Monday, February 6, 2012
To say Melanie is an inspiration would be an insult to the hard work and determination this young lady has put forth in her life. Any "normal" person would have hung it up a long time ago hedging on the fact that they had nagging aches and pains. Any "normal" person would be ok with being complacent and settling on the usual day-to-day life we all live through. But Melanie is far from normal. And she does anything but settle. She is one of those rare gems who, when deciding to do something, does it...and does it very well.
Location: Durham NC
Describe your background & childhood: athletics, when you started...
I have been active in many sports throughout my life. I did gymnastics from the age of 3-11 but was forced to stop due to a fractured disc in my back. After that I participated in volleyball, basketball, and track and field. Unfortunately I had to stop basketball after dislocating my knee in 1996. The following year during volleyball, I dislocated my knee again and had to have reconstructive surgery, putting me out of all sports activities for the entire year. I was able to return to volleyball and track and field, however, I was limited to field events only. When I entered college in 1999 I was a member of the women’s crew team. I was part of the winning Novice Team but had to stop in 2001 due to pain in my back. In 2001 I began lifting to stay in shape and doing what I thought was necessary for general fitness. In 2009 I felt a part of me was missing. Having participated in athletics or been on a team, I have always had something to strive for, a goal to work toward. I had always wanted to do a figure competition but never knew how to get started and more importantly, the type of training, diet, and stage work that was needed to be successful. I met Leigh Ann [Yeager] through a co-worker and she agreed to work with me at only 8 weeks before the Elite Classic 2009. I pushed myself as hard as I could during the 8 weeks and managed a 4th place finish in Figure Class B.
How did you get the competition bug?
I have read Oxygen and Women’s Muscle & Fitness magazines and realized that I wanted to look like the girls I saw. Having been an athlete I figured this would be a great way to challenge myself and push my limits. After my first show where I placed 4th after only 8 weeks of training, I realized that I could have potential to do well. It is something that challenges me but also brings me happiness when I see gains in the gym, choreography with my routine, and overall appearance. One of the most rewarding experience is realizing I can do exercises now that previously were unthinkable due to my back and knee limitations.
Describe your first show experience.
My first show was the Elite Classic in Greensboro, NC. I was a nervous mess. I had no idea what to expect but was excited at the same time. There were around 120 competitors I think and 10 or so in my height class. It was a very long day, as most shows are. I went out for prejudging and had first call outs for comparisons. Since I was new, I didn’t know what that meant, just that I most likely had done okay since I got called back. We were up on stage forever. I think we had to do about 50 quarter turns, I had fun nonetheless. Then came the waiting part – between prejudging and finals. Unfortunately, I got a migraine, the kind that makes you want to crawl into a hole, hide and go to sleep or find a garbage bin to vomit in. I was doing everything I could to get rid of it: drinking water, caffeine, eating, ibuprofen etc. but nothing worked. After a few hours it lessened and I was able to go out for finals without the level of severity it previously was at. Overall, I placed 4th in my height class – not bad for my first show. I remember meeting so many incredible and friendly people. I still keep in contact with many of the girls I met backstage and actually saw a few at NC States.
Describe how you prepared for your second show.
I started training for NC States in November 2009 to give me time to build my lower body. This is of course a challenge due to my knees and back so we knew it would take some time. I am unable to do barbell squats, leg extensions, and dumbbell lunges to name a few, so my training regimen became very creative. About 8 weeks before the show, I was playing around during a group practice just to see if I could do the [former] 5 mandatory elements required in fitness routines: 1 arm push up, pike press, straddle press, high kicks, splits. I could do all of the elements and surprisingly, most of them I could do well. I decided at that point to transition from figure to fitness. I was fearful since I could not do gymnastics elements because of my back, could not do high intensity plyometric moves because of my knees, but also very excited to see what I could develop from strength and balance. For some reason 8 weeks is when I like to make decisions. Leigh Ann agreed to help choreograph a routine with me and change my training program for a fitness competitor.
The first thing on my agenda was to find a costume, music and of course a theme. Once this was established we could work on choreographing the routine. My training started to include the mandatory elements, cardio, circuit training, and lots of stretching. Throughout this process I was working on moves that I could incorporate into my routine. Unfortunately around 4 weeks out I finally could complete a move I had been trying to get, but in the process severely strained my hip flexor, putting me out of routine practice for 3 weeks. I realized at that point that I would either have to make modifications to my routine or switch back to figure. I decided I would make changes to my routine and do the best I could. At 1 week out, I spent 3 days running through my routine with the changes and hoped that I could give a solid performance.
Was stepping on stage an easier the 2nd time?
When I got on stage to perform during prejudging I was nervous. The stage had oil spots and I had not been hitting my straddle press handstand during warm ups, so I was really worried about what was going to happen. Once the music started I went into what I knew – and successfully completed my handstand. When that was out of the way I only had one more spot to worry about in my routine and the rest I felt comfortable with. By the end, I knew I had nailed it minus a few nervous bobbles, and wanted to jump up and down but did a wave and walked off stage. I knew I had completed it the best that I could. Between prejudging and night show I was anxious. There were six fitness competitors and everyone had a great routine. I knew the competition was tough – yes I was embracing a new experience but at the same time, I’m competitive and I wanted to win.
You won! How did if feel?
When callouts happened for the night show it was me, Nichole and Lishia – both amazing performers. I was just so happy to have made it that far. Lishia took third and Nichole and I were left- as soon as I heard one hundred…. I knew I had won (my number was the only ninety out there – 98). I felt like my legs were going to collapse. I could not believe that I did it, that what I had worked so hard for and the obstacles I had to overcome to get there, was a reality. Words cannot describe the excitement and sense of accomplishment I had. I was also so grateful because my family traveled from upstate NY to see me, so it was really a very special moment.
What are your future competitive plans?
I originally was going to compete at JR USAs in Houston this summer; however, my injuries have yet to heal. I am going to physical therapy but have a lot to fix before I will be ready to compete, but I hope to be on the stage soon. Additionally, I have been developing a fitness modeling portfolio and would love to see where that path will take me. As an exercise physiologist, my goal is to help educate and teach people how to live a healthy lifestyle, and I am doing this by combining my competition success with my educational background.
For anyone new to competing, what advice would you give to them?
Go for it! Give yourself a goal and keep trying until you have reached it. Never let a bump in the road or injury set you back. There are so many exercises out there that you are bound to find something that will work for you. Are there rough parts of the training and dieting – of course, but in the end to know what you have allowed your body to achieve is rewarding. The bottom line is you have to do it because you love it, everything about it.
What advice would you give to anyone in terms of general health and well being?
If you are new to exercise and healthy eating, start slow by adding 5-10 mins of exercise a day and 2-3 healthy foods (fruit, veggies, lean meat, whole grains) into your diet. The first 3 days are the hardest so if you can get past the initial transition you will find yourself more successful. The level of energy, how you feel both mentally and physically, will encourage and motivate you to continue to adopt a healthy lifestyle.