Saturday November 4th was amazing. I’d been planning this day for months and it had finally come. I’d had major setbacks, but I never gave up. For six months I never missed a workout, I weighed everything I ate, and I never missed a beat with my meal plan. Along with the strict discipline it takes to be on a bodybuilding competition prep, I had to put up with so many other factors during this time frame. It’s been a very hard few months, and I’m so glad I had this competition. It gave me purpose, something to look forward to, it gave me control, and it allowed me to see progress. Living in a new country, learning a new language, getting hurt, trying to find jobs, trying to be an artist, helping with a startup, trying to persevere, trying to rationalize my every action (even if just to myself).
On Saturday morning November 4th I woke up so excited, it was a time for me to forget everything else and just have fun. I let Rasmus sleep in because I was up at 5am as per usual. I pranced (tentatively on my broken foot) into the big Marriott bathroom, and was confused when I looked in the mirror. My phenomenally shredded abs were gone and I was staring in the mirror at a bloated belly full of subcutaneous water. It looked like I had gained 10 pounds overnight. I think the stress from the day before had raised my cortisol levels so much that it caused this reaction in my body; that, or the prescribed wine/steak/fries fueling meal the night before didn’t agree with my system. I brushed it off and thought “Whatever. It is what it is.”
I washed off my tan with cool water as instructed, and washed my hair by flipping it over the front of my head so the soap didn’t touch my tan. Strangely enough, the hotel only had “sockets” in the main hotel room, so I texted Johanna who was two floors up “Hey! Are you up? Can I come blow dry my hair? Rasmus is sleeping.” And I went up. I brought along my bag of things for the day, because after she and I ate breakfast I’d be heading right to the venue for my morning glam squad appointment! When I got to her room she said “Oh my god Brooke, look at my tan!” She had blotches of green all over! I said “Don’t panic. We can fix this! Lemon juice, water…” She looked at me and I knew that wasn’t a good answer. Then I said “Look, Johanna, they’re professionals they know what to do. When you get to the venue just go over and they’ll top it off, it will be fine.” We decided that was the game plan.
Johanna and I went across the street where there was a mall and got boiled eggs, rice cakes, almond butter, pre-cooked chicken, and a snickers bar. We sat and ate for awhile. For a few minutes we just chatted and complained a little, and then we had a breakthrough and both felt inspired. We left breakfast ready to take on the competition.
I had to leave quite early for the show because my appointments were early in the morning but we ran to the Gap so I could get sweat pants and a shirt because I had been so busy and tired when I packed that all I had with me were the clothes on my body the day I traveled and my bikini/gown/heels of course! After I quickly bought my sweats, I said goodbye to Johanna, and ordered an Uber.
When I got to the O2 arena I took some Instastory videos and headed inside. I was led to the makeup area backstage, and after going through several more doors I met my glam squad. It was there that I began to meet girls from far and wide. Sophie Stafford, the wife of WBFF pro Shaun Stafford, runs the hair & makeup for WBFF and she greeted me and brought me to my room. Within minutes I was under the big bulbs getting primed and powdered. The woman asked me what kind of look I was going for and I said “Disney Princess.” She got right to it. What seemed like moments later I looked up and I was ready to shine, long Mickey Mouse lashes and all! I switched chairs with Effy, my glam buddy, and the stylist got started on my hair. I said “We’re going to have to act quick, I have extensions!” Each girl is only allowed 45 minutes for the appointment, but this time I had my extensions washed and dried ahead of time (I hadn’t at my wedding, they were new, and the curls fell out!). Again within minutes they were curled, clipped in, and my hair done in a braid. It was magnificent.
I had taken an early appointment because Sophie had recommended that, and then I went backstage again to get a second tan coat (the shiny one you don’t wash off) put on. Then I went up to the VIP area and sat with some of the girls I’d met the night before. My wifi wasn’t working and I burned through my entire months data plan that day! We talked so much, then later Johanna came up. None of us had any water to drink that day and just ate chicken and rice cakes. I felt beautiful but I knew my stomach wasn’t right, and my foot was broken! Ugh.
Over the next few hours it was a lot of sitting around, planning when to eat our chicken and rice crackers, with intermittent bursts of wardrobe malfunctions. For about an hour it was mayhem behind the scenes as girls were trying to glue, tape, sew, pull various articles of small clothing! It was very stressful and I hadn’t exactly anticipated having to deal with these issues but the girls were all amazing trying to help me. Earlier that week I had bought a perfume on sale at H&M called “have fun” that smelled just as cheesy as it sounds, I had figured since I was performing this whole thing anyway… it would be a nice touch. It was flirty and fruity and made me feel like a rebellious teenager.
The day flew by, and rather quickly we lined up for the opening ceremony. We were such a big group going out together that I didn’t really get too nervous. We had practiced the walk with the entire show earlier, and now it was time. Within seconds I was walking on stage under the lights in my glittery bikini. Somehow, I ended up RIGHT IN THE FRONT! We did a loop around stage, then stopped in the back, and the men walked in front of us – they then turned sideways and we walked through them to the front of the stage. All I could think was “Oh my goodness. I’m on a stage in a bikini, squeezing between a bunch of tanned muscle model men. This is bizarre!”
After the opening ceremony I was a little bit hyper-focused on nailing my posing during my individual rounds. After another hour backstage, the director called out “Tall Bikini girls, Tall bikini girls” and we all looked at each other and headed out. It felt more like a team sport than an individual one. We lined up by number and walked down the stairs. We stood in the outside cold air, adding more effect to the already interesting atmosphere. Some of the girls were so cold they were shivering! As our group was next to go they brought us backstage, it was dark and there was a smoke machine going. Looking around at the other groups waiting I couldn’t help but think “these girls are all nuts!” the amount of hard earned muscle mass, discipline, etc., plus custom designed very expensive bikinis… it’s a lot of work. I took a deep breath – the smell in the air was that of body odor, spray tan, and cheap perfume.
“317, it your turn honey.” I thought to myself “Ahhhh!!!” and walked out. I had played my posing over and over in my head hoping to not forget something, but when I get nervous I tend to do that (like going off course at horse shows). I walked out and struck my first pose – I don’t even remember walking to the front of the stage but at the front I looked down at the judge’s stern faces and thought “OMG! Good lord. Just look at the audience.” I did my front and side poses, and then walked to the right of my T walk and turned for my first back pose… and I forgot I had my long hair extensions and awkwardly interrupted my pose to pull up my hair in order to show my back! But when I got to the left side of the stage I looked down and saw Rasmus, his face looked so happy and just in awe, that made it all worth it! Plus, my two aunts and my mom were down there and I just felt so much love. It was really cool.
Overall it was incredible. I’d had some wardrobe malfunctions earlier that took up a lot of time and energy so my confidence had been a bit absorbed but that’s ok. Johanna had prepped me quite well so I think I “pulled it off” better than I had expected to. Besides, I’d had a broken foot for 4 weeks! Everything had been so hard to do, and I never really got to practice in my heels!
Walking back up the stairs the girls were talking about how ecstatic they felt, how their adrenaline was rushing, but mine wasn’t. I think as a first timer it was more like a run through, because I didn’t know what it felt like at all before this. This is more of the groundwork in which to build from. As a former elite athlete, I know the different feelings after a competition: 1) a feeling you may only have a few times in your life where you know you gave your all, you medaled, and it is almost a sublime feeling 2) elated/feeling so good, 3) feeling ok/getting it done, 4) making a mistake, or 5) just not giving your best at all. This felt like #3 and in life sometimes you do just need to “get it done,” and it’s more than most who never try can say.
I’ve only felt the first one twice in my life, and it’s something I seek to find again. Once, when I was 13 competing on a horse named Snowy. We had trained so much, and when we went into the jumper ring with a bunch of pros we just “laid it down” he was my horse of a lifetime, at a mere 15.1hh and 20+ years old, and me just a tiny thing, he had held my hand so to speak through so much that year and that entire weekend was bliss. We went fast, we were trained, we knew each other, and we won. We even beat some top professionals. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of confidence, pleasure, elation and happiness I had. I took Snowy back to the barn and gave him a cool bath and hugged him until I too was soaking wet. It was the result of hard work, top notch care, good training, overcoming, passion, and love. I remember his owner/my trainer saying “Why did you take the inside turn? You went so fast! Why?! I mean good job, but I didn’t know you could do that!” It was like all of the pieces had come together for us. (And yes now I can hear my moms voice saying “I always said you never want to peak too young, whoever wins “most likely to succeed in middle school never goes anywhere! You need to grow first!” But I think achieving that #1 feeling is different than that, it instills a lifelong thirst for greatness.) The woman who had let me ride Snowy taught me a lot, and she believed in me. She had let me ride and compete with him for free, and in return I was her working student. I don’t know why she chose me, but she did. That day when we won, she had stars in her eyes and almost looked perplexed. By allowing me to ride that horse, she allowed me to taste what being a champion is. She had no idea that would happen, and was just being a nice person letting a kid ride her horse. I hope someday I too can give freely, to open doors for people, with no strings attached.
With any sport or ambition in life, you have to choose which you want to just go through the motions with and which you want to dig deeper and push for, usually those special ones come with a strong passion and interest. In college I had to deal with so many health issues and just needed to graduate that I build a strange muscle for just going through the motions, and on graduation day I just took my diploma and said to my parents “can we just go now?” Occasionally I’d have weeks or months of relief from my suffering (10 years battle with Lyme’s disease) and I’d dig deeper to feel what it’s like to push hard; for instance writing a highly complex essay instead of just answering the question, or getting involved in an athletic event just to feel that burn. But, I’m tired of just going through the motions though, and living in a new country learning a language, and having to do a lot of “boring” things often feels like that… but I chose to do this, and I know I have the willpower to get through it. But, my true strength is in digging deeper and pushing harder, like many things in life we must learn the basics, slowly and repetitively, and then specialize, polish, and build. When you have both of those, you can become unbeatable.
Back to backstage: before the evening gown portion there were more wardrobe malfunctions, my dress had begun to tear up the already short front (that’s what $15 from China gets you!), and Johanna’s dress, which was metal, had broken at the strap. I put a small stitch in the front of my gown and hoped for the best. Johanna had been working towards this for years, and she looked amazing. I knew she had what it took to win. I put my rice cake down on a random bench and said, “Jo come with me.” I took my sewing kit that the front desk at the Marriott had given me earlier that day (I knew I’d need it) and we went to the bathroom. She nearly had tears in her eyes and was terrified. But this is what a champion looks like, and I’ve seen it before in many sports. It could all be taken away from her because of one tiny accident – but, a dress strap? Not if Auntie Brooke can help it!
Standing there in the bright bathroom lights, I hoisted and sewed the living daylights out of that strap. Girls would walk by, “Are you ok? Can we help?” there was a great amount of support. Then we realized the dress was a bit see-through and the “fix” for that was not a good option, with several texts from Johanna’s coach (World Champion, Stephanie Ayala) we resolved to using tape. Fixed. Johanna’s heels had spikes on them, and mix that with a chain link metal dress, you get problems! Together, the two of us, functioning on something like 500 calories, maneuvered a walk that would suit the situation (hold the dress to the side!).
When we got backstage for the evening gown round, in the nearly pitch dark with a smoke machine running, I looked into her eyes which looked excited, proud, and nervous – and said “You are beautiful, you are strong, and YOU are a champion. Things are about to change for you.” Then I flattened a few fly away hairs on her said, and just said “Yes.”
We all walked on stage in our gowns and lined up. They called out the top five, I stood in the back glancing down every so often to see if the slit in my dress was growing, it was. From the top five they called out the top three, Bex Shield, Johanna Vestin, and Kirsti Bentley. If there was hair on my arms, it would have stood up. If nothing else, she had medaled.
Then they called out “Third place, Bex Shield,” “Second place, Johanna Vestin,” “and in first place and our newest WBFF PRO we have Kirsti Bentley!” I was so happy for Johanna earning silver, but then the announcer came back on and said “the judges have decided that another PRO status is going to be given out, and that is to Johanna Vestin! Welcome to the WBFF PRO family Johanna!” Her face glowed, and my heart fluttered. The top three girls hugged, and tears of joy ran down my face. Within an instant all of the messages she’d sent me over the last 20 weeks, her friendship, her companionship, her dedication, her un-relentless faith in me, her hilarious daily memes via Instagram, and her kindness flooded my mind – this girl is a PRO and she deserves to feel that #1 kind of sublime. She didn’t just work out hard, buy a fancy bikini, and go on stage. She lived and breathed this day for years and months. Did my sewing her bikini help? Well, I think someone else would have done it if not me, but I’m so grateful she allowed me to be a part of her journey. Once you know the taste of #1, you will never stop searching for it again… and I was honored to watch all of the girls in this top 3 be flooded with that #1 feeling.
After the show Johanna went to the PRO meeting, and I met up with Rasmus. Most of the restaurants were closed by that time, and I’d been so desperate for a delicious meal for pretty much 6 months. I was nearly in tears looking for water, and we ran into a Starbucks. I got a huge glass and chugged it, across the table from me were 3 of the male muscle models from Russia who were doing the same, they didn’t smile at me, but it felt a little bit like an understanding. In other sports afterwards, you’ll see riders in funny long socks or runners with their bib number still on, with bodybuilders… you pretty much look normal in clothes (except for hair extensions and makeup)! I’m not going to lie, I kind of missed the super adrenaline rush/fatigue that you get after finishing a big triathlon where you’re entire body is just “done.” But I think this can be that, it’s just deeper inside the soul and requires a little better preparation!
Rasmus took me for quesadilla and we went back to the hotel. He wanted to go to bed and I was like “No way! I want to enjoy this!” I was a little annoyed that he didn’t want to participate in the festivities, and I also felt guilty that he’d come all this way to barely see me and stay up super late. I went downstairs to meet Johanna for cake. She was still dressed up, and I just had my one sweatsuit from the Gap… in the hotel bar it was flooded with all of the top people from the WBFF and they were dressed up to the 9s and I just felt kind of… sad? I was tired, I felt guilty for leaving Rasmus upstairs, and I was hungry. We couldn’t find a table, and when we did (me, Johanna, and her brother) the WBFF people came and swooped Johanna away, I could see her in the distance smiling and laughing, just beaming with joy. Her brother looked at me and said “I haven’t seen her this happy in years.” I knew I needed to leave her there. I walked over (all crazy in my spray tan stained sweats) and said “Jo, I’m going to go, you stay and enjoy this.” She looked at me, then back at the group, and said “It was lovely meeting you all, but I’m very hungry! We will talk soon!” and she followed me to the elevator. I felt bad, I wanted her to stay and connect with people but then I also knew she was actually hungry and hadn’t eaten all day. She said “Let’s have our cake, and eat it too!” We went to her room and ate chocolate cake room service, and she enjoyed an espresso martini (I still don’t like alcohol!). We spent two hours just reliving the day, she told me about the pro meeting, and we strategized her future. Then I went back to my room.
When I got to my room the door was locked. My key card didn’t work! It was nearly 2 or 3am so I went down to the lobby and got a new card. I went all the way upstairs, and it still didn’t work. I was exhausted and annoyed. I knocked on the door for nearly 15 minutes trying to get Rasmus to wake up, and his phone was turned off for the night. I was ready to just sleep on the floor when he opened up “Sorry I was sleeping! I didn’t know if I locked it you couldn’t get in!” he said. I said “ok. sorry to wake you I got a new key and everything I’ve been trying to get in for like 45 minutes!” He went back to bed. I unclipped my hair extensions, and I got in the shower. With a body still in starvation mode, a mind fueled with emotions and thoughts, and a brain fizzling with a chocolate sugar rush, my time in the shower was something like a time machine, a hot tub time machine.
I laid down on the bottom of the shower and let the warm water rush over me. I looked down even though the water burned my eyes and watched as the thick brown water rushed towards the drain. I’d been so preoccupied with everything over the last few weeks that I had never really stopped to look at my body. At this very moment I touched my thighs, they were thin and hard, my knees had blisters on them from all the exercises I had to do on them since I broke my foot, and my feet even looked boney. I felt bad for my stomach for having suffered from my stress the day before, and at this very moment it was even more bloated from all the food I had eaten. My body was finally relaxing for the first time in months – I let my tears get washed away by the shower and I silently screamed/sobbed. It felt so good to just let my body be a human controlled by its natural state and not be controlled by me, it’s mind.
Then Rasmus knocked on the door, “Brooke are you ok?” and he opened it. I lifted my voice and said “Yeah I’m just thinking a little!” he said “Ok. You’ve been in there for almost 45 minutes.” I replied “I know, it’s ok, the hotel doesn’t care. I’m just relaxing.”
I sat on the floor of the bathtub for another 20 minutes and let my mind race, wander, and jump from my childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood and beyond, letting each fond thought, each word of wisdom, every kind soul whose touched me grace my minds picture show. Then finally, I took my pruned fingers up to the spigot and turned the water off.
This journey is but one of many I will have in my life, but it has been profound. The places in my mind that I’ve been able to tap into through this experience is unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I’m not sure what is next, but I can assure you that these weeks were only but the beginning of something bigger.
Thank you to EVERYONE who has been a part of my life these last 6 months and helped me along in this journey. Confidence is key, and that is where the gold is. You can hold your chin up, smile, be tan, be lean, be fit, have the most beautiful and expensive clothes, but confidence and mindset are much deeper inside. I hope I can make a return to the stage, whatever, wherever, whenever that may be, and bring that missing element.
While my “Disney Princess” comment to the hair and makeup team may have seemed silly in the beginning of the day, I let my childhood tales of meeting my prince charming at the end of a treacherous time come true. Months of hard work, set backs, and beyond leading to a monumental moment of smoke machines, friendship, opportunity, glamour and insight… which ended with me waking up in the arms of my prince charming.
A special thank you to my mom & Rasmus for supporting me so much during this weekend, life, and especially the last 6 months 🙂 I love you very much.