I’m not a good skier and I don’t remember the accident. While skiing with my family and friends one February afternoon on a cold icy day at Terry Peak in Deadwood, SD, I just felt something hit my ski and then the next thing I remember is waking up on my back, opening my eyes, and being like, “What happened?” I was all by myself and I was scared. I had a concussion, whiplash, and a broken leg. It was an oblique break so I cut completely through the fibula bone. That was February 2016.
After that, I felt fragile—both mentally and physically.
The recovery was much longer than I anticipated, I was frustrated with lack of mobility and walking around on crutches, or a scooter. With my left leg in a boot, I still had to teach yoga classes and drive my kids all over town for after school activities, I was a hot mess! Soon, I was depressed and irritable. I needed a goal, something to look forward to.
The previous year, I had persuaded, our babysitter Kayla, to do bodybuilding show. We both lifted weights and enjoyed workouts at USD Wellness Center together. Honestly, I encouraged her to do it, because I thought I was too old to compete. While she trained that year, I listened to her talk about going through process and she encouraged me to take the risk and “go for it”!
That June I went to her competition in Omaha Nebraska, watched her, and afterwards she said, “You know what? You could totally do this.” I then learned about the Masters division which has different categories: ages 35 to 40; 40 to 45; 45+. Sometimes there’s even a 50+.
About 2-3 months later, I did some research and hired her coach, Kathy Kemper, a Bodybuilding IFBB Pro, who has trained bikini and figure competitors around the country. The bikini class of bodybuilding has the least amount of muscle. It is the most soft and feminine look of bodybuilding (which is why it has boomed in popularity in the last 10 to 15 years).
So, with Kathy, I started the training process for my first show. She’s been a great coach and constant supporter.
When competing, you are 100 percent putting yourself on that stage to be judged. You’re judged on your muscle definition, the balance and symmetry of the muscles, and so on. But it’s also very discretionary. What one judges likes, another judge doesn’t. It’s like Miss America.
Allowing myself to be judged would involve me facing many fears a 40 plus woman faces. I had to put myself up on a stage to be judged on my physical body with most of the people being half my age. I would compete in my age group and then compete in the “Open” against all the girls that are in my height class. A lot of the girls that I would stand on the stage with are 18-22 years old, I could be their mother.
When people look at bodybuilders or “muscleheads,” they rarely think about the commitment…the dedication and discipline it takes to build up that muscle mass, the hours spent in the gym, the diet and nutrition it takes to compete is much more involved and specific than most people would assume. It really takes things to another level. You have to be tough and not give in to weekend binges of food and alcohol, and no days off from your training plan. It can be rewarding, but you are going to have to dig deep.
You are also going to face criticism from your peers, friends, family, and anyone else with an opinion. They are most likely going to share it with you too!
Even my sister, said “Why would you want to go up there and stick your butt out in a thong? You’re 47 years old.” Other people say,”That’s gross. I don’t like the way that looks.”
I get all of the criticisms because, before I did it, I too was like, “Why do they stick their butts out like that? That looks ridiculous.” Obviously, it is slightly suggestive: It’s a lady’s butt. So, I mean, I get it.
But I learned that each particular bodybuilding class has its own specifications. There’s specific things judges look for in the bikini class. The goal is rounded shoulders with some definition. A very lean, V-like torso so that the waist becomes narrow and the shoulders are wider. Competitors often have long hair because there is only a minor amount of back definition. You need slightly developed calves. Then rounded buttocks that show development of the glutes, hamstring, and the back of the legs. Then while you’re posing, you’re trying to hold everything so that it pops. That’s why you’re overly tanned—because with the stage and the lights, it helps to create shadows so that you can see the density of the muscles.
Nonetheless, a lot of people don’t and won’t understand it. I’ve just learned that what other people say about me is none of my business. I’m doing what fulfills me and that’s what’s important. The rest of the stuff is not my business.
After the first show, I did two more shows that same year 2017-2018. This past year I wanted to up my game even more. I did ok, but I knew I had to get even better. I was recovered from the leg break, feeling stronger and more than ever enjoying this new challenge. I needed a mentor and a warrior to help me get to the next level in my own training.
Enter, Shawn Frankel, Owner of Big Iron Gym in Sioux City. He’s a legend in the powerlifting and bodybuilding community worldwide. It took me a year to have the courage to ask him to help me. I knew about Shawn, and his gym. Some of the people that belong had encouraged me to come workout at the gym, but I was intimidated because they were all so ripped. I was afraid I wasn’t worthy. But…I also knew from the last year or so of competing, and facing my fears, that it was time to knock down another one, to just go for it…again!
Once I walked in there, I was home, everybody was so nice and like a big loud family. I immediately fell in love with that gym and I have learned so much from Shawn. With his knowledge, he’s helped me up my game and I really began to lift heavy.
I’ve made big progress from last year to this year. Now I want to make even more progress. So I’m going to take an entire year to train and then compete at a higher level. Now, my goal is a national stage in the Masters Division, and that’s what I’m going to do in the fall of 2020 with both Shawn and Kathy to guide me.
For me, to have the inner strength to show up with discipline every day, I always have to have a goal. Some are big goals, some are small goals. But if you’re just working to work out, without the idea of getting better, you’re not going to stick with it. Without doing it all the time, you’re not going to get better. So practice breeds discipline.
But, make no mistake, I do struggle from time to time. With the fatigue that comes from being on a calorie deficit, being busy with the kids and businesses, there are days when I really do feel mentally and physical drained, those are the days that I show up for myself with a little conversation in my head and remind myself of my “why”. If you know your “why” you will get things done. I know this from my yoga and meditation practice. Sometimes I have to crawl into myself and remind my spirit that the “why” is the power! That is universal. If you have a “why” and you have committed it into your mind, body, and soul, YOU have the recipe for everything…you just need to call on it.
Weightlifting and the pursuit of a physically strong physique really comes from the inner. The inner resilience may show on the outside with muscle definition, but it’s all mental.
If you don’t have the discipline and mental toughness to get used to discomfort, then you will not continue in the sport. Because you’re sore almost all the time. What people think of as sore, I now think of it as my muscle fibers being worked really well. While they seem sore, they’re actually growing. To be resilient, you have to know that soreness is temporary, you are actually getting stronger. Those little things that tear you down ultimately make you stronger, it’s a muscle you have to use it. It’s a metaphor for life really.
What also keeps me motivated is that I have now learned, over time, that I will feel better and I will be more connected to myself when I leave that gym. I will make better choices for myself and for others. If I don’t get the workout in, I’m frustrated with myself, I make poor choices for eating, and I’m irritable with my husband and my kids. So I’m actually a better spouse, parent, and all-around better person, if I get it in.
So I consciously say to myself, “Get it in because you know you’re going to feel better.” I am aware of my options. I am completely in charge of my choice. So I choose to go.
Looking back two years at that ski accident when I felt fragile, I am not that woman anymore.
Bodybuilding is something I really enjoy, those workouts put a smile on my face once I’m done. I absolutely love the feeling of lifting weights, the comradery of working out with the “guys’ at the gym. I feel very empowered, as a woman, to be able to lift those heavy weights. It makes me physically strong, mentally tough, and it gives me a spiritual high.
I love the process and the growth of my inner strength and outer strength. Although, I get up on that stage and compete with others, it’s really about me versus me. It answers the question, “Have I made progress?” The stage is a celebration for all the work you’ve done.
Before I started, I had spent a lot of years doubting myself all the time and just never thinking I was good enough. Now, I don’t doubt myself the way I used to. This has helped me see that I can start and finish something and that I am good enough—for me.
That mental toughness has bled into every category in my life and helps me with every decision that I make now. I just know if something comes at me, I feel strong enough in my own mind and body that I’ll be able to handle it. I also know I can lift that heavy luggage, or move a couch, or ski down another slope without being fearful, because I am STRONG!
By Peggy Higman