Team Organiser: Peter Hardwick
Team Photographer: Keith Jolly
Kiwi Team: Karen Montague, Kym Carter, Farah Deobhakta, Rota Elliot, Paul Adams, Ruth Naidoo (plus some vital and long-suffering support crew!)
So you think competing overseas is an unrealistic dream?
I am here to convince you differently.
I know this because at the end of my first year competing in bodybuilding I qualified to compete in the World’s most prestigious natural bodybuilding event, the Natural Olympia in USA, and claimed the World Title for the Amateur Women’s Physique Division.
It was a big decision to pursue this competition, especially as I was an absolute rookie with just two bodybuilding competitions under my belt! I had multiple panic attacks to be honest! After qualifying at the INBA South Pacific Champs in August I asked my nutritionist, Tarren McCall if it was reasonable for me to compete at the Natural Olympia. If I was going to be completely out of my league I would rather wait and train for another year. She believed I had a good chance of placing. So, decision made, we worked really hard; my husband Strini put all his efforts into training me, and we focussed all our energies on getting me into the best condition.
With my mind on my goals I felt really good and was on track all through the prep phases. Disciplined every day, I followed exactly what my mentors planned for me. Fundraising was a big deal too and I got a few sponsors on board, did a raffle at work and gym, plus sold anything I possibly could! Thanks go to sponsors Nutrition Plus, BraveDay, Champion Nutrition and FitForever. The departure date arrived. As the quintessential planner I had the two days of the flights mapped out explicitly including food, water, supplementation and sleep times. A very impressive plan I assure you. Once we landed in Reno and everything had gone to plan I was pretty impressed with myself! My high was short-lived as we arrived at the Grand Sierra hotel only to realise I had left our passports in the plane. I froze. My face went pale. My brilliant husband went into resolution mode, caught a taxi to the airport and did not return until the passports were found. They were FedEx-ed to us the next day. This experience was a clear reflection of my head-space being overloaded! And on that note and with the realisation that I was actually at The Natural Olympia, the panic attacks really started! Suddenly I felt like a really small fish in a really big pond.
Thankfully, the hotel room was a relief, a huge room with lots of space as well as an unexpected fridge and microwave. We walked to the Walmart, and my first American SuperStore experience was mindblowing! The variety! The options! The vast array of diet/low calorie foods was superb! I did a dance in the store when I spotted the ready set Jello! What a luxury! The lean turkey selection was amazing and a welcome change from chicken. We had packed a little electric stove and that evening was spent on food prep in our room, which was totally bizarre but great fun. The bathroom extractor fan helped dissipate the smell of turkey cooking. Later we found out that Rota’s wife Alison was terrified they would set off the fire alarms and get kicked out the hotel. Not sure anyone except for bodybuilders get to experience cooking turkey and broccoli in a hotel bathroom, and that is their loss! The next day at registration, we were able to see the venue, and get familiar with the surroundings. The massive venue got my heart racing. My anxiety was kept at bay by the welcoming and very efficient organisers, and the support of the Kiwi team. Even though they had much more experience than me they, they made me feel part of the team and looked after me all the way through. However, the morning of the comp my panic state was at a new high. My delicious and (as all competitors know) crucial pre-comp breakfast was thrown up half way through eating it, which only caused to increase my stress. Strini was a brilliant support, by my side all the time and helping me get ready; including everything from cooking my food, shaving my legs, applying my tan, eye-liner and getting me into the bikini! And although anxious, I had moments of confidence, reminding myself of the hard work and commitment I had applied to get to this point. The emotional ups and downs were challenging, but also great learning experiences.
Once back-stage and within an hour I was much more relaxed. The calibre of athletes was another reminder of the prestige of this competition, over a hundred athletes from all over the world all in top-class condition. Maybe I had expected some egotism but every athlete was friendly, down-to-earth and enthusiastic. We met some amazing people, were inspired and made new friends. There was even a lady competing against me who taught me a pose ladies never do in NZ; the “crab-pose” just before we went on stage. Unbelievable! This was my first time at a 2-show format competition, with pre-judging in the morning and routines/placing in the evening. Added to that I had entered two divisions: Womens’ Bodybuilding (which is like Physique in NZ); and Womens’ Physique, (similar to Figure on heels). These divisions were scheduled for different days, so Bodybuilding on the Friday and Physique on Saturday. Nothing like new challenges to spice things up! The rest of the Kiwi team had also entered multiple-divisions and we were all set to do NZ proud!
I have learnt that bodybuilding involves a lot of waiting around! After pre-judging it was a long wait till the evening show, just hanging out in the hotel room. In Reno all I saw was the hotel and the Wallmart, which is pretty funny as the picture of the Reno arch was on my laptop screensaver for months as motivation but I never actually saw it. That didn’t matter, as I needed to rest and focus, especially because this was all new to me. At least Strini went exploring through Reno and shopped for me (I am so spoilt), plus met all kinds of people. One passer-by stopped him and said, “You’ve got an awesome smile”. So fitting that Kim and the team had nicknamed him Smiley, as an easier version to Strini. The waiting that evening was valuable time spent with athletes backstage, learning from each other and having fun together. When I won Gold in the Tall Class in Open Womens’ Bodybuilding, I was over-the-moon excited! It was totally unexpected and really it just felt amazing! Then in the Overalls against Janet Kane (experienced Aussie and captain of the Aussie team) I was honoured to be on stage with her. We both worked really hard and I was inspired to have her next to me squeezing all her poses in intense effort! She took the Overall Title in that division. The next day, much more relaxed, and now able to hold down my precious breakfast, was time for my debut in heels. My main objective was just to get to center stage without falling over! With that achieved I was so relieved that I breezed through the poses and really enjoyed every minute. The afternoon of waiting again tested my mental focus but was so worth it. After the evening routines I was placed first in the Tall Division. Once we knew I was going into the Overalls Strini rushed back-stage and told me to squeeze my heart out and give it everything I had against the Slovakian Short Class winner. We both worked really hard and the judges had us hold the poses for ages, especially waiting for a decision in our “relaxed pose” (figure girls know there is nothing relaxed about this pose!) When they announced that I had won, it was quite a strange feeling; I felt like I was watching from outside my body. The medal and wreath were placed on my head and Diana Kakos, CFO of the INBA guided me to the podium. During the NZ National Anthem I just beamed. The whole time I focussed on Strini and blew him kisses. This is as much his award as mine. It is the product of a team effort and months of sacrifice and dedication. I could not have asked for anything else, words cannot describe the achievement of an Overall Title at Natural Olympia.
The remarkable 6-strong Kiwi team had fantastic success, bringing home 6 Gold Medals, 4 Silver, 4 Bronze and 1 Overall Title. We kept getting asked how many of us there were because it definitely seemed like more than six with the multiple entries and subsequent placings in most of them. Monty was asked to compete in the Pro Division and graciously agreed, and then had to wait ten times longer than me for the scheduled division. Her conditioning (and patience) were well rewarded and she took the bronze, as well as a fabulous Pro Jacket, which is seriously awesome. Farah and Kym each took home a full spectrum of gold, silver and bronze and Rota a well-deserved silver medal. The event brunch after the competition was a highlight for all of us, as we got to mingle with the athletes in a more relaxed state and enjoy a good feed! The INBA President Denny and his wife Diana Kakos really instil a family feel at this event that honours the athletes and the sport. There were inspirational speeches by Hall of Fame inductees and it was truly a privilege to be amongst this group of incredible people.
From Reno we flew to LA and had three nights in Anaheim, California. America is really a wonderful place to visit, the different culture was fun to see and the people were unexpectedly friendly. America is mad on coffee, which is perfect for a team of hungry, tired, depleted bodybuilders! Every hotel had a coffee machine and every restaurant serves bottomless coffee. Our Anaheim motel rate included a daily continental breakfast, which hilariously comprised just doughnuts and pasties. But at least there was coffee! The few days in California allowed us to spend time out of stage bikinis and dream-tan and enjoy the sights. We trained at the original Golds Gym, which was just amazing! It is the most massive gym I have ever been in, the one leg section is size of my entire local gym. From there we invaded The Omelette Palour, which is a favourite bodybuilders hangout. The ginormous egg white omelettes including (obviously) broccoli, went down hastily. Pete did certainly not let us down with his promise of large portions and hence had a trail of happy, full-tummied travellers. We then went to Venice Beach, which was full of crazies and so brilliant to see. We were walking around a bit gobsmacked really. Rota and I had a pose down at Muscle Beach and it was exciting to consider the history and all the famous people who had trained there. The trip to Disney Land the next day was another highlight and well-planned with bags of chicken and broccoli we took advantage of every minute. I swear the adrenaline rush of the rides and the walking all day made for ultimate calorie-burning.
Already having had the trip of a lifetime we headed towards Las Vegas. Now my words will fail to describe the lights, flash and bling, that is Vegas. It was totally awesome to see. Fortunately I saw very much more of Vegas than I did of Reno, as my nerves were not as fragile. We explored the new strip and the old strip and for the most part were in total awe. Vegas was true to the stereotype of money, money, money and the incessant ding ding ding of pokeys was everywhere. One hotel sign read: “beef, booze and broads” which is just the way Vegas is. But there is also fabulous luxury and most of the casinos are larger than life; like the Venetian for example, which has waterways running through it and you can ride a gondola inside the hotel! On one exploration we found Whole Foods Market and I fell in love. This store is to die for and the variety of the salad and deli section (including perfect pre-comp meals!) was almost too much for me to handle!
The Vegas competition was a combination of Fitness, Bikini, Model, and Figure America Competitions as well Muscle Mania World Championships. So with an emphasis on bikini and model search and a major media presence, the Golden Nugget Hotel was teeming with beautiful people. There were over 200 bikini athletes alone. This competition was completely different to the Natural Olympia, with a greater focus on crowd entertainment, so more attention on lights, sound and staging. It was great to experience the two different approaches and each had their own benefits. We had pre-judging on the Friday evening and then routines/placing on the Saturday evening. The waiting game ensued, but again it was a great opportunity to met competitors from all over the world. We killed the time by having our own pose-downs and photo-shoots backstage. I placed 2nd in Women’s Bodybuilding behind Patricia Beckman, an undefeated Pro Natural World Champ, who was totally inspirational! The Kiwi’s again produced impressive results with placings in all categories, especially the Figure ladies Monty and Kym who placed 2nd and 5th in a huge division of 13 athletes.
The team dinner on the last night we were all together started with a impressive medal display and photo-shoot and then some treats we had all been looking forward to. Monty practically embraced a bottle of wife, Kim devoured her steak, Farah and Paul tucked into onion soup and Rota and I attacked big plates of ribs. Our wonderful support crew enjoyed being able to finally completely relax and have fun with us. We had great laughs over the experiences of the trip and thanked Pete for his organisation and looking after us all. Pete and Keith were both such proud supporters and went out of their way to make the entire trip memorable for everyone.
This was an experience I will cherish forever, so much so that the hard work before-hand pales in comparison to the memories, rewards and personal growth.
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