It's late Thursday evening, March 15, and I rush around my house like a baby on speed, frantically packing for a 3-day jaunt to the IFBB Grand Prix and FitX, Australia's Sport and Fitness Expo. I scroll through my packing list. Supplements: check. Food, portioned and frozen: check. Gym clothes: check. Of the things I need, these are most essential.
Like a heap of pasta after a tough workout, it hits me: I need underwear! I stare into my suitcase like it holds the secret to the universe, but can't figure out how many pairs to pack. Amid brain fog, I count days: Friday, Saturday, usually followed by Sunday. Ah, stuff it - I toss in 7 pair, just in case. A girl never knows.
I sit down to message my coach, giving her a play-by-play of my next few days. My main concerns are when I'll be able to eat, and how to heat up my freaking food. My coach calms me: Microwaves are everywhere, of course, even in gas stations. Crises averted.
Nothing To Chance
I'm in contest prep mode. I have tunnel vision, and nothing's going to get in the way of my 4 upcoming bikini competitions in the next 3 months. My first competition (ever, mind you!) is in 5 weeks.
The last 2 years, I whittled my 85kg (187-pound) frame to 59kg (129 pounds). I kept a blog along the way (mevsthebulge.com). When Bodybuilding.com asked me to write a story on the IFBB Grand Prix, I attacked the opportunity with the same ferocity which I attack chicken and brown rice, and that's a ferocious feed.
Because I am hungry... All, The, Damn, Time.
IFBB Grand Prix
The IFBB Grand Prix is one of the biggest events on the Australian bodybuilding calendar. It boasts the biggest of the big boys and the crème de la crème of figure professionals. Mix in local and international competitors, and it's a spectacular, packing powerful punches of inspiration for this soon-to-be bikini girl.
The FitX Sport & Fitness Expo coincides with the Grand Prix weekend. You get up-close and personal with amateur bodybuilding competitors and pros on stage for pre-judging.
I'm talking really close - so close you can see sweat drip from their taut, tanned bodies as they hold their poses, smiling like dingoes, although I know firsthand how much it burns.
Exhibits and stalls tout the best health and fitness products on the market. Thousands upon thousands of samples are given away over the 2-day extravaganza.
The Bulk Nutrients team (who sponsored the IFBB Amateur Bodybuilding Grand Prix & Pro Qualifier Event) revealed that it gives out more than 8,000 samples in two days!
The supplement business clearly booms from Down Under like thunder in the wet season.
Into The Breach
Friday morning, I board a 90-minute flight from Sydney to Melbourne. On the plane, I eat oats mixed with eggs and berries. The man next to me is totally jealous of my gruel, which must look far better than the complementary yogurt and muesli bar he chomps.
We hit Melbourne and I head straight to the hotel, where I drop my bags in a heap. I navigate to the nearest gym, already in my gym clothes (hello, organization and intricate planning abilities!), and bust out a good leg session. Through the sweat, I think about the days ahead -things I want to see, people I want to meet, and inspiration I want to gain.
Saturday morning I wake in one of the world's most beautiful cities. I open the curtains to sunlight peeking into alleys and dancing on buildings. Yes. Today will be a GOOD day.
I'm about to shower when I receive a message from my coach, also in town for the Expo and IFBB show. "Amateur bikini competitors about to hit the stage," it reads. WHAT?!
"Why didn't you tell me?!" I ask. She responds that she did. Of course. Curse you, diet brain! Why you no retain information? I hop in the shower, dress in a hurry, and jog to the venue. Extra cardio! #winning.
I arrive, sweaty and flustered, and locate my coach and a friend sitting in the audience. They've got an awesome view of the stage. I can't believe it. These girls look INCREDIBLE. In a quick 35 days, I will be up there. I will look like one of them. I no longer say, "I hope I will look that good!" I repeat, like a mantra, "I WILL look that good!" I jump out of my skin with excitement.
I spy New Zealand IFBB Figure Pro Raechelle Chase in the crowd. I ask her what she thinks of the show so far. She responds that she's just happy to be on the other side of the stage for once!
Next up: prejudging for the pro figure girls. Although I'm not training to be a figure competitor, I admire the physiques these women build through sheer guts, determination and hard work. Erin Stern, Nicole Wilkins, Larissa Reis, Summer Bernard, Alicia Harris and a slew of other glittering goddesses own the stage, one by one, and then stand together in a row. I pick my jaw up off the ground; my friend does the same. With our jaws re-attached, we grin in worship.
These women have a softer, more feminine look than what we're used to seeing from other federations. Donny Henderson-Smith, Head Coach at DHS Bodybuilding & DHS Divas, confirms this: "The IFBB seems to go for more of a softer look, which, to be honest, is probably more feminine, more attractive and more 'figure-ish' than what you would look for normally."
A Gulp of Oxygen
The prejudging finishes and I have a bit of time before the main show. I head over to the Oxygen Magazine booth. I tell them I'm reporting on the show and expo for Bodybuilding.com.
They tell me that Lindy Olsen, editor of Oxygen and one of my idols, just snuck off for 5 minutes and I should chat with her when she returns.
When she appears, I nervously introduce myself. I tell her a bit about my blog and background. She is clearly excited by my story - she smiles widely, delighted. Lindy has an infectious passion for health and fitness.
I ask her what the magazine's message is. She says: "Oxygen is for people who want to get fit without the fluff."
She stresses the importance of being healthy on the inside, living a healthy lifestyle, and that looking good is a side effect of great health.
When I ask for the secret to becoming an Oxygen cover model (my ultimate dream), she replies: "It's all about fit and healthy, first and foremost. Anyone can be on a cover and look pretty; it's about the person behind that. It's about attitude; it's about being gracious. It's about not being a diva."
We chat for 10-to-15 minutes, and I can't help but get excited. If I can inspire even half the people she has to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, I would feel complete.
The Main Event
The main event is about to start! The show opens with a bang! After the competitors are announced, fireworks shoot offstage. Dramatic music plays and I feel nerve-endings in my skin tingle in anticipation.
Tony Doherty from Doherty's Gym introduces the show and talks about the competitors, their dreams, and their incredible achievements. He also talks about how big bodybuilding is becoming in Australia, and how more and more people are taking an interest in the sport.
The men's show begins. I'm not going to pretend like I know a whole lot about men's bodybuilding, but the competitors' backgrounds really strike me. For instance, Bollywood star Varinda Singh, a beautiful poser with a mesmerising and enviable 120-kg physique, is a strict vegetarian!
There's Branch Warren! He tore his quad to pieces, absolutely shredded it, while hopping out of his truck last year. He was told to forget about lifting weights after surgery and thought, "Screw that!" He went home and told his wife he would compete in the Arnold 6 months later. He began training upper body 3-4 days after surgery, fought tooth and nail, and won the 2012 Arnold Classic.
Abraham Elzaibek, a newcomer, wins his pro card (today!) and now stands among his idols. He has an impressive most-muscular pose! He's a teeth-baring, vein-popping monster, and the crowd loves it.
We saw the beasts; now it's time for the beauties.
The girls look even better than they did earlier, if that's even possible. The lighting on this stage makes a huge difference, and the ladies move effortlessly and gracefully through their quarter turns.
Erin Stern looks like a strong contender, with her amazingly-defined back and long, sleek legs, but Nicole Wilkins is really giving Erin a run for her money. Nicole has broad and perfectly-rounded delts, which draw the eye down to her tapered waist.
Larissa Reis also brings the goods. She shines on stage in a glittery red suit with silver hearts on the bust. It's typical Larissa style, and she definitely pleases the crowd. Her quads are out of this world and her calves are so incredible they "moo" when she walks.
Call-outs commence. Erin, Nicole and Larissa are in the first call-out, eliciting no surprise.
One more call-out: Erin and Nicole. The judges pit these two stunning women against each other, and I'm so torn between the two! I'm anxious to hear what the judges decide.
The ladies leave the stage and the men reappear. There's clear competition between the behemoths as they pose over the top of each other, sometimes coming head-to-head like elk locking horns in rut. At the same time, you sense camaraderie between them; they pat one another on the back and wish each other luck.
The Winner's Circle
After some incredible strongman entertainment, I start to feel the strain of my contest prep diet. I'm not used to being out so late and I am tired, hungry and ready to curl up in bed with hot tea to soothe the hunger pangs. Thank goodness it is time to hear the results!
In a great showing, Aussie first-timers Abraham and Laura are awarded 7th and 6th place, respectively.
What an amazing day and night! I run - yes run, I need more cardio! - back to the hotel and hop into bed, and promptly pass out in the Melbourne night.
Sunday morning, I make my way back to the Expo to attend a seminar with Nicole Wilkins and Kim Oddo. I absorb as much knowledge as possible and come away with a renewed sense of energy and determination to smash my upcoming comps.
As a newcomer to the sport of competitive bodybuilding, the weekend has been an incredibly valuable experience. It's been a long, hard journey to get where I am, but I know I'm just getting started. I can't wait to keep going.