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. Despite this exposure, I didn’t feel personally drawn to it.
I went to college and majored in business, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to 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 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 have 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 hard and was always at the gym. That’s when I met my husband, Rick. He was also at Gold’s Gym, working out. You might say he was dedicated; he totally set his sights on winning me over. 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 became my personal trainer and that’s when I really took off. He became my trainer, my nutritionist, and my choreographer, which could make our relationship rough during pre-contest time. I’ve gotta say, it was not very much fun. Sometimes, I was just exhausted and I wanted 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 that 16-week mark, 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 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. When I get four to six weeks out, I think to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” When you can’t eat and you’re carb-depleted, you’re weak-minded. Everyone around you is eating, but you need to stay strong. It’s different when you’re one week out, because you’re almost there.
My goal to compete at the National level happened 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 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 that. 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 now want us to compete at smaller sizes, so that’s to my advantage. I came in 6th in a recent championship, because they thought I was too hard, too shredded. The rumor was that they wanted us to come in 20 percent softer. It’s difficult, because you 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. Rick stands to one side of the stage, coaching me as I pose. People in the audience cheer. Friends come from all over. It’s quite 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, 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, but even when it’s hot, I’ll probably cover up. If I’m with a guy or with my husband, I’ll go sleeveless, but otherwise, I won’t.
I’ve been competing for over 20 years and I can’t think of any negative things that would happen by showing my body in public. I get positive reactions, but I’m just uncomfortable with the attention. People always stare, even if I’m not in pre-contest shape. I had my own personal training gym for a long time, and whenever I was out with clients, they would comment on the way people stared at me. I don’t like that, even though I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. Go figure, right?
Fortunately, my mother and father are super supportive and proud of me. They love it. My mom actually got pissed off when she didn’t get any pictures from my last contest. I laughed and said, “Mom, I didn’t get any pictures.” I also have two girls of my own and they’ve always been proud of me. They’ve seen me train and compete since they were very little.
I’m proud of myself for being so disciplined. Doing this isn’t easy. I don’t know if I’ll continue. I’m not sure 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 owned her own personal training facility appropriately named Kelly’s Gym.