Six weeks ago and four weeks ago, respectively, I competed in my first and second figure shows of the 2016 competition season, in two different federations, and to two very, very different outcomes. Let’s take these one at a time…
May 28, 2016: INBF LA Muscle Mayhem
This was both my first contest in a drug-tested federation and the first contest that I would need to travel for, so I was pretty nervous going into it, feeling as though I didn’t really know what to expect. To top things off, this particular show was a pro-qualifier; if I won my class, I would become a WNBF figure pro! I was feeling a lot of pressure and excitement about this possibility all though my eight week prep. My students were similarly stoked for me, and when I was feeling hungry, or upset, at work, they and fellow teachers would just remind me, “Miss P: pro card or GTFO, right?”
My husband and I made the journey up to Ontario, California on Friday evening after I got off work. Let’s take a moment to give thanks to the Waze app for navigating the frontage roads that shaved nearly 60 minutes off the already unbearable 2.5 hour drive (I’m the worst at being in a car, seriously) and got me to athlete check-ins with literally 7 minutes to spare.
Waze, you the real MVP.
Check-ins were different than I’d experienced with the NPC last year. There was no large athlete meeting, with dozens of bikini girls in jammies stink-eying each other and dreaming about rice cakes, waiting to line up for incorrect heigh measurements to be taken, scrambling for pens and writing against walls to fill out the paperwork, or lining up to get your number behind another sticky and smelly girl. Instead, I walked into an empty conference room, was handed my number and a clipboard of reading materials. I quietly, and admittedly awkwardly, took a seat to begin reading the clipboard contents: the banned substances list, a list of questions that would be asked of me during the polygraph test, and a waiver stating that I was natty. I chatted with the show organizers a bit, who complimented my delts. Soon, I was called up to a hotel room with a kind old gent, who turned my chair around and placed a wire around my chest, one around my waist, and a clippy monitor thing to my finger, and we began the polygraph.
Now, I had nothing to be nervous about. I do not, nor have I ever, taken performance enhancing drugs, save for the geranium extract that used to exist in original formula Jack3d way back when I first started lifting (which is on the banned substance list, but that was more than 7 years ago that I took it, so I’m within regulations on that), however, I was having massive anxiety as I sat there, strapped in.
I had carefully looked at all of my supplement labels, the very few that I take, to compare to the list, I knew everything was good, and yet here I was, heart rate all over the place! I tried to make light of the situation, as I do, and luckily the man running the machine was receptive to my joking. Not surprisingly, I passed my test, and I went back downstairs to complete my check-in.
As I left to go to my hotel, a man delivering pizzas walked in and I made (apparently) too-obvious of a mean face at him, which was noticed and laughed at by the show photographer, who I met and made fast friends with before my husband scooped me up. I was already late for my first tanning coat, so I zipped out and got lacquered up, stopped for backstage carbs (Cheddar Chex mix, which I had been FIERCELY craving but for some reason never checked the totally-reasonable macros on so had deprived myself of for weeks and Sour Patch Kids), ravenously ate a Skor bar (I didn’t even know I want one until I saw it in the checkout, then I HAD TO HAVE IT and a quick pinch of my arm said I needed it… this body needs s many carbs to fill out!) while painting my nails, then posted my to-date most popular Instagram photo ever. Husband says it was obviously my hasthag- #cholaninja, that I can attribute the popularity to.
After packing up my food for the day, raiding the hotel breakfast bar, and getting my second coat of tan, I arrived at the performing arts center for the morning athlete meeting…but where were the athletes? The auditorium was way, way too empty. We were told that the show would go on, and that due to the small number of competitors, we should anticipate ample stage time for comparisons and posing. Hooray? We all headed backstage to finish up gluing out suits to our butts and eating. I was the only one of the figure girls who had ever competed before… and, well… there’s no way to say this without being a massive dick, so I guess I’ll just own it…
There are two kinds of competitors: the kind who decide to compete, and the kind who decide to be competitive. Those who decide to compete are often one-time competitors, who have set a show date as a goal, perhaps for weight loss, perhaps just to say they did, or to prove to themselves they could. These make up what I would say are a majority of competitors, in my experience- one and done. This is fine, it’s a fun thing to do, but it’s not a lifestyle for everybody and I get that. But then there are those who are competitive- the ones who prep to win, the side effect being that competing is fun for them
Guess which one I am?
I had prepped my ass off, a risky, short, 8 week prep following a vacation. It was a pretty difficult prep, mentally and physically, and I was dismayed to look around and see that not everyone had taken it as seriously as I had. While I understand that winning isn’t the goal for everyone, it needs to be understood that this sport, for me, is for winning- contest prep is too hard- the math and the lifting and the dieting and the stress- to do just for giggles, there has to be a payoff beyond the massive rush I feel when I’m onstage. So to have put as much time, effort, and tears in as I did only to see that I could have backed off significantly? That hurt, I’ll be honest.
I helped the girls finish getting ready backstage, made friends, ate, posted the contest live feed stream and a hundred selfies to my social media, and hung out. I was…calm. Too relaxed. I didn’t feel enough pressure. I felt so confident as I strode out onto the stage, last in my class, after watching the other girls go through their routines. Pose. Pose. Pose. Nailed it. I felt like a fucking muscle princess on that stage, with a huge table of judges (there had to be at least 8 or 10- so many!) and it felt like every eye was on me.
I can’t describe how much I adore being on stage, under the lights, being judged. LOOK at this body I have created. LOOK what I made. It all comes together- every time I was hungry, every time I didn’t want to do stair sprints, every time I pushed for one more rep, every time I cry at the gym because I’m just too fucking tired and squats are hard. Worth it for that brief time.
After my T-walk- the stage walk where you present yourself at various points on the stage in your poses-I smiled my ass off through comparisons… placed in the center of the lineup and there I stayed. (When comparison poses are done, the girls who look best are often called to the center of the stage, and the girls to either side of her are typically the next-best, placed there so that the judges can compare the competitors who look best side-by-side.)
After the morning show, the judges got together to discuss scorings and prepare for the night show, where awards would be given. I hung out with Zack and chatted with some of the bodybuilders backstage, and managed the incredible barrage of social media excitement that awaited me. Holy cats, the crowd may have been small, but the support and excitement I found via my own social media and in my online fitness support communities were astounding! My heart was so full, as I tried to respond to each message, and still now writing this my chest tightens reflecting on the intensity and excitement behind all of the support. If you are among the people who messaged me on show day, or tuned in to the live feed, or both, I cannot fully express my gratitude for that.I just kept repeating to myself, to my husband, to anyone in earshot “LOOK how many people give a shit about this thing I’m doing today! I was absolutely in shock, and emotionally overwhelmed.
I happened to be in the hallway eating Chex Mix, cheese fingers and all, when the judges left their meeting. I was met with multiple handshakes, congratulations, and expressions of a job well done. At the tail end, the show promoter pulled me aside. She explained to me what I already knew: this show would not be a pro-card earning show. The federation rules stated that in order for a competitor to earn a pro card in a show, he or she must win against a certain minimum number of competitor (either 7 or 8, I forget) in their division, and with just four girls in the open figure division, this show would be unable to award any pro standings. She asked me to compete at an upcoming show two weeks following, the show I had planned to do but then given up in favor of attending a music festival with my husband, the only summer celebration we would have time for in my short summer break- already decided, booked, paid for, and in the works- so that I could try again for that pro card. “A damn shame,” she shook her head, “a natural bodybuilder with such a stunning physique deserves to be appreciated for that work”
This statement was both validating and disheartening. My hard work was noticed and appreciated! But to what end? It also sort of gave away the conclusion: when I was called to take my first place trophy, it was of no surprise, and again, felt somewhat shadowed by the fact that on that day, I would receive only a plastic trophy for my efforts. “Jaded!” One might say, “Why would you not be thankful and happy to win?!” But I prepped for a purpose, I had that goal in mind for eight weeks.
“Pro card or GTFO, Miss P,” every time my students apologized for my not being able to partake in their culinary class creations, or I snapped at them out of hunger and impatience. “Pro card or GTFO, Miss P,” every time my husband wanted to go out for a burger but it didn’t fit my macros. “Pro card or GTFO, Miss P,” every time I posted my creative salads on Snap Chat (#saladspo, though…) but all I really wanted was a fucking turkey sandwich and some Cheerios.
And due to circumstances over which I had no control, my goals went unmet. For all intents and purposes, I should have reaped the benefits of my efforts, and it’s damn difficult to come to terms with the idea that they couldn’t be. It hurt, to not have it all pay off as I had hoped.
But you know what?
It’s not the end of the world, either.
I went and spoke to a handful of the judges individually, after the show, to get some feedback. Each had nothing but positive things to say- what can I say, I was glad to hear my felt focus paid off. Each judge expressed hope that I would continue to compete and move into the pro ranks.
Needless to say, this got me pretty fired up- I was, and AM, more hungry for that pro card than ever. Zack, hearing all of this feedback and in true to himself fashion, started hyping me up for more- as always,, encouraging me. “Looks like it might be a long competition season, dear, let’s take a look at the schedule, he said as we left. I as proud of having won- first place! That’s can’t feel bad! But so, so ready for the next, bigger prize.The INBF judges have not seen the last of me.
But first, pizza.