Jennifer's Unique Journey to the Ms. Olympia
By Steve Wennerstrom, IFBB Women's Historian
In any gathering of the very best female bodybuilders in the world, the discussion of what it was like to enter a major contest for the first time brings a wide variety of answers. Most admit there was a level of high anxiety that was difficult to control. But virtually all agreed that they didn't always realize how important it was to make a strong first impression.
For most, the journey to the pro ranks was arduous...years in the making. While a rare few made the trip in a relatively short period of time. But for all, the memory of that 'first time' at a major event is vivid. And on many occasions it was a starting point as to how they would approach the display of their individual physique for however long their competitive career would last. The considerations were many, yet for some their stage persona was apparent right away, while others developed their style over time by trial and error.
Some chose the approach of becoming a fearless entertainer throwing caution to the wind in a desire to offer an audience a real performance. A few felt that becoming a sexy chanteuse or a rebellious non-conformist would leave a lasting memory with audiences as well as judging panels. Those who favored a presentation that valued a more artistic merit toiled in an effort to infuse soul, passion and conviction into a physical display – and for several of those, that desire simply came naturally.
All that said, there was a bottom line where a judging criteria called for the projection of an unmistakably powerful presence that still exuded an essence of athletic womanhood – muscular womanhood. And for anyone who might think any of the above is not a perplexing challenge – given the current and ongoing atmosphere of women's bodybuilding – think again.
Enter Jennifer (Scarpetta) Abshire. For her, all the above has no doubt ricocheted through her gray matter on more than one occasion and for more than one reason. By any yardstick, she can be considered the poster girl for 'rookies' with the launching of her efforts in the bodybuilding division. In a field of female bodybuilders throughout the world where competitors have taken anywhere from 10 to 15 or even 20 years to reach the pro level, her journey has been – with no exaggeration – at the speed of light.
What makes Abshire's accomplishments so impressive is that she made her trip to the pro ranks with a beginning in the Figure division and only as far back as 2008. With four successful contest efforts in 2008, her fifth was the NPC Junior Nationals. There, she encountered a 20th-place finish and the sobering reality that her level of development simply wouldn't fly at the national level.
In 2009, the NPC Illinois Championships brought a competitive career change when she entered the Figure division for the last time – placing third. But it was her additional entries in the Novice and Open Bodybuilding divisions that flicked the switch. She won her weight class and the overall titles in both. From that point on the Figure division was squarely in her rear view mirror.
And Her Contest Fortunes Were REALLY About To Change.
In 2010 Abshire returned to the NPC Junior Nationals, this time as a bodybuilder and with little or no pre-contest fanfare. But there was one major difference, there would be no 20th-place finish this time around. Entered in the heavyweight class, Abshire scored a victory that would propel her to an entry at the NPC USA just over a month later.
Tightening down her overall look from the Junior Nationals, Abshire checked in as a much better conditioned light-heavyweight, distributing 136 pounds on her frame. The dip down to the light-heavyweight class was a good move. She won the class while Texan Sarah Hayes made an impressive showing in the heavyweight division adding the overall title. But during the posedown for the overall, Abshire made a strong enough impression on the judges to warrant the rewarding of an additional pro card. It was another first impression Abshire would leave with a judging panel.
Unlike many competitors whose enthusiasm to compete at the pro level draws them into a contest within a matter of months or at the most a calendar year, Abshire decided to wait. She passed on competing in both 2011 and 2012. “It wasn't really a difficult decision, admits Abshire. “I wanted more training time before entering a pro contest. I mean, it wasn't that long ago that before I won my class at the USA I was entering Figure competitions. I just felt that I didn't want to look out of place when I entered my first pro show, and I wanted to prove that I deserved the pro card they gave me.”
If there was one important element the extra training time gave Abshire, it was the opportunity to expand on what was a sound structure and proper muscle shapes through her genetics – along with a dash of gymnastics and cheerleading as an athletic base – that would help give her the desired overall look.
Her Most Important First Impression Comes By Way of Canada.
The Toronto Supershow on June 1st this year was to be Abshire's pro bodybuilding debut event and she picked a contest that would become one of those affairs that will be talked about for a very long time. First, the field was stocked with impressive competitors that included the mega-muscular Anne Freitas from Brazil – an 8th-place finisher at last year's Ms. Olympia – and the mega-ripped veteran Maria Rita Bello – a former overall winner at the Arnold Amateur Classic from Argentina.
Many felt this duo would battle it out for the Toronto title. They did battle it out as anticipated, but in the end the twosome would flex for the runner-up spot rather than the Supershow title. The reason? Jennifer Abshire's presence. From the 136-pound light-heavyweight who won the 2010 NPC USA, Abshire now carried a well-balanced 149 pounds on her genetically sound frame. While Freitas and Bello were beating up on each other muscularly, Abshire was drawing the attention of the judges in a big way with her overall structural balance, muscle shapes, and a general physical harmony that made for a pleasing look – a look the judges felt would fit well at the Ms. O.
The result? Abshire made her pro debut a significant one in multiple ways. First and most importantly she qualified for the Ms. Olympia by winning her first pro show – a rare feat that has only been accomplished by a handful of competitors over the years. Second, she became just the second former Figure competitor to qualify for the Ms. Olympia as a bodybuilder (Monique Jones being the first). And third, she enters the contest of her life as the youngster of the field with a potential of many more years to make this event an annual entry on her contest calendar.
So how would she approach the Ms. O with just a shade less than four months to prepare? Admits Abshire, “I don't plan to do anything drastic. In the time I have I really can't make major changes. I'll do some upper body work and bring my legs in with a leaner level of condition. I think I can refine my look overall, but I'll leave that to the judges as to how I look in such an incredible group of competitors. Needless to say, I don't need fuel to push myself going in to the contest every competitor dreams of entering. I'm really looking forward to it.”
In a 2013 field of Ms. Olympia competitors – all of whom have long and impressive contest histories – Jennifer Abshire has already begun an interesting and impressive first chapter in her own contest history. And by the end of this month, she'll no doubt have several more contest memories that will last a lifetime.