Randy and Julie Leppala had a dream: to promote a successful, 100% drug-free bodybuilding and figure show. That dream became reality on April 5th 2008 in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/Saint Paul Minnesota. Nearly 80 natural competitors assembled at the Hopkins High Auditorium to become part of NPC history in the inaugural NPC Heartland Natural Classic.
On hand for the Heartland kick-off was IFBB professional bodybuilder Derik Farnsworth. Farnsworth, who is one of the few drug free pros, was brought on board by Randy Leppala to further inspire the amateurs as a living role model of how far a natural athlete can travel in twenty-first century bodybuilding.
The judging panel consisted of a virtual who's who of Heartland competitors and promoters. Former Ms. Olympia competitor and NPC Chairperson Christine Bongiovanni-Stiff sat in the head judge's chair leading the judging panel.
Stepping into the MC spot was national challenger Shawn Myszka. Even though Myszka has retired from the competitive stage his trademark legs were still looking phenomenal. I could swear I could still see the definition in his quads right through his trousers.
Twenty figure women made their way to the Mini Apple to compete in four classes. Short Class winner and eventual overall figure champion Michelle Bowman 's dark hair, dark eyes and lightning bright smile made her a standout. That is not to say she didn't' have any competition.
The number two girl in the short class was Badger Stater Lori Forst. Forst possessed great symmetry and her delts were outstanding. Another lady that could go national with further refining of her physique was third place winner, Wendy Greene.
The medium class was a good match between Janyna Fink and Gina Amatuzio. Fink eventually took the first place trophy leaving Amatuzio second and Tina Mattson third. Compliments to Mattson on her presentation skills in both prejudging and the evening show. She looked as if she owned the stage and kept a winner's smile on her face at all times.
Angie Reinke took the tall class by storm. Here conditioning was a perfect mix of symmetry and just the right amount of definition. Reinke also presented well and whoever did her color gets an A +. Tara Sowka was another one of the tall ladies that has great potential.
With additional width to her back and shoulders and more sweep to her thighs she could elevate her placings considerably. Sowka looked happy to take home the second place trophy. Biggest smile award goes to Miriam Fayas as well as third in the class.
Another kudo for Team Leppala was how the show attracted a relatively large number of competitive female bodybuilders. Female bodybuilding numbers have been down in recent years all over the country and it was a welcome sight to see some ladies come in shape and ready to compete.
Laurey Heinrich and Kim Landry-Ayres were two such competitors who came ready to rumble. Heinrich took top honors in the masters division, novice middleweight, open middleweight, and took home the overall trophy in the novice as well. Heinrich was edged out of the open overall title by the irrepressible Kim Landry-Ayres.
Both ladies were very competitive in symmetry and conditioning but I feel it was Landry-Ayres' creative posing that made her the front-runner. Later in the evening Kim Landry-Ayres also received the "Female Best Poser" award.
Novice women heavyweight winner, Karen Johnson possessed one of the most balanced physiques of the evening and her graceful posing presentation accented her strong points perfectly. Another well-paced and flattering posing routine was performed by masters over forty winner Kalli Roberts.
Final mention in the women's division goes to Nu Gamble. Her routine garnered so much applause that it sounded like half of her home town of Taylors Falls showed up to cheer her on.
The teen men division was one of the most entertaining of the evening. Five young men pitted themselves against one another to see if they had a future in the sport of bodybuilding and all of them showed promise. The winner of the division was Ryan Sonnenburg. Sonnerburg displayed a remarkable rib cage that belied his youth.
He definitely has room to grow. Movie star handsome Austin Kjergaard showed his exuberance in hard-hitting routine. He made some believers out of the nearly 900 bodybuilding fanatics that packed the Hopkins Auditorium
One of the other heroes of the teen division was Pheng Her. Her was understandably nervous when he began his posing routine. His trepidation soon fled and he blossomed as he basked in the thunderous welcome he received.
The master men consisted of two classes, 40 to 49 and over 50. Both groups displayed some quality muscle maturity. Bob Holper, first place winner in the 40 to 49 group, worked his way through a dozen of bodybuilding's most classic poses. He was confident and borderline cocky, and with good reason.
He was outstanding in the masters. Second place John Swododa had another physique that only a lifetime of hard training and clean eating can bring. He was particularly impressive in his delts and pecs.
One of the grainiest men of the evening was over 50 champion Doug Holmberg. His midsection glimmered like the crowned jewels his back and rear delts were exceptional.
Novice Men's Bodybuilding
The novice men's classes were a contrast of the extreme. The flowing lines of lightweight winner Riley Sowle, the pleasing symmetry of middleweight Josh Petersen and the ruggedness of heavyweight winner Robert Schickert exemplified the full spectrum of physique types in bodybuilding. This evening in Minneapolis the judge's preferred the balance of Josh Petersen and awarded him the overall novice title as well as the "Male Best Poser" award.
Norman Novak from Ramsey, MN was a person that heavyweight Schickert had to keep his eye on in both prejudging and during the night show posedown. Novak had the best abdominal vacuum of the evening.
The open men's classes featured some familiar faces from the master's and novice classes in addition to a whole new cross-section of bodybuilders.
Bantamweight class winner Chad Reuter beat out second place winner Jonathan Miller and third place Keith Thompson in a spectacular three-way shoving match. All looked great but Reuter had the edge in attitude.
Riley Sowle came back fresh from his novice lightweight win to tangle with the big guys and it paid off. He was declared winner of the welterweight class over a rock hard Joshua Janzen and Cole Visger. Visger had some of the most well developed triceps in recent memory.
From what I saw of the prejudging middleweight Shaun Withrow looked like the man to beat. He had a great overall package with great conditioning and sporting some great legs. If anyone was in shape to challenge Withrow it was Shannon Pakonen.
Pakonen began his diet a long way out from the show and dropped his excess body fat very slow. His perseverance showed, particularly in the glutes and hamstrings. The middleweight placings went Withrow, Pakonen, and Braden Sowle, first, second, and third.
Hawkeye Brandon Richards traveled all the way from Waukee, IA and is no doubt happy he made the trip. Besides taking the win in the light heavyweight class he took home the "Most Muscular" award and the overall title of NPC Heartland Natural Classic champ.
Brian Bennett placed second in the class and also took home the "Best Wheels" award with some very impressive legs, and "big guns" Kyle Rinn took third.
Masters forty winner Bob Holper ventured in the open class to defeat novice heavyweight champ Robert Schickert with Robert Mathiowetz taking third.
Although bodybuilding and figure was the main focus of the show that didn't stop Randy and Julie Leppala from providing some extra entertainment when the packed house needed a bit of a respite from the intensity of the physique competition.
Starting out the show was a fantastic display of parade drills by The University of Minnesota ROTC Army Drill Team. Throughout the evening we were treated to breath taking feats by performers from Circus Juventas. Circus Juventas is a youth circus school located in St. Paul.
Their performances are very similar to that found in the high caliber performances of Cirque du Soleil. They wowed the audience with their displays of strength and grace during 3 electrifying acts.
Featured guest poser of the evening was Derik "The Freak" Farnsworth. Farnsworth is one of the most charismatic characters to come into the sport in a long while. His posing took him across the stage and around the auditorium and back again.
Upon his return to the stage he was accompanied by one of his newly acquired fans. The youngster, who looked to be about eleven years old, was so caught up in the heat of the moment that he actually squared off to a posedown "The Freak". Much to the crowds delight Farnsworth obliged his challenger to some lighthearted fun.
By evenings end one could tell that the NPC Heartland Natural Classic is destined to become one of the biggest shows in the area. Team Leppala is already hard at work planning out the 2009 show, which will be held on April 25th at the Hopkins Auditorium.