Okay, so a flight from San Juan Puerto Rico to Omaha, Nebraska, takes 5 hours and covers 2,369 miles. And then a drive from Omaha to Denver, Colorado, adds another 538 miles. So, on the final weekend in May and covering nearly 3,000 miles between those three cities, each played host to a pro Women's Physique Division event that offered the opportunity for winning contestants to qualify for the Physique Olympia in September.
A total of 50 competitors that featured a collective international field of high quality Physique entrants in the three contests drew several competitors making their pro debuts, others who had previously competed in the Physique Olympia, and still others who were making comebacks after being away from the competitive stage for a period of years. Combined it made for an exciting trio of races on the May 30-31 weekend for Olympia qualifying spots, prize money, and the valuable points that would count towards the Olympia Qualification Points Series for those who placed in the top five of each competition. The Mile High Pro, Omaha Pro and the Wings of Strength: Puerto Rico Pro kept fans alert - and anxious - the entire weekend.
FAULLS IS FABULOSO! JUST 'GLORIAOUS' IN PUERTO RICO!
The tiny island of Puerto Rico is no stranger to major bodybuilding competitions, in fact, San Juan played host to the 1988 IFBB Women's World Amateur Championships, an event that helped launch the careers of competitors such as Laura Creavalle who won gold representing Guyana, and Americans Janet Tech and Lisa Lorio - each of whom would make multiple trips to the Ms. Olympia during their competitive careers. But that was 27 years ago, so it was encouraging to see the Wings of Strength and promoter Tim Gardner rekindle the competitive flame in what will no doubt become a hugely popular event in the immediate future.
With the pro Women's Physique Division as well as an Over-40 Pro Masters Division being contested on May 31st at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in the capitol city of San Juan, the event drew a big field of 24 contestants that included competitors with prior Physique Olympia experience as well as an additional cluster of entrants of very high quality, all of which made for an exciting battle for a single Olympia qualifying spot and placers who would also gain the valuable points towards the Olympia Qualification Series.
In any 24-contestant field it's easy to 'get lost' or 'fall through the cracks' during the judging round, but when you're 5-9 and weight a beautifully proportioned 150 pounds those chances are greatly diminished. And so it was with Gloria Faulls on the stage in San Juan. Turning pro at the 2011 IFBB North American Championships, Faulls has made a steady push for high placings and her results at the New York Pro was a prime example. In 2013 she placed 16th. In 2014 she moved up to 6th, and this year she finished second. Her six competitions in 2014 also pointed to her determined efforts as she only dipped below a sixth-place finish on one occasion - and for those who saw that placement, it was a mere blip on the radar screen. With her runner-up finish in New York, it was clear she had risen to the level of - and in the most complimentary of terms - a thoroughbred race horse. In a way, Faulls earned her own Triple Crown. She won the first Wings of Strength: Puerto Rico Pro. She won her first pro contest, and she flexed her way to her first Physique Olympia. That had to be a pretty satisfying weekend, and as Sting used sing, "....she walked in fields of gold". As a simple explanation Faulls was polished, finely conditioned, and with muscle groups that were proportionate and well-shaped throughout her entire structure. Put simply, she made no mistakes in her prep for the Puerto Rico contest, and as the inaugural winner of this event she has set a standard for quality of which future fields of competitors can aspire. As an added perk she also collected $2,000 in prize money.
Last year at the Phoenix Pro in late October, Brazilian Silvia Fraga watched the contest from the seats and quietly roamed the Expo Hall. You could call it an exploratory mission...a learning experience. And as she related to this writer, it was her intentions to enter a pro Physique division contest in 2015. Presto, on the last day of May in San Juan, there was Fraga competing in a 24-contestant field and about to make the first call-out of the judging round. Although she was making her pro debut, Fraga, from Rio de Janeiro, is far from a newcomer to high level competitions. In 2014 she was the Brazilian Physique champion, and later won the IFBB World Amateur Physique Championship (under 5-4 1/2 class). At 5-4 1/4 and weighing a lean and athletic 136 pounds, Fraga compared well against eventual winner Gloria Faulls who was nearly five inches taller. A predictable Brazilian in the sense of possessing solid stage presence and that fresh exotic look, the judges recognized the qualities of her evenly balanced overall structure, and the muscle shapes that complimented that structure. With a runner-up finish in her first pro show, she accepted the check for $1,000 and the four points towards Olympia qualification. Yet another fine Brazilian in the mix!
Third-place finisher Jennifer Hernandez is the quintessential example of a Figure competitor who grew into a very fine Physique division performer. The key was that Hernandez was a very good Figure competitor, both as an amateur and later as a pro. She even placed fifth at the 2012 Australian Pro Grand Prix. Competing in the amateur ranks as far back as 2005, Hernandez turned pro in 2010 and remained in Figure before making her pro debut in Physique in 2012 placing ninth at the New York Pro. Since then, however, her climb has been steady and the 2015 season looks promising with two very strong third-place finishes including her return to the prestigious New York Pro, and again at this inaugural Puerto Rico Classic in a field of 24 contestants. Taking home a check for $500, Hernandez also added an additional three points to her Olympia Qualification total. And before night's end, Hernandez had also tagged a victory in the Masters Physique Division that included 13 contestants. In all a pretty good weekend!
1- Gloria Faulls, New Jersey 5
2- Silvia Fraga, Brazil 12
3- Jennifer Hernandez, Florida 19
4- Antoinette Downie, Barbados 21
5- Jessica Gaines, Texas 24
6- Rachel Baker, Maryland 29
7- Frances Mendez, Alabama 31
8- Tammy Patnode, New York 41
9- Ana Paula Silva, Brazil 47
10- Makaila Soto, Illinois 49
11- Paloma Parra, Spain 57
12- Evangeline Belton, South Carolina 58
13- Rose Brunner, Colorado 67
14- Orlandina Balan, New York 68
15- Rocio Guillen, Florida 75
16- Sarah-Aude Salbot, France 80
16-Danielle Mastromatteo, California 80
16- Elizabeth Schneider, Texas 80
16- Nola Trimble, Illinois 80
16- Tracy Weller, Georgia 80
16- Jill Dearmin, Florida 80
16- Lisa Lopez, Virginia 80
16- Dona Pohl, Texas 80
LEILA THOMPSON CAPTURES A RETURN TRIP TO THE OLYMPIA WITH OMAHA WPD WIN
The Omaha Convention Center & Arena in the Cornhusker State played host to the Omaha Pro Championships and the accompanying NPC Midwest Championships on May 30th promoted by Jack and Ann Titone, and sponsored by Wings of Strength, Rock Solid Nutrition and Muscle Pharm. The pro women's Physique division welcomed a modest field of 10 contestants due in large part to the fact that the Mile High Pro in Denver and the Puerto Rico Pro Classic in San Juan - held on the same weekend - put a strain on the available competitors in this division. That said, the field still drew two competitors from France and Canada, as well as Americans from eight different states. With $6,000 in prize money at stake, as well as points towards Olympia Qualification for competitors in the top five......the race was on in Omaha.
In bodysports such a Bodybuilding and Physique competitions, you know you've pretty much arrived when you are instantly recognized by a particular pose. It becomes something akin to a bodily trademark. The poses of Kyle, Bergmann, Langer and many others have made their likenesses forever memorable with a single 'shot'. And as the new wave of Physique competitors begin their reign on the Olympia stage there will no doubt be those who will get creative and set themselves apart with a special pose that marks their presence in a permanent way. At the Omaha, Pro North Carolina's Leila Thompson once again showed that she has the capacity to engrain her overall look with a single shot. Showing great conditioning here, Thompson followed up her appearance at last year's Physique Olympia with a convincing win that was of the unanimous variety. And the pose that put an explanation mark on her effort was a simple front lat spread on her toes. The difference for Thompson was that once she was at the apex of that posture the rigid muscle separation made for a magic display of her physique at its best. Next she'll attempt to improve on her best at the Physique Olympia for the second time. Her prize money for the Omaha Pro victory was a tidy $3,000.
Running second to Leila Thompson was frequent flyer Leonie Rose. From Hollywood, Florida, Rose has become a familiar face and physique in the pro WPD. Competing six times in 2014 which included placings that ranged from 18th at the St. Louis Pro, to a pair of thirds at the Show of Champions and Ultimate Warriors Pro, she's ready to jump into any lineup at the drop of a hat. Earning her pro status at the 2012 NPC Masters Nationals in the Over-45 class, Rose has made good improvement, and her placing at this event matched the runner-up finish she captured at the Spartan Pro in April. Now, as of June 1st, Rose is the points leader in the Olympia Qualification Series followed by LaDrissa Bonivel and Jennifer Hernandez. No doubt she'll make several more appearances in the coming months to secure a spot on the Olympia Stage in September. Rose's runner-up finish garnered $2,000 in prize money - a sum that will help with the costs of travel to those upcoming events.
Third-placed Andrea Lenihan of Olathe, Kansas, is the current best example of just how quickly a WPD competitor can move into the spotlight of a top three placing. A winner of the 2014 NPC Midwest, Lenihan earned her pro status with a runner-up finish at the NPC USA Class 'C' Physique Division. She made her pro debut at the St. Louis Pro earlier this year and placed 11th with little fanfare. But in this field of 10, Lenihan made a much stronger impact, and a top three placing at any pro WPD event will become harder and harder to come by as the months progress. Lenihan accepted a check for $1,000 - her prize money as a pro.
Canadian Melanie Horton's eighth-place finish may not have raised eyebrows in Omaha, but when considering she hadn't set foot on stage since 1999 - a 15 year period - many fans and followers sat up to take notice. Horton was the 1996 Canadian National lightweight champion, and in 1998 she added the Canadian National overall title as a middleweight. Her last competition came in 1999 when she placed 10th at the Women's Pro Extravaganza. So, now at 50, she has experienced her best-ever placing as a pro. Since 1999 Horton has served as an administrator in the Ontario Provincial Association, and when she elected to take another shot at stage time, she no doubt tested the theories of “muscle memory”. In her case, Melanie Horton can rest assured her musculature remembered!
1- Leila Thompson, Durham, North Carolina 3
2- Leonie Rose, Hollywood, Florida 6
3- Andrea Lenihan, Olathe, Kansas 9
4- Loan Leonard, Sacramento, California 12
5- Margarita Charaim, Gurnee, Illinois 15
6- Caroline Gaume, France 18
7- Joy Henderson, Winchester, Virginia 22
8- Melanie Horton, Ontario, Canada 25
9- Sheila Mettler, Ithaca, New York 26
10- Casie Shepherd, Hopkins, Minnesota 30
DENVER HAS ANOTHER NUGGET: JACKLYN ABRAMS WINS MILE HIGH PRO
The Mile High Pro promoted by Jeff Taylor and sponsored by Armbrust Pro Gym has the beginnings of what will hopefully be a longstanding tradition 'Out West', and they are well on their way. Now in its third year of offering a Pro Women's Physique Division, the event was held once again this year at the Colorado School of Mines Green Hall Bunker Auditorium in the Golden - just a few minutes drive west of Denver.
With an inaugural show that saw Sarah Hurrle win the Mile High in 2013, Louisiana's Samantha Hill took over the crown last year and also moved on to the Olympia. But illustrating the quality of that 2014 contest was the fact that a spritely runner-up from just down the road near Denver was one Jacklyn Abrams, and her potential as a star quality Physique performer would not be forgotten. Abrams went on to add a third-place finish at the Omaha Pro and found herself invited to the Olympia where she placed a respectable - but more importantly a memorable - 12th.
Fast forward to 2015 and this year's Mile High event. It would be Abrams' third entry at this hometown contest and it would be a charm. Over that period Abrams skipped from 7th in 2013, to 2nd last year, and all eyes would be on what she had done over the off-season and since the Olympia to put a more complete look on her diminutive 5-1/2 chassis. Mission accomplished - big time.
Using her background in track & field and as a former pro cheerleader for her base of athleticism, Abrams has come a long way since winning her class in Fitness at the NPC Junior USA in 2012 to earn her pro status. Here, the judges again responded in a positive way with a unanimous selection for the top spot to secure her second invite to the Physique Olympia.
There are judges who will confide that when there is a high level of quality competitors, often the winner is one who makes the fewest mistakes while onstage. For Jacklyn Abrams, mistakes were not an option. No doors were left open and she is headed for the “Big Show” with a focused intent to improve on last year's finish in Las Vegas. Her prize money for the Mile High victory totaled $2,000.
Finishing second to Abrams was Oregon dynamo Erica Blockman. And as the perfect rendition of a female energizer bunny, Blockman is never at a loss for stage presence, and it is that unmistakable presence that enables her to get her finely tuned muscularity displayed to its best advantage. It is also this vibrant persona that has enabled her to become one of the pro Physique divisions most consistently strong placers. In fact, in her brief pro Physique career which began after she won the overall NPC Junior National Physique title in 2013, she has been in the top six all five times she has taken the stage, counting her runner-up finish at this event as her high water mark placement. Put simply, she will push for the top spot in any future event assuming she continues to compete in the excellent condition she has shown in all her past competitions, along with the overall structure she possesses. Beginning the 2015 season with a third-place finish at the Spartan Pro in San Diego, Blockman has added more valuable points in her Olympia qualification column and her prize money totaled $1,000 for this show.
With Argentina as one of Brazil's closest neighbors, it should come as no surprise that a Physique competitor from this beautiful country would bring that special South American flare to a pro IFBB event.... especially an inaugural one like the Puerto Rico Pro Classic. But that is exactly what the streamlined (5-2, 121-pound) Paula Frega did on Sunday, and the first impression she left with the judging panel was a positive one. Beginning as a Figure competitor, Frega was an Argentinian champion, a South American champion and placed fourth at the IFBB World Amateurs and fourth again at the Arnold Classic Europe in Madrid. But after turning pro in 2012, Frega's results as a Figure contestant were one's she would rather forget - a story that is a familiar one with many Figure competitors turning pro. But when she made the switch to the Physique division her overall look made a strong transition for the better, and at the 2013 Titans Grand Prix in Los Angeles her seventh-place finish did not go unnoticed. And now a year-and-a-half later Frega finds herself in the third spot in a Mile High field of 16 contestants, the majority of which were largely American. Two in particular pushed Frega to the final flex as fourth placer Tracy Hess placed a single point behind Frega, and fifth-placed Laura Richards by a scant two points. For her efforts Frega accepted a check for $500 and three points towards Olympia Qualification.
1-Jacklyn Abrams, Colorado 3
2- Erica Blockman, Oregon 7
3- Paula Frega, Argentina 11
4- Tracy Hess, Pennsylvania 12
5- Laura Richards, Colorado 13
6- Rachael Loftis, Colorado 18
7- Melissa Pearo, Oklahoma 20
8- Keri Ann Heitzman, Oregon 23
9- Cea Anna Kerr, Canada 27
10- Lisa Stark, Oregon 29
11- Antonia Perdikakis, Maryland 33
12- Kellyn Huehn, Washington 39
13- Janeen Lankowski, Canada 40
14- Nadia Meyer, Canada 40
15- Roxie Beckles, California 44
16- Andrea Boudreaux, Louisiana 45