The Bodybuilders Next Door

Inside the lives of three Columbus fitness competitors

It happens every February.

Droves of visitors with dark tans and rippling muscles descend upon Columbus for one action-packed weekend. The Arnold Sports Festival is one of the largest sports conventions in the world, and at its core is The Arnold Classic, bodybuilding’s version of the Super Bowl. If you hadn’t noticed, Columbus is in many ways a bodybuilding town. Connections to the sport run deep here. Some of the biggest names in the industry call Columbus home. 

Bodybuilding itself is a growing sport, one that attracts an increasing number of females each year. Less-muscular divisions like Bikini and Women’s Figure have opened doors for a larger demographic of women and become fan favorites in their own right. On the surface they may look a bit like fitness beauty pageants. Dozens of bronzed, toned women, parading around in four-inch heels, sparkly bikinis and bling. They make it look easy and glamorous. The reality is quite the opposite.

Competitors train for months at a time to prepare for a brief few minutes on stage. This preparation often includes rigorous twice-daily workouts and adherence to a very strict diet. (Think chicken and broccoli, every day. For five months.) There are sacrifices beyond exercise and food. Competitors often have to give up social activities and time with friends and loved ones. Not to mention the cost of competing, which can run into the thousands of dollars.

Ask and they’ll tell you, most people have no idea what it takes.

To find out just what goes into preparing for a show, Fit Columbus tagged along for a day in the life of three local female competitors. They come from different backgrounds, compete in different divisions and follow different training plans. They each have unique reasons for entering the competition world.

What they all have in common is a serious work ethic, a no excuses attitude and an intense desire to be their best.

MEL2Melitta Simmons
Age 39
Division Women’s Figure
Years competing Two
The loud beep of the alarm clock shatters the 5 a.m. stillness. Melitta Simmons rolls out of bed with one thought on her mind: coffee.

Minutes later she’s in the kitchen, cup in hand, mentally itemizing her day. Her gym bag, packed with several changes of clothes, sits next to a cooler holding all the food she will need today. Next to that, another bag that holds two gallons of water.

“I usually take everything because you never know what can happen, and I can’t risk not having food,” she says. Not being prepared means too much potential temptation.

She’s tired (and running late) but there’s no time to think about that. It’s time to train.

The 39-year-old says she got into the sport as a way to overcome a fear of being in front of people, and she has competed in more than a dozen shows in just two years. Simmons works with two of the sports’ top trainers: IFBB Figure Pro Natalie Calland provides weight-training workouts; and her nutrition and cardio are planned by industry heavyweight Mike Davies. Despite what some may expect, Simmons says she doesn’t count calories or weigh herself during show prep.

Her day starts with a training session with Calland. Then its off to her job as a podiatrist for which she will spend the next seven hours treating patients, drinking her two gallons of water (followed by many trips to the bathroom) and scarfing down food. She eats a meal every three hours to keep her metabolism running and blood sugar stable. In the evening, it’s time for Simmons’ second training session of the day.

Tonight she’s hitting a nearby high school with a couple friends to run the track and bleachers, and she feels fortunate to have a group willing to work out with her. Even so, social sacrifices go hand in hand with the competition lifestyle. Although she still makes time for a night out, Simmons says she is typically the designated driver.

“I try not to limit myself socially but sometimes it’s unavoidable.”

Simmons says the commitment needed to prepare for a competition isn’t for everyone. “I have to plan everything,” she says. “There is no spontaneity anymore. I have to make sure I can get my workouts and food in as needed.”

The end of the day involves catching up on social media, watching some TV and getting in one final meal. When Simmons finally heads to bed, it’s probably later than she’d like.

But make no mistake, when that 5 a.m. alarm sounds, she’ll be ready.

2014_07_28_ChristineMoyer_136_02Christine Moyer
Age 27
Division Women’s Physique
Years competing Five
Snuggled in her PJs, bath and bedtime story done, three-year-old Myla is ready for bed. Her mom heads downstairs for her second hour-long cardio session of the day.

Christine Moyer started lifting weights with her dad as a child and never stopped.

“It was what we did for fun,” she explains. “He taught me how to lift, and I began to really enjoy weight training and the results that came with it.”

As an adult, a competitive drive and desire to challenge herself led her to bodybuilding.

The 27-year-old trains as many as 20 weeks to prepare for a competition. “Every minute of my day is planned out when I am prepping,” she says. A typical day begins at 4:30 a.m., with her morning workout. She puts in more than an hour of lifting weights and cardio before an eight-hour workday.

Evenings are spent shuttling Myla to various activities, making dinner and preparing everything she’ll need for the next day, including her meals and gym bag. Moyer spends quality time with Myla before logging another hour on the treadmill.

It’s not easy adhering to a strict schedule and meticulously planning each meal and minute of your day, but Moyer feels the sacrifice is worth it.

“I want my daughter to grow up knowing you pick a goal and you don’t stop until you get there.”

Moyer began competing in college and has been through many ups and downs. Like many women, she’s struggled with her body. 

“I have gone from being severely overweight to fighting anorexia,” she says. “I have been an average fit person, and I have taken my physique to the extreme … I am still trying to find that perfect balance, but knowing the struggles I have overcome keeps me going.”

Moyer says competing is a choice, and one that doesn’t come without challenges.

“When you are competing you sacrifice a little part of every other aspect in your life,” she says. “You sacrifice sleep and ‘me’ time because you eventually run out of hours in the day.”

Before going to bed around 10 p.m., Moyer squeezes in a little quality time with her fiancé Adam, who is also a competitor. Having someone who understands and supports the competition lifestyle is a big help. Moyer calls Adam one of her biggest inspirations. Even after a long day of training, working and mom-duties, Moyer is ready to wake up and do it all over again.

“It is a life-changing experience to compete,” she says. “To know you worked so hard to achieve your goal is one of the greatest feelings in the world!”

2014_07_27_Sandee_073Sandee Estes
Age 20
Division Bikini
Years competing One
A high school dropout who battled drug addiction and hung with the wrong crowd, Sandee Estes turned to bodybuilding to escape a life that was going in a wrong direction.

After falling in love with weight lifting, she chose competing as a way to honor an ex-boyfriend who was killed in a car accident. It was her first time on stage. She took first place.

Estes smiles as she remembers the moment. “It still gives me goose bumps to this day,” she says. “It was fate.”

Competing is the new high that gets her out of bed at 4 a.m. day after day, week after week, as she prepares for her next show. When other people her age are just stumbling home, she’s at the gym sweating through the day’s first training sessions. She begins with 40 minutes of cardio on her own, then lifts with her trainer.

At just 20 years old, Estes has quickly learned the benefits of hard work.

“I truly believe being a dedicated competitor provides a feeling that nothing else can.”

The sport is expensive, but she works hard for her dreams. Her job as a dog groomer keeps her busy seven days a week, all so she can support her fitness “habit.” The lifestyle can be lonely.

“If I’m not working out, prepping food or making money, then I’m asleep,” she says.

Estes maintains focus during prep by avoiding social situations. “I don’t have the lifestyle of many other 20-year-olds,” she says. “No staying up late, no partying, no hanging out with friends.”

They are small sacrifices for a young woman who sees a much bigger picture. She believes the demands of preparing for competitions have helped rid her of insecurities and given her self-respect. 

“Competing really makes me want to be a better person every day,” Estes says.

That motivation is enough to get her through a second grueling workout after the workday, another nearly hour-long cardio session. In the evening there’s no time for lounging in front of the TV. She has to make sure she has enough food prepared for the next few days.

“It usually takes a little under two hours to get everything cooked and measured out by ounces.”

As she finally lies down for the night, Estes takes a minute to prepare herself to get up in the morning and do it all over again. Weeks from now, when the hard work is done, she knows that she will stand on stage and it will all be worth it.