By Rachel Debling
There is something undeniably alluring about your first steps on the competition stage. You’ve been prepping for months, practising your turns until you could do them blindfolded, and trying to walk the fine line between excitedly sharing your journey with friends and the point where your stories are met with terse sighs and patronizing smiles. It may be a long, arduous, and all-encompassing process, but the rush you feel under the spotlight the day of your show is well worth the effort.
At least, for most people it is.
While the majority of fitness competition experiences are overwhelmingly positive, there are those who, perhaps after dabbling in a couple of shows or even spending years in the industry, decide that it’s time to hang up their suit and adopt a more moderate lifestyle. Though the catalyst for this move is unique to the individual, there are similar veins of motivation that run through each of their stories.
Carola Della Mattia, for example, found herself immersed in the fitness scene not because of a desire to lose weight but because, at the age of 51, she decided that overcoming her fears was as good a goal as any. With the help of her coach and a team of fellow competitors, she took to the stage in November 2013. Much to her surprise, the event was a personal success. “The show turned out to be a lot of fun, and a very positive experience.”
It was only when she posted pictures of herself online following her show that she saw some of the negativity that came along with the fun and sense of accomplishment. “There were several negative comments about how thin I was,” she recalls. Though it hurt initially, it brought her to an epiphany of sorts. “I realized that I didn’t like the way I looked on stage.” Still, Carola decided to try it again, aiming for a 2014 show and putting on seven pounds of muscle in time for the competition. But anxiety caused her to mess up posing in prejudging and, though she knew she wouldn’t place, she came back in the evening for the finals, to finish what she started. However, following that foray onto the stage, she’d decided that she had enough of the limelight.
Diane Geddes also had a similar experience. After only competing once in a show she felt was “too big” for her relative newness to the scene, she decided that it wasn’t for her. One of the biggest things that she noticed were the after-effects of the prep. “I think my health was affected afterwards, as I had the perfect body ‘on loan,’” she explains. The body she had created wasn’t hers to keep — at least not without 24/7 devotion. “For a few years after, I would say I was distorted, health-wise.”
And it’s not only women who are affected by this mentality. Eric Daye first got into competing because of his good friend, Dorian Hamilton. And, at first, it was a relationship based on respect and admiration. “It was beautiful what you could create with hard work and love for what you do,” he says. But eventually that passion for sculpting and symmetry waned. It wasn’t, however, due to health risks or emotional factors that caused him to press pause on his competition career — it was a shift in goals. “I realized it wasn’t about me anymore; it was about helping others,” he explains. “I got obsessed with wanting to aid others in being happy by changing their bodies.” On top of that, Eric found that he was becoming too absorbed in the lifestyle. “Unfortunately, I think competing filled up too much of my brain, and I began losing the love for just sculpting my physique.”
Overall, what these former competitors urge anyone who is at a crossroads in their stage career to do is take a step back and consider the “why.” As Eric says, “If you are going to continue on, do it because you love it and it’s something you want to enjoy each day.” Because for many it’s not just about 12-week prep — it’s truly a commitment, and not just in the weeks that you are prepping, but year-round.