I’m Entering the Arnold Classic Bikini Competition at age 45
I’m a personal trainer and the first question I always ask my new clients is, “What’s your fitness goal?” Sometimes I get answers like, ‘I want to lose maybe a pound a week’ or ‘I want to get toned’. I struggled for years with similar wimpy weight loss goals, but it wasn’t until age 38 and size 14 that I decided to enter a bodybuilding bikini competition that I finally had a goal that motivated me to lose the weight. My goal was to look good in a bikini. (We can’t all be noble.)
Be bold. Small dreams don’t have the power to inspire you.
Show me a person with a New Year’s resolution to run 30 minutes a day and I’ll show you a person sitting on the couch by January 5th. But show me a person who wants to train for the New York marathon and I’ll show you a person who runs 30 minutes a day until she crosses the finish line.
Sometimes a goal or a dream that worked for you at one point in your life (i.e. – looking good in a bikini) won’t work for you at another.
It was a Tuesday. Just a regular old Tuesday. I was two weeks away from my third bodybuilding competition, so I was feeling strong and sexy and in control. I called my mom in New Jersey to chat, like I always did, but she didn’t answer or call back either, so I figured she was on some senior citizen trip with her friend, Josephine.
The next morning I called again. No answer. No return call. That’s weird, I thought. Around 8 p.m. I called her house again and still no one answered. That’s when I knew something wasn’t right. I called my brother, Dennis, who lived about ten minutes away from my mom and asked him to check on her.
He found her on the floor in her bedroom. She got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night when her legs collapsed beneath her and she couldn’t get up. She had been on the floor for almost 24 hours when he found her.
I was on a 6 a.m. flight the next morning to see her in the hospital. Turns out an infection from a kidney stone made her collapse. While in the hospital an x-ray discovered she had Stage IV lung cancer. In six weeks I had to get her surgery for her kidney stone, renovate and sell her house, move her to Texas with me, switch her insurance plan and start her on chemo.
I dropped out of the bodybuilding competition because at that point in my life there were more important things than having 6-pack abs. Also, when you say “hospital” I say “chocolate”. My fitness goal was to just get through it.
Through stress and fear I slipped back into old comfort patterns, gaining back 34 of the 50 lbs. I lost. This happened just as my book, my fitness success story, “She’s Losing It!” was being released. I felt like a fraud, a failure.
I started working with a new trainer, Robin. He told me he was competing in the Arnold Classic, the second largest international bodybuilding competition in America next to the Olympia and I thought, “I’m signing up for that!”
Up until this point I only ever competed in the Bikini Masters division (“Masters” is fancy for “Old Chicks”) and, not to brag, but in my other competitions I had always come in last. Like dead last. Like 1st place, 2nd place, 11th place, dead last Lisa Traugott. I never really expected to win anything, I just did them to feel good in a bikini.
But, here’s the catch with the Arnold Amateur, you had to apply to get in, so I’d be up against women who actually WON competitions. Also, the Arnold didn’t have a Masters division so as I was a 40 year old mom I’d be competition against women literally half my age. I was totally out of my league, but I submitted my application anyway because I figured I might not have an award winning body, but I could write a great cover letter. (Side note – I actually met Arnold once, back in 2008 when he was the Govenator of California and I had several double chins.) Anyway, so I applied and then forget about it.
Just before Thanksgiving my mom came back from chemo and she didn’t look right. She was throwing up and had a fever. I dropped everything and drove her to the hospital. She had phenomena. All those scary thoughts passed through my head. Would this be her last Thanksgiving? Would she live through the night?
I went to the vending machine and bought Twix bars and Snickers and M&M’s. I held her hand and fell asleep. My phone woke me up buzzing and I saw that Mom’s fever had broken and she looked like herself again. I looked down and saw a message that my application had been accepted to the Arnold Amateur!
I started jumping up and down and screaming, “I’m in the Arnold! I’m in the Arnold!” and my mom said, “That’s great! What’s the Arnold?”
And in that moment everything changed because I had a true fitness goal. It was big and bold and scary and intense and awesome. I immediately threw away the candy bars because I had a reason to eat clean again. No longer was I counting how many months my mother would go through chemo, I was counting how many weeks until I stepped on stage at the Arnold, which was a distraction my mom looked forward to as well.
This was the hardest I trained in my life. Despite caring for my mom and raising two small children and helping with the family business and being exhausted and emotionally spent I made the time to get to the gym at 4 am while everyone else slept and got in shape again and never looked back. Because when your goal is big and bold it focuses you so intently you can overcome any obstacles in front of you.
I was chasing Arnold.
That was four years ago. Today the competition now has a masters division (for us older chicks) and is an open competition for all athletes. I’ll turn 45 three weeks before the competition. Last time I entered to help me maintain sanity in a terrible situation. This time I’m doing it for the challenge, to raise my standards of training to push myself to the limits, and to prove to myself and others that you can be fit and over 40.
I’ll be training my ass off (or um…on… because bikini divisions really like rounded booties) and posting on social media along the way. I hope that it inspires other people, especially moms, to get fit and give this quirky sport a try.
I’ll be chasing Arnold. What bold fitness goals will you chase?
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Lisa Traugott is a personal trainer, Mom’s Choice Award writer, original cast member of FOX/John Cena’s “American Grit” and has a monthly fitness column on Bowflex.com. She won Ms. Costa Rica Sports Model 2017 and her transformation story was featured in Muscle & Fitness Hers, Good Day Austin, Great Day Houston and Texas Monthly. She blogs at ShesLosingIt.com and is passionate about her clients.
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