Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Strong appeal — Bodybuilding offers new challenges

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

At 38 years old, Pako Whannell is in the best shape of her life.

That’s saying something, since the longtime volleyball coach, college athlete and manager at the Peninsula Athletic Club hasn’t been a slouch in the fitness department.

She’s worked out regularly, played volleyball and stayed in shape throughout her life, but she retired from coaching a few years ago and a back injury kept her from playing as much volleyball.

“I needed to find some other thing to stay focused on and stay fit and healthy,” she said.

She found it in bodybuilding. Whannell went to Anchorage with a group of friends and fellow gym members last year to support Scott Griebel and Sohnya Hamar as they competed in a bodybuilding competition.

“We just were inspired. It was just kind of a neat, entertaining thing to watch as well as it’s different and it takes dedication and hard work,” Whannell said. “But I think a lot of ladies these days might be tired of the same old routine of the doldrums of work every day and working out. They’re looking for some kind of challenge. It’s starting to explode,” Whannell said.

She and a few other ladies from the PAC decided to start training. About a year later, they were signed up to compete in the Alaska State Pro-Am Bodybuilding Figure and Fitness Championships in Anchorage on March 7, and are planning to compete in the first ever Kenai Peninsula bodybuilding competition March 28 at Kenai Central High School.

“It’s not really heard of to just train for a year and go into a competition,” Whannell said. “Most of those athletes train for at least two or three years. Our friend, who’s a trainer, said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’”

The answer was a resounding yes. Bodybuilding is not a casual hobby or something done halfway. It involves an entire lifestyle change.

For Whannell, that has meant weightlifting an hour a day, five days a week and doing cardio 30 to 40 minutes, four to five times a week, all fit in around her other priorities in life.

“I have two kids and a husband, and so I have to kind of work around their schedules, as well, and still be a mom and wife,” she said. “It does take a big toll on your family, but they’re very understanding.”

Her time in the gym has been the easy part of the journey. The nutritional aspect of bodybuilding is the most challenging, she said. Whannell changed her diet and now closely monitors and plans everything she eats to make sure she’s fueling her body in the best possible way for her metabolism and physiology to maximize results.

“Whatever you put in your mouth is what you’re going to see on your body onstage, so you have to be careful. And, you know, I like food, so that was the hardest part of it. A lot of people look at that and go, ‘Eh, I can’t do that.’ But you can. After a month it just became a habit,” she said.

Balancing the challenges is the support Whannell and her fellow bodybuilding newcomers got from the gym.

“The whole gym was very supportive in encouraging us and they saw the changes in our bodies when we were working out five days a week at the gym. The neat thing is the community and club was very supportive of what we were doing,” she said.

That support and level of involvement led to a rare honor at the bodybuilding championship March 7 — the Peninsula Athletic Club was given the team award for all five of the competitors from the PAC placing high in the competition. The award typically goes to an Anchorage gym, Whannell said.

“The highlight was winning the team award, since we all placed so well we received that. That was the best part of it. We were happy how we did individually, but the team award meant more to us than anything,” she said.

From the PAC, Scott Griebel, in his third competition, placed third in men’s middleweight bodybuilding. Sohnya Hamar, in her second competition, placed first in lightweight bodybuilding and fitness. Judi Klok placed first in master’s women bodybuilding and won the overall award in her first competition. Aleasha LaFleur, in her first competition, finished second in novice women’s bodybuilding. Whannell, also in her first competition, took fifth in the figure division, 5-foot-3 and over.

Other Kenai Peninsula athletes competing were Darren Hagen, who finished first in his division in novice men’s bodybuilding, and Helen Aye, who placed first in the figure division, 5-foot-3 and under. Both were from The Fitness Place.

Being a first-timer in a bodybuilding competition was a nerve-wracking experience due to trying to banish butterflies and get pumped up to go onstage, Whannell said. But the experience of competition also helped make the months of hard work worthwhile.

“When you get out there in those lights and perform and show what you worked so hard for, and you’re so proud of yourself for achieving these goals, you just feel so good inside,” she said. “It’s hard to describe, it’s just an adrenaline rush, ‘I’m out here, I’m doing it, this is what I’ve got.’”

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