohydrates, dwindled down to one fat/protein day per week, and removed the moderate cheat, I began to rub shoulders with Kabooms. I was past the point of hungry or tired. I occasionally dipped down to the point where my thought processing began to glitch. For the most part, I became aware of this when having to start or participate in a conversation with another.

Fiery Furnace

Two days out, I carried the printed diet protocol around with me everywhere I went. Although I was in Shelby’s presence at this point, I didn’t want to bother him more than I already assumed I was. With any question I asked, I imagined I were Kaitlin in the SNL skit bothering her Uncle Rick (“Rick! Rick! Rick!”). I felt overwhelmed at this point and wanted to make sure I was comprehending the protocol correctly. I had to keep track of sodium and water levels and the timing of liquids, pay attention to whether I was eating pre-boiled proteins or regularly prepared proteins, and make sure I was taking the correct amount of water pills on the right day at the right time of day. This was all while feeling like crap, lacking solid sleep, practicing posing, overanalyzing my physique, and applying color.

Animal Antics

One day out, I continued carrying around the printed diet protocol everywhere I went, but on this day, it traveled to Nail’s Today, Covas Salon, Trader Joe’s, and McDonald's. Shelby dropped me off on Nine Mile Road where I successfully got a pedicure and manicure and my hair styled all within three hours time. However, things didn’t go as planned upon walking into Nail’s Today. Arriving at 1:45 p.m., I was due for my next meal at 2:00 p.m. Luckily, I had prepared a cooler with three meals because I knew that this day would be more like an event than an appointment. As I was sitting in the pedicure chair staring at the clock, I motioned to open up my cooler as the clock struck two. “No food here,” quickly came out of the nail attendant’s mask covered mouth while she began to turn on the water below me. I felt uneasy at this point because I couldn’t eat but quickly accepted it and told myself that it would be OK if it was one hour late. In addition to freaking out about not being able to eat on the two-hour interval prescribed by Shelby, my feet were now fully submerged in a water filled tub. Mind you, at this point in time, my body had already been coated with two layers of pro-tan. I knew I had just created more work for myself as she turned the water jets on. Water not only washed the tan away from my feet but spotted me up to my knees. My nail attendant, sitting beside another nail attendant, conversed back and forth during this entire process in a language other than English. I’m sure they were commenting on how my tan was vanishing before their very eyes.

Eventually, I was given the go to remove my hands and feet from underneath the blowers. Grabbing my bag and cooler, I went next door to Covas Salon. Anita immediately greeted me and made sure I felt comfortable as I walked through the door. As if she sensed I was late on a meal, she questioned if I needed to eat before she started on my hair. I ate, joined the others in the waiting room, and then before I knew it, I was getting my hair washed. Anita was everything I imagined she’d be. She was this petite, beautiful, black woman. When in her presence, I couldn’t help but to feel at ease, heard, and important.

Our conversation briefly touched on hair but then traveled through past relationships, men, our fathers, our dreams, and what it means to be happy. Although separated by age and state borders, we surely had a lot in common. It was interesting how we both grew up with powerful, well-suited fathers. We realized that because we had this strong male figure in our lives, it is somewhat of a hardship to find the right man as a partner. We agreed that we knew how good men are supposed to treat their women. In addition, we arrived at the conclusion that we needed a man to compliment our lives rather than fulfill our lives. As the jazz music played on, so did our life lessons and the iron that continued to curl my hair. I was completely happy with the curls and looked forward to the final touches that would be added before pre-judging the following morning. Just as we finished, Shelby called, as he, too, had just finished up with his lifting session. If this wasn’t perfect timing, I don’t know what is!

After three hours of scrubbing, filing, painting, washing, drying, and curling, I was ready for a nap. But despite my need for sleep, there was still so much more to accomplish before settling in for the night. Before going to bed, I continued to eat every two hours, apply more coats of color, and prepared my meals/gear for the following day. As I ate each meal, the amount of liquid consumed became less and less. I believe it was around 8:00 p.m. when I was allowed four ounces of coffee, and that was the limit. My last meal of the night contained no liquids. At this point, I was more hungry than thirsty, so I wasn’t too concerned about dropping liquids. To be quite honest, my mind was preoccupied with the thought of waking up at 4:30 a.m. to eat two double cheeseburgers! But before this excitement could play out, it was time to sleep. Anita’s final words, “sleep pretty,” haunted me as I propped up my head in such a way on the pillow as not to disturb its style. In unison with Shelby and Gim’s snoring, my nerves, lack of liquids, and hunger, I inevitably slept like shit.

Throughout the night, moving from a bed to the floor to a foldout bed inserted in a couch, I finally awoke to the sound of my alarm at 4:30 a.m. It was double cheeseburger time! I was pumped for this treat! I savored each bite, and despite the lack of liquid, I was completely content. After sleeping a bit more and then gathering all my things, we were out the door. Before sign-ins at 10:00 a.m. followed by pre-judging at noon, I scheduled make-up and a hair retouch beforehand. It was lovely to see Miss Anita again. Despite her appearance, my nerves were through the roof. They started to climb a steep incline once I arrived at the venue and was surrounded by other competitors. For an added bonus, my stomach began to swirl and twirl. I can’t count the amount of times where I had to rush to the bathroom because having an accident while in my figure suit was a possibility. Great, so now I’m nervous as hell, my stomach hurts, and I have the runs. I suspect the occurrence of cramps was a result of eating new foods the past couple of days as well. For example, flank steak, asparagus, orange roughy, and McDonald’s double cheeseburgers are foods I don’t typically eat.

Krocodile Kore

Fast forwarding to about one hour before pre-judging... I phoned Shelby to relay the message that it was “go time” and that he needed to come back to the venue to help me get ready to walk out on stage. In minutes, he arrived. It was at this time that we needed to make the final retouches with color, apply bikini bite, apply sheen, and pump up the muscles. Imagine if you will a room full of girls, all shiny, all sparkly, and all jacked! In addition to the cement walls, the perimeter of this square is lined with mirrors, dumbbells, make-up, curling irons, body heat, excitement, and pressure. In this same thought, imagine a five foot, six-inch male bodybuilder in his off-season assisting a frantic, obsessive compulsive five foot, eight-inch female novice wearing five-inch heels. Priceless! Every few minutes, a countdown echoed from the room adjacent to ours—“ten minutes figure girls.” Along with the countdown, questions like, “Is your bikini bite working?” filled the room.

“Figure girls, it’s time to go.” That was the next thing I remember hearing before I guzzled down the four ounces of fruit punch flavored Gatorade I was permitted to drink. This was the first ounce of liquid I had had since 8:00 p.m. the previous night. As the liquid quenched my thirst, we figure girls filed our way up three flights of stairs to the back stage area. With numbers on our left hip, the five of us stood in numerical order. I was number eight and would be the final competitor to walk out on stage. We stood there, peering out the stage curtains as the announcer introduced our presence. Despite the double cheeseburgers, rice cakes, tablespoons of peanut butter, and Gatorade, I was feeling wobbly and a bit dizzy. Thankfully, Shelby was right beside me calming me down and saying reassuring words.

Although I can’t remember everything he was sending my way, I do remember hearing him recollect everything it took to get to this very point in conjunction with the cue “stay tight.” I listened, took his advice, and requested that he continue to yell out cues while on stage. One by one, each figure competitor took the stage and performed her individual routine. I watched a few glimpses of each but then decided to stop watching so that I could gather my thoughts and focus on what I needed to do. It wasn’t until I was next in line that all my worries traveled elsewhere. The feeling of competency and confidence took control. Finally, I was ready to walk out there and present my physique to the best of my ability.

I walked tall to the center of the stage—to the X that was marked with white duct tape. Facing the judges, blinded by lights, smiling, and hearing Shelby’s cues, I began with my front pose. I transitioned into each of my poses, but my legs weren't completely following suit. For some reason, they felt the need to quiver uncontrollably. I remember clearly trying to transition from my rear pose back to my front pose, thinking to myself, “OK legs, move. It’s time to turn around. Let’s go!”

Slowly functioning to the acquired speed, I completed my turn and then “thanked” the judges. From there, we all took the stage and were compared as we made our quarter turns.

“Can numbers seven and eight switch positions?”

“Sure,” I thought! This was a good thing because I was moving closer to the center. Shelby expressed glee aloud while I switched places with the other competitor. We continued our quarter turns and then eventually made our way off stage. Pre-judging was over!

Making my way from the stage to backstage through the door, I was content in knowing that pre-judging was complete. I couldn’t get over the fact that this pivotal moment that I had journeyed twenty weeks for had lasted only six minutes. Overall, I felt my performance was good, but I was a bit annoyed with my nerves and the role they played. I’m sure they stole some attention from the judges.

With pre-judging now a past event, I was already looking forward to the night show. As my mind continued to toss my emotions based on my performance thus far, I quickly became present to the task at hand as I maneuvered to take my first step downward. To my surprise, my quivering legs greeted and made friends with the rest of my body. As if I had just completed and destroyed my legs after a successful leg training, I clenched the guard rail for assistance. Congratulating the other competitors on the way down and sharing the unexplained yet mutual wobbly feeling, Shelby and I were off to McDonald's for round two! Now that pre-judging was over, I was allowed another double cheeseburger (no bun), a small fry, and four ounces of liquid.

“We’re back!” Shelby playfully exclaimed as he began to make the order at the McDonald’s wall of goodness. I was hoping that the order he had just placed would instead translate into one large fry and one one-third pound Angus burger with a large chocolate milkshake. To my dismay, there was one small fry and one double cheeseburger in my small, tightly sealed paper bag. He forgot to order liquid! Although I wanted to quench my thirst then and there, I was OK waiting a few more minutes before I drank something at his house.

The next few hours were spent eating, resting, reflecting, and texting friends and family. Compared to my train of thought hours leading to pre-judging, my current frame of mind felt sturdy and bulletproof. For now, I had already experienced the unknowns of what pre-judging entailed. The night show, as I knew it, consisted of the same thing only it would transpire at night!

Fast forwarding to the main event... we figure girls were again peering out the curtain, patiently waiting for our turn to step out on stage. In the midst of staying “warm” and continuing to pump up, the night’s show line-up of entertainment spanned from comedy acts to professional guest posers taking the stage.

The stage floor appeared to be brighter, and the sounds coming from the auditorium were more pronounced and rowdier. The audience echoed with excitement as if they were ready to be entertained and/or anxious to amuse their own self-drive.

Eventually, the point to walk out on stage arrived. When I say "eventually," I mean approximately sixty minutes past the point when we were initially called upon to make our way backstage. It was hard not to feel a bit annoyed while waiting, not because I didn’t want to view the other female bodybuilders or pros hit the stage, but because it was hard to keep the pump going while maintaining energy and intensity. The all psyched-up feeling was slowly becoming deflated as each minute passed. Thankfully, as my heels finally walked out onto that stage, the annoyance, fatigue, and drop in self-efficacy shifted 180 degrees, and I instantly felt energized and full of strength. This time around there wasn't any wobble in my step, and I felt control with each turn and pose.

Then the moment came, the moment to stand there on stage, face the audience, tame my inner voice, and hear the results of appointed judgment given by the National Physique Committee. “Fifth place goes to...,” exclaimed the announcer.

“Whew,” I thought.

“Forth place goes to...Sheena Leedham,” exclaimed the announcer.”

“Damn,” I thought.

Instantly, I felt a bit of dismay. I wasn’t thinking about myself at this point but about Shelby. I wanted to place higher for him. We definitely thought I was going to place in the top three because of the call-outs from pre-judging. Although I was in dismay, I continued to smile, stand my ground, and take my trophy with pride. Exiting from the stage, I ran into Shelby’s arms. With open arms, he embraced me, showering me with his unconditional acceptance and his positive outlook on the whole situation. I remember feeling so grateful that he was there with me at that moment in time.

The rest of the night turned into a blur until Shelby pulled in front of Pita Café! At about 10:00 p.m., I was ultimately focused on food and drink rather than on sleep, future diet manipulations, training tweaks, self-reflection, and/or decisions as to when I’d compete again. My body and soul craved lentil soup, pita bread, hummus, garlic spread, lamb, rice, water, and baklava!

In summary, “What fun is it? Why all that hard, exhausting work? Where does it get you? Where’s the good of it? It is one of the strange ironies of this strange life that those who work the hardest, who subject themselves to the strictest discipline, who give up certain pleasurable things in order to achieve a goal, are the happiest…” — Brutus Hamilton