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On Motivation

On Motivation

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An XXXL sweatshirt.


A free gym membership.


Twenty free tanning sessions.


It was June 27th, 1998, and I’d just won the lightweight division at the MABBA Provincial Bodybuilding championships in Winnipeg.  


Other than winning, I don’t remember much about that day.  I don’t remember what music I posed to.  I don’t remember the names of the other women in my weight class.  Frankly, if it weren’t for the picture I found recently, I wouldn’t remember what color my posing suit was that day either.


But, the prizes.  Were. Awesome.  I will never forget those.


Because they serve as an analogy for much of my life.  


That would be the last time I’d step on a bodybuilding stage.


It was the late nineties.  There wasn’t any Instagram or Facebook.  No backstage selfies.  I didn’t have anyone shoot any video.  My name was strangely absent in the Winnipeg Free Press’ write up of the event the following morning.  There’s seriously no proof I was even there.   As far as you’re concerned, I’m making the whole thing up.


But, I was there.  


You’ll have to take my word for that.


And those prizes?


I’m 4’11”.


I trained (and worked) out of a gym I already loved.


I’m black.   


I gave all that shit away.  


But, when I think back to that time, I still remember all that went into that short competitive career.  I only competed twice (the first time being in 1996), but I trained for several years before even thinking of stepping on stage.

And, my best memories of bodybuilding have nothing to do with competing.


I loved to train.


I’d get out of bed and head to the gym the way most people get up and brush their teeth.  For nearly a decade, training became a way for me to express myself, a way to manage the stress of grad school, and a way to meet and interact with some really cool people.  It became a part of my identity.


In 1998, if you were to have told me that I was about to leave the gym behind (almost entirely) to focus on furthering my education, starting my career and later, starting a family, I’d not have believed you.


Shifting my focus on to a career and my daughter wouldn’t surprise me.  But, I was surprised that training seemed to have no place in that new life.


It meant so much to me at that time, I couldn’t ever imagine giving it up.


But I did.


I had every intention of continuing, but those gym sessions became more and more of a burden and sporadic as the years went on.  My eating habits became more counterproductive, and it wasn’t long before that era of my life was officially over.


I like to tell people  that you don’t have any real concept of what it means to be in the prime of your life… until you wake up one morning and realize you’re no longer in it.


Between 1999 and 2013 I struggled so much to maintain that habit that I eventually gave up.  Not going at all became easier and more tolerable that the guilt associated with not being able to commit fully.


If bodybuilding and powerlifting have anything in common, it’s the sheer number of hours you put into your training, eating, hydration and sleeping… for your shot at just a few minutes on the platform or stage.


There seems to be a fine balance between just the right amount of training and too much.  Between enough heavy training and too little.  Between preparing your nervous system to handle heavy loads and gassing yourself completely.  Between eating enough food and too little.  Between just enough volume and producing so much fatigue that you can’t properly recover between sessions.


…For 9 minutes on the platform.


And, I love that.


But, those prizes…They remind me that the world isn’t always watching.  That those prizes you thought you wanted aren’t where the best and most memorable lessons lie.


Frankly, I could have come in last place.


Don’t do things because you’re hoping there’ll be some kind of external reward at the end (other than that part where you pat yourself on the back).
Otherwise, you might find yourself sorely disappointed with a sweatshirt that doesn’t fit, a gym membership you have no intention of using and a book of useless coupons.



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Shelley Sandiford

I’m a 40-something wife/mother/ex-scientist/entrepreneur who’s looking to regain a part of my life I thought was officially over. When I have a spare minute, I like to pick up heavy things. I’m not looking to be the girl I used to be. I’m looking to be the best version of myself now.

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