I was raised in a small farm town in Oregon in a very athletic family. My brother was a professional fighter and a Gold Medal Champion, traveling around the world to places like Romania and Russia. He started boxing when he was six years old, and he would quite literally train all day long, so I pretty much grew up around a gym, but despite this exposure, I didn’t feel personally drawn to it. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do.
I then went to college, majoring in business, but I still wasn’t sure what do in terms of a career. After graduation, I got a job at a construction company doing their accounting. I also started working out at a local gym. One day, the gym owner approached me and said, “You should get into bodybuilding.” I didn’t know anything about it, so he explained what it entailed. He added that he would be willing to train me for free, reasoning that it would be good publicity for his gym. He also told me that there was a show coming up in Portland, which was 60 miles from my hometown. I was naive at that time, not knowing what I was really getting into, so I said, “Cool, let’s do it!”
In the middle of my training, and before the Portland show, I found myself having to make a sudden move to California, which was a bummer. I was getting into bodybuilding and I didn’t want to stop. As soon as I got there, I immediately joined the local Gold’s Gym and became consumed with training — the bug had bitten me. I loved it so much that I even took a job there working at the front desk. I was 21 years old and I knew what I wanted to do.
Bodybuilding in California was big stuff compared to where I came from in Oregon. There were lots of competitors and bodybuilders around me. The support was strong and my body got even stronger. When I finally did my first amateur show, I won! And from there it went. I just kept going and going and learning more about the sport. I just loved it. My major goal was to “do the Sacramento,” because it was a big National qualifying show. To qualify for the Nationals, you had to place in the top three, so it’s not easy. I trained and competed and guess what? I won. I qualified for the Nationals!
After “the Sacramento,” I took a couple of years off from competing to train, because I was really small and the girls competing in the Nationals were relatively big. I just couldn’t compete with them at my size. I started training really hard and was always at the gym. That’s when I met my husband, Rick. He was at Gold’s Gym, working out. You might say he was dedicated. He had totally set his sights on winning me over. I was dating the manager at that time, who obviously didn’t much care for it, but Rick would sit on the steps and wait for me and wouldn’t leave. What can I say? It worked. He stole me away.
Rick also became my personal trainer and that’s when I really took off. He’s since been my trainer, my nutritionist, and my choreographer, which can make our relationship rough during pre-contest time. I’ve gotta say, it’s not that fun. Sometimes, I’m just exhausted and I want him to focus on being my husband, not my trainer.
To train for a contest, we start 16 weeks prior to the event. The diet is a huge part of it. At 16 weeks prior, I cut out dairy and fruit. The fructose in fruit is the main source of carbohydrates from sugar, and it goes straight to your liver, so if your liver is already full with glycogen, the sugar turns into fat. I also start limiting alcohol. Believe me, I like my daily glass of wine, but I start cutting it down to maybe four days a week, or three. At the 12-week mark, it gets tough; I start weighing and measuring everything down to the ounce. There are limited amounts of things I can eat: small amounts of protein, broccoli, yams, and brown rice. At 10 and 8 weeks out, I carb-deplete a lot. so I can go into ketosis. Fortunately, Rick monitors me on a daily basis.
A typical day during pre-contest means that I get up at 4:00AM. and do an hour of cardio. Then, I do some weight training. Then I head to work and train my own clients. At mid-day, I do another hour of cardio and more training. And finally, I do one more hour in the evening. The last week before the contest, I don’t train at all. That’s because the cuts won’t be there. You want your muscles to relax so your cuts will be visible when you pose.
Every contest is a challenge. I get four to six weeks out and I think to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” When you can’t eat and you’re carb-depleted, you’re really weak minded. Everyone around you is eating. You have to stay strong. It’s different when you’re one week out — you’re almost there.
My goal to compete at the National level happened last year. At the 2007 USA Championship in Las Vegas I took third, which is huge, because there are so many women competing at that level. Most women do those shows to turn pro, which is not a goal of mine. Honestly, if I turn pro, I’m toast. They’re huge women. I have to work harder than most of the women in the amateur contests, because there’s no test for performance-enhancing substances, and many of the bodybuilders take advantage of them. I see what using them will do and I have no interest in doing that to my body. I have a life ahead of me, you know? Fortunately, they want us to compete smaller now, actually, so it’s to my advantage. I only came in 6th in the last championship, because they thought I was too hard, too shredded. The rumor was that they wanted us to come in 20 percent softer, but it’s really hard, because you can never really know what the judges are looking for.
For national competitions, you weigh in on Thursday night. On Saturday, they do the pre-judging. There’s a pump-up room in the back and there are bodybuilders there that oil you up. Then you go up to the stage and do quarter turns and a 60-second routine without music. They want you to look simple for the pre-judging. Nothing fancy. Your hair is usually up. When you come back and do your one-and-a-half minute routine to the music, you get dolled up. I can hear Rick to the side of the stage, coaching me as I pose. People in the audience are cheering. Friends have come from all over. It’s really exciting.
There is so much discipline involved. Everyone asks me why I love it and I can never give a definite answer. I love taking my body to the limit, but I also love to compete. I love the actual training and I love to see my body progress.
I should see a psychiatrist about this because I work my ass off, but I’m uncomfortable going out in public! I’m kind of a freak in public. I joke about this, but it’s true. I stay covered up. I’m getting a little more comfortable with it now, but even when it’s hot, I’ll probably cover up. If I’m with a guy or with Rick, I’ll go sleeveless, but otherwise, I won’t. I’ve been competing for 20 years, so it’s been happening for a long time. I can’t think of any negative things that happen; I always get positive reactions, but I’m just uncomfortable with the attention. People always stare, even if I’m not in pre-contest shape. I have my own personal training gym now and when I’m out with clients, they will always comment on the way people stare at me. I don’t like it, even though I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. Go figure, right?
My mother and father are super supportive and proud of me. I’m different from my brother because of how I look, so it’s not really comparable that way, but they’ve always been proud. They love it. My mom is actually pissed off now because she hasn’t gotten the latest pictures from my last contest. I laughed and said, “Mom, I haven’t gotten any.”
I have two girls who are now 20 and 22 years old, respectively, and I enjoy being with them on my down time. We’re great friends and we laugh a lot. I’m proud of them, and they’ve always been proud of me. They’ve seen me train and compete since they were very little. They even have pictures of me in my poses on their MySpace pages!
I’m proud of myself for being so disciplined. Doing this isn’t easy. I may or may not compete in the Nationals, coming up in November. I’m not sure yet. I’m already part way there from having trained for the last contest, but I don’t know if I’m up for the intense dieting. We’ll see. I started dieting a little this week. … just in case.
Kelly Dobbins has been competing in amateur bodybuilding championships for over 30 years. She resides in Oakland, California, and owns her own personal training facility appropriately named Kelly’s Gym. She invites you to come for a complementary consultation! Just mention Dare To Be Fabulous when you call. (Tel: 510-601-5432.) This story was transcribed from an in-person interview with DTBF.