I’ve been thinking a lot about weight training lately and how I have been out of sync with lifting. I seemed to have lost my groove. I’ve been trying out new ways of working out that I find fun to explore (and to write about here). But in the end, I love to workout like a tried and true bodybuilder and have done so for nearly 30 years. Something just doesn’t feel right when I am not working out that way. So here is my Ode to the Dumbbell (and the barbell, the leg press, the seated row, the T-bar, and squat rack) and here is my story.
I was first exposed to weightlifting when I was 16 (in 1984!). We had a great gym teacher who threw us in the small high school weight room and I leg pressed a couple of hundred pounds right off the bat. I was blessed to have been born with strong legs. Soon after, I walked into my first gym (one of two bodybuilding gyms in my small hometown of Teaneck, NJ) when I was told to do some rehab for tendinitis in my knee from years of ballet training. I went a couple of days after school for a while and learned how to do leg extensions, and that was about all.
Fast forward three years. There I was, just before starting my sophomore year of college in 1987 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. I had just decided to start dancing again but I no longer had a dancer body. I had also heard about a really big annual show, the Mr. and Ms. Rutgers Bodybuilding Championships. Something clicked and I decided that I would fast track my dancer body and enter the competition that was 9 months away.
To put it into perspective, this was the heyday of bodybuilding and the growing world of female bodybuilding. Although it was the age of aerobics and jazzercize, there were hardly any books about lifting for women, just a couple of videos, and certainly no internet to look anything up. Luckily, there were a lot of magazines and I bought up every one I could find on female bodybuilding. That summer I walked into the other local gym in town, the Training Grounds. I picked up my first dumbbell and decided right then and there that I would enter and win the Ms. Rutgers bodybuilding competition. In the span of two months, with blind passion, I taught myself how to lift.
For inspiration, I cut out all the photos from these magazines and made an oversized collage of my favorite bodybuilders like Janet Tech and Corey Everson, and was inspired by the posing genius of Diana Dennis.
Determined to win, I returned to college that September and luckily found a pretty well known bodybuilding gym a couple of towns away from college in Milltown, NJ. Gold’s Gym, aka the “Muscle Mill” in Milltown, NJ is still open with the same owner after over 30 years and is now known now as Ron Capodanno’s World Gym. The folks in the gym were the real deal, entering competitions on the local, national, and professional level. I was embraced the minute I walked ithrough the door. I received great guidance in preparing for the show from what to eat to how to apply bodybuilding dye for competition day. I also learned how to create a posing routine and boy, did my dance training pay off. It’s something, to this day, that I can do with absolute confidence.
I did end up winning the Ms. Rutgers bodybuilding championship in front of a couple of thousand screaming college kids. It was one of the highlights not only of my college career, but of my life. I learned the value of hard work, focus, determination and dedication. I entered two more shows that and the following year and won best overall poser in both. Check out my routine at the tender age of 21 at 1989 Collegiate Bodybuilding Championships. I would not compete again for the next 23 years. In 2012, I threw my hat back in the game determined to win the Mid-Atlantic bodybuilding championships sponsored by none-other than Ron Cappodano. I even spent some time training back at the Muscle Mill. It was great to know that I still had it and won the show at 44.
My body has gone through a number of changes – from being super lean as a personal trainer in my late 30’s and early 40’s to now working in Wellness where I spend a lot of time in an office setting. A number of injuries that sidelined my workouts didn’t help either. So I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t struggle with body image and the weight I’ve put on since my last show. I know it’s unrealistic to walk around in the same body I had in competition (it’s unrealistic due to the restrictive dieting). Now, it’s about finding peace in a fit, maintainable body.
Back in my personal training days I went by the avatar “IronKat.” I loved that name as it represented my love of iron. See, dumbbells are made of iron and iron is not only one of the building blocks steel; it’s in every star, it makes up the earth’s core, and it courses through the blood in our veins. Iron is a building block of the universe and of life. It’s a pretty profound thing to pick up a dumbbell in the gym.
Bodybuilding is also my meditation, even before I knew what meditation was all about. When I lift, it’s about me and the weight and the world disappears until it is only muscle and sheer will in front of the mirror. That is what I miss and that is what I am ready to reclaim. It is the place I find my grounding, my center, and my balance.
I declare that 2016 is the Year of the Dumbbell (the barbell, the leg press, the seated row, the T-bar, and squat rack). Don’t hesitate to send your weightlifting questions to me. Have a wonderful and healthy Holiday and New Year. I’ve leave you with a photo from 1987 and Ron’s gang at Gold’s Gym.