Through The Fire: An Exclusive Interview With Lada Bronwyn Plihalova
Q.) For those who may be unaware, you grew up in Czechoslovakia, currently the Czech Republic, during a time that saw the country go through great transition. Can you describe what life was like growing up for you?
A.) First I would like to say hi to the readers of RX.
I grew up in a mid sized, very industrial town, surrounded by open coal mines. It was a very hard place to live as the region was very poor, but I had a nice childhood. When you are a kid, you do not see the politics as much. We were not poor. We always had enough food, but some goods were simply not available in our market - but what you do not know about, you do not crave. I was always athletic - my mum and dad lead me to "calokagathia" - mind and body in harmony, so I always did some sport after school, as well as learning foreign languages, and I attended an art-school. In the case of sports it was modern gymnastics first, but I was too clumsy :). Later I started with athletics.
I had wonderfull summer-times at my grannys house. I spent full two months in a mountain village each summer and, during that time, I swam in mountain lakes, climbed rocks, hiked mountains, and when I was around 10-11 I started to help on a local horse farm. I would say that I was always a little bit of a tomboy and I really loved "strong things" as horses, nature, wild animals.
Q.) How did life change following the revolution?
A.) It brought so many new things and all they came at once. I mean good things and bad things. People craved things they never had before and the few years after were really wild. The most important thing for me and my future career was probbably the invasion of action films to cinemas and TV, as these were forbidden also. And, imagine for example, in the USA you had Rambo 1 and Rocky 1 and maybe after a year or two came Rocky II etc. In my country all those films which were forbidden came in one moment! I was in my early teens and I think we were the first generation of kids who had "Western" idols as I remember half of my classmates loved New Kids on the Block and half Guns ´n Roses and they watched Beverly Hills 90210 etc. - I was a bit different again :) I fell for Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Conan the Barbarian" film. I had no idea women could have muscles too - but I was strangely attracted to them.
Q.) Before you discovered bodybuilding, you began your athletic career in martial arts. What was it that initially drew you to martial arts? Do you think that your martial arts background helped mentally prepare you for the world of bodybuilding?
A.) What was it that initially drew me to martial arts?My friend, and also the wild situation in my country. As I said I grew up in poor region and after the revolution a lot of mines were closed and crime rose on streets. We were a border town so there were drugs on streets, which almost did not exist in communism, thanks to the "iron curtain". There were some street fights time to time and I was a bit scared. My friend started to attend karate classes and as she was the only girl there, so she asked me to go with her. I thought it may be a good idea because self-defense may be usefull.
She left I think a week after, because we had really rough master, but I stayed. In those days I was the only girl in our club, so I got to "male sport". My master wanted me to be as tough as guys. I had no exceptions from any exercise. It was way different than athletics prep classes. Eventually I start to compete first in kata ("shadow" fight) but later I had two or three kumite half-contact fights too. Anyway, it prepared me for bodybuilding the sense that it made me tougher. I learned patience, I learned a kind of discipline, I learned to cope with physical pain... So when I started with bodybuilding I think I was more ready for some aspects of it.
Q.) When did you discover bodybuilding?
A.) I think one day a girl from karate who came to our club later and stayed as well, invited me to "movie night". She loved Jean Claude Van Damme and she borrowed the "Double Impact" film. And it was not Jean Claude, who caught my eye. It was "Cara", a muscular woman, played by none other than Cory Everson. I watched her in awe. She was like the female version of Arnold - I had no idea a woman could look that way. I froze the end credits to get her name - but we are talking about times where there was no internet and no way how to find information other than to go to the library, or read magazines etc..
Then, one day shortly after I returned home from the school, I found a magazine on a newsstand. It was one of first Czech mutations of Muscle and Fitness magazine. I had no idea what "bodybuilding" or "fitness" meant. But that magazine had Arnold on the cover and a small picture of Cory as well. So I bought it without even knowing what was inside - and I opened my "Pandora box". There was much more than Cory and Arnold. There were women and men I never heared about - but I fell for that. Also, in the middle of the magazine, was a poster of Lenda Murray by Bill Dobbins - naked Lenda laying on a sofa. She had the most outstanding physique I had ever seen before. I immediatelly tore the picture of Lenda from the magazine and I put it on the wall in my room. My family had to think I went nuts! I read the magazine over and over. I did not understand many words and things, but I realized one thing for sure. If I want to look that way too, I have to join some gym and start to train with weights.
I also have to point out that at that time I was overweight. When I was about ten I was diagnosed with multiple thyroid disease and shortly after I start to gain weight despite of my athletics or karate. There were a lot of kids affected in our area - later I read somewhere that our chemical plant, which is directly in the middle of the town, heavily polluted the whole area with mercury, which causes diseases like mine. Anyway, I was not skinny-fat. I always had bigger legs and quite wide shoulders. So I said to myself I can do it (without knowing that my thyroid will influence this a lot and it will take me lot of years to find the "winning formula").
Q.) What was the attitude towards bodybuilding in Czechoslovakia during that time?
A.) During Communism, bodybuilding was almost illegal as it was the sport, which came from the West. Anyway, you surely know about a "sports war" tat that time, so on the other hand they wanted to have someone in all sports... So it was - lets say - a tolerated sport, but had no recognition, unlike Olympic sports. Many gyms were literally underground in some basement, they were private for sport club members only. There was no bussines around it and no-one who would build machines, so a lot of guys who were steel factory workers made their own machines and weights for their gyms.And, if you had no bodybuilder around in your neighbourhood, you had no chance to realize this sport even existed. Many bodybuilders started their sports career as Olympic lifters (as olympic weightlifting was prestigous sport in the contrary).
All of this dramatically changed after the revolution. The 1990‘s were the TOP in bodybuilding and fitness culture, and people in my country were hungry for anything that came from Western countries. Action films brought us muscular heroes. Magazines appeared quickly. During those times people were crazy about bodybuilding . Many underground gyms opened for the public and slowly transformed to commercial gyms. However there was still a lack of information. There were no personal coaches and no materials on what to do. Supplements also appeared during this time, and some of them tasted horrible or resulted you to have digestive discomfort (LOL). So, you‘d have to beg some older guys in the gym to show you how to train, and if you were lucky enough you could "bother" some local bodybuilder. I remember one gym in the basement of the local bussines building which I joined, and at that time they did not even have womens locker room. I changed in maintenance room!
Q.) By 1998 you had gained some experience onstage and even managed to qualify for the European Teen Championships. Unfortunately, just before the show, you suffered a serious knee injury training in the gym. Was this a difficult pill to swallow given that you were preparing for the biggest show of your life up to that point?
A.)Yes, after two years of prepping alone and gaining some experience and later having consultations with one coach in the capital city (I had to go 80miles by train to get there) I rose pretty high despite all of the things I had to overcome. I was Teenage Nationals runner up champion in 1997 and I decided to try to qualify for the Europeans. However, about 16 weeks before the qualification, I fell down during squats with fully loaded bar on my back and I injured my knee, and it was very difficult for me.
During my teenage years the sport was my life, and in that moment, my world broke to pieces as well as my knee. It was a shock. I could not bend the leg, I hobbled and doctors said different things - one wanted surgery, one forbid me the surgery, I was crying so many nights. The prep coach I consulted with, kickd me out too and he told me I was not THAT good anyway. I had highschool final exams and decided to focus on those and on passing College entry exams.
Q.) After an intensive year-long rehab you managed to connect with a local IFBB Pro and step onstage again in 1999. Then, in the year 2000, you suffer another major injury while horseback riding. Given the severity of your injuries, did you think your bodybuilding career was over?
A.) I did not have any career at that point. I had a streak of bad luck crowned by that accident. I fell off the horse downhill and the horse fell and rolled over me, smashing my left side of the body. So my career was pretty much over that moment.
Q.) During your long road to recovery from these injuries you completed your studies at the University in Pilsen, but you also developed an eating disorder as well. Do you think you’re eating disorder was a result of depression resulting from your recent struggles?
A.) Definatelly. There were a lot of very stressfull factors in my life at that time besides my injuries. My mum was sick, my fathers bussiness had troubles, the study load became enormous and on top of that, my endocrinologist told me I have all markers in "normal range" and he took me off medicine, and I started to gain fat again. Ulitmately the doctor was wrong as I came to find out later. So, I started to diet very strictly, but soon I was exhausted and I started to overeat. I did not throw up, so I did not think it was serious, but after each overeating came period of overdieting and overexercising. To break this circle I had to remove myself from the sport completely for a while.
Q.) In 2004 you're finally able to return to the gym, but decide that you're not ready for competition. You eventually make you way back to the stage in 2006. What made you decide you wanted to step up onstage again?
A.) In 2004 I returned back home from College, but I was unemployed for some time as the rate of unemployment was around 20% in our county. So my mum bought me a membership in a nearby gym. It was years since I had last competed, so nobody remembered that I was a competitor in the past and therefore I did not feel any pressure.
I tried two magazine-based challenges, mainly for myself. I did not expect anything from it, but I won both of them. One of them was bodybuilding contest and when my friends had seen my pictures they started to ask me why I am not competing. Meanwhile bodybuilding had changed a lot, so I decided to try a new class - bodyfitness (figure in USA). I thought I wasnt that big, however the Novice Open contest I did was a dissaster. I had no idea how to prepare for figure, so I came in too smooth and I was too large in comparison with other girls. I wanted to quit again, but then I got an offer from NABBA. Their girls in figure were way bigger than figure in IFBB amateur, but still smaller than bodybuilders. I had no aspirations to either national level, nor Pro, so I left the IFBB amateur and I started to prepare for NABBA competitions.
Q.) Let's jump ahead to 2008 where tragedy strikes yet again, this time in the form of a serious kidney infection that nearly kills you and actually ends up briefly paralyzing you from the neck down. Somehow you battle back yet again and compete in 2009. How did you find the desire to continue competing given everything you'd been through?
A.) At first I did not think about the sport at all. When a doctor says to you to call your dears as maybe it is the last time - it really gets you down to your knees. Then, when I was out of danger, I thought rather about my everyday life - returning to my job and a normal life because my motives were still influenced and doctors told me they didnt know how much my muscles were affected. So I did not think I could return.
My partner Daniel was with me all the time in the hospital and it was very hard time for both of us, but he was my biggest support. I completely lost my body again especially after heavy dosages of various medicine. Doctors also discovered I need to get back on my thyroid support medicine as I was diagnosed as healthy by a mistake.
When I got out of the hospital I started intensive rehab therapy - swimming, sauna, athletics - a lot of running and jumping etc. And on day I returned to the gym I realized I miss it so much! Off course the return was painfull and I lost my strenght, muscles, and gained fat, however this situation changed me a lot mentally. I would say I grew up as a person. I found a new focus and new inner strenght in myself I never had before.
This all culminated when I returned back on stage in 2009, not as a loser anymore, but as a champion. I took 2nd place at Nationals, qualified for the national team and for first time represented my country at World championship, where I got 4th place and I was announced as the "dark horse" of the whole show in multiple media worldwide. It was a big satisfaction.
Q.) In 2011 you come to the United States and begin competing at a few local shows and even manage to bring home a win at the Pacific USA Championships. At this point, did you think you were finally going to be able to fulfill your potential now that you'd put all those setbacks behind you?
A.) 2011 was quite a sucessfull year for me. In 2010 I did not compete in Figure but I won the World Championship in raw benchpress, so it was not so bad year either. In 2011 I returned to Figure, requalified to the National team again and competed at the World Championship, but the judges at the presentation told me I am too big for figure. So I competed as bodybuilder and I got 5th place after a big eight-callout battle. Later I got 2nd place at Universe, again as bodybuilder.
I won in the USA, but it was not the peak of the season, just a cherry on the top. I think my best conditioning and look that year was at Universe where I got the runner up title. However I was still lacking one atribute, and that was hardness. I had seen that to fullfill my potential I would need to be way harder and maybe even bigger to be able to attack the professional level in bodybuilding. It made me start to think, what to I would have to sacrifice and if I really want it. When I looked at pictures from stage - I realized I am slowly slipping the way I do not want to continue. I was always more oriented to elegance and classical V shape, lines and I did not want to lose that. At that time there was a new division being opened in the US - Womens Physique. So after the season I left bodybuilding and I decided to go the WPD route. I felt I can fullfill my potencial even better than in bodybuilding there.
Q.) This year we saw you take 5th at the Arnold Amateur, which is a huge achievement given all that you've had to overcome. When do you plan on competing next to try to earn your pro card?
A.)Thanks, AC was a big achievement, especially because of the journey before the show. The IFBB amateur in our country offered the possibility for the NABBA competitors to return to the IFBB amateur federation. The womens physique division is an NPC/IFBB amateur class therefore I had to return to IFBB.
In September my man Daniel and I decided to try to relocate from our country and when first we came to the USA we came to Venice, California. It was like a dream story for me, as looking back I would never ever say that one day I would be here, training in the Mecca. I met so many people in GG and I loved it soo much. Then I was able to qualify for the Czech National team and I got a green light for the show, which was my chance to get a Pro card. Due to financial reasons my preparation was not optimal, but I am happy with 5th place even though I was hoping to place a little bit higher.
As of right now I relocated from Venice to Vancouver, Canada and I need to settle down and financialy secure myself before attempting another run at the pro card. To be a serious challenger financial security is a must.
Another discouraging fact about getting a Pro Card is the comparison of the total amount of Physique Pro Cards given to the Americans and the rest of the World. There are currently two or three pro-cards given to the European athletes in this division yearly. The number of pro-cards given to the Americans this year is over 60 and on some shows all it takes is to be top three in your class. I would either have to win my class at World Championship or win the overall at the Arnold Classic or the European Championship. Therefore I have four chances of turning pro, three of them as an overall winner only. This is very frustrating and discouraging.
The final factor of me not competing anymore is the changing criteria in the Physique division. From my understanding the division was supposed to be a return to the 90‘s physiques that were very shapely with great lines and lean, but not hard, and definatelly no striated glutes. However it looks to me that hardness plays a much bigger role than overall shape. I do not agree with that. That is exactly what I was told backstage at the Arnold after the show from the official judge. He told me I would have placed higher with my structure and shape, but I was only lean and not hard. I thought that was the definition of the women physique and I was penalized for it.
If I do decide to come back the circumstances would have to be better. I need to find a sponsor to help me with my prep and also a manager for publicity and medialization.
Q.) What message would you like people to take away from your story?
A.) Go after what you believe in. The road can be longer than expected and it might take you to entirely different place. Think outside of the box and do not affraid to be different.
Q.) What's the best way for someone to get in contact with you?
A.)I am currently working as online coach, so you can find my professional profile at www.pronutrifit.com. If you want to know more about me as an athlete, see my results, or contest pics I have personal websites www.lada-plihalova.webs.com. Or for more "lifestyle" and training or fitness modeling pictures I created a "fan page" at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Lada.Bronwyn.Plihalova.
Here I have many pics from various photoshootings, my life in Venice, some regullar fitness-tips, a blog about the sport, and I plan to start "my fitness life" Vlog very soon. You can contact me at all of the above mentioned pages.