There and Back Again: A Competitors Journey
Music thudding over the speakers, the stench of spray tan hanging on the air, the time is here. Stepping on stage, the adrenaline takes over, the moves committed to memory now flowing seamlessly like a dance. This moment, the monotony of prep, the endless cardio and strength training, all of it fades into a distant memory; now it's time to perform.
Rewind 20 weeks back to when my decision was made to compete. I had been strength training for 3 years - I was curious to see how much muscle I had, and how it looked on my frame once you stripped away all my fat. My social media timeline was plagued with girls in sparkly suits, to say I was inspired would be an understatement. I was a full-time college student, what I lacked in money I made up for in the ability to look up nutrition research and the ability to push myself past any barrier in the gym. So, I waltzed into competition prep with no coach.
Working my way nearer and nearer to May 8th, I weighed out my daily food every morning, lugged my gallon water jug to 18 credits worth of classes, focused on weight training – pushing myself as hard as I could, and avoided cardio until it was an absolute necessity. Everything was falling into place. My weekly body fat scan was decreasing, my strength was staying the same, I was feeling more and more confident. One thing was standing in my way – posing. Sure, I looked up and watched hundreds of posing videos online, I read through the federation’s posing guidelines, but I felt uncomfortable putting such an important aspect in the hands of chance.
Scraping what little money I had together, I found a posing coach who ended up being the best resource I could have ever imagined.
Walking into my first group session, I expected to learn the regulations on posing, but I left with so much more. I realized that I was going into my competition blind and without a plan. The instructor talked about the importance of mental health and toughness, about consistent practicing, and above all the importance of an exit strategy.
The exit strategy is important because there is something crazy that happens to one's brain when deciding to compete, especially in women. The scale, the new leanness, popping veins each week becomes an obsession. For weeks, months even, your ability to eat food and have leftover time not doing cardio pivots on your body's ability to shed pounds. Each milestone passed results in energy driving you towards the stage. End goal? Ten minutes in the limelight. Except the end goal should be returning to normal after the stage.
Over the final few weeks, I spent so many hours in my heels and in front of the mirror posing that I had to buy new shoes. I videotaped every step, I studied every facial expression I made, I had the signature hair flip down to a science. I was ready.
Five months dissipated in the blink of an eye, it was the night before the competition, and I was sleeping in my sticky spray tan in a faraway city. Waking up the next morning at 4 AM, I was shuttled from tanning to hair, to makeup. If I were to have counted the number of words I said to anybody all day it would be under 100, my brain’s bandwidth was taken up with visualizing my routine. Sitting in the backstage green room for hours, I watched women and men funnel on and off stage. I saw tears, trophies, and friendships being built. Then it was time.
20 weeks done and over, the time on stage passed in what felt like seconds.
The words my posing coach said to me echoed in my brain,” Prep isn’t over when you step off stage, it’s over when you return to normal.” I would love to be able to say that I got back to a healthy body weight without any hiccups or tears, that I didn’t gain 15 pounds in three weeks, but that would be lying. It took me about as long as it took me to prepare for the stage, to get back to a place physically and mentally that I was proud of.
I competed many more times after this. I enlisted the help of my trusty posing coach and a professional bodybuilding coach. The additional support ensured that I made it to the stage and back to normal life with minimal oopsie moments.
Suggestions I have for new competitors to ease their journeys would be the following: