Barbara Mencer: My First Competition

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Barbara Mencer rocking the stage in her 2-piece


I didn’t find fitness until I was in my 40’s.  Although at 5’5” and 136 lbs I wasn’t grossly overweight, per say, I was definitely out of shape and my bodyfat was an unhealthy 34%.  Newly married for the second time, I signed my husband and me up for 20 personal training sessions each at the local 24 Hr Fitness facility.  Little did I realize that this initial act of getting in shape would forever change my life.

Six months later I was 116 lbs and 20% bodyfat.  I had a full six-pack and loved my new body and energy level.  My personal trainer had become my friend and workout partner, and I was content for the next couple of years to maintain my fitness level.

Then one day I was approached while at the gym.  A gentleman asked me if I was a physique competitor.  I looked at him blankly.  The only kind of physique competing I knew about was bodybuilding and I certainly didn’t look like a bodybuilder!  What was he talking about?  Soon after, through a sequence of events that as I look back were clearly meant to bring me towards competing, I found out about physique competitions.  I didn’t have the gymnastics and dance ability needed for fitness, but figure caught my eye as something I could do.  I was intrigued!

I began researching to find out everything I could about this new world.  Back then (2005), there wasn’t a lot of information readily available to the uninitiated.  I knew I wanted – and needed – to work with a trainer who specialized in this sport.  After a brief stint working online with a trainer who was also a competitor, I felt I needed something more.  Oh, she knew her stuff alright, but I just didn’t feel connected, and her style was not detailed enough for me.

Another series of “coincidental” events brought me to another trainer, the infamous Kim Oddo.  His facility was only 45 minutes away and I made an appointment to meet with him.  I’ll never forget that day.  I walked in and Kim was clearly evaluating me to see if I had what it would take.  He was actually interviewing me!  After a quick assessment he told me that we would need 12 weeks and in that time he would take my straight, bean pole shape and turn it into a martini glass.  Cool!  (I realized he was, in essence, telling me that my current physique was similar to a young boy’s, but hey, at least he saw the possibilities.)

Competitive athletes have several divisions as options to reach the stage not just bodybuilding

He told me that in order to work with him I would need to trust him and do exactly what he told me to do.  He said that I would get a lot of advice from friends, family, trainers, and others, but to simply thank them for their concern and ignore their suggestions.  We chose a show 12 weeks out and Kim gave me my workouts, nutrition plan, cardio schedule and supplement regime.  I would send him photos preceding our bi-weekly phone appointments and in the alternating weeks I’d email him a progress report with my weight log and hunger levels.  Kim would tweak my program along the way, sometimes giving me less (or more) food and other times (often) increasing cardio by 5 minutes a day or so.

The next few months changed my life forever.  Many of you reading this know what I mean when I say that prepping for a show can be very lonely.  There were long hours at the gym, training with a ferocity that disallows casual conversation, prepping food and bringing it with me everywhere, often leaving a party or get together, to sit alone in my car eating my meals out of sight of family and friends who didn’t understand this journey I was on and who made endless comments about what I was eating – or not eating.

If you’re lucky, like me, you’ll have a supportive spouse.  My husband, a personal trainer and lifestyle fitness coach, was with me every step of the way and even stopped drinking wine (our weekend  treat) so I wouldn’t feel I was missing out.  I can’t count the number of times we were out shopping or otherwise enjoying an outing and everything stopped while I ran to the car to eat.  Yet he never complained.  He knew how important this was to me.

The hardest part about competition prep for me was keeping everything in balance.  My personality is such that I give 110% to everything I do.  I’m also a perfectionist and a little OCD so if Kim said I was to eat every 2.5 hours then by golly I HAD to do it.  Luckily, I was prepping over the summer when business is naturally a little slower for me.  I own my own consulting and coaching company and I have to admit it took a bit of a back seat to my prep that summer!

As prep continued, I loved seeing how my body changed.  It intrigued me how even a tiny adjustment to my diet, such as adding a teaspoon of peanut butter, could make a difference within a day or two.  I felt a bit like a science project every time I met with Kim and he tweaked things, but I loved it.

About eight weeks out, Kim told me it was time to order my posing suit.  At that time in the NPC, figure girls wore two suits … a one-piece and a 2-piece.  I was fortunate enough to have the wonderful suit designer, Michael Mercado (now deceased) in my city so I went to him for my suits.  Kim advised me that for a first show he wanted me in dark, jeweled tone suits – not black and nothing with too much bling.  Michael was well aware of Kim’s preferences and he also was a great help in selecting colors that complemented my skin tone, eyes and hair.  We chose a deep red velvet for my one-piece and a shiny teal for my two-piece.  After having my measurements taken and plunking down a deposit on my $1,500 investment, I left Michael’s studio feeling a little breathless.  This was starting to feel very real.

Strong, classy, and elegant...the glass too

The final weeks before competition were a whirlwind of training, cardio, food, posing suit fittings, purchasing shoes and jewelry, and making appointments for waxing, manicure, pedicure, hair, make-up and tanning.  The beauty aspect of this sport became very apparent – and expensive.

One piece of the journey that really sticks out in my memory is learning to pose.  Being a novice to competing I had no idea how important posing and stage presence is to placing well in a show.  It seemed to me that Kim was very picky, correcting every little twist of a hand and bend of an elbow.  For weeks prior to the show I pranced around the house in my 5 inch heels and practiced my posing every chance I got.

Two days before the show I pulled out the list Kim had given me of all the food items I was to bring to the competition with me.  My husband grilled what seemed like tons of steak, fish and chicken.  We cut everything up, and weighed and wrapped each portion in a baggie.  We also packed oatmeal, yams, almonds, peanut butter, and rice cakes, pretty much anything I might need to eat during the final 24 hours prior to show time.  The day before the show, we loaded our packed cooler of food, my suits, shoes, extra sheets and towels (so as not to spoil the hotel’s linens with my spray tanned body) and loose clothing to wear backstage and headed out.

My show was in Los Angeles, about a two hour drive.  Once at the hotel I had to call JanTana, the tanning company, to confirm my tan times.  The tanning experience was something no one had really prepared me for – and it’s a topic for a full article in and of itself.  Suffice it to say, modesty has no place in this sport!

The rest of that day consisted of eating, seeing Kim so he could check my conditioning and tweak my food if necessary, and trying not to leave my tan on everything I touched, or streak it when I washed my hands – quite a feat in and of itself.

I awoke in the early morning hours of competition day.  This was it!  I hurried to my make-up and hair appointment, nibbling on dry oatmeal and steak, and then headed to get a final spray tan and to see Kim for his appraisal and additional meal instructions.

The athletes meeting and check in were at 8 am, with prejudging to start at 11 am.  It had seemed a tad early to have my hair and make-up done at 4 am but by the time I was at the athletes meeting I was glad everything was done and I was all ready.  I’m one of those people who likes to have everything in place with plenty of time to spare.  I felt like I could breathe a little and enjoy the experience.

The actual stage time during pre-judging was a blur.  I competed in two classes – Open C, and Masters 35+.  While time doing solo posing on stage seemed fleeting, standing on the side of the stage holding a pose while other competitors did their thing, and then continuing to hold my pose during quarter turns and comparisons seemed to take an eternity!  It became clear how important posing and stage presence was – now I knew why Kim was so picky.  And talk about the need for stamina – I was exhausted!

Stage presence is critical and having a great suit helps you stand out. The late Michael Mercado was a well respected suit designer

Time backstage was spent chatting with other competitors, pumping up, practicing posing and getting posing oil and bikini bite applied.  Even though we are technically competing against each other, the majority of the women develop a comradery and are very helpful and friendly – bikini biting each other, taking photos together and otherwise supporting each other.

Because I was so new to the game I didn’t really understand what all the call outs meant.  I did know that the judges were impressed with my 6-pack because I heard a couple of them pointing them out and saying wow.  (Mind you, this was years ago when figure had a harder look.)  I wasn’t the biggest muscled girl by any means but my conditioning was spot on and that won me points.  Ultimately, I placed 4th in Open C and in 2nd in Masters.  Not bad for my first NPC show.  I was hooked.  I celebrated with champagne and jelly beans and fell asleep as soon as I took a much needed shower.

Since that first show I’ve competed in 8 shows, won 3, and earned 11 trophies.  Although it would be nice to earn my pro card in Masters, my goal for each competition is to bring the best me possible to the stage.  The knowledge that I’m really just competing against myself, that I can’t do anything about what the judges are looking for or how the other girls look, allows me to relax a bit and focus on me.

Competing has enabled me to stretch myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.  Each year I learn a little more about myself.  I’ve battled injuries, illness and surgery – each time wondering if that particular season will be my last.  And yet I continue.  At age 51, as I enter into my 5th year of competing, I’m confident that this year will be my best yet.  My success won’t be measured by any trophy I may win, as nice as that may be.  That’s because for me it’s about the journey, not the destination.

As an NPC figure competitor, business owner, wife and mom, I’m excited to share my passion for health and fitness with you. Please feel free to contact me if I can answer any questions or be of assistance in your quest to be the most healthy and fit you possible! To contact Barbara for additional information please visit her main website http://www.barbaramencer.com

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