Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Built to last — Bodybuilding interest on peninsula swells to point of holding local show

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Seeing the toned, sculpted physiques flex, pose and perform in the lights and music onstage will be impressive enough at the Kenai Peninsula’s first Alaska Bodybuilding Figure and Fitness competition March 28 at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.

The truly jaw-dropping part comes in realizing how much effort goes into the competitors being onstage — often a year or more of rigorous, multihour, five-days-a-week workouts and diligent commitment to an exacting nutritional regime where every calorie consumed is calculated for maximum benefit.

“Nowhere else in the state will you find a gathering of more lean, fit, healthy people at one place at one time than the 28th of March at that auditorium,” said Bernie Pendergast, of Sterling, who’s promoting the event. “I also think it’s important that people understand it’s not only a competition where these great athletes will be onstage, but it’s an athletic event and it’s also entertainment.”

Just like bodybuilders don’t become ready to compete overnight, the peninsula competition didn’t become a reality in a matter of days. It’s taken months to organize and promote the event, and it’s taken years for local interest in bodybuilding to grow to the point of supporting a competition.

Pendergast, who’s lived on the central peninsula since 1989, got interested in bodybuilding in 1996 and 1997 by helping his son, Nicholas, then a Skyview High School student, train for a junior men’s bodybuilding competition in Anchorage.

After his son graduated, Pendergast decided he wanted compete, but he ran into a frustration that likely limited involvement in bodybuilding in Alaska over the years, he said. There was only one bodybuilding organization in the state at the time, and it didn’t distinguish between natural, drug-free bodybuilding and bodybuilding that allowed steroid use.

“Even myself, in the years I competed, because I’m not really a big guy, I’d go onstage at about 155 pounds and have to stand, a lot of times, next to people who had a chemically enhanced physique, and they weighed over 200 pounds,” he said.

Pendergast competed for three years then got certified as a physique judge. Now he helps judge bodybuilding competitions, which has always meant traveling outside the peninsula – until now.

Central peninsula interest in the sport has grown in the past few years to the point where taking an informal head count of how many local bodybuilders would participate in a Kenai competition yielded 20 to 25 people, Pendergast said. Shows can include upward of 60 competitors, but 25 to 30 is a more manageable number. The Kenai show is open to competitors statewide.

“As long as I’ve been training in the gym here in town, since 1990, I’ve never seen, not only the interest, but the actual commitment to train and diet and getting into the condition they need to be to be competitive in this sport. It has really grown tremendously in the last couple of years,” Pendergast said.

Now the state has the Alaska Bodybuilding Figure and Fitness organization, which promotes natural bodybuilding, athletes have an avenue to be competitive in bodybuilding without the pressure of using drugs. Pendergast said that has helped the sport draw a following of health-conscious athletes looking for a unique challenge.

“It’s quite overwhelming for me, really. I am excited about it. I thought, you know, now that we’re natural and can promote the sport of bodybuilding to our young people through sensible weight training and good, sound nutrition and let them still build a physique that can be competitive onstage, it is really exciting. I like the involvement in it because it is a natural sport,” Pendergast said.

He had some time free this winter, and decided to “grab the bull by the horns and go with it. I just decided maybe the time was right down here,” he said.

He started making the rounds in the community for event sponsors and supporters. The response was overwhelming, he said.

“They were like, ‘Wow, how can I help?’ It’s been a really good outpouring of help in the community to get this thing going,” Pendergast said.

He hopes the support translates into attendance at events March 28. Not only will it show interest in the sport of bodybuilding, it will show support for local competitors.

“We’re looking forward to seeing everyone come out and support all our local athletes. It is a growing sport and we want people to be more educated in it and get more people involved,” said Pako Whannell, a manager at the Peninsula Athletic Club and bodybuilder who plans to compete in the Kenai event.

“We’re kind of nervous because everybody we know lives in the community, but we’re proud and really want people to understand that anyone can do this at any age,” she said.

There will be a prejudging event at noon where competitors go through set poses and are evaluated by judges. Admission for that event is $10 at the door.

The main event starts at 7 p.m., where competitors perform individual routines to music and awards are handed out in each class and division, including men’s and women’s bodybuilding, women’s figure and women’s fitness. Overall awards are given in each of the women’s categories, and in men’s bodybuilding.

Tickets for the 7 p.m. competition are $25 for prime seats, or $15 and $10 for side and balcony seating. Tickets are available at GNC, The Fitness Place, Peninsula Athletic Club and at the door.


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