A Short Weekend in Akron, Ohio for My First Bodybuilding Competition

I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

Eric Roth — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

How It All Started

When covid hit I made myself a promise to come out the other side fitter than I was going in. I was already working with my trainer/nutrition coach and I was lucky enough to have already stocked my garage gym with the essentials before prices skyrocketed. During lockdown, I got my personal trainer certification and started my nutrition certification (which is also complete!). I still felt stuck and like I was missing something. Up until that point, fitness was more about other people than it was for myself. I started in group fitness to help other people realize that exercise could be fun. While it’s extremely fulfilling for me, I didn’t have something that was just for me.

My coach, Kiki, recently went pro in the IFBB as a bikini bodybuilding athlete and I secretly started wondering if maybe I could do that one day. After battling years of poor nutrition, being overweight for most of my life, and just not having the confidence or drive to push myself, I had never even considered something like that until I met her. finally decided that I wanted to set the scariest goal I could think of that would not only challenge me, but be something just for me. If I accomplished it, it would be mine and something I could proudly say I did. So, I told my coach my goal and we made a plan.

The Beginning of Prep

January 2, 2022 I officially started prep. I had already been on a structured meal plan and strategically lifting heavy weights for 2-3 years, but this took it to a whole other level. I LOVED the beginning of prep. I felt like a badass and it was amazing to see just how much my body could change week after week.

During prep I pushed myself through low food, fluctuating hormones, gum surgery, changing jobs, changing how I thought about food, distanced myself from certain situations that tempted me, found new ways to enjoy food especially around other people, traveled, dealt with low energy, doubted myself, made some incredible friendships, and walked more than I ever thought possible.

The Workouts

Because I had never gotten to stage weight, I had a lot of body fat to lose. I lifted 5 days a week and walked 6 days a week. I spent about 1.5 hours lifting every day, usually before work. Then, I’d walk for 45 minutes on my lunch break at work and again with the dogs after work.

Getting up at 5AM isn’t my favorite, but I loved being able to get my workout done before work. Plus, it let me play with my dog, Atlas, every single morning and I loved that he was such a massive part of my journey. He helped me with every workout. Seriously, every single one. I always kicked a ball or threw a frisbee in between sets, and he came on every walk. My senior dog, Mickey, was my favorite recovery buddy. We both could be couch potatoes at the end of the day and on rest days.

The Food

Eating is one of the greatest joys of my life, but I never really ate for balance. I love being on a meal plan where I get choices for each meal which is exactly what I’ve always been on for prep and now. I went into prep with the mentality that I would never eat food I didn’t like and while I was limited on what I could eat, especially towards the end, I would always find ways to flavor everything so it tasted incredible.

Baldy’s Blends is a relatively new spice shop in Lancaster. I’m lucky enough to live around the corner. From our first trip in to check it out, we knew we had found something special. The owner is ridiculously welcoming, genuinely loves what he does, and has INCREDIBLE spices. I season almost everything with his blends now and won’t go back to regular grocery store spices.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink, Fiesta Fajita, New Mexico Green Chile, and Rabbit Food were always in the kitchen during prep. They still are, too! They’re healthy and turned the same 5 ounces of vegetables I was eating into an experience. It honestly got me through some of the worst parts of prep when I was sick of the same shrimp, chicken, squash, green beans, and egg whites over and over again.

Some weeks I also got a refeed. This is a higher carb and higher fat meal that is supposed to jumpstart metabolism and fill out the muscles. I had a ton of fun trying different refeed meals all over Lancaster. We finally found one that worked with my body the best and I was so freaking happy it was our new favorite place, DipCo. They’ve got the best hamburger and waffle fries in town. Trust me, I’ve tried almost all of them. It was always fun to be able to look forward to date night there, especially when my food/energy was low and my hormones made me moody. It always makes me happy to go there and if you’re ever in town you don’t want to miss this place!

The Day Before the Competition

We packed up the car and set off on a 6-hour road trip to Akron, Ohio where my competition was being held. After driving for an hour we realized we were about to pass the bowling alley we go to a lot and discovered our gps wasn’t cooperating. We sorted that out and finally set off towards Ohio.

It’s a pretty nice drive though the mountains and was almost a straight shot from Lancaster to the hotel in Ohio. Once we finally got on the right road, we cruised through with no traffic.

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites (Mariott) which was five minutes away from the venue. The entire hotel was filled with bodybuilders so it was fun to walk around and see everyone in various states of tan and glam. The hotel was definitely nice and the rooms were spacious which was great considering how much I had to pack. I also loved that there was a fridge and microwave in the room since I had to pack meal-prepped meals/snacks.

That night my body was like “okay, we’re about to level up”. I got my tan on which was hysterical seeing myself that dark. Then, I couldn’t stop staring at myself. Bodybuilders put the tan on so once you get on stage the lights accentuate the muscles instead of hiding them. I saw muscles I didn’t even know were there and it was such a gratifying feeling and overwhelming in the best way possible. I kept saying that it didn’t feel like real life and how was this person even me? Because I WORKED for it and oh man it felt good.

The Day of the Competition

That morning I got up early and went right into hair and makeup. I’ve been on stage before and done photoshoots for random acting gigs, but I’ve never been fully glammed up for the stage before. I didn’t recognize myself. While I would never normally wear that much makeup or hair extensions, I felt like a rockstar and ridiculously gorgeous. My HMUAs did an incredible job, especially considering they did this in 45 minutes.

Afterwards, I went to meet my trainer for my last layer of tan and some posing practice. Let’s talk about posing. I also had a posing coach, Staci, and there aren’t enough words to describe how amazing she is. She transformed me from a newborn baby giraffe in heels into a confident woman who could do complicated posing routines and walk like a boss. Obviously, I still have a lot more to learn from her, but she makes something that I’m not confident in feel fun and I look forward to our monthly FaceTime sessions. I’m massively lucky to have two incredible coaches in my corner and I think I’ll be thanking them until the end of time.

Backstage was a lot of waiting for the event to start, so I got to know everyone and tried not to sweat my tan off from nerves. I’m one of those people who will tell random friends “oh my goodness I’m going to be awful aren’t I?” and then walk on stage like I own it and just have the best damn time because I know I put in the work. That’s what it was like. I’m also the type of person who wants to compete against everyone when they’re at their best as well. I made it a point to hype everyone up backstage, especially when I noticed they were nervous.

It’s Show Time!

Why yes, I did walk on stage like I owned it. I had so much fun while simultaneously telling myself not to trip and to nail the poses on a loop in my head. I couldn’t stop smiling that day. My cheeks hurt so badly, but I didn’t care because I was finally living that terrifying goal I set for myself and I was killing it. I was prepared. I did the work. I had my coach, boyfriend, and friends in the audience. I felt like a million bucks and wanted everyone to know it.

Pre-judging was quick! We walked on stage with everyone in our class and were compared doing various poses. I competed in Bikini First Time and Open Bikini. Once we were done with pre-judging we hung out back stage and broke for lunch. Later that day we did finals. I got to finally show off my full posing routine. Then it was time for the final judging results.

Guess who got 1st place in both classes she competed in? This girl. Guess who still feels like this isn’t real life and like I’m going to wake up from this incredible dream to realize I haven’t been on stage yet? Also me.

This was truly one of the best experiences of my life. It took an entire village, lots of sweat, tears, mood swings, questioning myself, and trust in myself. It paid off.

The official results were: First Place Bikini First Time. First Place Open Bikini. I ALSO WENT PRO. Is this real life? To make it even better, the trophies were swords. Actual swords.

Post-Show

Our original plan was to find a local restaurant and eat with the team. Unfortunately, everyone was traveling to another competition and we found out our dogs weren’t being taken care of well, so we made the decision to grab takeout and drive back. BUT FIRST, cake.

I had a custom cake made by my neighbor and baker extraordinaire, Cakeology, just for this competition. She made me a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache with raspberries, and Oreo frosting. There aren’t words in any language to describe how good the cake was so, I’ll show you how happy it made me instead.

Yeah, I cut my cake with my 1st place trophy. Don’t even try to say you wouldn’t.

Dinner was a delicious turkey sandwich from a place called Nomz. I wish there was one closer because I really want to try everything on their menu after having that one sandwich.

The Transformation

It took me years to get to where I am now and I’m not about to stop. I loved competing and am planning on doing another one in August in Lancaster. It’s so interesting that people who met me after my weight loss think I’ve always looked this way and think the process was easy. It wasn’t. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I know it’s not for everyone.

I did this to get healthier both mentally and physically and to find something that I could excel at that was mine and only for me. I’m hooked now and can’t wait to see where I go next, but I’ll never forget where I started.

The picture on the left was around 2009 and was the heaviest I’ve ever been at around 160lbs. The picture on the left was stage weight at 112lbs. I lost the weight over a period of 10 years. I also want to point out that I don’t stay at stage weight. It’s been a month and I’ve gained almost 5lbs to even out my hormones and return to normal levels of body fat. I never in a million years would’ve thought I would look this way in my 30s after spending my first 3 decades of life overweight and hating exercise.

The left is my first check in with my coach in 2019 where I had lost weight, but couldn’t push past this point without help. The middle is January 2, 2022 showing my first check in of my first-ever prep. The right is me unable to stop smiling like that because holy shit look what I did.

A Little Advice

Never be afraid to set insane (but achievable) goals for yourself. If your goals don’t scare you, you might not be pushing yourself hard enough. The hard work will suck, but embracing the suck is what makes the end result that much more fulfilling.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. I could only do so much on my own and needed to get out of my head. That’s how I met Kiki and ended up with this incredible experience instead of just seeing other people succeed.

Be nice to yourself. You’ll notice I’m smiling in every one of these pictures no matter where I was on the journey. While I wasn’t happy with how I looked at many points of my life and felt uncomfortable in my own body, I made it a point to find something positive. Yes, I am like every other person on the planet and think mean things about myself from time to time, but overall what’s the point? Go tell yourself you’re amazing, because it’s true.

Published by Emma Browning

Hey everyone, my name is Emma Browning. Thanks for stopping by. I like to think of myself as a modern day renaissance woman since I basically do a little bit of everything. Here's a few of my jobs/hobbies in case you're curious: Group Fitness Instructor (Zumba, BodyStep and BodyPump), small business owner (string art& travel photography), archaeologist/anthropologist, actress, SCUBA dive master, reading addict, dog mom, cellist, and of course travel enthusiast. I've traveled to over 21 countries and speak French fluently and am learning Spanish. Traveling is one of my all time favorite things to do whether it be a day trip with my dog or a massive international adventure. I created this blog to help others see the world vicariously through my wanderings and also to give useful tips and essential information that will hopefully inspire more people to travel. Hopefully you have as much fun reading these posts and get a lot of useful information from them!

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