How Did I Get Here
BY CECILIA IZAURIETA
If you thought that I have been fit and active my entire life because I’ve been competing in the NPC for years, you are very wrong. It’s easier to call it a midlife crisis, or a desperate attempt to find myself after a divorce.
Let’s go back in time to 1991, in a small town in Chile, where I come from.
In school, I don’t think I ever went to any PE class, I never played any sport, in fact, I hated sports. To me, that belonged to the boys. My thing was ballet and Flamenco dance, two things I practiced on and off until my adulthood.
When I was in college, I joined a gym, the only one in town. It was very small with only two rooms, one floor for group classes and in the basement was the gym equipment, for the men. Let me explain.
In those years, in that part of the world, lifting weights wasn’t socially acceptable for females. We could only attend aerobic or step classes and the guys were supposed to go downstairs to lift. It wasn’t forbidden, just not correct for us to do. So, every night after classes and work, I would go to my aerobic classes. I have to say, I was one of the good ones. My kicks were fast and high, and I was rocking that lycra onesies like an L.A. Gear model.
But sometimes I would sneak downstairs to the weight room. The owner was such a nice guy, he saw my interest and started training me with this very simple and handmade equipment he was able to get. Of course, after a while, I got tired of the judging eyes and mean comments of the others so I decided to go back upstairs and stick with the “Technotronic” dance squad.
Bodybuilding in Chile, back then, was very unpopular. People made fun of and ridiculed anyone who had some sort of a built physique. We were told that muscles are ugly, especially on a woman. I remember secretly disagreeing but I couldn’t admit it. We were so isolated from the world, I think I might have heard about Terminator being Mr. Olympia once, or whatever that means.
Come fly with me
After college, I got a job as a flight attendant and moved to the capital, or “civilization” as I used to call it. I didn’t set foot in a gym for years. I traveled around the world and I had the time of my life. And I gained weight, a lot of weight. Lack of sleep, bad eating habits, and partying constantly take a toll on everyone. The pressure from the airline management on us was big, by contract, we had to maintain the weight we had upon hiring, meaning, we had to stay skinny. In 1995, they could get away with that.
Fearing losing my job, I did everything possible to lose weight, so I starved. I got used to being hungry to the point where it wasn’t uncomfortable anymore. We would spend hours in the galleys sharing not very healthy tips to lose weight, there is where I learned about a thing called Eating Disorder, right there, on those long flights.
Binging on first-class leftover food, to throw up later, buying certain flu medicine that back then contained ephedra, before it was regulated, to stay fully awake, active, and not hungry at all… of course, I joined the trend, the easy way. But in my mind it was worth it because, years later, I had a promotion, I lost 40 lbs and I was ready to fit in my wedding dress.
It’s all fun and games until….
By 2003 I was living in Philadelphia, about to have my first baby, and completely over my bad habits of living a healthy life. But God had other plans. Without any warning, she was born with a rare genetic condition. Treacher Collins syndrome is a craniofacial malformation, she was born without ears, ear canal, palate, malformed cheekbones, and a very underdeveloped jaw.
That entire year went like living in a bad dream. Surgeries, therapies, hospitalizations, a tiny deaf baby who couldn’t swallow or breathe without the help of a machine…. I walked to the hospital for an hour every day and back, we were struggling. We were running out of money fast and our visa to stay here was about to expire. I had to swallow my pride and get food stamps because I literally couldn’t afford food. Still, I was a shell of a person, completely forgot about taking care of myself, naturally. After a year, I couldn’t recognize my image in the mirror, but my baby girl was getting better and that was all that mattered. It was going to be a long road ahead with countless reconstructive surgeries until adulthood. Which we are still dealing with. But this is a fitness story, so let me get back to that.
Fast forward to 2014 we are living here, she was thriving and I had two more boys and having a great life. I have to admit that I kept my bad habits, not exercising at all and eating the bare minimum. It was the fit mom trend: get pregnant but don’t get fat diet down to lose the baby weight within a month, then act surprised for your rapid weight loss and fit in those size zero jeans… repeat.
After three kids and reaching my forties I started to notice the impact of my unhealthy behavior. All those years of starvation left me very weak. I was tired all the time, and I had no muscle tone or strength, I resume ballet and flamenco and started running, but that didn’t help much, if anything, I was still very frail. I realized I needed to do something different, so I joined a gym.
I took Pilates three times a week, changed my eating habits, or actually, started eating normally again. Then I started using the gym equipment and soon, I was addicted. I became a Pilates instructor and started working in that same gym. It became my escape. My marriage was in trouble and soon, divorce was imminent.
It was around that time when some people there started asking me if I wanted to compete. Of course, I was not interested. The idea of standing on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers with the sole purpose of judging me, after living my entire life insecure about myself…. Absolutely not.
And here I am.
Dealing with a divorce, all by myself, with no family or friends’ support, was the most difficult and scary time after my daughter’s birth I can remember. But at least, before I had my family to help, now, I was entirely by myself. The idea of competing came to my mind again and I thought…. If I can face one of my biggest fears, being on a stage, I will be able to face anything from now on. And I made the decision, without giving it a second thought, I hired a coach the next day and started a 10 week prep for a local show.
I overtrained, did extra cardio every day, didn’t cheat on my diet once, I was so scared of making a fool of myself that I did everything according to the plan and more. The day came and I got second place and a trophy as big as me and my new found confidence. And soon, I went for more. I absolutely loved competing. I did every show I could the following years, I won many of them, and became my new addiction. I took it too far.
For the first couple of years, I used competing as an escape, something to focus on instead of dealing with my problems. It worked, I stayed focused and disciplined. There was a show for every problem I was having, when I signed my divorce papers I was on peak week for Northcoast. Every summer that my daughter was hospitalized, I was there by her side during the day and went to the gym across the street to get ready for nationals. When I was in the process of buying a house and I didn’t have a place to live, I drove my car with all my stuff to North America…. The more difficult life got, the more I pushed.
The craziness stopped after a few years and I changed my focus, I started working as a private personal trainer and competing for the fun of it, not for the pro card chase or as an escape. I got to compete at the Arnold classic which was a long-time dream, and I even had the opportunity to do the Olympia amateur in Tokyo, where I got to be the only American in my class bringing a top 5 place. I even came close to my pro card last year missing it for only one spot! I think, once the pressure was off, great things started to happen. But now I’m ready to move on to something new, and I already started working on it.
This year, I had one of my clients win her class, first time I actually coach clients into competitions and I have to say that the feeling was great, as great as me winning. Can’t wait to see my other bikini clients this season, I’m enjoying this too much.
So, yes, retire? Absolutely. Soon. Maybe not yet… as I’m finishing this story, I’m actually two weeks out from a show in Texas. But I swear, this one is for fun only.
Old habits die hard