The Wings of Strength held each year in Tampa has become an extremely popular event, and in just the past three years the new Women's Physique Division is producing new stars by the handful. Last year's Physique Olympia winner Dana Linn Bailey was a runner-up at this event before moving on to her victory in Las Vegas.
The entry lists from each of the past two years along with the huge group of contestants this year brim with competitors such as Karina Nascimento, Nola Trimble, Jennifer Robinson, Mikaila Soto, and Tycie Coppett, among many others who have become familiar as well as successful in the pro Physique division. The 36 entries at this year's Tampa event is by far the largest show of the year for a WPD competition and the quality was top notch.
This year on the weekend of August 8-9 at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, promoter Tim Gardner outdid himself once again with an outstanding contestant turnout as well as an enthusiastic crowd to make for an event fans will be talking about right up to the Olympia Weekend in September.
HEATHER GRACES THE TAMPA STAGE FOR HER FIRST PRO VICTORY!
With the coming of the Women's Physique Division, we've all heard the same refrain hundreds of times when a competitor's story usually begins with, "Former Figure competitor so and so has made a great transition to the Physique division." And it's true to an extent. The others who didn't come from the Figure division were either former bodybuilders, fitness competitors or an athlete from another sport armed with only a suggestion from a well-meaning friend who told her she should enter one of those Physique contests they have now. Same old, same old, right? But not always. And when it comes to Heather Grace, the route she has followed on the journey to where she now finds herself has been circuitous to say the least.
Taking part in gymnastics as a youngster is pretty common these days, but when gymnastics transitions into basketball, that's a different direction altogether. When you've been athletically inclined for most of your life, the paths of interest can most certainly change. So when Grace drifted into basketball, the change was somewhat of a surprise considering she's 5’4 ½”. And when she continued to play basketball in college, everyone assumed she had some special qualities as an athlete.
Grace played at Columbia University in New York City – the Ivy League. And that's a long way from her roots in Tacoma, Washington. After college life took her to Colorado and an eventual entry in a Figure competition in 2006 – she won the contest (the NPC Rocky Mountain/Carol Semple Classic). A year later she added a runner-up finish at the NPC Colorado/Shawn Ray Classic. The seed of curiosity had been planted and in 2010 Grace won her first major regional event – the NPC Emerald Cup in Seattle.
"That contest was really cool," recalls Grace. "All my friends and family from Tacoma were able to see me compete. It was pretty exciting and such a great contest."
A year later, Grace entered her first national-level event and won the NPC Junior USA where she earned her pro status as a Figure competitor. The pro Figure division was another matter, however. She entered four contests in 2011 and her average finish in that quartet of events was 10th. Her results in 2012 were even further off the target, placing 13th at the IFBB Pro World and 16th at the New York Pro. Grace took 2013 away from competition. She trained, made improvements, changed her look. Voilà! A new Heather Grace. And hotter than blazes.
From her Denver digs she took a pair of flights to Northern California and came home with two very strong third-place finishes in the Physique division competitions in San Jose and Sacramento. The move from Figure to Physique was a natural with her lifelong love of athleticism.
Tampa would be a true test. The contest was huge and many of the entrants had lots of experience in the Physique division. With the first call-out totaling six competitors, Grace and Nascimento were moved to the middle and the battle was on. Still on a high from her two solid showings in California, Grace was even a touch better here. As Dave Palumbo described of her physicality in his RX Muscle assessment, "Ripped conditioning… great double back pose… glutes in shape… good side triceps." Sure enough she had all that he pointed out, but there were the intangibles that really brought it home for her.
She was competing against Karina Nascimento who is well-known for her savvy stage appearances and exotic qualities. So Grace stepped it up with her own level of stage persona and confidence. Grace brought a sleek overall look that actually seemed to have a temperature attached – in fact that may have even been tangible! Either way, Heather Grace had become another new kid on the pro Physique division block, and she was on her way to Las Vegas where she would need to repeat her Tampa effort and more. But hey, never count out an Ivy Leaguer!
KARINA CONTINUES TO BE PART OF THE BIRTH OF THE PHYSIQUE DIVISION
Literally a chapter could be written on the competitive exploits of Karina Nascimento. A transplanted Brazilian who now calls Boca Raton, Florida, home, she has been an outstanding bodybuilder, but more importantly an integral part of the early days of the new women's Physique division. Here, in this giant field of 36 competitors she emerged as the runner-up to Heather Grace, and the placing adds just one more check in the plus column of her accomplishments in the past three years of competing in the Physique division.
When the first pro Physique contest was held in 2012, it was Nascimento who captured the first-ever victory at the Desert Muscle Classic. She also won a second contest that year. Last year she won the Optimum Classic qualifying her for the first Physique Olympia where she earned a spot in the top ten.
This year she has remained very competitive, competing three times and finishing third on two previous occasions before her runner-up finish here. With a Qualification Points System now in place, Nascimento's three strong placings (and their point values) would appear to have her in a secure spot to qualify for the second annual Olympia in September where she will continue to be part of the IFBB pro women's Physique division birthing process.
And did we mention that the word nascimento in Brazilian means 'birth'?! Nascimento earned $1,000 in prize money for her finish… a sum that will help feed the three children she has birthed over the past decade.
Coincidentally, both Heather Grace and Nascimento are the same age – 41. Forty-one must be the new 25!
REVILLE THE REMARKABLE PLACES THIRD
Like Karina Nascimento, a chapter could be written to properly describe Jillian Reville’s trials and tribulations since entering the Physique division. But it's a very interesting story. A Figure competitor in her early days of competing, she turned pro after winning the 2011 NPC Junior Nationals. And like Nascimento, Reville was around for the first pro Desert Muscle Classic where she placed third. She totaled three contests in 2012 before embarking on an arduous 2013 season where she entered five contests.
Through all that, she missed winning a show so she was in the Olympia Qualification points race all year until finally earning a spot in the Olympia lineup. Then, at the Olympia she went through a harrowing medical experience that is far too involved to explain here. But suffice it to say that she didn't see much of the contest, even though she was in every minute of it! More remarkably she placed sixth – higher than many of the competitors who had won contests to qualify. Actually, that chapter on Reville should really be a book – if not a TV movie.
It had been exactly 309 days since Reville had competed at last year's Olympia ordeal, so her ability to come back and look as ravishing as she did at this event is nothing short of miraculous. With her second place finish at the San Jose Pro and third here, whether she will be able to generate enough points to return to the Olympia stage remains a question mark for now. But what a story it would make if she did. Reville won $500 for placing third, but the fact she was on stage is easily worth that much.
SHE PLED THE FOURTH, YOUR HONOR!
From any angle you gaze at Teresita Morales, she leaves an impression. She has that knack. At 5’3”, and normally weighing in the 110-pound range, Morales is exotic, beautiful, and genetically blessed with a great structure for her size. The phrase often used is "she's easy on the eyes." Or as a New York regular at contests in the Big Apple said, "She's properly constructed."
A Figure competitor originally, Morales' overall structure improved as her musculature developed. And after turning pro with a victory in her Figure class at the 2010 NPC Team Universe, her placings in the pro Physique division since 2012 have been consistently good with a runner-up finish at the New York Pro Championships behind Juliana Malacarne as her best effort.
This year Morales has finished 9th at the New York Pro, 3rd at the Toronto Super Show to go with her 4th-place finish here. Morales is also the only competitor who has competed in all three of the PBW Tampa Pro events. Currently working as an attorney in NYC, Morales graduated from St. John's University School of Law.
ASHA HADLEY – BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
It was earlier in the year, at the Optimum Classic in Louisiana when a girl sitting nearby said with more than just casual surprise, "Uh oh. Who is that?" as she pointed in the direction of Asha Hadley. "She's so tall and look how broad her shoulders are. She's impressive." Well, whoever the girl in the audience was, she was probably shocked to learn that the girl she was pointing to, and was so impressed with, ended up finishing 14th at that contest.
But decisions at any given contest don't always match what members of the audience see. In Asha Hadley's case, it wasn't that she was so tall (she's 5’7”), and yes, her shoulders are as broad as your standard doorway, but it simply wasn't her time with all the elements that combine to really put a finishing touch on a physique that has the potential to make an entire audience see what that girl saw in Louisiana.
Fact is, Asha Hadley does have all the elements needed… and she's progressing. After winning NPC events such as the Southern States and Florida Gold Cup in 2012, she finished that year with a victory in her class at the NPC Nationals in the Physique division.
As is often the case with many new pros, rookies find that it's a very different world of competition where most every competitor has it "goin’ on.” Hadley found out quickly. She competed three times in 2013, with placings of 9th, 12th and 16th. It was a sobering intro to the pro division to be sure.
But when the 2014 competitive season got rolling and Hadley entered the Optimum in May, that 14th place finish must have lit a fire motivationally. Because it was just 2 1/2 months later when she lined up for the preliminary judging round for this Tampa event that it was evident her placing would be far from 14th. So far, in fact, that her number was called for the first call-out. She was being considered for a top six placement. Imposing at 5’7”, Asha Hadley has a nice set of bodylines to work with, and she would agree that she's still a work in progress. But what progress she's made. Her 5th place finish is clear evidence of that. So, as has been said so many times in the past, 'better late than never'. And that fifth place finish should tell her it's not as late as she may have thought.
THE REMAINDER OF THE FIELD
6– Jessica Gaines, Copperas Cove, Texas 27
7– Jennifer Hernandez, New York, New York 40
8– Danielle Reardon, Orlando, Florida 41
9– Candrea Judd Adams, Jonesboro, Georgia 42
10– Pam Slemmons, Lewisburg, Ohio 50
11– Lisa Lopez, Fairfax, Virginia 54
12– Margarita Charaim, Gurnee, Illinois 59
13– Rosela Joseph, Greenacres, Florida 66
14– Jill Dearmin, Hobe Sound, Florida 69
15– Gail Meadows, Atlanta, Georgia 77
16– Karen Gatto, East Meadows, New York 78
17– Dona Oliveira, N. Dartmouth, Massachusetts 79
17– Vicki Nixon, Palm Coast, Florida 79
19– Rose Brunner, Lone Tree, Colorado 80
19– Jeanna Burritt, Port St. Lucie, Florida 80
19– Ava Cowan, Pompano Beach, Florida 80
19– Kendel Dolen, Spring, Texas 80
19– Dre Dillard, Grand Prairie, Texas 80
19 - Cassandra Floyd, Norcross, Georgia 80
19 - Lisa Grasso, Jupiter, Florida 80
19 - Lenore Gregson, San Antonio, Texas 80
19 - Tracy Hess, Southhampton, Pa. 80
19 - Leah Johnson, Canada 80
19 - Anne Marie Kam, Eugene, Oregon 80
19 - Carrie Lawyer, Rocky River, Ohio 80
19 - Jill Livoti, New York, New York 80
19 - Sandra Lombardo, Freedom, New York 80
19 - Tonya Shull, Salisbury, North Carolina 80
19 - Olivia Terry, San Antonio, Texas 80
19 - Melissa Tucker, Oro Valley, Arizona 80