This was admittedly one of the most difficult posts I’ve written to date. Much of it was written in my hotel room outside of Boston, two days prior to taking the stage for my pro figure debut, as I reflected on the preceding 22 weeks of contest prep. While some it may seem to be pre-show nerves, I can honestly say that the sentiments contained went far beyond the jitters, and continued, intensifying post-show. Post-show editing changes the verb tenses a bit in some areas, and gives a slightly more in-depth context to the pre-show reflection that I had originally penned.
On June 3, 2017, I earned a silver medal. Second place out of thirteen stunning professional figure competitors. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, and indeed seems to be something to celebrate, especially considering it was the first time I had ever stepped on the stage as a figure pro. Many of the women I placed ahead of were seasoned pros who didn’t even find their number in the top five. As a rookie, second place is incredible.
And yet I can’t shake this feeling that I’m deeply disappointed by my placing. Embarrassed, even. But not in the way that one might think. I do not think I deserved first; I don’t feel robbed or cheated in that way. No, far from it.
I don’t believe that I earned my placing.
When I reflect on my contest prep, and when I watch the video and check the photos from show day, I know- I can see, and I can feel- that I did not bring my best physique to the stage on show day. I know that I did not put my everything into the preparation. I know that I could have looked better, I could have felt better, but I did not. The body that I brought to stage was deemed “good enough” by the judges, good enough to beat out 11 other women vying for a top spot, but I know, in my heart, that it was not the best version of me- it was far, far from it.
I put twenty-two weeks into the contest prep leading up to this, my pro figure debut.
More than twice the length of any contest prep I’ve previously embarked on. For my first, I took 16- but the first 8 I spent in a gaining phase before taking the same amount of time to trim back down. My second season, I spent a rapid 8 weeks getting ready for my first show, and 7 weeks later I won my pro card. But this time I took a different approach. First, I started by taking a REAL offseason- not just a few weeks of slightly above maintenance level eating. I gained more weight- and arguably muscle- than I’ve allowed in years, reaching a high weight of 138 pounds (though just for a day- I was averaging about 134-136 at the top end). I enjoyed living life without thinking about my abs. I set gym PRs and got STRONG- stronger than I could have ever imagined. I enjoyed homemade Christmas cookies and dinners out with my husband without feeling stressed. I lived what felt like a normal life. But this gain necessitated a longer lead up to the stage, which I had planned well in advance. I had hoped that by taking a longer approach, I could reduce the intensity of my prep experience, mitigating some of the social, physical, and psychological effects of getting lean by doing things more slowly. I even incorporated a two week diet break to travel Thailand.
And it was hard. It might have been harder than my quicker approaches in previous seasons. In those twenty-two weeks, starting at the end of December, I lost nearly 20 pounds, 8cm (just over 3 inches) from my waist… but the timeline of progress was painfully, almost imperceptibly slow.
I’ve been fairly honest about this. Not necessarily vocal, as I know I’ve written less this season, but, honest. Right here, though, is the most honest I’ll be, perhaps ever:
I didn’t want to compete this year.
Throughout the process, even two days before the show as I sat in my hotel room writing, I was only about 80% invested. My head had struggled to get in it, my heart had struggled to get with it. A partial effort prep… it’s already a failure.
Only it wasn’t. It wasn’t a failure at all.
As I got ready backstage, with my Sour Patch Kids, muscle oil, and pump up bands (side note: my goddamn band snapped right when I started pumping up, which made things just that much more frustrating), I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling that I didn’t belong there. I’ve never felt that before at a show- that I wasn’t up to par with the other girls. I wanted to cover my body up, or even just leave. I was not confident in the body that I had shown up wearing. I’m usually singing and dancing backstage, making friends, having fun, sharing Chex mix, easing nerves. I love being backstage, but these girls didn’t seem to want to be my friends, which didn’t help (and I’m still not sure if that’s a pro level thing or an East coast thing or what- though I made fast friends with the figure pros at least year’s Mayhem…) My friend Tyler, a competitor herself, was handling me backstage. She assured me that I did belong. That I looked phenomenal. I was so glad to have her there, because I likely would have gone full-on meltdown without her calm and reassuring words as I was lining up to walk out. I knew once I hit the stage she would be a mess of tears, but in that moment, she was exactly as calm as I needed her to be, enough for both of us.
I can’t account for it, this lack of desire throughout the prep process. I love competing. I love being on stage, I love designing suits, I love posing. I love everything about it! But I just didn’t want to do it. By the time I realized I wasn’t ready to give it my everything, I had already registered for this show, and backing out would have meant forfeiting my pro card. In the WNBF, you have one calendar year after winning your pro card to compete as a pro, a requirement that must be met or you lose your pro standing. This would have given me until mid-July to meet this requirement. I chose to do this East coast show before the July show in Sacramento out of excitement at meeting some East coast friends, at making it an event. And by the time I realized I had made this decision hastily, and I should have held out for July, it was too late, I had signed the contract.
I had periods of motivation and focus. Two weeks or so at a time where I’d be really in it. Relief would wash over me, “yes, ok, finally! There it is! The spark!” But it would disappear shortly again, and I’d feel sad. Where was it? I WANTED to feel it. I wanted the excitement so, so badly. I carried on, though, fighting myself every step of the way. “This is the thing you do,” I told myself, “do it. You know how. You like this.” And so I did. But my workouts were lackluster. Every meal, carefully measured and calculated, was done so almost out of spite. I resented putting in the work, as opposed to reveling in it as I had in seasons past. I hated facing the spreadsheets where I calculated my macros each week, I resented entering my weight in my tracking app each morning and watching the trend line move down.
At six weeks out I had a wake up call- I met with my suit designer, who was incredible enough to have sponsored me this season- and her mirror and her suits and the measuring… it’s not forgiving. I was embarrassed to stand in front of her. For the first time in our three seasons working together, she didn’t gush over how incredible I looked. I left with a new motivation: don’t be a fucking embarrassment to yourself. Don’t let all of these people counting on you down.
And so I stepped it up.
And at four weeks out, I really kicked it on: two-a-days, cardio on rest days, laser focus. I started to feel it, perhaps in part because an amazing group of near-strangers and friends- Squat Rack Shenanigans readers, some of them from the very beginning- had created a Facebook event page, booked lodgings, and started planning to come see me do this.
I mean, there was even a hashtag… #ProShowShenanigans
This was real. This was sort of a big deal. These people were not only counting on me, but excited to see me- enough so to travel to do so. THAT is exciting. For the first time, I wasn’t mad or resentful about putting in the work. I wanted so badly to prove to these amazing, supportive people that I was worth supporting.
It was hard. Harder than it had ever been. I was frank about this, if you followed my social media- about feeling weak and tired. About feeling like I had no time. This is normal. It sucked, but it was the sort of suck that I willingly and lovingly embrace in this sport. (If you have time, 3DMJ made this great podcast about “embracing the suck,” discussing the sacrifices you must make as a bodybuilder to win.)
It seems a bit like I took my own advice on how to be an unsuccessful athlete. I wrote that piece, then took it and used it as a play-by-play for how to run my contest prep. I set myself up for failure, by planning to do this massive show the day after school ended, thereby rushing my already stressful year-end teacher things- wrapping up my unit and finalizing grades, making sure my class of interns had all of their paperwork for completion turned in, my seniors had met graduation deadline, student contracts were ready for summer school, awards were written and presented at afterschool ceremonies, grad night was chaperoned, year-end check out lists completed… and I had plans for my substitute for the last two days of school so I could fly to Boston.
And yet on show day, with a crowd of spectators who had come JUST to cheer for me, I placed. I found my number on the list after prejudging, in the final 5 ladies who would take the stage again with a chance at winning the show.
I was deeply moved by the hugs and screams of over two dozen incredible humans who came from several states- as far away as Colorado and Alaska, as well as Canada- to see ME on stage (or afterwards to have dinner with me or the next day to lift with me.) I accepted gifts of doughnuts and saw tears of pride in the eyes of my friends, and people were gushing over my physique and stage presence.
And I felt like a fraud.
These people had shown up for me, screamed until they lost their voices for me, and I felt like I, in turn, had not put in the appropriate level of reciprocation. As much as I was overwhelmed with happiness and love and pride, literally bursting with it to the point of speechlessness (which has never, in my memory, happened to me before) that all of them had come to see me, I was also deeply disappointed that I hadn’t lived up to my own expectations for them.
This knowledge has gnawed at eaten at me in the days since.
I am wracked with guilt, disappointment, and anxiety over this.
I have no choice now but to simply do better. Not place better, but DO better for my next two shows. Fuck the medals, they’ll come if they come; I need to feel like I belong on the pro stage. I need to feel like I deserve to be there, that I worked hard enough to earn my place there, and to be proud of my physique. I need to stop phoning it in and lazily stomping on the stair machine when I know my body responds better to plyo intervals. I need to stop telling myself that this shouldn’t be hard, that this doesn’t have to be uncomfortable- this IS fucking hard, this IS goddamned uncomfortable- and that’s exactly why not everyone does it, or does it well. This sport is about pushing the limits, and so far this season, I haven’t even approached mine.
I know I can do this. I can do this well. I’ve proven that to everyone. But now, I need to prove it to myself again. I have no way to apologize to every one of the amazing people who came to support me, and not one of them made me feel in way way that I had disappointed them, but in my heart, I feel that I should have been better. Using the law of Fuck Yes or No, this show should have been a no.
I have four weeks to do it- on July 15, I will be competing at the Natural Muscle Mayhem in Sacramento, the same show where last year I arrived an amateur, and left a pro, and this year, I have more to prove to myself than I have to any of the judges.
–>(If you’re in the area, I’d love it if you’d join me- click through to the event page and let me know you want to come to the show, or meet up for some dinner after.)
In the words of a man I admire very, very much: Yes. We. Can.
Yes I can.
And this time, it’s a Fuck Yes.