Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Building a future

Going to school and competing as a bodybuilder are two full-time jobs for one University student

University senior Elsie Huxtable takes the lid off a small Tupperware filled with salad. This is her fourth meal of the day (of six), and a chunk of her daily 240 grams of carbohydrates, (equivalent to about five pieces of bread). Huxtable knows this because her social, mental and financial life revolves around eating healthy and lifting weights. Huxtable is a female bodybuilder.

"I really love it because it's a way to make a statement. What I do is different than what everybody else does, and I don't even have to say it, my body does," Huxtable, 22, said.

After seeing a photo of a female bodybuilder in a magazine, the then 16-year-old Huxtable began going to the gym and taking supplements while living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I realized that it's all about what you eat and what you don't eat," she said, adding that the supplements are often aimed at men and can be dangerous for women, sometimes causing irreversible side-effects such as a deepening voice and hair growth.

"We really are kinda the guinea pigs as far as how this will affect a woman's body," she said. Supplements are aimed at men, but being used by women like Huxtable.

The business

The women's bodybuilding industry consists of three types of competitions. Regular bodybuilding focuses on bulking muscle and flexing, fitness includes a routine of flipping and gymnastic-type moves, and physique is judged on a balance of muscle, femininity and symmetry, said James Cook, owner of FTWebcam, a Web site where paying subscribers can chat with bodybuilders via webcams and chat rooms.

Huxtable, a physique competitor, participates in FTWebcam's non-nudity chats, which pay $2 to $3 per minute per person, averaging $120 per hour, she said. This money helps her with the cost of training and competing.

"I'm an athlete; I don't do nudity or anything of that nature because it's bad for my image, it's bad for the sport and other women," Huxtable said. "Unfortunately it's a very thin line because you're dealing with physique. Basically you're up on stage half naked."

Huxtable said she has to establish her boundaries to herself and others, stick to them and not let herself be bought.

"It can be tempting because I'm a college student and could really use the money, but I have to say no," she said.

While her integrity isn't something she's willing to sacrifice, there are many aspects of her life in which she has no choice.

The sacrifices

Huxtable calls her commitment to bodybuilding "the ultimate choice," and when she thinks about what her life would be like if she didn't participate in bodybuilding she says, "If I was normal..."

"Sometimes I feel like I do miss out," Huxtable said. "It's rough. You go through almost a bipolar thing - If you look good, you feel good."

With the highs come the lows, the temptations and of course, the challenges.

"There's a little bit more temptation to live a college lifestyle. To go out and have that beer and pizza, to join that sorority and be involved in this group or that," she said.

Instead of going out and having what Huxtable considers a normal college social life, she lifts weights five times a week for an hour to an hour and a half and does 20 to 30 minutes of cardio daily during the off season.

Three months before a competition, Huxtable's routine turns into cardio workouts twice daily and one session of weightlifting a day. With a goal of maintaining the muscle she has already built in addition to adding definition, Huxtable increases reps and uses slightly lighter weights.

Huxtable said it's important to note this is what is ideal for her body, and the training and dieting are different for every individual. Knowing exactly how much work to do, rest to get and energy to take in is a draining job.

"She has to be able to juggle her college life as well as competing," said Cook, who has known Huxtable for three years.

Cook said training and preparing for competition is "a full-time job" in itself, and Huxtable is obviously committed to the sport as she makes time for it on top of her school work.

During the three-month homestretch before a competition, Huxtable cuts her intake of carbohydrates and her new diet consists of chicken, fish, egg whites, oatmeal and sweet potatoes. Even those "devilish" raisins are out, she said.

This is all Huxtable can eat, and even though she said she is always hungry, she has to measure what she takes in carefully.

"Imagine what's for dinner is six ounces of chicken, some egg whites and oatmeal. Again. Because that's what you had yesterday and the day before," she said.

Before a competition Huxtable isn't allowed "cheat meals," such as the blueberry pancakes she had last week after craving them for three days. If she couldn't have the option of two cheat meals a week during her off-season, Huxtable said she would go insane.

"It does get very overwhelming because you put so much of your life into it… and you're guaranteed to win," she said.

This is one of the hardest parts of the sport. Huxtable said unlike other sports, the competitors don't have control over their victory or failure. The decision of determining a physique, which Huxtable has been competing in for the past year, is often subjective.

"That's the thing in the sport that is most heartbreaking; it's not up to you," she said. "You train, you diet and you come in and hope the judges like what you brought."

Often it's not enough, and all of those months of self-consuming sacrifice show nothing. So why is it worth it?

The rewards

"There has to be something more to it than winning, otherwise you won't last," Huxtable said.

Not to say Huxtable doesn't win - she does, and she expects more top finishes since she has switched from regular bodybuilding to physique competing this past year. This change was brought on by her inability to get as big as a national tournament requires, because she doesn't have the genetics, she said.

"She is a really good figure competitor," Cook said. "She has a very thin frame and she didn't really have the ability to put on the muscle" required for regular bodybuilding.

Cook said physique bodybuilding is 60 to 70 percent genetics and the remaining is determination and commitment, while regular bodybuilding is closer to 80 or 90 percent genetics. He said Huxtable has the genetics for physique.

This year, Huxtable took first in her height class at the 2007 Vancouver USA Natural Classic competition and second in the 2007 Emerald Cup, which she said is the most prestigious amateur competition in the nation. The competitors who place in the top five there usually place high at nationals, she said.

Huxtable wants to place first at the Emerald Cup in 2008 and go on to nationals, something not feasible this year because she is graduating, looking for a new place to live and preparing to start a job as an assistant manager at the LA Fitness in Renton, Wash.

Bodybuilding is her passion in life, and even though it has nothing to do with her economics major, it was in college where she really learned this is what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

"If college is the best years of your life, then you've peaked at 22 and it's all downhill from there?" Huxtable said. "It's kinda sad, especially when I'm about to graduate."

Her prime competing years are now, and Huxtable said it's worth putting her other dreams on hold for this one. She will think about traveling internationally and joining the Peace Corps when her life is no longer consumed with bodybuilding.

For now, Huxtable is doing what she loves. She wants others to be inspired to figure out what they are passionate about and commit to whatever it is, like she has.

"It's about finding what you love more than anything else and going after it," she saidBy: Tess McBride News reporter

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