BY KAELYN SAYLES
Walking into the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue on Saturday morning, I instantly felt like I had stepped onto the set of “300” – the urban spin-off featuring insane tans.
Surrounded by people with perfect bodies, excluding some questionable tattoo choices, I wondered how I had never even heard of this event. The 2014 Emerald Cup Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, Bikini and Physique Championships and Expo was in town, and I was there to take it all in.
If I didn’t know anyone competing in the Emerald Cup, I would’ve gone about my Saturday like any other. Instead, I spent close to four hours – a measly amount of time compared to everyone else who spent almost 14 hours with breaks – at the Meydenbauer Center. Despite earlier skepticism, I walked into Emerald Cup ready to cheer on my younger sister, Alli, as she competed in her first big bikini championship.
I’m the first to admit that when she first told me what she was training for, I wasn’t as supportive as a big sister should be for their sibling. I thought: Body competition? Like bodybuilding? Is this even healthy?
Shame on me.
First of all, participation in a body competition doesn’t label someone as a bodybuilder. As the name suggests, there are multiple categories to enter, each one with its own look. I quickly learned to not call what Alli did bodybuilding, and that I needed to correct others when they did the same.
Second of all, it’s a misconception that this requires starvation. Competitors fuel their bodies with what it needs in order to perform at the levels asked of it.
Finally, I also learned that it’s a sport all its own. I don’t know if the other competitors can catch or throw or kick a ball. It doesn’t matter. I do know they look at themselves as athletes regardless, and they should.
Alli treated the entire process as one. She had a well thought out, scientific even, meal plan, a trainer and soon enough, an entire support system. She spent close to 15 hours in the gym each week and showed us all what self-discipline truly looks like.
Preparing for the Emerald Cup and competitions like it is a completely different story. As my mind opened to the idea, I learned from Alli what it takes to get a body into peak performance shape.
The working out and eating right was something all its own. The confidence it takes to get on that stage is another.
If someone told me to get on a massive stage with 21 other women in itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-super-bedazzled-bikinis and walk around in heels and pose in front of judges and a large audience, I’d run away. Quickly. I wouldn’t even look back to see if they were chasing me.
But not Alli. She embraced the experience and never seemed to falter. The day of the competition, she bubbled with energy and anticipation, despite thirst and a massive desire for Mexican food.
On Saturday, I sat in amazement. When the male and female bodybuilders got on stage, my jaw dropped. I didn’t know the body possessed … So. Many. Muscles. When the male physique competitors walked on, I thought: Ken dolls. Very handsome Ken dolls. And when the female bikini competitors’ turn came, I thought two things: 1) My sister is going to beat all of you; 2) Hello, Malibu Barbie.
But let’s be clear: This event isn’t sexualized, by any means. There are beautiful people with beautiful bodies walking around everywhere, yes. They go on stage with little to cover them up and pose for us, the audience, yes. But, no, it’s not for us to gawk at excitedly. To salivate over and cat-call. It’s for us to see and appreciate the human body and everything these competitors put into theirs.
While the group before Alli’s finished up, a wave of nerves washed over me. Sixteen weeks of preparation came down to the next few minutes. But that’s my girl, my kid sister by two years, and we feel for each other. I knew the nerves were coming over her, and I shared that feeling.
Sixteen weeks of maintaining the body through food and working out and learning to pose came down to five to 10 minutes on stage with judges comparing her body to the others.
I scooted to the edge of my seat, craned my neck and wrung my hands together. Here she comes. There’s a brunette in a green suit. Wait, that’s not her. OK, here she comes. That’s my brunette in a green suit now. Oh, my gosh, that’s my sister! Oh, my gosh, she looks great! “Go, number 176!” I screamed.
I don’t know how they judge everyone. But apparently it was a good sign when Alli was put into the middle of the group. Suddenly, it seemed like she had a real chance of making the finals.
The preliminary judging ended, and the women walked off stage. My parents and I hurried out to the lobby to congratulate her. Alli’s friends filtered out, too. They had made the trip from Bellingham carrying signs of support.
When Alli joined up with us, she looked exhausted. Posing and flexing and smiling constantly will do that. But she looked happy. She had done it.
She had to go back on stage for the finals that night, and none of us could still be there to see it.
Hours later, I received a text from Alli. “I got 7th out of 22!!!”
I ran around and told anyone who’d listen. And then Alli got her well-deserved Mexican food.
Kaelyn Sayles is a University of Washington graduate who lives in Seattle and is a sports news assistant for The Seattle Times.
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