On Saturday, McKinley Middle School in Cedar Rapids was host to more than 60 freshly spray-tanned bodybuilders, who came to compete and show off their hard work at the Best of the Midwest Physique and Strength Championships, an annual show that attracts athletes from across the country.
Although it is hard to imagine that these athletes were ever anything but, they all come from different backgrounds and have faced different challenges on their way to the stage, said show promoter Al Steil.
“A lot of times people think that the people on stage are just folks that were athletes when they were in high school or college, or that they’ve always been fit and they’ve never had a weight problem,” he said. “And that’s just not true.”
Steil, 57, of Cedar Rapids said he first became involved in the bodybuilding community when he competed in Mr. Iowa in 1995, he’s been promoting the annual Best of the Midwest show, which is a part of the North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation (NANBF), for 13 years.
A NANBF show, like Best of the Midwest, requires that athletes competing be considered “clean” of body-enhancing drugs for seven years before the show. They also are drug tested before being allowed on stage.
“It’s not just for the person who wants to take home some hardware (prizes),” Steil said. “It’s also for the people that have not had a healthy lifestyle and they just want to be healthy and it’s a perfect way to do this because it’s the natural way.”
Ashley Gosselink, 32, a mother from Altoona who competed in her second show on Saturday said she uses the competition as a motivation for a healthy lifestyle after having her two children.
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“I did a competition right before I had kids and then I caught the bug and had to keep doing it,” she said. “It keeps you focused and gives you something to work on that’s just personal, just for you.”
Tiffany Branneman, 31, of Runnells was introduced to bodybuilding by her friend Gosselink when she was looking for ways to lose weight after the birth of her son last year. This was her first show.
“Really anyone can do it,” Branneman said. “A year ago I weighed 40 more pounds more than I do right now and would’ve never dreamed that I could do it.”
According to Gosselink, the first step on the path to bodybuilding, or simply a healthier lifestyle, is finding a coach who can help you get started.
“Anyone can do it, the first thing is to educate yourself on what you need to do,” she said. “Find a good coach that’s reputable so that you start off on the right foot and know that it takes a lot of time to build the muscles that you see on stage.”
Nutrition also plays a big role in the results that are on display, said Angelica Maxwell, 29, who drove 12 hours from Denver, Colo., to compete. This was her second competition.
“The best thing that I can tell anybody that wants to start training in a gym is nutrition is number one,” she said. “Once I learned about how to properly feed myself and watched my body change I wanted to continue to see those results and progress.”
Maxwell also said she thinks many people are intimidated by the gym because they try to “do too much at once” and also stressed the importance of consistency. A sentiment shared by many of the bodybuilders on stage Saturday.
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“Anything you can do to get your body moving, even if it’s just walking, can get you on the right path,” said Charles Hodges, 39, of Cedar Rapids. “It’s not going to happen overnight, you have to be consistent but it’ll pay off in the long run.”
Hodges said he began his fitness journey at a young age, when his father bought him his first weights at 9 years old, but “got serious” about nine years ago. This year’s Best in the Midwest show will be his fifth competition.
Although not everyone walks out of a competition with a trophy, Steil said that in his years of promoting he has seen countless stories of success from many people, whether they won some “hardware” or simply stepped on stage.
“Everyone on that stage is a winner,” he said. “My advice to anyone would be to train and do a show, because it’s a goal you can look forward to.”