Why did I choose this title for my first blog post? The topic, one that is applicable throughout our entire athletic year (prep/contest season vs offseason), is self-assessment & critique. Anyone that has spoken to me in the past year knows that I am quite the baseball fan! With a number of trades filling out my team (Toronto Blue Jays) in 2015, it has been an exciting year to watch and saw the emergence of a true favourite player for me. In the few interviews I have seen or read, our esteemed third baseman and superstar slugger has reiterated the same key to his last couple years of improvement (& domination) as ongoing self-awareness and ability to be critical of his performance and make adaptations in training and game preparation. Earlier this year he was quoted as saying he’d previously been the worst player in the league (not sure how that was quantified) and doesn’t take any success for granted. This month he was voted “player of the year” in the 2015 Player’s Choice Awards and AL MVP, one of the most prestigious individual awards in baseball. This turnaround in success happened in just a few short years. “What Would Josh Donaldson Do?” is my way of asking myself how I could be doing better in any given moment. That exact phrase is actually on a post-it over my desk at home.
OK, enough about Josh (is it ever enough??), how do I use this mentality to motivate myself to be better? I have had varying degrees of success in bodybuilding from year to year… even in the same year! This year, to be specific. I began prep for my 1st show in a pretty good place. Physically and emotionally I was relatively even-keeled from Feb until the Omaha and Toronto Pro shows (May 30th and June 6th). I placed 4th in both and was mostly happy with that outcome (why just “mostly” to be discussed below) as it qualified me for the top show of the year in professional Women’s Bodybuilding, the Wings of Strength IFBB Rising Phoenix World Championship. The inaugural Ms. Rising Phoenix (previously Ms. Olympia) was to be crowned on Aug 22nd in San Antonio, Texas and I was one of the 15 women qualified to compete for it!! By the time I arrived at the show my physique and mental game that I had earlier in the year simply wasn’t there. What a huge disappointment… and so comes the time to reflect on what happened and how I can build a competitive fire hotter than ever to burn all the way through 2016 and beyond! I have broken down my thoughts into 6 categories (or “keys to success” as Arnold would put it). All are areas I want to improve upon, maybe not all at once, but at least be mindful of each as I get ready for the 2016 season. I decided to talk about 3 today, mostly mental and emotional aspects of training and competing, and 3 in my next blog – details on training and diet etc… I know this post is already a bit long for a blog but it’s my first one on the site and I feel like starting out a little more on the personal side.
#1 Placing blame. This has actually never been an issue for me, and a real pet peeve and display of poor sportsmanship when I see it coming from other athletes. That’s why it’s #1. Not only is it such an important part of good character, it’s an easy fix! Why not start with a success right off the bat! (see what I did there? minor baseball pun.) Firstly, never blame your coach. It’s your responsibility to do your homework on who you choose to work with (see future blog on this topic) and to communicate honestly and frequently with him/her throughout the year. Failing to do so is on us. The other part of blame I DID fail somewhat on this year was blaming the judges. Until this year I had never complained or felt like I “deserved” better than the placing I got. Feeling disappointed for a brief period after the show is another thing, we’re all human.
Judging is subjective and varies with each head judge (and panel of judges) at every show. It could go a number of ways, especially at the highest level when everyone is huge, lean and genetically gifted! Some judges weigh certain criteria higher than others. The judging criteria, for those that don’t know, being: size, symmetry, proportion (all 3 combined to describe “shape”), conditioning (a combination of being super-lean, dry and full on the day of competition) and posing/stage presence. Typically the area of contention lies in Condition vs Shape. I personally have always preferred an athlete with a more pleasing shape being slightly less conditioned (within reason) than someone who is ultra-shredded but not as aesthetically pleasing in shape. There is no set value assigned to the judging criteria (if you’ve ever judged a show you’d know how little time there is to make these decisions, let alone add in a mathematical formula to make it more balanced). It just must be accepted that judging is often a matter of personal opinion. I won’t even touch on the idea of “politics” being an issue here. If you don’t like it, don’t compete!
This year, at the Toronto Pro, I admit to feeling robbed (there was a moment of similar disappointment in Omaha but I quickly changed my attitude after accepting a simple confusion in the way prejudging was called). I wish I had reacted differently. I certainly didn’t make a scene or confront a judge or anything like that!! But I shared my feelings with a number of people that I felt I deserved a higher placing over 2 girls that I felt only had 1 of the 5 judging criteria better than I did: conditioning. I held on to that little pill of bitterness for awhile after the show. It is time to leave that in the past and focus on what the REAL problem is and what I can do about it. I loved the size and shape I brought to the stage, but I needed to be more shredded to be competitive. I always have. This was probably the 2nd best condition I have ever brought to the stage but I still believe the best “overall” package to date. The judges, however, are not judging me against my past self. That doesn’t mean I deserved a better placing. It means I now have to bring up my condition to mach the other improvements I have made in my physique! If I feel I have truly nailed all 5 criteria, better than anyone else onstage with me, and I am still beaten in the eyes of the judges… I wonder how that would feel? Would it be easier or more difficult to accept the subjective nature of our sport? Was my reaction this year just an artifact of knowing I was good but not quite lean enough? I can only strive to answer those questions in 2016! Attitude is everything.
#2 Relationships with other athletes & isolation. This is a tough one. I had great aspirations to improve on this right after the Rising Phoenix show. Despite my poor (& deserved) placing, that show was special to me (and other women I spoke to) for one wonderful reason. Everyone walked around the host hotel with a warm heart, knowing we were part of something great. Bodybuilding, especially women’s bodybuilding, is a very small sport. It gets more ridicule than legitimate coverage but the those of us who love it stick with it with the support of passionate sponsors. Wings of Strength doesn’t just fund shows, they know the individual athletes as the strong and beautiful women they are and care about how we are represented on an athletic stage.
I knew before I arrived in Texas that I was not in the physical condition I needed to be to place well. I struggled to feel pride in my physique at all, despite the great 1st half of 2015 I had to qualify for this event. On the plane ride over, knowing that the work was over and the only thing left to do was perform my best with what I had brought, I did manage to get in a positive mindset to make the most of the weekend! My biggest takeaway is always the friendships I form with other athletes and this show was not only no exception, it was the best experience of that I’d had yet! 1.5 years ago one of the 2014 Toronto Pro athletes, Margie Martin, approached me near the SkyDome to introduce herself and tell me that she had one of my pictures from 2012 in her motivational album to help motivate her to perform at HER best! I was truly touched. I knew that I might be inspirational to some amateur athletes but I never really thought of other pros admiring my physique… and why not?? I have IFBB Pro ladies that I look up to, admiring not just their physiques but the dedication they have to continue to improve and excel in the sport. Margie is now one of them! We met at both the Omaha and Toronto shows this year (she did 5 shows altogether in 2015, incredible!!) and then finally at the Rising Phoenix Championship. Instead of staying with her family and focussing on her own performance the girl took me shopping for hair! She just would not let me go onstage without doing whatever she could to help me look my best, if not in physique then in presentation. Margie is now the World champion of Women’s Bodybuilding. Giving back, by helping another athlete, volunteering your time to promote a sport you love, or whatever version you choose in your life, is never a waste of time. I will always remember her gesture when I look back on this year. This is just one example, but one I love to share as a highlight of the weekend.
I met (and met again) a number of fabulous women backstage this year. I made plans with them to train together, keep in touch, support each other… because there is no downside to that. But a couple of weeks after the season was over that fire kind of went out in me. I failed again to solidify those relationships. They’re not going anywhere, I’ll see them again in 2016, or exchange some “likes” & comments on FB, but I didn’t keep up with those relationships the way I wanted to. I let the grind of Fall/Winter life reduce that fire to embers. A big part, of course, is financial. If I had the funds I would make small trips to other parts of North America at least, and enjoy training and sharing some meals (& wine!!!) with other women like me. I could be more active in online groups. Groups created for exactly this purpose. I could find other local bodybuilders and make plans to meet and train in the offseason. So why don’t I?? I’ve put it out there now, so I can only keep trying to pull that out of myself. It is far too easy to isolate yourself in this lifestyle. It’s costly.. financially, emotionally and of your time. It will always be a huge priority for me to make more of the social opportunities I have. There is a much greater mental cost not to do so.
#3 Education, giving back. My final point for this part of the blog entry centres around giving back… I mentioned my experience with Margie above as a type of selfless giving between friends, but this topic refers more to how I can contribute to the world of exercise and bodybuilding as an athlete and personal trainer. This is another thing I was soooo excited about at the end of the summer. I wanted to (still do eventually) attend some university classes, eventually enrolling in another program in 2017. It just didn’t work out right away. I didn’t have the time to both attend school AND earn enough income to pay for it. I struggle to motivate myself to keep up with self-directed continuing education on my own, I love the classroom environment! So I have to refocus my attention on other ways I can achieve this until taking the courses I want becomes a viable option again. I have recently started working at a gym, Striation 6 Exercise & Performance Centre, that recognizes the importance of continuous education and improvement for their trainers. We have study groups 2-3x/week and I had the idea to use this blog (on occasion, not all the time, I like personal posts too!) to communicate some of the things we learn in a way that the every day exerciser, or other bodybuilders and gym rats can utilize. So stay tuned and feel free to post questions! Anything I have to answer is a perfect excuse for me to learn something new myself. A personal goal of mine is to be more active on social media and though this website, but in a productive way… not as an #Instagram #fitness #bimbo!
I believe the main thing that has held me back from making significant moves towards the goals I have mentioned so far is feeling overwhelmed about how much I want to do at the same time. In fact I came up with this blog post idea over 2 weeks ago and it has taken me this long to post it! So I am trying to keep it simple (albeit verbose in explanation) and I am going to wrap up part 1 of this post now. Thanks for reading!! I hope you enjoyed it, related to it, or both. Positive questions and comments are encouraged.