WHEN DOCUMENTARIANS, GEORGE BUTLER AND ROBERT FIORE, RELEASED THEIR 1977 FILM PUMPING IRON, starring a herculean Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger, audiences around the world marveled at a bizarre subculture called bodybuilding. Also emerging from that time was a lesser-known female version of the sport. Through the 1980s and 1990s, female bodybuilding became more popular, eventually splitting into two divisions: bodybuilding, which emphasizes sculpted, symmetrically balanced physiques, and fitness, which incorporates flexibility, agility and gymnastics into the competition. In the last decade, the sport has evolved further, no longer favoring hulking, muscle-bound bodybuilders, but lean, sculpted “figure models.” Amazingly, while only a miniscule percentage of American women are engaged in this sport, Nantucket is home to at least three champion female bodybuilders.
Fourteen years ago, Scotty Thompson had no intention of becoming a champion bodybuilder. In fact, she didn’t even consider herself much of an athlete. She joined the Nantucket Health Club to sidestep the extra pounds she gained every winter when her catering job wound down and she became less physically active. Just over a year later, at the age of forty-four, Scotty was a Massachusetts State Champion, winning the bodybuilding division in the thirty-five and under age category in all three weight classes. “There was no one in my age group, so I had to compete in the thirty- five and under class,” says Scotty now fifty-seven and still in spectacular shape. “I won in my lightweight class, then went on to win the middle and heavyweight classes, too.”
“Genetically, I have the propensity to put on a lot of lean body mass pretty quickly,” she says while performing rapid curls to pump up for the photo shoot. “At first, I couldn’t picture my- self standing up in front of a thousand people, posing on a stage, but once I wrapped my mind around the idea I decided to go for it.” Scotty adopted a rigorous routine of muscle-specific weight training each day, followed by an hour of cardio. On alternate days, she rehearsed her poses with trainer, Dave Shultz, and her routine with dance instructor, Giovanna La Paglia.
While the workouts were grueling, Scotty found the process of stripping her body of fat even more challenging. In the weeks leading up to the competition, restrictions to her diet intensified dramatically starting with a systematic elimination of entire food groups. Refined sugar and white flour were easy first targets, followed by phasing out healthful oils, fruit, fish, and eventually most vegetables. Still, she didn’t feel she was lean enough. Two weeks before the competition, Scotty consulted with a fellow bodybuilder in the Boston area who recommended an even more drastic program of consuming boiled chicken and steamed asparagus every four hours, around the clock. “I had to get up throughout the night to eat,” she says. “It was that controlled.” She washed the diet down every day with two gallons of water.
Scotty’s diet alone illustrates the early state of bodybuilding from which she was emerging.
Her victories came through sheer discipline and focus, as well as a bit of trial and error. Now a
personal trainer on the island, well versed in proper nutrition and training, she looks back on her competition days with a laugh, “I just did the whole thing on a wing and a prayer.”
Over a decade since Scotty earned her first title, the very definition of female bodybuilding has completely changed, with islanders, Joy Marks and Erin Ranney, competing in what’s now known as bikini and figure contests. The two have won national titles while balancing being mothers, wives, trainers as well as their own fundraisers. The science behind bodybuilding has also become safer, and the two women attest to diets and routines that not only yield magnificent physiques, but also have added benefits of healthy skin and stronger immune systems. “I never get sick,” says Joy. “I am constantly consuming the right foods and lots of water; you can put me in a room of sick people, and I will be fine.”
In a sport that once encouraged extreme dieting, Erin says that her food program when training is healthy and nourishing, without being overly restrictive. “I eat a balanced meal every three hours, every day,” she says. “I have seen what some women do as far as nutrition goes and it isn’t pretty. They cut out so many things, and it isn’t neces- sary at all.” Joy echoes these sentiments, explaining that, “There is no separation between fitness and diet. If you are moving, you need fuel, and it had better be the best fuel you can put in your body if you expect it to perform at top speed.” Joy eats a nourishing combination of protein, vegetables, fruit, whole grain starches and healthy oils every two to three hours, which flies in the face of the anti-snacking diets of Scotty’s day. “I started reading Shape Magazine at age twelve and have always been fascinated by muscular anatomy,” says Joy of her early inklings of the sport. She went on to study exercise physiology as an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, and later attained a master in secondary education in biology, anatomy and physiology. For the last three years, Joy has competed in both the figure and bikini divisions. “Figure is more my zone,” she says, explaining that the “difference between the two is size and quality of muscularity.” Most recently, she placed fourth in her division at the Fitness Universe in Miami—her biggest win to date in an international competition.
Similarly, Erin Ranney had long been a fitness buff and was interested in “taking it to the next level” by competing. Looking to get back into shape after the birth of her first child, she joined Cathy Savage Fitness, a company based in Norwood, Massachusetts. Four months later, she participated in her first show, competing in the bikini division, which promotes a “softer look” than bodybuilding. She went on to compete in shows in Boston and Las Vegas last year, placing first in the Bikini Classic in Boston. Presently nine months pregnant, she has put her training on hold, but is already looking ahead to competing again in 2013.
While Erin Ranney and Joy Marks compete in an entirely different era of bodybuilding than Scotty Thompson, the stigmas and obstacles they face are the same. Scotty and Joy both point to the day they told their parents about wanting to become a bodybuilder as a watershed moment in their lives. “They just didn’t understand it,” remembers Scotty. “But now they both lift weights and they’re in they’re eighties!” The same can perhaps be said about society at large, as many might look at female bodybuilding as taboo. Here on Nantucket, however, all three women have had the support of family and friends. And when all else fails, these women draw strength from each other.