A chance meeting in 2008 led to a special partnership that has a focus on health and fitness. While training for her first figure competition at a local gym, Candace Harmon, now 38, needed someone to spot her as she lifted weights. Jerry Fincher, 67, was nearby and ready to help.
Since then, the two have met for about an hour at the gym each weekday. They encourage each other, and of course, spot each other.
Last weekend, the two ventured to the 2012 Optimum Fitness Classic in Shreveport, La., a contest that has participants flexing their muscles while posing next to competitors. Mrs. Harmon was awarded the overall 2012 Optimum Classic Bikini Champion and placed first in the Bikini Masters. Fincher placed fourth in the Men's Physique Masters category. It was his first competition.
The pair have sleek, toned muscles, and they'd be hard-pressed to lift any fat from their firm bodies.
While they look like Olympians-in-training, their fitness regimen is simple and takes little time.
Fincher has weight trained for 16 years but notes that each day is a challenge to do better than before.
“It's been a journey,” he said. “It's always a journey. It's always striving for the next level to be better than you were.”
Fincher was never overweight, nor was he an athlete in school. Fincher said he was placed on blood pressure medication about 18 months ago but was off of it within six months after revving up his workout.
Mrs. Harmon was no athlete, either, but she loved to eat.
“I was what you call 'skinny fat,'” she said. “That's basically when you look skinny to everybody else but really your body fat probably isn't where it needs to be.”
When Mrs. Harmon gave birth to her first child at 30, the affects of pregnancy was daunting for the new mother. She didn't gain too much weight, but she did not like her appearance. She was on a quest to get in the best shape she could.
She added, “It's almost as if you want to prove, not just to other people, but prove to yourself that you don't have to let yourself go after kids.”
Now, the petite mom weighs 113, but most of it — 101 pounds — is muscle, or 11 percent body fat. Fincher also has the similar percent of body fat.
An acceptable range of body fat for women is 25 to 31 percent and 18 to 25 percent for men.
“Everyone can achieve this goal,” Fincher said. “We do this not just for ourselves. We do this also because we want to be around for a long time to watch the kids grow up, the grandkids grow up, and the great-grandkids grow up. I've already promised my grandson I'd live to be 100.”
The two say competing in fitness competitions exposes them to criticism and judgment. For Fincher, he's flattered to be among other men, most who are younger, to show his form.
“For me, the biggest accomplishment was being able to get up on that stage and just do it and have enough guts to get out there,” he said. “Whether I win anything or not, to me, that's quite a compliment coming from not only my peers, who are younger than me, but just a guy saying that. It's very humbling.”
Mrs. Harmon added, “They can always find something that's not right. For me, every critique is a challenge, to see if I can go to the next show and for them to not say I'm too skinny.”
Fincher is living proof that good health is reachable at any age.
“By the grace of God, I've been blessed to be the age that I am and to be able to do this,” he said.
And Mrs. Harmon is proof that a mother of two can be fit and have the body she wants. She said women are used to putting everybody else first, not allowing time for fitness.
A former trainer herself, Mrs. Harmon trains with Kelly Hitchcock, owner of KH Fitness, about once every couple of weeks, and more often as a competition approaches.
“You don't have to have a personal trainer, but it's good to have accountability,” she said. “A sign of a good trainer is knowing your limitations, what you're able to do. I'm still learning.”
Mrs. Harmon said spectators may view the body contests as just a vanity parade. She said they are real athletes.
“We're athletes, and sometimes that gets forgotten because we're not running and we're not playing a sport, but it's a level of fitness some people will never attempt to obtain,” she said. “We're not the Hawaiian Tropics (girls).”
Eating clean is critical for healthy weight and muscle building. Mrs. Harmon said her religious faith helped her change her view of food. She said she would place a Bible in the kitchen and turn to scriptures instead of mindlessly eating.
“When I first started this in '08, I think I idolized food. I know that sounds crazy because I was never overweight. While I was eating one meal, I was thinking about what I was going got have at the next one. … It makes a big difference when you look at food differently.”
A strict structure has left the two not even craving unhealthy foods. When they had an opportunity to eat what they wanted the night before the recent competition, they opted for something healthy.
“We could have anything we wanted, but we're eating fish and rice,” Mrs. Harmon said.
As a nurse on the go, Mrs. Harmon is always prepared by keeping a cooler filled with the day's food and snacks. It keeps her from going through a drive-thru. She also prepares meals for several days at a time. Planning also goes into vacation.
Fincher, a photographer and grandfather, said he receives the most encouragement from his wife, fellow gym members and his workout partner.
“I never appreciated what she had to do in the last five to six weeks because of her eating until this point in time, when I was doing it with her,” he said of Mrs. Harmon. “It was a real awakening for me to realize how hard it was for her with family at home.”
He added, “She's probably been the most consistent partner I've ever had. I've had a couple of partners since then, but she has been a real inspiration and mentor to me, to watch how she has progressed.”
Fincher said everyone may not strive to compete in figure contests, but he said it's a reachable goal. The results are tenfold.
“This has been a wonderful journey for both of us,” he said. “I think anybody can do this. It just takes a lot of dedication. … Life becomes a little bit sweeter and a little bit more meaningful and so does family if you take this journey.”