GREAT LAKES, Ill. -- Lean physique, spray tan, tiny sequin bikini, makeup and hair done. The hunger, the exhaustion, and the hours of training all came together for one moment under the lights. Showtime.
Staff Sgt. Annemarie E. Baker, a 14-year Marine and mother, embraced this rigorous lifestyle to achieve victory over body and mind as she forged her flesh into a warrior figure. She said the pains and gains were worth it when she finally took the stage at her first competition.
“Bodybuilding is so much more than lifting weights and dieting,” said Baker, who competed in her first competition May 14, 2016. “You learn things about yourself you never knew. You push yourself not only physically but mentally and emotionally.”
Women like Baker have proven bodybuilding competitions no longer belong to the men as more and more women, and especially mothers, have embraced the essence of these competitions. Across the country, bodybuilding competitions have continued to expand figure and physique categories to include the new generation of female competitors who desire more than just a bikini contest.
“Many girls start in figure but find they can build the muscle necessary for the physique competition, and they enjoy the difference it makes,” said Baker, who aimed for the physique category for her first competition.
This newer generation of bodybuilder has harnessed the power of social media in their search for inspiration for self-improvement. A quick search across social media sites in 2016 produced countless selfies of fit moms, run-time snapshots, and motivational pics all focused upon building self-confidence through fitness. Even celebrities jumped on the trend when Real Housewife of Orange County Tamra Judge tweeted her transformation into a bodybuilder the same year.
For Baker, she wanted more than self-improvement, she wanted the sense of accomplishment attainable only through discipline and rigorous training.
“You hear all the time about people who start training to compete and end up quitting after months of hard work. I wanted to push myself to not be one of those people,” she said. “My main goal was to, at the end of the day, be able to look in the mirror and say I did everything I was supposed to. I pushed myself to the max.”
And she proved the sacrifice and discipline paid off when she won first place at the 2016 National Physique Committee Gran Prix Natural competition in Rockford, Ill., May 14, 2016. The win qualified her to compete in national USA bodybuilding competitions.
While preparing for the competition, her life developed something akin to a reality TV show as her days became a regularly scheduled program of gym, eat, laundry, chores, sleep. Everything had a time slot in the day.
“I had to make a routine and stick to it 100 percent no matter what,” she said about preparing for the competition. “If I stuck to it, I was good. Focus, focus, focus.”
At first, she found the strict diet and routine a little disheartening, but her coach and family helped her find the balance.
“I had a coach that was there to make sure I was doing everything I needed to be doing at the right time, the right way,” she said. “He made sure I was staying healthy and taking care of my body throughout the transformation.
“I had an amazing support network in all areas,” she said. “My family was my emotional rock. Along with the diet and working out comes an emotional roller coaster. They stayed focused along with me…, and were there whenever I needed. My son was a huge motivation for me. I wanted to make him proud and show him that once you start something, no matter how hard it gets, you have to finish it.”
Baker attributes her decision to compete to her military career. She had always been athletic, lifted weights and was involved in multiple sporting events, but her competitive spirit hungered for a new challenge when she began her transformation September 2015.
“Being physically fit is a huge part of being a Marine. Preparing for this competition, although it is a different type of physical fitness than what the Marine Corps requires, proves if you work hard at it and don’t give up on yourself, you can accomplish anything,” said Baker.
And it doesn’t hurt that she improved her ability to perform dead-hang pull-ups for the physical fitness test.
She has since begun preparing mentally, physically and emotionally for her next competition scheduled Nov. 12, 2016.
In the end, Baker learned a lot of about herself, her family, and the cost of commitment to bodybuilding. This experience helped shape her perspective on using a single mental focus to overcome physical limitations and pushing away the fear of failure to see how much she has accomplished. Because regardless of the outcome in any competition, “it is not about where you place or if you win… this is about how far you have come,” she said.