I was born with a taped-up bar of an old Tuff Stuff Smith machine across my back. It was an odd twist of fate that I was in the basement gym, but there I was. I looked at myself in the mirror, completely unaware of what I was doing, un-racked the weight, and got ready for another set.
I say that's when I was born because that day changed my life. My lifting partner said it was pure chance that my first day was leg day, but it was meant to be. It's fitting that my passion for bodybuilding was forged on the most grueling day. It set my attitude toward the gym.
I never expected to be in a weight room at 33 years old, but for some reason, when the new guy at work invited me to work out with him one time, I said yes. He was a seasoned veteran with more than 25 years experience in the gym. I don't know what he saw in me that moved him to extend the invitation. All it took was one day; the initial feeling of weight across my back to unleash a new person within me.
After my first leg day, I couldn't walk right for a week, but I never missed a day. We were warriors. Every day after work I drove more than a half hour to train for two hours. As my control improved and I lifted more weight, an amazing thing happened. My body responded and I noticed new changes weekly.
It was never about trying to look a certain way. It was about understanding that I had control of my body and didn't have to settle for being a chubby size 16 who was never comfortable in a swimsuit. This has been an empowering experience that gave me life.
The appeal of fitness is the implied challenge that it's you against you. Wealth, social status, and popularity don't matter. You can't buy a winning physique. It's earned one drop of sweat at a time. When I walk into the weight room, it's there waiting for me. The iron and mirrors aren't forgiving. When you make the mind-body connection, it's like being given a set of super powers. When you get a taste of that, there's no going back.
I'm driven to live a healthy lifestyle because it's essential to improve my physique. I'm not a health nut at heart, but I'm so passionate about bodybuilding and being competitive on stage that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Fortunately, I'm not alone. My husband is also a bodybuilding enthusiast and shares the lifestyle with me. Every successful bodybuilder has a support group behind them, and my husband Frank is the most important person on my team.
I make the choice every day to stay motivated and find inspiration in synchronicities around me. Right before NPC Mid-Illinois, on a day that I felt defeated by the intense diet and cardio program, I got home and sat in my car in the driveway. I thought about pulling out of the show, but fate wouldn't let me. On the way into the house, I checked the mail and there was a package from my brother with a note that said "Keep it up, Sis! You're almost to your competition."
When I need a push from people who understand what I'm going through and what I'm trying to achieve, I turn to my circle of friends on Bodybuilding.com. I made a book filled with quotes, supportive emails, and text messages from friends and family. I even keep pictures that inspire me (like Tom Platz's quads). I keep it with me always and flip through it when I need a boost.
I remember a day long ago when I passed my lifting partner in the hallway at work and he said, "Gwen, you're only three shows from Olympia." I laughed at his funny joke, but that comment planted a seed in my head that refused to remain dormant. At this point, that idea is a flower and I'm dreaming big. But this dream can only be attained in small steps. For me, the next step is winning next year's Arnold Amateur.
After that, my only plans are to help others get results in the weight room and do what I can to promote bodybuilding in the women's divisions. I try to be approachable in the gym and answer questions about diet and exercise. Giving back is essential to my mental and emotional health, and gives me a real sense of purpose.
If you want to see results, educate yourself and never stop learning. Bodybuilding is a science. It's more cerebral than people think. You can't come at it without a game plan. The more aspects that you learn about, the more you'll be able to harness the information and put it to good use. No detail is too small to be ignored. Learn what you can and constantly be open and try new things.
I'm completely in love with the "Golden Age" of bodybuilding. Arnold Schwarzenegger has an almost deity-like appeal for me. As far as modern-day competitors, my favorite is Iris Kyle. She's a bad lady who brings the whole package and comes on stage dripping with confidence. If I pointed to one physique that I aspire to, it's hers.
Educating yourself is the best gift you can give yourself, and Bodybuilding.com was one of the best sources of information for me when I started. The site was an invaluable resource for advice on nutrition and cardio and provided an arsenal of videos on proper exercise technique. I tracked workouts, updated my stats, and posted progress pictures. The BodySpace members are great sources of motivation and are always there with feedback. I can't imagine getting where I am now without Bodybuilding.com.
- "Move Bitch" by Ludacris (Feat. Mystical and I-20)
- "Black" by Sevendust
- "Rabia" by Nonpoint
- "Let's Go" by Travis Barker (Feat. Busta Rhymes)
- "The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears" by Machine Head