Muscle Mania

Show competitors take
personal fitness to a new level

Madison, Goshen residents say diet,
family support are key to success

By Don Ward

December 2008 KY & IN Cover

December 2008
Kentucky & Indiana
Editions Cover

(December 2008) – Joelle Miller grew up in a large Mennonite family where wearing shorts or skirts above the knee was forbidden. So as an adult, she had to leave her faith to pursue her interest in fitness and working out at the local gym.
Miller has come a long way from her days as a shy, insecure youth. Today, she not only stays fit with regular workouts but teaches classes at Madison, Ind.’s “Fit For the King” gym. And for the past year, she has even gone so far as to train and compete in regional women’s figure competitions. These competitions involve competitive posing on stage before hundreds of spectators and flashing cameras. Unlike fitness or bodybuilding competitions, figure shows involve muscular women judged solely on their physique while posing in bikinis and one-piece suits and heels.
Competing in such shows requires almost as much mental preparation as it does physical, according to local competitors. But don’t get the wrong impression; you must also have the muscle and the cut, sculpted body before they will let you step onto this stage. And that takes months of hard work in the gym, a strict diet, determination, discipline – and a sizable financial investment.
“When I went to my first show to watch a friend compete on stage, I thought to myself, ‘You would never get me up there to do that.’ “ said Miller, 36 and the mother of three children. “But I went home and thought about it, and I decided to try it because I wanted to change my physique, get healthy and have some fun – and just the challenge of it. I used to be this very quiet, insecure person, and this has really brought me out of my comfort zone.”
Miller has taught various fitness classes since 1995 and routinely worked out. But training for figure shows was something she wanted to do for herself. She said it took her husband, Vern, a little while to warm up to the idea, “but now he and my kids are 100 percent behind me, and they attend my shows.”

Joelle Miller

Photo by Don Ward

Madison, Ind., resident
Joelle Miller poses
during the Nov. 8
Kentucky Muscle Figure
Show in Louisville.

In the past year, Miller has competed as an amateur in four figure competitions in Kentucky and Ohio, with her highest finish second last March in Covington, Ky. She was among several regional competitors who took part in the Kentucky Muscle Strength and Fitness Extravaganza, held Nov. 7-8 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville, Ky.
Neither Miller nor her fellow Fit For the King instructor friend, Jennifer Sproles, placed in the top five among regional and national competitors at the show. But both said they enjoyed the experience and the support they received from numerous Madison residents who attended the Saturday night show.
“I have a personal goal of doing this for myself because my brother died at 37 and I am 37,” said Sproles, a self-employed beautician, fitness instructor and the mother of two. She was competing in only her second ever show, having made her figure show debut in October at Middletown, Ohio.
“I’m amazed that I actually did it,” she said. “But the experience was amazing. And personally, the girls I work with say I’ve never seemed happier. I’m definitely more confident. I get comments all the time on how good I look, and that boosts your morale.”
Both Miller and Sproles have entered what Tommy Wingham, a former bodybuilder competitor from Madison, affectionately calls a “subculture.”
Unlike the more sedate women’s figure posing competition, the men’s bodybuilding show is high energy, with loud music and bodybuilders entertaining the crowd with poses and dances and even somersaults. The women in the figure show, meanwhile, are introduced individually on stage to conduct brief mandatory poses. They compete in various classes based on age and height.
“It’s great. I love it,” said Wingham, 50, who attended the Louisville show to watch his friends from the gym compete. He competed in bodybuilding shows from 1974-84 and now helps to train others for upcoming competitions. After a nearly 15-year layoff, he is training for a show in March.
“It’s easier for the men; but these women – they have to work hard to burn off the fat and keep it off. And what body parts they don’t have, they have to have put in.”
Wingham can appreciate what Miller and Sproles have gone through to prepare and compete. Training begins months out with regular workouts, dieting and nutrition supplements and concludes with six to eight weeks of intense training, often from a professional trainer.

Figure Show Lineup

Photo by Don Ward

The lineup of women competing in the
Open Class at the
recent Kentucky
Muscle Figure Show.

Miller and Sproles joined a team of women who train under the tutelege of Julie Lohre of Covington, Ky. Lohre, currently ranked fourth nationally in figure by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, has spent the past five years teaching other women how to pose and train for competition. Starting up again Dec. 21, she will have up to 20 women traveling to her studio each week to train as a team for the spring shows. Madison resident Melissa Jackson has joined the team for the first time and will be working with Lohre to prepare for her first ever figure competition.
“I was inspired by Joelle, and I see it as the next level of my training,” said Jackson, 41, a self-admitted fitness “junkie” at Fit For the King and Rotary Lift employee.
Jackson has been a competitive runner in 10Ks and mini-marathons for many years but hopes competing in figure shows will help her overcome her shyness. She will enter her first show in March 2009. “I’ve been working out and dieting for 10 years, so this is for myself – to see if I can do it. It could be good for me to break out of my shell, if I can get through it without crumbling.”
It takes dedication and desire to achieve a level where the women are ready to step out onto a stage in front of hundreds of people and flashing cameras and strut their stuff, wearing only a bikini and heels. It also takes a significant investment, since the costs quickly add up for training, makeup, tanning, dieting, supplements, travel, hotel and rhinestone-studded figure show outfits.
“Some of the suits can cost as much as a wedding dress,” said Lohre, 34.
She grew up in Covington and first became involved in figure competition six years ago when she was pregnant with her son. She participated in her first show five months after he was born. She fell in love with the industry and developed a training program to help introduce others to competition training. She specializes in posing and also provides her clients with workout routines, nutritional programs and mental preparation.
“The biggest thing for these girls is understanding the training and type of nutrition they need to compete,” Lohre said. The diet she recommends allows for only 1,500 calories a day, comprised mostly of protein.

Here is a typical
cost breakdown
for one figure show:

• $650: Eight-week personal training program
• $80: Annual dues for National Physique Committee
• $160: Competition entry fee
• $100: Makeup, hair
• $100: Spray-on tan
• $850: Two competition suits and heels
• $250: Two-night hotel stay
• $200: Travel, food
• $2,390: Total

“The diet eliminates fast foods, bread groups, pasta and dairy, and focus more on a protein diet, such as chicken, fish, turkey and vegetables. It also allows complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal and sweet potatoes. It’s a clean diet that helps you lose the fat and maintain muscle.”
While the average woman carries about 20 percent body fat, Lohre’s regiment helps her teammates get down to 11 percent body fat in time for competition “so you look lean with muscle and lots of energy,” she said.
Sproles said her experience of training with Lohre: “Julie’s amazing; she really knows her stuff. As a first-time competitor, I felt better having someone telling me what to do. And it’s amazing to see the transformation of these girls over an eight-week period.”
Figure competitor Heather Bear of Aurora, Ind., believes 80 percent of her preparation is centered on diet. The 31-year-old mother of two young children carries her meals in tupperware whenever the family goes out to dinner or to visit relatives. “They are all used to it by now,” she says. “It’s just become part of life for me.”
Her protein-laden diet consists of baked fish, asparagus, egg whites, oatmeal, two gallons of water a day, protein shakes and vitamins. The protein helps burns fat and the water flushes her system. “It’s amazing to see your body change over the 12-week period that I train for a show,” she said.
Bear grew up in Milan, Ind. and attended the University of Cincinnati to become a veterinary technician. She wanted to lose weight for her 2003 wedding and contacted Jen Hendershott’s gym in Cincinnati. She fell in love with training and eventually began working at the gym. When Hendershott’s Phat Camp for women suddenly grew from eight to 18 shows a year, Bear quit her job and went to work full time for Hendershott. Today, Bear travels the country and the world as director of the Phat Camps. Her job has taken her to Australia, New Zealand and Canada and most of the United States.
Most Phat Camp clients are everyday people from all ages who just want to get fit, she says. Now that Hendershott has moved her operation to North Carolina, Bear has developed her own personal training business and directs the workouts at her home-based gym in Aurora. Those who want to step into the world of figure competition, she says, must be prepared for the ultimate sacrifice.


Photo by Don Ward

A male competitor
flexes his muscles
during the Kentucky
Muscle Bodybuilding
Show held Nov. 8 in
Louisville. The show
features a high
energy pace.

“It is very extreme, but I’m all about setting goals and doing what it takes to achieve it, so fitness training is perfect for me,” she said. “I consider it kind of a selfish sport because for 12 to 16 weeks it’s got to be all about you. You have to gain the support of your family to get through it.”
Family support is important to Corey Mollak of Goshen, Ky. He credits his wife, Teresa, and two daughters, ages 12 and 9, for allowing him to pursue his hobby. He was among the oldest competitors in the men’s bodybuilding class at the recent Louisville show. At age 53, he has been training and competing in such events for 13 years. But this was only his third competition in all that time. The Nebraska native moved to the Louisville area with his wife and two daughters from Aiken, S.C. He works as the director of operations for Blue Fin Seafood in Louisville.
Mollak is unusual in that he trains alone in his basement gym with not help from a personal trainer. “I go downstairs and crank up AC-DC and go to it,” he said. “I ‘m pretty much my own motivator and have a lot of discipline in what I do. I like the results I get for my body and how good it makes me feel. I have so much energy all day. It gives you self-confidence and builds self-esteem, and you want more.”
Mollak is of the belief that anyone can do it if they set their mind to it. “It’s mind over body; you just have to develop the right mental aptitude and self-discipline. Your body will do anything you want it to do; it’s just your mind that keeps you from doing it.”
Mollak worked his way down to only 4 percent body fat for the November show. He says he will take time off from training over the holidays and start back in time for the March show in Covington. He has impressed his younger co-workers with his physique and regimented lifestyle, and takes every opportunity to encourage others to try it.
Attending the shows is not only fun but inspiring for others who may dream of stepping onto that stage.
“I’ve always wanted to do it and coming here to watch these girls makes me want to compete. But I know it takes a lot of dedication, and that’s a big commitment for anyone,” said Madison’s Chandra Riley, who attended the Louisville show as a spectator and works out at Fit For the King.
Wingham added: “Most people don’t realize what goes into this sport. It is more than training; it becomes a lifestyle.”
Amanda Teltow of Madison served as the inspiration for Miller. She also works at Fit For the King and began competing in figure shows a few years ago. Her hours in the gym are evident, and she now trains and helps others who are considering doing this type of competition.
“I am so proud of Joelle and Jennifer,” said Teltow. “People who go to the gym are here for fitness and healthy living, but they go back to their jobs and lives. But when you are training for a competition like this, you are always in training. It’s tough, but I think it is rewarding.”
Miller said anyone who might consider moving up to figure competition level should consult with a professional trainer to get prepared. She also warned that it takes a real commitment to see it through, but that the experience is rewarding and the results are not only physically evident but can be life-changing.
“If you are going to dedicate yourself to something like that, it will require a lot of self-discipline and time away from your family. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives. It improves your self-esteem, helps you stay healthy and fit, allows you to meet new people, and the best thing is, I can inspire other women to tackle a challenge in their own life.”

• To learn more about figure competitions, training or those mentioned in this article, visit these websites: www.KentuckyMuscle.com; www.IFBB.com; www.JulieLohre.com; www.Heather-Bear.com; www.JoelleMiller.com.

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