Lean muscle mass is the goal of women in the figure division
August 18, 2007
Jessica Wright feels a little intimidated just before a competition.
Understandably so, considering she'll soon stroll across a stage wearing a bikini in front of gawking fans.
Then she remembers just what drives her in the first place. Things don't seem quite so daunting after that.
"I always focus on the work I put in," said Wright, 28, a Perry Township resident who competes in the figure division in International Federation of Bodybuilding competitions. "That's the first thing I think about before I go out on stage.
"I ate all the right food. I put in all this training. Now, let's just go out there and show them."
Wright and workout partner Jennifer Gates, Martinsville, are on the rise in the bodybuilding world. Each recently earned professional status in the figure division.
Gates qualified for next month's Ms. Olympia -- the sport's premier event -- by winning the Motor City Pro title this month in Detroit.
"You can't get up there without confidence," Gates said. "If you're not out there to win, you shouldn't be out there, and you have to be totally dedicated."
Jon Pedigo, a longtime Indianapolis bodybuilder and owner of Premier Fitness, where the two train, said most local women in the sport are strictly amateurs.
"For two girls in the same gym to go pro is phenomenal," Pedigo said. "There (are) no other girls around here even close to their level. I'm lucky to have them."
Both were around gyms as children and played other sports.
Wright's father was a competitive power lifter. She graduated from high school in Marion, Ill., and played volleyball at John A. Logan Junior College before graduating from Southern Illinois University.
Gates, 30, graduated from Ben Davis High School, where she ran track and was a cheerleader. Her father and husband compete in bodybuilding. She's a mother of two and works as a pediatric nurse at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Wright attended her first bodybuilding competition with then-boyfriend and now husband Jason Wright, who played minor league baseball and later basketball for the University of Indianapolis. She quickly became hooked.
"I think it was different in that it involved the weight training," she said. "It kind of pushed me to a limit that I had never been pushed before. Volleyball had pushed me in a totally different way."
Gates originally competed in old-fashioned bodybuilding, in which athletes are judged by bulk and size of muscles. In 2004, she switched to the figure division in which competitors try to develop more lean muscle mass.
It also has elements of a beauty pageant. The proper makeup and outfit are important, too.
"Bodybuilding is more volume," she said. "Figure is a lighter, more athletic body. It took me three years to learn the difference."
Gates earned her pro card this year. She signed with a manager who is looking for sponsors and endorsement deals. She traveled to Las Vegas last week for a photo shoot that will appear in Flex Magazine.
"I'm grounded," she said. "I have so many good things in my life. My confidence comes from my training. I'm starting to realize that I do look good."
They agree the sport isn't for everyone.
Anyone serious about it can forget trips to a fast-food drive through. They consume a low-fat, high-protein diet filled with oatmeal, asparagus and egg whites. Pasta and margaritas are on the menu only to celebrate after a major competition.
Wright goes through a nearly two-hour cardiovascular workout six days per week. She works out with weights 3-5 times per week.
Both say they never have used steroids, but might have been tempted if they had stayed in the more traditional bodybuilding.
Wright taught special education at Franklin Central for five years. She said she often lectured students about the dangers of steroids and wanted to set a good example.
Wright will compete in October in a professional competition in Louisville, Ky., and hopes to compete in the Arnold Classic -- named after famous bodybuilder and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- in March. Her goal is to compete in Ms. Olympia next year.
Gates is excited about potential opportunities created by her recent success.
And, yes, she does get a bit of a thrill when others notice she's in good shape. She's seen women working out at Premier Fitness point at her, saying hers is body they want to have.
"I've worked hard," she said. "This is a several-year process to build and maintain. I've paid my dues to do this."