After all, competitive bodybuilding was my “passion”, back in the day, so it was fun to train at Gold’s Gym, Venice, amongst the stars. It was a dream of mine to travel and I got to see parts of the world that I may have never had the opportunity to visit, had it not been for bodybuilding. I met some incredible people, all over the world, including the other competitors I was up against. I am still in contact with some of these women, today. I will, forever, feel a “kinship” with these hard working, incredible women.
I had the privilege of winning the Canadian Nationals back in 1986 and went to Singapore for the Amateur World Championships, that same year, placing in the top five. One year later, with only $1,500.00 in my pocket and a head full of dreams, I moved to California from Montreal, Canada, to live my Pro Bodybuilding dream. One of my most treasured accomplishments was earning the right to stand on the Ms. Olympia stage in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
Of course, this decision to leave my family, home (Quebec, Canada), and all of the lifestyle changes that came with this move, was not without challenge. The first year I was in California, I had no legal work authorization and barely survived. Money was very tight but I was driven by my “passion for bodybuilding” and my love of the California health & fitness lifestyle.
Our sport was in a constant state of change and it still is, today. Apparently, as the female bodybuilders became more and more muscular in the 80’s, the belief that this was due to steroid use, came into play. It felt like our hard work in the gym, our strict dieting for shows, and the fact that the genetic pool was growing, was overshadowed by this belief. Many of us, at the Ms. Olympia level, had never even experimented with anabolics, back in those days.
Ben Weider even began issuing guidelines that directed the judges to NOT reward women who were “too muscular”. According to Bill Dobbins, Ben wanted bodybuilding in the Olympics and believed that the negative publicity surrounding female bodybuilding was keeping the IOC from recognizing IFBB bodybuilding.
This is not to say that our sport was completely drug-free, during the years I competed as a Pro (1887-1996). Let’s not be too naïve. However, I would say that most of what we presented, on stage, was the result of dedication, discipline, passion, genetics and a strong desire to excel.
These are qualities that can have a strong & desirable “carry-over effect” into other areas of life. For me, I took all this “positive experience and energy” and built a successful personal training business that I have benefited from, for over 27 years. I have touched the lives of many and supported them, as they reached their own personal health & fitness goals. Being in the lime light, via bodybuilding, allowed me to do some acting in Hollywood and today, still serves as a vehicle to bigger and better opportunities in the fitness industry.
Even though I still train physique athletes for shows, I have not been to any high level contests since I watched my husband compete at the 2005 North American Bodybuilding Championships. I sponsor local shows, in San Diego, and work mostly with the Figure and Bikini competitors, as they prepare. Even at this level, there are so few women bodybuilders competing, compared to the 80’s & 90’s. I would gladly work with them but, sadly, it seems that there is little growth in a sport that has given me so much. Most of my clients, today, do not have competitive goals.
According to Mr. Dobbins, there is not much interest, in female bodybuilding, within the industry. He tells me that the women are not getting sponsor contracts, aren’t in the magazines much anymore, and the prize money is still very low, especially when compared to what the men win. There is one area where the fans can still get a high dose of female bodybuilders, though and that’s the Internet. According to Bill, this does show that there is an audience of, perhaps, millions of fans that have an appreciation for “aesthetic female muscular development” out in the world that the magazines, sponsors and federations are not taking advantage of.
One other area that proves that there are still lots of FBB fans out in the world is the fact that Arnold & Jim Lorimer’s Ms. International event usually sells out. They do a great job promoting this event and the women that compete. They prove that if there is good marketing, the female bodybuilders will bring in the fans and fill the seats.
My hat goes off to the ladies I competed against, during a time when muscular women were still an anomaly, in general society. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was usual for me to hear rude comments from people on the street that simply had no awareness or exposure to the kind of athletes we were.
I also send “kudos” to the muscular female bodybuilders of today for pursuing their passion, despite current challenges and obstacles. We all have something in common, regardless of which era we trained and competed in. We have a strong desire to be the best we can be, by our own definition!
By Sandra Blackie
With special input from Mr. Bill Dobbins