Interview with IFBB Bodybuilding Pro Jo Stewart by Anne Pietila
1. So Jo, I heard some awesome news - you have taken a next step on your career and turned pro, congrats! At first, could you introduce IFBB Pro Jo Stewart to us?
- Well firstly I am rapt about finally getting my Pro Card. It has been on my mind for a long time but I always thought my age would limit me and that I was too (mature in years) to even consider it. I am 48 years of age and will be 49 by the time I do my first Pro Event.
2. Before this moment and your pro card, you have been living bodybuilding quite a few years, right? How did this all started?
3. Many say they are too old to start competing at age +30 and they doubt if they can do it. You actually were over 30 years old at your first contest and after that you became better and better. What would you like to say these ladies who doubt they chances to start bodybuilding later that teen age?
- We are seeing female athletes improving with age more and more. This sport has kept me young. I feel young, and very fit and certainly no worse for wear at my current age than I was 25 years ago. Bodybuilding nutrition can be perfect for everyone. I have helped woman in their 50’s increase their muscle mass whether they are competitors or just into general fitness and many of those ladies have eventually ended on stage. As for mature woman entering into bodybuilding late, our mind does not get weaker with age, just our body if we let it. I have stood next to much younger woman and won, so on stage age does not always come into it – its your total package.. Competing to me is a test to our mental strength and that is where a lot of mature woman have developed that already especially if they have brought up children. We as mothers learn to sacrifice things, and we develop the mental strength required to succeed in our contest challenges and to push us through the daily tasks of training, dieting and fitting everything into our schedules. I always think, if childbirth didn't kill me, then training with as weak weary body or on an empty stomach wont either..
4. Anyway, it’s quite many years you have been posing on stages, could you give us your best achievements in your amateur career?
- I have 5x New Zealand overall titles. I received each of those wins like a gift, never expecting them and I was always appreciative and grateful to accomplish each one at the time. One special contest was in 1996 where my husband Mark Stewart (then my fiance) and I both gained 3 1st placings each in that huge National event. There were 160 competitors that year. We both won our classes, then the overalls then we went on to win the couples. That was such an awesome achievement. In 2004 I went on and did the same with Moe Moussawi ( Now a top IFBB Pro also ).
5. That’s impressive! I actually remember you winning the title at Master’s World Championships 2007 in Budapest. I guess that is one of the highlights in your career, could you tell more about that experience?
- That was the most amazing feeling for me winning that one. Not only was it an amazing feat for myself personally but I did that competition with my mum and dad watching from above as I had lost my dad not even 3 months before that event.. Funny story, I had been a little psyched out by a gentleman a few evenings before the prejudging. On learning I was entering the bodybuilding open class his comments were ” No No No, you will never have a chance with the german girls” and so on, so I came away feeling like a little model rather than feeling like a bodybuilder. I had a bad night wondering what the hell I was doing at the event then in typical Jo fashion, changed my train of thoughts and thought I will simply do the best I can with what I had. I took a gamble and carbed up earlier than normal and ate sparingly on the day so I was full, and cut but kept that very flat tummy. I was a small package weighting around 56kgs at weigh in compared to the 65-70kg+ women so it was a major job keeping my head tuned in and not looking at my competition at all and not thinking of the gentlemen's words. I had some very positive comments from people who I didn't know and could barely even understand, and I was standing offstage thinking ”what are they thinking – there is no way I can get this one. Then the strangest thing happened before we walked on stage to receive our trophies, a lovely guy walked past me and said ” this is yours” and the same minute one of my rival competitors posing music came on and it was my mothers funeral song and I don't know why but I knew I had won it. So when my name was finally announced and again when the NZ anthem was playing, I appear to be very smug but I definitely wasn't smug. I was gob smacked and thinking of Mum and Dad so much it hurt.... That was my most favourite memorable moment in my life.
6. Besides that title, you became more known in whole bodybuilding world after your shows at Arnold Amateur. You did it great both years, in 2008 you won your class and this year you placed 3rd in really competitive MW class. What kind of memories do you have from those shows?
- The Arnold rocks! I love the atmosphere of the whole event and it has been a dream for many many years for me and 2008 was the first year that international competitors were invited to compete in the Arnold so I was blown away by the invite. That year Mark had been training Moe Moussawi and myself so the build up at home was amazing. Moe and I would train at 5.00am each morning and that was a huge motivating factor for both of us. So it was truly amazing to be there at the Arnold Amateur and to win it. Both my trophy and my Arnold jacket are my prized possessions..
This year ( 2009) I moved up the middleweight which was a gamble for me because I weighted in around 58kgs so I was amongst the lightest of the middleweights. I was tempted to diet down for the lightweights which would of been easy but I really had my heart set on entering my first middle weight event and being up for a new challenge and working my way up. I could of done with more size obviously this year but I was very happy with my total package and I was rapt at placing 3rd and we had the most tremendous time. We took our 11 year old son with us who got to meet Arnold and that will be a life time memory for him also.
7. By the way, what do you think of this event (Arnold Amateur) generally? I mean it seems to be much more popular among Europeans and other world’s athletes but not that popular in the States. Why did you want to attend this show?
- As I said before it was a dream of mine, and also Marks to do that particular event. Mark and I went to the Arnold in 1997 on our honeymoon and would never of dreamed at that time that one day I would be back there on the stage competing. Mish McCormack, another New Zealander competed in the Arnold years ago in the fitness class and I thought she must of been something really amazing to have gotten to go to that – so I was doing something that somebody I idolized did before me. When I was officially invited after winning the Masters in Budapest, I knew that it was a chance in a lifetime for this New Zealand girl to be offered the opportunity and scared or not, I was going for it. It was a brilliant choice for me, and for NZ, as it has proven to NZ competitors, that our country although small, has every chance of doing well in our sport internationally. It has given many NZ woman the confidence to look outside of NZ for competition and to go for it. Now almost every Open Class competitor in NZ has her heart set on the Worlds or the Arnold. I’m so very proud that I have lead the way for them and reached my desired destination in the process..
8. All in all you have done a great amateur career and now you have your pro card in your pocket! Could you please describe a bit your own feelings and thoughts about your decision to turn pro? In other words, why?
- I was going to turn Pro in 1996 back when I won the NZ Nationals. Mark and I got married not long after that event and we trained hard, very hard but back then I didn't want to add any more size. The women were getting very big and freaky and I decided to stay as an amateur while Mark got his Pro Card. I had another child, my 3rd, and I had 5 years off competition but still kept training and I was working in the industry. Turning Pro had been in my mind all my bodybuilding life and although I was winning every event in New Zealand I entered into, I didn't have the confidence in myself to take it further. I have a very stubborn determined personality but I definitely lacked the self confidence and the vision to see myself as a professional athlete. Also the support in NZ was not big for me as I was married to a judge, who happened to run some bodybuilding events and who eventually became President of the federation. So the knockers eventually knocked me down and it became a distressing experience even to compete, guest pose or do something visual for the public as I knew what would be following. But confidence is something I have gained slowly over the years because of those situations and I now have the strength of mind to go for what I want and I feel I can do that – I’m ready – a little late but I am up for it...
9. Pro card, what that means to you?
- For many years I have thought of myself as a Pro - I just have never competed as a Pro. To me having my Pro Card means I am a professional athlete in every manner of the word. Of course my Pro Card gives me entitlement to be a”Pro bodybuilder” which means standing amongst the biggest, most exquisite female bodybuilders in the world, but it also means being a professional athlete not only for the one or two days on stage, but for every day of my life. To promote bodybuilding as professionally as I can, to bring my body to its best as expertly as I can, and to have the mental strength equal that of any professional sportspersons, and importantly to portray our sport to competitive or non bodybuilding people the best I possibly can. I had that trait in me a long time ago but now I intend to stand up to have my physique assessed amongst other Professional like minded women. We may not be even in our physiques but we are even in our goals and our drive. Above all, having my Pro card in my hand now, has given me drive to do whatever I possibly can to stress to women in their 40’s and 50’s that we can still be beautiful, fit and sports driven and continue to improve no matter of age, size of muscle or nationality.
10. What about pro debut? When and where can we expect to see you making debut?
- I am wanting to compete next year, if not at the Arnold then definitely at the New York Pro. Mark has an Elite event coming up in 6 weeks which we are working hard towards in planning and after that I will settle into my plan and really get going. It will definitely be next year as my goal is to be standing there before my 50th birthday. My training has been hard and consistent and I'm happy with the gains so far. I am guest posing at the Elite Event so I can gage my progress then and I am wanting to come in looking like a Professional. I'm very excited about everything right now.
11. Taking the step from amateur stages to compete with all the best ones is big for everyone. At the moment, what kind of expects and thoughts do you have concerning that?
- At the moment I am thrilled and very excited but the frightening nightmares will come later I expect. I keep a good eye on the American competitions through the forums and various websites to see who is coming through and earning their Pro Cards. With some more size I know I will not disgrace myself or my country too much and I am looking very forward to pushing myself through further challenges in the lead up to my event. I don't have the time factor up my sleeve so my Pro Life will be short lived, and I do not have the time to strain for 2 years then compete. I need to do it now while I have still got the skin condition that my body has – and while I am still looking good for my age.. .fingers crossed it stays that way for awhile.
12. If you think it all physique wise, what do you plan to do before your pro debut? I mean what kind of Jo you want to bring in your first pro show? Bigger, harder, same or what?
- I will be bigger with perhaps 5 kg's of muscle added to my frame. I will always come in hard and cut but at 5’2” I need to keep my symmetry and lines which I have at present. So just a little bigger Jo in 2010..
12. I am thrilled for you, Jo! Anyway, female bodybuilding has caused much talk during the last years. There have been talk if pro girls should be bigger or more feminine, leaner or a bit softer. You yourself are pretty feminine, in your opinion, what is important for you in FBB? What kind of FBB physique do you prefer?
- I definitely prefer the more feminine physique. I cant see myself coming in any other way – no distended stomachs and I’m not in favour of being hugely vascular. I get vascular and defined enough but rippling with veins – I can be but that's not how I like to present myself. Some people may say ”what is she competing for then” and my answer is I want to come in how I want to look, not how something is dictated to me.
13. By the way, how is FBB in your country NZ? You do have nearly every year men’s pro show there, do you think they could bring Female Pro Show to NZ too now after you turned pro?
14. Jo, you are a really inspiring woman and you look totally fantastic. Could you share us your secrets and main principles how to look so good also after +30 years of life?
- I feel very lucky and count my blessings for having great skin tone for my age. I don't know why, I don't do anything too special apart from look after myself. I have been staunch my whole life about moisturizing my skin once if not twice per day since I was a teenager. Not expensively but with being outdoors running in all weathers, I have always tried to put back in what I may of lost being out in the rain, cold or sun if my skin shows any sign of dryness then I increase my salmon intake or flax seed oils so my skin is nourished from the inside out.
15. Besides pro debut plans, what else there are going on in your life both bodybuilding wise and generally?
- There's always a lot going on in my life right now. I have 3 children, 2 are adults now, and I have one son at home who is 11. I have a very good business personal training and online training which I love and I will be launching a new website in a few months time.
16. Awesome! Thank you, Jo! I wish you best luck with your contests and life generally. Is there something you would like to add?
- I would like to thank the bodybuilding world for its support. It has been incredible competing internationally – and every country we have been too has been amazing at making us feel welcome and proud to be in each country.