I am sure that there are many compelling reasons why someone decides to train for a bodybuilding competition. But I can only tell you what made me decide to return after a 19 years of absence from the sport. At that time, I was going through an exceedingly stressful time in my life. It was the recession and I was barely making payroll in my business. My husband’s job ended when his boss filed for bankruptcy. I was eternally three months behind in the mortgage payments and in the office I dodged angry phone calls from the auto dealership. It was a rough time and I had the stress of small children and trying to keep a strained marriage from falling apart. I felt like everything was on my shoulders and the load was crushing.
And then one night, I jumped up from bed and took out the VHS video of my first competition when I was 26 years old. During the almost two decades of absence from the sport, I had done a lot of aerobics and just a spattering of lifting. I had had two children and my waist size was not what it was in my mid-20s. But I had a friend who had offered to train me, so I decided - why not?
Over the next twelve weeks, I put all my energy into training. During the hour I was in the gym, there were no bills and no creditors. It was just me and the weights. I lifted what my trainer told me to lift and I lifted it as many times as she told me to. I followed the diet she gave me to the law. During a workout, I didn’t have to think. I just had to do it. It was an emotional vacation that stopped me from feeling despair about my reality. And with each week, I saw my body change into something unrecognizably wonderful.
Years passed and in Summer 2020, I helped run a bodybuilding competition held under the strictest COVID restrictions. Everyone was awed by these athletes who had managed to continue training in the midst of a pandemic. But I understood why they continued to train and why they might have found solace in the midst of so much uncertainty. Here was something they could have dominion over. Something onto which they could direct their anxieties and effect actual change. They had discovered the same thing I had when I restarted competing. That lifting can drain you of all worry. It is meditative. It centers you. Rep one. Rep two. Set one. Set two. Push. Pull. Sweat.
The world is chaotic but bodybuilding can be cathartic.