The date was May 26, 1979, and the Ms. Florida Physique contest held in Miami at the Gusman Cultural Center became the nation’s first state bodybuilding championship for women. The event was ground zero for what would become an explosion of state championship events that, by 1980, had spread from coast to coast.
As the enthusiastic promoter and pioneering founder of the women’s bodybuilding movement in Florida, Doris Barrilleaux had already formed the Southeastern Physique
|Yamile Marrero and Steve Wennerstrom|
Association (SPA) and was actively encouraging women to enter upcoming contests that her organization had planned for the immediate future.
After the success of Barrilleaux’s first contest venture in Florida (the Ms. Brandon Physique Championship) where 13 contestants had competed just a month before the Ms. Florida, the freshness and innocence of those early events were evident in Barrilleaux’s SPA Newsletter where she recalled the evening of the first Ms. Florida, “A new era – bikini clad women bodybuilders posing to their own choice of music displaying the results of their efforts of exercise and dieting undoubtedly won the approval of the audience. There was more excitement, enthusiasm and cheers for the 8 women contestants than for the 120 male contestants”.
Barrilleaux also pointed out why she felt the field of contestants was smaller than anticipated when she noted, “It is unfortunate that the Miami area had refused to give any prior publicity to the contest so there were no women contestants from that area. Seven contestants were from the Tampa area and one from Louisiana”.
In addition to the top five placers, the event also recognized awards for ‘Most Symmetrical’, ‘Best Muscletone’, ‘Best Presentation’, and ‘Best Legs’. Barrilleaux added that, “For the time being, ‘best legs’ will probably be the only body part awarded until the judges become more familiar with judging women”.
One element was certain, Doris Barrilleaux and her fledgling SPA organization had jump-started a state-wide contest that has run continuously to this day - the longest running state contest in the country.
|Kathy Lewis, 1st Ms Florida State Champ|
Of course with every contest that is held for the first time, each event has a first-time winner. For this inaugural state championship, the honor went to a 26-year-old from Tampa named Kathy Lewis, and she met with wide approval from both judges and the attending audience. Diminutive in stature, the 5-3 Lewis weighed only 105 pounds, but she was well-balanced in her structure and muscular development. She also took home the ‘Best Legs’ trophy. Not surprisingly, it was Lewis who had also won the Ms. Brandon contest prior to the Ms. Florida.
The key factor was that the Ms. Florida contest was off to a positive start, and Barrilleaux was anxious to see the event become a staple in Florida’s contest schedule for years to come. She got her wish.
With the coming of the 80’s, Florida continued to lead the way with the appearance of a fast-rising star named Laura Combes as the Florida champion. A true pioneer as one of the most muscular women
bodybuilders of the era, Combes would become hugely popular not only because of her muscular physique, but the added ingredients of striking stage presence and a colorful and outspoken personality that fit well with her love of being a competitive bodybuilder.
Recognized as one of the first hard core female competitors, Combes moved on from the Florida victory to winning the 1st American Women’s Bodybuilding Championships staged in Santa Monica on September 5,1980 – an event that would catapult her into the national limelight with coverage in all the bodybuilding magazines including a July 1981 cover of Strength & Health with fellow Floridian Richard Baldwin. Combes was quickly propelled into the pro ranks and competed in two Ms. Olympia contests finishing fourth in 1981 and sixth in 1982. Still, it was Combes’ overall persona – both physically and intellectually - that made her a memorable character in the early days of women’s bodybuilding. With a keen eye on the future and what it would hold, Combes once remarked, “If you think I’m muscular, wait till you see what bodybuilders will look like ten years from now.” Tragically, she missed that opportunity, passing away on October 4, 1989. Nevertheless, Combes solidly secured her place among the first certifiable stars of the sport and was inducted into the Joe Weider Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2002.
|Ms O Rachel McLish and Pam Brooks|
On the heels of Laura Combes was Pam Brooks, a striking lightweight who had finished second at the first Ms. Florida in 1979. Brooks won the 1981 Florida title after a sixth-place finish at the 1st United States Women’s Championships in Atlantic City. In 1981 Brooks’ stock raised considerably when she won the LW gold medal at the 1st World Games in one of the first truly international fields of female competitors. Following that effort she competed once as a pro placing 15th at the IFBB Pro Worlds. Brooks appeared on three national newsstand magazine covers including a March 1980 issue of Strength & Health with husband Terry Brooks.
With the Florida Championships continuing to grow rapidly, the 1982 event produced yet another competitor who combined a vivacious personality with a physique that carried all the necessary ingredients to form a champion at any level in the amateur ranks. As her competitive career panned out, Lesley Addy-Kozlow remained on the contest scene a relatively short time competing from 1981 to 1983. Along with her overall victory at the ’82 Florida, Kozlow
won the 1982 Coastal USA and the middleweight class of the Superbowl of Bodybuilding in 1983. In 1983 she finished her competitive career with a runner-up placement in the HW class at the AFWB American Championships.
With Deborah Konnan-Jacob and Terri Lawless claiming the overall Florida titles in 1983 and ’84 respectively, it was Margo Allen-Weil who made her
mark on the national level during the middle-80’s after winning the 1985 Florida Championships. Entering the NPC USA three times as a HW, Weil finished 10th in 1985, sixth in ’86 and fifth in ’87. She also won the light-heavyweight class at the 1986 AAU Ms. Universe.
As one of the taller competitors of her day (5-9, 147 pounds), 1986 Florida champion Tara Dodane stood out in a bodybuilding crowd with pleasing bodylines and a structure that carried her musculature very well. Dodane’s best year came in ’86 when she finished second at the NPC USA, and third at the NPC Nationals – both as a HW. She
also finished 12th at the 1989 Ms. International (when it was still a pro/am event) before leaving the competitive stage. Dodane was the coverwoman on the January 1989 Women’s Physique World Magazine. Of special note is the fact that Dodane returned to the NPC Florida in 1996 – competing as a married Tara Meagher – and won the Over-30 class at age 37.
When Gillian Gibson-Serrette won the 1987 Florida State title she was already a seasoned veteran of bodybuilding competitions dating back to 1983. Going virtually unnoticed that year, Gibson-Serrette finished 16th in a MW field of 17 contestants at the 1st IFBB World Amateur Championships. She represented Trinidad at that event, but once she moved to Florida her contest resume improved considerably. A heavyweight and overall winner at the NPC Southern States in 1985, and then competing as Gillian Hodge she was the runner-up HW at the NPC USA in 1988. Hodge earned her pro status with an overall win at the 1988 IFBB North American Championships. Entering the pro ranks in 1989, Hodge was a runner-up at the Jan Tana Classic in 1991 and 1995. She also made stage appearances at the 1989 IFBB Pro Worlds, the 1990 and ’91 Ms. Olympia, and 1994 Ms. International.
Rhonda Lundstedt won the 1988 overall Florida title in the middle of a career that included four entries at the NPC Nationals where she placed as high as third in the MW class in 1987. Lundstedt also appeared on theSeptember 1991 cover of Women’s Physique World Magazine.
The 1989 Florida Championships produced one of its most successful amateurs ever when Sally Gomez clicked in 1991 winning the LW class at the NPC Nationals in addition to a gold medal as the LW winner at
the IFBB World Amateur Championships the same year. Gomez competed only once as a pro finishing 10th at the 1993 Ms. International.
Debbie Tyler’s contest history at the Florida State Championships is epic
in its proportions and can be found in the ‘Women’s Bodybuilding Trilogy’ story elsewhere in on this website. Suffice it say, she won the 1990 overall Florida crown, but only after an additional seven straight years of trying dating back to 1983. Tyler also won the LtHW class at the 1986 NPC Southern States, and was ninth at the 1990 NPC USA, and 15th at the ’90 NPC Nationals – both as a HW.
Tiny Clifta Coulter won the 1991 Florida overall title and is a jewel in Florida’s crown of amateur stars. In 1991 Coulter also won the LW class at the NPC USA, returning in 1996 to win the LW and overall USA
titles. She is one of a select group of competitors who have won their weight class at the NPC USA on two occasions. Coulter also entered five NPC Nationals events placing in the top six in each showing. Competing only once as a pro, Coulter finished 10th at the 1996 Jan Tana Classic.
In 1992 Diana Dahn made it two LW overall winners in a row taking the overall title in one of the most controversial decisions in the history of the Florida Championships. In winning the overall, Dahn captured the title over the heavily favored heavyweight Rozann Keyser. Keyser never again entered the NPC Florida after the ’92 episode, and Dahn finished up her competitive efforts after placing 10th in the MW class at the 1993 NPC Nationals.
The 1993 Florida Championships audience watched as the majestic Ann-Marie Crooks out-muscled the Florida field with her 5-10, 180-pound super-structure. To this date, Crooks is Florida’s biggest overall
champion. A stunning presence in any line-up, Crooks was popular with bodybuilding audiences but missed making that eventual step up to the pro ranks. Crooks competed at four NPC National contests and always placed in the top four. She was the runner-up HW in 1994. Crooks also finished second at the 1993 IFBB North American Championships, but that elusive pro card was always just beyond her grasp.
As the antithesis of Ann-Marie Crooks, 1994 Florida champion Denise Masino was a tight bundle of thick and well-developed musculature in winning the LW and overall titles. At 5-2 Masino was eight inches shorter than her predecessor and weighed 66 pounds less – a glowing example of the dramatic changes that can occur from year to year at any given event. Masino’s size was never a deterrent,
however, as she won the LW class at the NPC Nationals and made her pro debut at the 1996 Jan Tana Classic placing sixth. From there she was invited to nine Ms. International contests placing as high as second in the LW class in 2003. In addition, she also nabbed a second-place LW finish at the 2004 Ms. Olympia in her two entries at the sport’s premiere event. Masino’s lone pro victory came in the form of a LW victory at the 2003 Night of Champions. In addition to her notable competitive career, she has also been active on the media side of women’s bodybuilding taking physique display to another level with her websites and Muscle Elegance Magazine.
British-born Christine Marshall claimed the 1995 NPC Florida overall title as a middleweight, followed by 110-pound lightweight Dorothy Kefauver taking home the overall Florida crown in 1996.
In 1997 Christi Wolf became another of the most striking muscular overall winners of the Florida
Championships. In a relatively short competitive career the 5-2 Wolf seemingly possessed a chameleon-like capacity to compete in virtually every weight class offered. A former Hawaiian Tropics model and bikini competitor, Wolf made the move to bodybuilding in seamless fashion. In 1995 she won the HW class at the NPC Florida. A year later she was sixth in the MW class at the NPC USA. Then, after winning the ’97 Florida, she won the HW class at the NPC Nationals in 1998. Competing only once as a pro, Wolf made her debut at the 2001 Jan Tana Classic placing a respectable fourth in the LIGHTWEIGHT class! Wolf appeared on the June 1999 cover of Women’s Physique World Magazine, and later she also engaged in a brief fling on the pro wrestling circuit. Hers was varied career indeed.
When 1998 Florida overall winner Keri Crotty began her competitive efforts in 1991 she weighed in at 98 pounds. Seven years later she was a chiseled middleweight, who, a year earlier, had won the Florida LW title. Crotty would go on to win the lightweight class at the 1998 NPC Junior Nationals, followed by a fifth-place LW finish at the 1999 NPC Nationals.
As the 1999 NPC Florida overall champion, Marta Rossello was another example of how lightweights had always gotten a fair shake at the Florida Championships. During Rossello’s career that spanned from 1991 to 2002, she was a LW winner at the 1993 NPC Southern States, and was a LW and overall winner at the 2001 NGA Florida Natural Championships. In 2002 she was a runner-up at both the Musclemania SuperBody World Championships, and NGA Pro Universe.
With the coming of the new millennium, the 2000 NPC Florida title went to Binny Nambiar. In a brief competitive career, Nambiar added a lightweight title at the 2001 NPC Southern States.
If the name Beverly Hamlin falls short of being familiar, her married name of DiRenzo should bring this 2001
Florida State overall champion into clearer focus. Having now competed for over a decade DiRenzo has been a stalwart competitor at the national amateur level, and more recently as an IFBB pro. As an amateur, DiRenzo competed in five NPC National contests winning the HW class at the 2007 event to earn pro status. She also competed in five NPC USA contests. A pro since 2008 with five contests on her resume, DiRenzo’s best placings have come at the Tampa Bay Pro Championships where she has placed eighth in 2008 and 2009. Her pro efforts are ongoing in 2010 where she placed 11th at the Battle of Champions. A gymnastics coach by occupation, DiRenzo is an accomplished stage performer and has won ‘Best Poser’ awards for her entertaining routines.
With the middleweight and overall Florida State titles going to Diane Austin in 2002, it was veteran competitor Yamile Marrero staking her claim to the 2003 Florida crown. Competing regularly since the late 90’s, Marrero has primarily competed at the regional and national levels – and that’s something of an understatement. Here contest resume consists of a dizzying array of events including four NPC Southern States (where she has never finished lower than second place in her division), five NPC Nationals (finishing as high as fifth in the 2003 HW class), and an impressive seven entries at the NPC USA where she was the HW runner-up in 2004. Additionally, she has also entered multiple Masters Nationals and IFBB North American events. Almost poetically, the 2003 NPC Florida was the last time Marrero won an overall title, and it is no doubt a cherished moment in her lengthy – and busy - competitive career.
For many followers of women’s bodybuilding, 2004 NPC Florida overall champion Nekole Hamrick has been an heir apparent for a ticket to the pro level, and for the six years since she won the Florida State contest her fans are still waiting. A stellar competitor with a decade of contest entries and several wins on her resume, Hamrick- who has been compared favorably to Cory Everson - has been agonizingly close to reaching the pro level. In 2007 she was the HW winner at the IFBB North American. At the NPC Nationals in 2007 and 2008 she was the HW runner-up. Then in 2009 she slipped to fifth. With all the appealing looks of an all-around female athlete, Hamrick ranks as one of Florida’s most aesthetically and genetically gifted state champions.
Diana Cook followed Nekole Hamrick to the Florida state title in 2005. Competing annually since winning the NPC Florida overall crown, Cook added the heavyweight and overall titles at the 2007 NPC Junior
Nationals. Since then she has posted strong placings at the last three IFBB North American Championships and appears to be drifting towards more Masters level competitions in the future.
Claiming an overall victory at the 2006 NPC Florida was Ashalyn Porter. Sporting a deceptively good overall physique, she made a run at the NPC Nationals the same year and ended up tied for 16th in a field of 25 heavyweight contestants. Prior to winning the Florida title, Porter had won the NPC Armed Forces Championships in 2004. More recently, Porter bounced back strongly with a HW and overall victory at the NPC Southern States in 2008. The jury is still out as to how her future competitive efforts will pan out.
If there is a ‘queen of longevity’ among the past Florida State champions the crown would easily rest on the head of 2007 Florida overall winner Kathy Connors. Competing since 1981 and almost continually since 1988, Connors’ HW and overall win at the Florida was not the first time she had tasted victory at this event. In 1992 she was the Florida MW champion. Then nine years later she returned to once again take MW honors at the 2001 Florida State event. Connors has also experienced victories at the national level having won the 1997 NPC Junior USA middleweight and overall titles. More recently she was the 2008 NPC Masters Nationals HW winner in the Over-45 class. Should she decide to compete in 2011, she would become a four-decade competitor – a rare achievement indeed.
When Tammy Jones claimed the Florida State title in 2008 she became one of the most muscularly developed overall champions in the history of the contest. She also became the 30th winner of
the longstanding Florida State Championships. Evenly developed on her 5-6 frame, Jones competes in the 160-pound range. Beginning her competitive efforts in 2002, Jones finished third at the NPC Florida in 2003. In 2004 she moved up to the runner-up HW spot before nailing down the HW and overall titles in 2008. Jones has also competed in three NPC Nationals finishing as high as seventh in 2008. She also finished fourth at the 2008 IFBB North American Championships. Most recently she placed third HW at the 2010 NPC Southern States.
Minerva Gonzalez is the NPC Florida’s most recent winner capturing the title in 2009. Powerfully built at
5-1, Gonzalez has been competing since 2000 and has previously won local overall titles in Florida including the NPC Junior Florida and Tampa Bay Classic. With the NPC Florida overall crown as her most prestigious victory to date, she has continued her competitive efforts in 2010 by placing second at the NPC Masters Nationals in the MW class of the Over-45 division.
With former competitor Deke Warner (himself a heavyweight winner at the 1985 NPC Florida) promoting the upcoming 2010 NPC Florida State Championships in Orlando on August 21st, the contest will no doubt produce yet another fine Florida State champion that will represent the strong tradition of women’s bodybuilding in the Sunshine State.
Past Florida State Champions