I arrive at the Boise airport three hours early on my way to "Sin-City" Las Vegas! Feeling responsible because I arrived so early, I begin to grade papers. However, I fall prey to temptation; cell phones are a definite sin of today's world! Let me explain...
I've carefully packed two large, duffle-sized bags, checked into the airport without any hassle and anxiously await departure at my gate, which is the flight connection to Salt Lake City. While busily talking on the phone to Madison Chase, I never bother to find out the time. Gate call! I stand with the rest of the crowd and keep chatting. As I hand my boarding pass and driver's license to the gentleman at the gate, I finally end my conversation. I proceed outside with the remaining passengers, aimlessly walking to the aircraft. I board the plane and to my dismay, low and behold, someone is sitting in my seat! (Did I feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears here?) The airplane is packed and I have a backpack on, so I cannot turn around easily. I carefully back up, hand the flight attendant my boarding pass just in time to hear a baggage assistant yell, "She's on the wrong flight!" Did I want to hide at this point? Of course!
To turn this embarrassing moment into a suave move and alleviate the situation, I comment, "Oh no! You caught me. I was trying to catch an earlier flight to have dinner with my family." The baggage assistance's rebuttal was, "YOU CAN'T SNEAK ON PLANES!" Of course we are using a teasing demeanor, because in reality I am a complete ditz! He takes my old boarding pass and states I need a new one. I think to myself, "I have to face these people again?" I was thinking of ways in which I could ease my pain, so when I go up to the counter to get my SECOND boarding pass I comment, "Uh . . yeah, I was the felon who just tried to sneak on the last plane." They look at me without any shock in their eyes and just laugh! Fortunately they didn't take me seriously. An hour later the guy from baggage announces gate call. He also includes in his announcement, "We would also like to inform Tiffany Ripple that this is her correct flight, if she would like to board AT THIS TIME." Thank you very much; mortification at its finest.
Once arriving in Vegas, my friend and fellow fitness competitor, Danielle Wesley, picks me up at the airport and we travel to her father's home to talk about our enthusiasm and of course to rest.
The next morning is a gourmet egg white breakfast and water. We visit the grocery store for additional diet food (because I will not survive on egg whites alone!) and check into the Flamingo hotel. While there we can spot other fitness competitors, because they're the slender, casually dressed, Pro-Tanned ladies heading somewhere with a determined look. I introduce myself to Sylvia Tremblay, the Canadian Fitness Champion, and Ocean Bloom in the spa. They are busily doing cardio. Next I meet Cindy and Sue and the list goes on. I ask a plethora of questions since this is my first national competition and I have no idea what to expect. I get a break down of the day's events. Wednesday is the busy meeting day. Don't plan a lot here, because if you're registering for the ESPN series and nationals, it will take several hours to register and then attend the meeting. Besides, it is a good time to meet other competitors and visit.
Get up early at about 5:30 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., because preliminary competition begins early and finishes late. Talk about intimidating! The first sight I witness is a crowded stage with fit, beautiful women, all of whom are hurriedly warming up. There are women in the hallways stretching, on the stairs, scrambling in the dressing room, and each competitor searches for room to get focused and physically prepared. Nearly one hundred girls will compete in both their routine and bathing suits! How exhausting and exhilarating for both judges and competitors (not to mention husbands and boyfriends who took naps in the aisle ways).
Later that evening is a three-hour rehearsal (or more) for the opening number. Somewhere in between you were supposed to eat and drink. (Did I happen to mention the Starbucks that was so conveniently located on the route between the Flamingo and the Cashman Center? This was a helpful piece of information). By midnight, all of us feel the same way, beat! I think a few commented sarcastically how a few hungry, tired, and anxious fitness competitors could be trained and sent to fight Osama bin Laden.
Up and early again! Keep all your competition gear in your gym bag and make a checklist, because once again plan on scurrying quickly out of the hotel! Friday is the ESPN series, a separate competition from nationals. There are only fifty competitors for this series. Entry is done by sending in a video and waiting patiently (or impatiently) for a phone call. The competition is focused around television, made for television and must follow the television schedule. Five girls at a time compete in a show. There is a winner for each of the ten shows. (I have no idea how the series groups are selected).
At the Cashman Theatre many of the fifty competitors don't have the same vigor and fervor as the day before. We run through a series and my group is second to go. I am digging for energy, but my body isn't listening. I keep telling myself the adrenaline will kick in, but it doesn't. My routine feels hampered with flaws and I finish disappointedly. However, I decide to enjoy the swimsuit round for a change and sing a little Bee Gees "Staying Alive" while trying to mimic a John Travolta strut! Swimsuit definitely tests the confidence. (However, after viewing myself, I believe I could still improve my posture. There is always something to critique.) At the end of our series they announce the winner. Keri Bourg, a petite and gorgeous girl for Louisiana, wins! Keri has an extensive background in dance and teaches at a university. We hug and congratulate her, which I find to be comfortable for me, because I competed against her previously at a regional qualifier in New Orleans and recognize her awesome talent!
Losing the series however puts me in a mental state of doubt and worry. I contemplate that I will not make the top twenty now. I am also paranoid about standing out in the cold in front of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino to model in a bathing suit on national television! To make matters worse, some transient off the street with a brown bag and a bottle in a drunken stupor whips out a disposable camera and snaps a few shots replying, "Fo sho, momma, fo sho!" Is this memory making or what? Again I find my pillow after midnight, all the while wishing and hoping for just one aspect, sleep!
The final day of competition, a day filled with hopeful anticipation. All 96 competitors meet at the Cashman Theatre for an early morning rehearsal. Hats, swollen tired eyes, and comfortable clothes are the look as we put it together one last time. Fortunately we have a chance to eat a relaxing meal and take a nap before reporting back. What a relief. My nap is cut short because I am one of the ten girls selected for the random drug test. I arrive at 4:00 p.m. and leave again for a small dinner, only to report back at 5:00 p.m. A casino is nearby and chicken wings and celery seem to be a quick meal, besides by now I eat what I want to eat!
I begin to assume I just have the opening number to perform and then I am finished, little did I know I would be one of the top twenty! (Competitors don't know who the top twenty are until right after the opening number.) When they called my number first, I was surprised because Keri, who beat me in the series was number seven. I had thought that perhaps in losing the series, I wasn't competition for the finals. Boy was I elated! Oh yes, and panicked too because I am the first to compete! I must run upstairs, abruptly change, and stretch again. Rebecca Lee and Danielle Wesley are there for support and help me quickly get into my costume.
I finally catch my breath before going on stage and just enjoy the experience. Afterwards, I feel calm and confident with my performance. I really have no idea where I rank, because of the subjectivity. (When I was watching preliminaries I was very impressed with the diversity and beauty of so many contestants. It would have been a tough competition to judge). After the show I look at the print out for results and I am anxious to go celebrate and dance!
I thought I was 10th place. I tell friends when I arrive home that is where I placed, little did I know I actually placed 6th out of 96 competitors which is definitely gratifying! I am still in awe, but also motivated to make additional goals and strive for more!
My high school coach used to say, "Attitude is everything." and with each and every competition I am convinced of that more and more. Competing offers a learning experience and opportunity for personal growth. Sometimes competitors take what others may judge and say with too much intensity and they define themselves by those terms, rather than judging and evaluating internally. I know sometimes I struggled with the critique and feedback I had gotten at regional shows, but more importantly I learned. I learned about my potential, and myself I learned about other eclectic and goal-oriented women, I learned about exposure (which some of that was a bit awkward at times) and I learned discipline.