Photo by Chris Casella

Stage Moms

One weekend a year, the second largest bodybuilding competition in the world is held right here in Columbus.

Thousands of competitors compete in the Arnold for a chance at a trophy and a moment of bodybuilding glory.

For casual spectators, the event provides a small glimpse into a world many have never experienced and sometimes struggle to understand. What would posses a person to want to spend months punishing themselves in the gym and depriving themselves in the kitchen only to spend a few minutes on stage nearly naked, covered in spray tan?

Trophy or no trophy, that sounds like most people’s worst nightmare.

Why do they do it? (614) set out to answer that question by talking with three first-time competitors from right here in Central Ohio.

All women, all mothers of small children.

In spite of what you might think, these competitors are just like you. They have jobs, families, and bills to pay.

But in some ways, they are nothing like you.

Unless you also spend hours a week in the gym, meticulously plan and measure each meal.

Unless you make sacrifices and resist temptation every single day.

Why do they do it?

Each woman has her own reasons for choosing to compete, but they share one common goal: pushing themselves to their absolute physical and mental limit, and rising to the challenge.

Shelly McComb, 43

When Shelly McComb isn’t teaching high school math, she’s at the gym hitting the weights.

The Marion mother of two was already active, but fell in love with lifting a few years ago. That inspired her to hire a coach and do her first bodybuilding competition.

“I had been lifting hard for a solid year and a half. I was for sure getting stronger and seeing results, but wasn’t getting as lean as I wanted,” McComb said. “In the back of my mind, I had wanted to do a show, kind of as a goal.”

McComb is currently getting ready for her third competition in less than a year. Maintaining a strict diet and exercise program while teaching full time and taking care of two small children is a challenge, but McComb’s kids help her stay focused.

“They are so supportive and go to the gym with me,” she said. “They watch out so Mommy doesn’t have any ‘goodies’ during contest prep.”

Resisting temptation and staying disciplined are the hardest parts of preparing to compete, McComb said. “It’s way more mental than physical!

“My family and friends think I’m weird and maybe a little crazy for doing it, just because it’s not their idea of fun,” she added. “But really, everyone has been so supportive and proud of everything I’ve accomplished. My high school students think it’s pretty darn cool, too!”

McComb has not only fallen in love with fitness, she’s been inspired to share it with others. She recently became a certified personal trainer.

“I believe lifting gives me so much physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength,” she said. “I wish everyone could feel the way I do; that is my mission. You’re never too old to set a new goal and chase a new dream!”

Meredith Humphrey, 30

Fitness is a family affair for Columbus’s Meredith Humphrey. As she prepares for her first bodybuilding competition, her husband, a former collegiate wrestler, is training for the Olympic Trials.

“He’s a huge motivator for me and lucky for me, knows a ton about working out and dieting,” Humphrey said.  “I’m constantly asking him questions and learning new things.”

Humphrey started lifting weights consistently about a year and a half ago and decided to try a competition.

“The idea of standing beside a ton of girls on a stage in front of strangers makes me incredibly nervous so my first competition will definitely be a challenge for me.”

Her number one supporters by far, Humphrey said, are not only her husband but also her two small children.

“They hang out in the daycare at the gym,” she said. “They never complain about going—they actually love it!”

For the most part, Humphrey said, her friends and family are supportive, although not everyone she encounters is so encouraging.

“I have had a few negative comments like, ‘Well, why would you even want to do that?’ and I definitely have had some experiences with people I call ‘diet haters.’ These are the people who constantly comment on what I’m eating, or rather what I’m not eating!”

As to how she deals with these types of comments, Humphrey said she tries to respond politely but finds she prefers to distance herself from those who are not understanding of the sacrifice it takes to get stage-ready.

“I chose to compete for myself, not anyone else,” she said. “Choosing to surround myself with only those who support me makes this process so much more enjoyable.”

There are two things to know about preparing for a fitness competition, Humphrey said. It’s extremely time consuming and also expensive.

“Competition prep is very physically and mentally difficult,” she said. “But I’m getting my body into the best shape of my life. I feel incredibly healthy, strong, and happy, and to me, that makes all this hard work so worth it!”

Maggie Summers, 30

Discipline and routine are ingrained in Air Force Veteran Maggie Summers.

That’s one reason this Hilliard mom decided to step on stage for her first bodybuilding competition. Summers said she was motivated by the structure required to get show ready.

“I love consistency and I love feeding my body nutrition based on my activity.”

Summers has to balance her rigid diet and strict exercise routine with work and caring for two small children. As a registered nurse, she often works 12-hour days.

“I have to purposefully plan time to cook, eat, and work out. I still make sure to have one-on-one time with my kids too,” she said. “Planning is key!”

Summers gets help from her husband, who she calls her number one supporter.

“Sometimes he helps push me out of bed on my early days. He has made sacrifices in the process, too. He helps around the house when I can’t keep up and has even gone grocery shopping or cooked my meals.”

Summers said the one thing that has surprised her most about training for a competition is that she has been able to keep up the aggressive regimen in spite of everything else she has going on.

“I give props to the moms out there who have a lot going on and still make time to do this sport for themselves.”

Despite the challenge of balancing competition prep with work and family life, Summers said it has actually helped her feel more grounded.

“The really cool thing is, before prepping for a show, I didn’t have a regular ‘hobby.’ I always felt like I was giving away my time to my work, my kids, housework, et cetera,” she said. “But now that I am making myself a priority and doing this sport for me, I now have more mental and emotional energy to give away to others.”