Fort Riley, Kansas --
Angi Buckley eyed the pullup bar with steely determination. Her jaw set, her muscles taut, she pushed herself to do one final pull-up to finish her workout.
“When you’re given things, they don’t mean anything. When you earn it and own it, it has value that no one can take away,” Buckley said.
Buckley, a personal trainer, can be found strength training at King Field House every weekday around 5 a.m. A frequent runner, Buckley said she got into weightlifting several years ago when she wanted to reshape her body.
“There is a discipline and a focus in doing it,” Buckley said. “It builds a community in a really neat way.”
The community is a growing group of female bodybuilders who work out at King Field House. Some, like Traci Scott, regional liaison officer, 1st Infantry Division, started bodybuilding because of Buckley.
Scott saw Buckley working out one morning this past winter and said she noticed how cut she was.
“Angi was an inspiration for me,” Scott said.
Others, like military spouses Kelsey Ellis and Ashley Wiggins, started bodybuilding on their own and discovered a supportive community in the process.
“There’s an instant bond,” Scott explained. “If I see one of these guys in the gym, there’s an instant connection … You’re supportive of one another, and that’s part of the family. And you care.”
The women vary in age and body types. They came to strength training for different reasons, like losing weight or reducing their risk of health problems. All of them have discovered a love of lifting.
Erica Osborne, personal trainer, got serious about becoming fit to lose weight several years ago. She starting running, but when she suffered an injury, she turned to strength training.
“I love the way I feel after I lift. I feel like I’ve conquered the world,” Osborne said. “It’s very satisfying.”
Scott said her reason was more for health concerns.
“One of the reasons I’m doing this is because diabetes runs in my family. I refuse to get it,” she said.
“I went into it just wanting to improve myself,” added Rachel Gilmore, military spouse. “I developed a really strong passion over the past year for it.”
After tapping into the physical and mental strength required for intense lifting, all of these women became interested in competitive bodybuilding.
“When you fall in love with it, and you see what you can do, like the competing, to me is like pushing it to another level,” Gilmore said.
Bodybuilding competitions include bikini, figure, fitness and bodybuilding. Bikini is typically viewed as a beginner level in which competitors are less bulky.
“Bikini is a little more prance and sass, and more glitz,” Gilmore explained.
When Ellis and Wiggins started intense strength training in January, they set a goal to enter a bikini competition in April.
“I just want something where I know there’s a goal, there’s a deadline where I have to look good,” Wiggins said. “It’s a competition, so I want to be the best I can be.”
As Wiggins and Ellis embark on their first competition, the Association of Fitness and Physique Athletes Kansas City Championships April 26, they are getting nervous.
“I’m the worst at walking in heels,” Ellis said, referring to the four- to six-inch high heels worn during competition.
“For me, it’s the posing. I think that’s going to be the hardest thing … You can look ripped and look nice, but if you don’t know how to show it off ...” Wiggins added, her voice trailing off.
Posing is critical.
“If (judges) don’t see what you have and what you’ve worked so hard for, then you’re not going to do very well,” Osborne explained. “You have to know how to present yourself and how to show that off.”
Posing also can be exceedingly difficult.
“It’s very hard to maintain a pose, having all of your muscles working and looking very relaxed,” Buckley said.
Hands have to be placed a certain way. Muscles groups must be displayed to showcase as much symmetry as possible. When athletes are already tired from intense training, clean dieting and increased adrenaline, holding a pose and not looking tense is a challenge.
But as Ellis and Wiggins face their first competition, the community of more experienced bodybuilders like Buckley, a veteran competitor, are there to support and encourage them.
“It really helps to encourage other women. It selfishly helps me a lot,” Buckley said. “The purity and focus of the process means way more than the show. The show is just a vehicle to get you on that road ... Having to prep for the show, and the memories of working out with people and lifting weights and encouraging other women … the journey is really the amazing (part).”
The women have been growing stronger, individually and collectively.
“(The community’s) just kind of blossomed,” Osborne said. “The women are taking over the gym, and I love it. I love it. We’re all over in here, and I think it’s fantastic.”
Each woman expressed a desire to inspire and encourage others interested in becoming more fit.
“Anybody can do it,” Gilmore said. “(We) want to motivate people, and we want to tell people ‘you can do this’ and include everybody.”
“You can do it. If you just put your head to it,” Scott echoed. “I’m 49. I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in my entire life … But it does take sacrifices ... You have to work hard. It doesn’t come when you lay in bed. You’ve got to get up and do something.”
For those who have ever heard a voice in their heads telling them they couldn’t do something, Ellis said she understands.
“If I had a message for other people, it would be that you can do something,” she said. “You really can do a lot more than you think that you can.”
Ellis said she often must fight a voice in her head that tells her she can’t do a certain lift or handle a certain weight, she shouldn’t even try. Wiggins urges her on, and with each workout, Ellis delivers another blow to that voice.
“You have to beat your mind as well as your body,” she said.
And if that fails? Try picturing posing onstage in a tiny, gem-studded swimsuit.
“That bikini is a really good motivator,” Buckley said.
Buckley will compete in the figure category of the Natural Southern States Classic competition in April.