"Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train goin' anywhere...." (Journey)
Opening lines from a classic song which could very well describe the early life of one of our favorite bodybuilders, Sheila Bleck. However, despite being a fan favorite and having a very successful career in bodybuilding the fact is that very little is known about the REAL Sheila Bleck. Preferring to stay in the shadows rather than court the spotlight, Sheila has kept herself very private over the years and interviews have been few and far between. In fact her quest for solitude may have led to some people finding her somewhat aloof and unapproachable. As it happens, this is far from the truth. Sheila is just one of those people who prefer to quietly go about their business and keep their private life PRIVATE.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but I decided it was time for Sheila to come out of the shadows for a moment and share some of her story with the readers of RX Muscle. What follows is a very candid interview which travels deep into the true heart of a champion. My intention is that you come away from reading this with a whole new understanding and respect for someone who already commands your admiration and if you do that then I have achieved my goal.
So, without further embellishment, let us begin.....The Sheila Bleck Story...
First of all Sheila, how would you describe your life growing up....your family connections etc?
"When I think about this my mind drifts way back to when I was 3-5 years old. I was sick a lot and felt a lot of fear and emotional stress. My mother was young and unmarried (my sister and I never knew our father) had no child support and worked a lot. This meant that we were tossed around to many babysitters, most of whom abused us. I recall one of them in particular...she was not well mentally and abused us mentally and physically. However, she did want to love and protect us and teach us how to take care of ourselves and rely on no one. She was part of our lives until I was about nine years old.
"Throughout all of this Sherry (my sister) and I were threatened a lot and sexually abused. Our abusers often threatened to take us away from our mother and this was the most damaging threat of all. Our mother was so pretty and nice and every time she would leave for work we would scream and cry and even vomit. I recall one incident to this day...
"I was suffering from nightmares and I remember waking up to my mom wiping me down and then rushing me to the hospital. My next memory is of four or five doctors holding me down. My temperature was sky high, I was screaming and fighting. They had to give me an injection to calm me down.
"Fortunately - and sparing you all the details- my mother asked my grandmother to step in and take care of us. My grandmother, a classic lady, gave us our childhood back, provided us with security and love. Life got better for all of us from that point on....
"My sister and I fought for our own freedom and today we choose to protect our mom and do what we can to make sure she lives her life in peace. We don't hold her responsible; she did her best in the circumstances. As for anyone else in my blood line, we have long since separated and moved on, no attachments."
Well, after all that the next question may seem a little flippant but, moving forward, were you always athletic and what made you decide to enter the world of bodybuilding?
"Always athletic? Yes, though I was not a great fan of team sports at school. My sister and I were often accused of not being able to play well with others; however this was not the case it was just that we were always placed with a lot of stuck up caddy girls....I will let you figure out the rest!
"So what drove me to enter the bodybuilding world? Well I have to say that it is one thing to learn to live the lifestyle, it's another to compete in the sport. I am going to give credit to a man named Jake Grabow for this. He was the only active male bodybuilder in ‘Better Builds Gym' where it all began for me in terms of moving towards competition. He educated me on eating, posing etc and it was his belief in me that really drove me forward. I was 18 years old and I had never really had anyone believe in me before and I had a lot of respect for him."
So how did your friends react to your new desire for bodybuilding?
"As it happens most of my friends were guys. They always trained with my sister and me and taught us a lot. Looking back, it was as if they were creating their ‘ultimate girls'!
"At school I recall my gym teacher, Cindy Shultz, telling me one day when we were out jogging that she had a dream I was wearing a blue bikini and competing as a bodybuilder...and I won! She was one person who pushed aside any of my ‘bad behavior' and helped me to find my self worth. She had faith in me and told me she would help me reach my goals. She also gave me a yearly award for Health and Physical Education....she was the best!
"I remember in 2006 I was back home and training in an old gym when I heard a voice say...'There is only one woman who stands like that'...I turned around and it was Cindy coming towards me with a huge hug. She looked at me and said, ‘I am not surprised you pursued your dream and I am happy to be able to see you again and say I am proud of you.'
"As for my mom? I laugh because I have asked her how she felt about my bodybuilding and she always points to the fact that she bought me my first weight bench when I was twelve. So in her eyes I have always been a bodybuilder, she thinks nothing of it and, as a matter of fact, she shows it off!"
When you talk of your training you always include your sister...has she any desire to compete?
"My sister and I are very close. She is my gift, my gem. She has her own life, her own talents, many of which have yet to be seen. She started boxing competitively at age 19 and did so for 6 years with the USA Amateur Boxing Association. She fought as a welter weight and had ten victories out of ten fights. She has also competed in bodybuilding three times (2004, 2005 and 2007) and took two overall titles and one second place. So she has definitely had her taste of the competitive world. But as to competing again...I can't speak for her. However, as you and I (and all the RX readers) know it takes a lot to compete in bodybuilding and I would rather her enjoy her physique and pursue her career...but of course I would back her 100% in whatever she chose to do."
Getting a little more personal....aside from competing you have kept a rather low profile in the sport preferring not to do the usual round of interviews and publicity. Why is this?
"It's really about sitting down and taking the time to do it in addition to wondering if it is worth my while because really, how many folks are interested in reading about ME?
"Also, I often fear the types of questions I will be asked, or I don't care for the interviewers persona... but I could tell that you were an ‘old soul' Leigh. I wanted to make an effort for you."
Do you think withdrawing from interviews may have led to people getting the wrong impression of you and even considering you somewhat aloof?
"Yes...I guess so. Am I worried about it? No."
On your Facebook page you describe yourself as ‘structured and set in your ways'...do you think this may be an asset when it comes to bodybuilding?
"It's not just an asset for bodybuilding; it's an asset for everything! Time management, work, food preparation, chores, paying bills, free time...you have to structure all this to have a functional life period. You definitely have to be structured to fit in a sport like bodybuilding because that job never stops. How can you be goal orientated for anything if you have no structure?
"I say ‘set in my ways' because no ‘being' is going to come into my life and change things. I am a single woman who has lived alone most of her adult years and I have had to depend on myself fully. I don't have a lot and I have never asked for much. I stay set in my ways so that I don't lose myself or lose my hopes and dreams. By conducting my life in this way when I have either my sister or a dear friend in need of a helping hand, support, motivation, a place to stay then I can help.
"As for me, as long as I set out every day as I am supposed to, then I know I am always going to be okay. Perhaps it is my safeguard..."
That wraps it up for part one of this exclusive interview. Watch out for part two coming soon in whish Sheila discusses, amongst other things, her training with John Romano, her posing style, what she does to relax, her future and much, much more....