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October 24, 2019

Tits Over Toes {Chapter 2}

Tits Over Toes Chapter Two

My introduction to competitive bodybuilding came by way of Facebook. I was in the muddy middle of writing my memoir, the sticky uncomfortable part where I had to explain questionable life choices, but instead of mind-mapping them and facing them head-on, I picked up my phone and scrolled. One image caught my attention: Jenn Farrel, a local writer, deeply tanned, fantastically muscular, in high heels and a bright sparkly bikini—backstage at a bikini competition. She held up her trophy and smiled like it was her best day ever.

I was simultaneously intrigued and repelled. Trying on bras and bathing suits with only the sales associate as  audience was bad enough,  parading around on stage in a bikini for a panel of judges seemed masochistic. But Jenn looked so strong, so confident. I zoomed in on her abs, her triceps, the separation in her quads, the look of accomplishment and pride in her face.  I couldn’t remember the last time I felt as happy as she looked.

I am not a competitive person. I hated team sports and phys-ed class throughout school, but once I discovered aerobics classes in my late teens, I was hooked on endorphin rush. Between step classes at The Fitness Group in Kits, and the many miles I put on my old green mountain bike, (my only means of transportation to and from my three part-time jobs since I couldn’t afford a car,) my body became strong. My boss at the boutique I worked at nicknamed me “The Body.”  Men started to pay attention to me.  

But that was decades ago.  No one opened doors or asked me out or looked at me twice anymore.  Turning from a young woman who had her pick of men, into a middle-aged invisible woman was tough.

 I wondered if men still paid attention to Jenn.  

My goal body had always been Linda Hamilton’s ripped physique as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.  It wasn’t just her formidable physique that made me fantasize about being Sarah Connor, it was more her transformation from a regular, loving mother who had been dealt a shitty hand in Terminator 1, to the physically and mentally hardened, formidable female archetype she became in Terminator 2 that I found so appealing.

Sure, I wanted her muscles and lean body, but more than anything, I wanted to transform into a tank top wearing, cargo boot carrying, rifle-toting bad-ass. Sarah Connor was going to protect her kid, (and possibly all of man-kind) on her terms. This was not a woman to cry into her meatloaf at the dinner table. No way. If anything, she’d make meatloaf out of anyone who crossed her.  I craved to cultivate some part of this assertiveness.  

But a bikini competition? Was this a plausible route to transformation? How was I was even contemplating this? I wrestled with my convictions. I am a yoga instructor, teach my students about non-judgment, non-attachment and self-acceptance. A bikini competition doesn’t land within these parameters.

Fully cognizant that I was most likely in the throes of self-sabotage, (hello, unfinished memoir!) I sent Jenn a note on FB. Turned out that not only is she a writer, but she’s also a personal trainer. 

We had a 6 am meet-up at her boutique gym downtown but concluded that although it would have been a blast to train together, I lived too far away to train with her.  I’d be setting myself up for failure before we even began. Although no trainer wants to give away a potential client, Jenn graciously gave me the contact information of the woman who trained her for the competition–a Russian with a private gym, minutes from my house.

***

Five months later, on a frosty morning in early December, I pull up outside of Team Fitness. Twenty-foot black and white posters of muscular yet feminine bodybuilders hang in the front windows. The one with the most formidable abs has a short, Peaky Blinders kind of haircut, like mine. My husband has had a decent year financially and has told me to go talk to this trainer, see what her program is all about. He’s willing to buy me some private training as part of my fiftieth birthday present.

At the front door a French Bulldog, black as an Oreo, jumps up and down as if on springs.

 “You’re ok with animals I hope, Lola’s still a puppy,” Yelena says as the dog licks at my exposed ankle. I tell her I love animals.

 We sit at her desk where a statuesque, hairless Sphynx cat in a red cable knit sweater sits grooming himself.

 “This is Mr. Wrinkles,” Yelena says and takes a sip of water out of a green 4-litre jug with Mammoth written across the front and back of it. 

  Yelena looks to be about my age, give or take a few years. Her platinum hair is pulled back into a ponytail, her strappy Lululemon sports bra showcases her ample cleavage, a tattooed tiger stalks its way around her lean obliques. Her abs glisten beneath her fresh-from-Mazatlán tan. I’m as winter pale as Yelena is bronzed.

In her thick Russian accent, Yelena grills me about my diet and lifestyle. I avert my eyes from the mirror behind her, the reflection doesn’t show me the person I want to be. In my grey, shapeless SXSW T-shirt, which I plucked out of my husband’s drawer this morning, and my baggy grey Nike sweats, (my sad suit as my daughter calls it) I am as hidden as Yelena is exposed.

She places a heavy photo album of before and after pictures on the desk. Her high-gloss gold nails are long and pointed, like daggers, while mine are bare and uneven, stained dark from the handful of frozen blueberries I threw into my smoothie an hour before.

 “Are these real?” I ask as I flip through the album. I stop at the before and after photos of a young Persian woman. In the first photo, she’s soft, slouched and pale; in the second she’s lean and tanned, wearing a turquoise bikini, holding her first-place trophy high.

 “She achieved that in four months,” Yelena says. “You can too. If you work hard.”

At the back of the album are Yelena’s own before and after pictures. Turns out she hasn’t always looked this way, which surprises me. Even though she used to be a professional ballroom dancer, there were times when she wasn’t in optimal physical condition. I flip past the pages of her in bikinis and flamenco dresses, stop short and gasp at one of her in a black tank top and cargo pants. Rifle in hand.

“Isn’t that a great shot?” Yelena says. “It’s at a rifle range outside of Vegas. That’s my Sarah Connor photo. You know, from Terminator?” 

 I’d found my trainer.  

 Yelena shows me around her gym. One side houses all the big machines: Smith rack for squats, leg press, cable station, and free weights. The other side looks like a dance studio, shiny wooden floor, mirrored walls, a rack of blue exercise balls stacked on top of another. Photos of bodybuilders decorate the walls. In each one, Yelena stands beaming beside her competitor.

A list of names runs vertically down the side of the black chalkboard wall by the bathrooms. Beside each name is their starting weight, body fat percentage, month by month weight loss in pounds. Circled at the top is a number. The accumulated pounds of fat her clients have lost. Over seven hundred. 

Yelena’s three-month transformation program costs eight hundred dollars per month for a first-time competitor. I inhale sharply, must digest this. My husband and I have two kids, we are both self-employed. He’s always generous with me, but I’d thought it would cost me a few hundred a month, not this much. I’m almost nauseous from the thought of spending so much money on myself.

 My inner voice tells me to walk away. But there’s another, louder voice that vies for my attention. You’re turning fifty. The clock isn’t turning back. It’s now or never.

I excuse myself, go outside and call my husband to tell him the price. He tells me to go for it. 

 

The workout program is a four-day on, one-day off schedule. I don’t know how I am going to find time to teach my classes, homeschool our daughter, finish my memoir, work out, run the dog, and keep up the household. It sounds daunting and exhilarating.

With the exception of a weekly enjoyment meal, dairy, wheat, alcohol and sugar are restricted on Yelena’s meal plan. From what I can tell, this diet is built on chicken breast, egg whites and rice cakes.

 “But I’m plant-based,” I tell Yelena when she hands me the twelve-week meal plan.  “Can I replace the chicken with tofu?”

“The tofu…I don’t know. I think that would be too much soy in your system,” she says. “Eat the chicken, it’s just for a few months. Then you can go back to plant-based.”

Am I willing to let go of my convictions so readily?  Maybe I can replace half the chicken with tofu.

“You’ll need to weigh all your protein carefully,” Yelena says. “It’s super important.”

“Weigh it? You mean on a kitchen scale?” I feel a little pop of heat behind my ears. I’ll have to go buy a kitchen scale, yet another cost. 

“Yes. They sell them all over the place. They’re easy to use. Don’t worry.”

“What about Christmas dinner? A New Years’ drink?” I ask.

“You can eat what you like for Christmas and New Year’s, as long as you stay away from sugar and alcohol.”

Yelena writes my name on the front of the competitor’s package booklet, then flips to the back and writes in the date of my competition: April 29, 2018. Four and a half months from now.

I’ve come out the other side of ten-day Vipassana retreats in Kyoto, a ten-day fast with colonic irrigation in Thailand and survived a week-long rafting adventure down the raging waters of the Sun Khosi in Nepal. How hard could training for a bodybuilding competition be?

 “You’ll also get an Alpha Club hoodie, like this one,” Yelena says and picks up her black hoodie from the seat of her office chair. “Alpha Club” is written in gold and white across the back. The prospect of being part of a team of bad-ass weightlifters intoxicates me.

 “Anything I should know about you? Injuries or conditions?” Yelena asks.

“Well, I suffer from hemorrhoids,” I say. “There are days I can hardly walk.” I’ve been suffering from this condition so long I’m not embarrassed or squeamish talking about it.

 “What do you do for that?” Yelena asks unphased.

 I outline to her my routine of sitz baths, inversions, creams, suppositories and banding.

“We’ll work around it,” she says. “Don’t worry. Take off your shoes. Let’s get you on the scale.”

 Reluctantly I step on Yelena’s smart scale. It measures, water, fat, muscle, and metabolic age. I don’t believe in scales, have always tried to teach my girls it’s not how much they weigh but how good they feel in their bodies, how much energy they have that’s important. But I understand it’s an integral part of this transformation, so I close my eyes and hold my breath, as if not breathing will somehow make me lighter.

 According to the scale I weigh 147 lbs, not unrealistic for my 5’8” frame. But 33% of this is fat, and too high a percentage of it is visceral fat, the kind that sits in and around the abdomen and the abdominal organs. (A healthy body fat percentage for a woman my age and height is 20-25%.) The scale also shows that I am dehydrated. I need to start drinking 4 litres of water per day-starting now. 

“Don’t you pee all day?” I ask Yelena. “Where can I even buy such a huge water bottle?” 

“You’ll pee a lot at first, but the body gets used to it,” Yelena says. “You can get one of these at Bodycrafters in the mall, or at Popeyes.”

  There is one positive: I have the metabolic age of a thirty-nine-year-old.

 “You’ll email me progress pictures every Thursday,” Yelena says as I put my runners back on. “Preferably taken in the same spot, wearing the same thing.”

I need something bigger than myself to believe in. I’ve spent too much time parenting, worrying about finances, seated on my ass for hours, days, years, writing about the decade I spent lost in Japan’s criminal underbelly, digging for answers to why I made the decisions I did. This entire program sounds perfect. I need someone to tell me what to do, what to eat, what to drink, when and how to exercise. Yelena seems like the perfect person for the job.

 “How am I going to train for this competition and finish my book?” I ask before I leave. As if this woman has the answers to all my life’s questions.

“Don’t think about it,” she says. “Do both.”

 

 

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