Sandra Baker, a 49-year-old mother of two adult children, began a bodybuilding journey several weeks ago, not knowing exactly where it would end.
She did know, however, that she would be fearless in her attempt. Now it's something she can check off of her life's to-do list, right before her birthday, which she celebrated Saturday.
“I just want to go up there and be able to say, 'I did it,' she said about one month before the contest.' ”
Last weekend, during the Purebody Nutrition NGA Body Building Extravaganza, she competed against four other women in the women's figure category. She did not place, but it enabled her to become a role model for others, and she's even more motivated to pursue other bodybuilding competitions.
At the evening judging, Mrs. Baker had strong support in the crowd. Judges noted earlier in the day that “she looked good.” When the host and announcer, Will Burgin, called the third- and second-place winners, her supporters knew she was a sure win.
“I started screaming because I really thought she had it,” her daughter Tori Baker said. “You could tell how good she felt about herself. I think everyone should have that feeling about themselves. She was amazing.”
By 6:45 a.m. on July 21, Mrs. Baker, dressed in a pink jogging suit, was getting her hair styled and makeup applied. Those details, along with stilettos, a sparkly bikini and glitzy jewelry, are part of the aesthetic aspect of the women's figure category.
Tanned skin is also important, as it allows judges to better see each set of muscles. Some bodybuilders are sprayed with a solution, while others apply a thick dark cream. These applications are followed by using cooking spray for added shine while competitors are on stage.
Minutes before the show, Mrs. Baker, who rechecked her hair and makeup, was visibly nervous. She did a little dance moments before walking on stage, still feeling anxious.
Those nerves left once she received many shouts and cheers from her trainer, Dudley Goss, as well as family members.
“Work, work, work! ... There you go. ... Come on 15,” Goss would shout.
Before her big show, Mrs. Baker worked out four days a week for up to 90 minutes, usually in the mornings. She also learned how to present herself by practicing in mirrors in front of others. On that Saturday night, her goal of showing off her hard work, with confidence, was realized on a stage where every inch of her body would be critiqued by strangers.
“She was a little down, but she bounces back very quickly,” her daughter said.
Her first show was a lesson learned. She said she did not do enough research about each of the categories and the world of bodybuilding.
Apparently, there's a fine line between each of the categories, and judges must adhere to specific criteria. With Mrs. Baker's extra lean tone and striated muscles, she should have been in the physique instead of figure category, she learned.
“The actual description in figure didn't match up with what I was,” she said. “They didn't want that much striation and definition in the muscles. They had to go by the guidelines. I was too cut for that and too lean.”
She added, “I did not know all this and questions to ask. It was one heck of an experience, and I wouldn't trade it in for the world. It grounded me and made me really find out information: 'What was wrong? What were they looking for?'”
The physique category was not included in the Tyler show. Mrs. Baker is also considering working up to the women's bodybuilding category, where there is a lot more muscle and definition.
“I'm definitely not quitting,” she said. “That's my first (show), but it's not going to be my last.”
Mrs. Baker was awed by the younger women in the contest, whom she said courageously stepped on a stage to flaunt their bodies. She probably wouldn't have had the confidence at that age, she said.
Along the way, she's encountered other women who have helped and impressed her, including fellow contestant, Martha Munroe. They'd worked out together at Woodcreek Athletic Club and have enjoyed a special camaraderie.
“She inspired me to keep going and to go further,” she said of Ms. Munroe. She said she wants to “pay it forward.”
“I don't mind being inspired and I don't mind being the one inspiring other people,” she said.
Mrs. Baker has had the support of her family, including husband, Mike. Following the show, many of her supporters expressed their admiration of her. “There are so many people who have walked up to me and said that I've inspired them,” she said.
Among them is her 21-year-old daughter. Miss Baker, who lives in Quitman, said she's eager to work out with her mother and has begun changing her diet. Next year, the mother-daughter duo will compete together in a bodybuilding show.
“Even though she didn't place, the drive in her is inspiring; the fact that she finally jumped into it. She didn't let her age discourage her,” Miss Baker said.
Miss Baker said seeing the female contestants on stage and witnessing her mother's feat reinforced what it means to be a strong woman.
“It shows people that we can do things not expected of us,” she said.