A TWISTED YEAR OF FATE: My trip to the heart of the fitness industry
What a year – I guess I could say I went from a total fitness newbie to a knowledgeable fitness fan and future competitor. I had been interested in fitness and competing for about a year before the year 2005 but I knew pretty much nothing about what it takes to become competitor. The past year brought new twists and turns to my life with so many blessings that it’s hard to believe all this is happening to me, an ordinary university student from Finland.
In 2004 I had decided to compete in figure novice championships in April 2006. I learned about fitness training, heavy workouts at the gym and proper nutrition. It changed my life, but I still knew very little and I wasn't ready for competing yet. In January 2005 I started working with a new coach, who planned me a 20-week nutritional plan and workouts which would show me how my body would react to a real competition diet. I was hungry for information and new experiences, and I probably learned more about myself and my body during those 20 weeks than I have learned during the past years!
As 20 weeks passed, it was late spring. My boyfriend had got an exciting job offer and we were planning on moving to Arizona from Finland for about six months. I wanted to learn more about fitness, develop my physique and really get into training. This is also when I switched coaches again – this time for good, I hope. I got a new workout program and meal plan from Jari “Bull” Mentula who is a very talented coach and also trains some of the top Finnish competitors. I wanted to become the best I can, so it was easy to go for the best I could get! I decided to leave for Arizona with my boyfriend and concentrate on my training and competition preparation and take a break from my university studies as well. It would be six months of fitness – I wanted to learn as much as I could. I started looking for a fitness athlete who could help me while I was away from Finland. It was a lucky coincidence: I bumped into Katie Madden’s homepage, where she stated she would be moving to Phoenix vicinity very soon. “Excellent!”, I thought, and sent her an email. To my greatest surprise, she responded after just a couple of days. I was amazed, but at the same time I was afraid that I wouldn't really ever meet Katie.
July 2005 came quickly and before I knew, we said goodbye
to our families and friends and traveled a good 38 hours from Helsinki
to Phoenix. After jet lag passed and I got myself together, I started
training hard and eating by the meal plan keeping the forthcoming competition
in mind. Now it sounds a little dumb, but at that time I was nervous
to call Katie. I was afraid she wouldn't even remember who I was, left
alone she would like to meet me. Before meeting Katie I had hardly ever
talked to a real fitness athlete. I had only seen them on the stage
and looked at their photos in the magazines in awe. I'm really glad
I finally gathered my courage in the beginning of August and called
her, because we met the same weekend and I immediately realized what
a humble and genuine person she was.
In October I flew to Las Vegas to see the Olympia. It was a wonderful trip: seeing the biggest competition up close was just very overwhelming to me. It might sound funny, but think about this: how many people who live 6000 miles away, get to see the Olympia live? For me it was a dream come true! Right after Olympia Katie also told me she would be going to the Nationals and asked me to go assist her in the competition. This really brought joy into my life, because just days after this I was diagnosed with heart problems which were caused by over training. I had pushed myself too hard, tried to compare myself to other athletes who had worked out for years. I was told to rest for four weeks to get better. It was devastating, but being able to see Katie's competition preparation helped my frustration. My parents promised they'd pay for my plane tickets for the trip so there I was, blessed with good luck again. What a trip… What a chance to see the fitness industry from every angle!
The week before the Nationals we got together for an
afternoon to plan the trip. I wanted to help Katie as much as I could
so she could concentrate on her preparation, so the week before the
competition is quite busy. I prepared some food for us, packed it in
coolers (actually we had three coolers with us in the plane, since I
just started my diet also!) and also made sure Katie would have all
her vitamins and other stuff she needed. So Thursday came and it was
time for us to hop on the plane. Katie was in an amazing shape, she
turned heads where ever we went. I thought it was really funny when
we sat down to stretch at the gate, and people would just stop and stare
at Katie. I wonder how many of them could have guessed her age? I was
proud and happy for her. And also for me… for getting this exciting
Friday the 18th was a big day. After morning cardio I painted Katie again and then we went to the competitor check-in. I was thrilled to see all the competitors and the buzz so close… photographers talking to competitors and taking snapshots, pro competitors walking around like ordinary people – I even waited for the elevator at the same time with Ronnie Coleman and his mother. There were also some people who I had met in Las Vegas, like Colette Nelson, who must be one of the sweetest women in the whole bodybuilding industry. She remembered me and I was almost shocked! How could someone like her remember me, a total nobody?!
The whole day was hectic: I painted, ran around trying to find a store to buy the right kind of water for Katie, reminded her to eat her meals, ran to the other end of the hotel to prepare her egg whites… and finally it was time for Katie to go to Colette’s room for hair and makeup. I helped with painting Collete's girls and actually got to teach the Americans how to paint Pro Tan the Finnish way! We use a big paintbrush, which is much better than the sponge brush that comes with the bottle. It was a really fun couple of hours and I enjoyed every minute of helping these sweet people. All this felt so surreal to me that I had to pinch myself to believe it really was me who was doing all this. I consider myself quite an organized person so I really enjoyed helping Katie and other girls with everything they needed to get ready. When Katie finally hit the stage, I was sitting there in the audience with hands shaking uncontrollably. From the callouts I realized she was in the top 15 after the first round and I felt really happy for her. She looked stunning! She is a fabulous competitor and I felt really fortunate to sit there as her friend, shouting her name.
Before we went to bed on Friday I made sure everything was organized for the big day. I wrote a list of everything that we had to do, the places where we were supposed to go and other things that were really important to remember (like taking Katie's chocolates with me so she could finally enjoy something yummy after she got off the stage!). On Saturday morning Katie went to Collete's room for hair and makeup again and then went to practice a bit. When she was gone, I prepared her food and made sure everything was packed for the day. The morning went by so fast – before I realized, it was Katie's turn and there she was doing her fun routine full of attitude!
In the evening it was time for the finals. During the day I had painted Katie again and made sure she ate when she was supposed to. When it was time for me to go and sit in the audience, I heard there were no more tickets left. I was devastated! How could it be… I went all the way to Atlanta with her and I wouldn't be able to see the finals? I was nearly in tears as I sat down in the hall to think what to do. I didn't see Katie anywhere, I didn't know who to ask what to do. Right before this I had noticed I lost my digital camera as well, so I felt really bad even without something like this happening. But then… suddenly I saw Katie walking in the other end of the hall. Before I even realized, I was standing there talking to Gustavo Baddell as I waited for Katie's friend to bring me a VIP ticket for the finals. What have I done to deserve all this good luck? Now it was time for me to shed tears of joy! I got to see the whole final round from the first row. I knew Katie wouldn't perform her routine, but just seeing her standing there and knowing she would place in the top 15 made me so incredible proud of her. She's got something most of us can only dream of. She's got a heart of a true athlete.
The trip to the Nationals was one of the best and informative experiences of my whole trip to the USA in 2005. I didn't only see many wonderful athletes, exciting routines and their competition preparation… I saw the driving force of all these people who make these competitions possible: the love for this sport. I want to thank Katie for all my heart for this opportunity, all her encouragement and for her true friendship.