I met Jodi Leigh Miller on a humid July evening at her hotel across the highway from Metlife Stadium two days before the NPC Universe competition. She answered my knock at door the door with big green eyes and a bigger smile as her roommate and client, a bikini competitor, sat on her bed and scrolled through her phone. Everything may be bigger in Texas, but Jodi is small, deceptively so, but muscular and taught like a gymnast. She holds herself with a confidence that seems to radiate under the cool fluorescent glow of the kitchenette lights. Jodi had flown in from Dallas, two days out from her show, and had been running errands all day. I figured she would be exhausted, so I stopped for Dunkin' Donuts on the way, and offer it to her on my way into the room. "This is a lifesaver, thank you," she replies with a surprisingly excited energy as she plays with the lip of her small cup of black coffee. "I'll save this for tomorrow when I need it." As busy as she has been, she says this prep was her best yet, enjoyable even. "I don't mind it," she says with the sly smile of someone who knows she has done what it takes to achieve her goals.
Everybody has a story: literally. Jodi's story is one of patience, perseverance, and steely determination. She explains, "The physique should match the personality. When people see me, I want them to see someone strong, someone that does things that others may not. Someone who meets goals, and accepts challenges. I care about myself, and I absolutely want to portray myself a certain way." Jodi, a Dallas native, had been an NPC competitor for 15 years. She worked hard to get where she is today. She brought her best package to the 2015 NPC Universe Women's Physique competition in Teaneck, NJ to achieve her dream of an elusive pro card.
Jodi knows how to set and achieve goals. If you don't believe me, check out her Wikipedia page. She is bodybuilder, powerlifter, personal trainer, writer, teacher, and that's keeping the list short. It seems that Jodi is always competing against herself. She started powerlifting while in college at the University of Texas at Austin. After competing in a couple of meets, she later decided, while teaching high school English, that serious powerlifting was not the direction she wanted to go in. At the time, only fitness and bodybuilding existed, and after thumbing through the pages of Oxygen magazine, Jodi discovered the Galaxy Federation and began competing in their obstacle course competitions (remember those?). She enjoyed the challenge of these competitions, even training with friends on homemade obstacle courses, but a self-described "phobia of heights" made it difficult to perform a 15-foot high cargo net and 10-foot high rope wall section. "After watching other girls injure themselves with zigzag bone fractures, it wasn't worth it," and she decided that she would look for a new challenge. While tanning for her last Galaxy show, a friend asked her, "Just for shits and giggles, do a double biceps pose." She claims that the reaction she got from that pose "made it very clear that I should be a bodybuilder."
Jodi briefly excused herself from the table to place some rather strange looking food in the microwave. There is a purpose and deliberateness to her actions, even actions as minute as pressing buttons on a microwave. She knew bodybuilding was where she wanted to be after her double-biceps eureka moment, but as she sits back down she tells me she was a "tweener" who didn't really have a natural fit in any division. Though she began competing in both figure and bodybuilding divisions, she eventually followed the figure route at the NPC national level. But she states, "the judges never felt my physique was quite on point for figure. Figure is shape plus conditioning and I never had the right shape for figure. Too much quad and glute," she says with a laugh. "Now, with the advent of Women's Physique, my physique actually fits into a division. WPD really emphasizes the whole package. It's about the details, and being able to ensure a look and package that provides something 'old school.' And I feel a unique sense of freedom in Women's Physique. Since I'm my own trainer, I'm the boss and can assess my body in accordance with what I think needs to be improved upon in order to meet the judges' criteria for this division."
"When I shape my body, it is a conscious decision I'm making; it's like putting on clothes," Jodi told me as she walked back over to the microwave with as much poise and precision as before to retrieve what I find out is her second-to-last meal of the day, egg whites with oats and blueberries. As Jodi tore into her meal, I saw through the reflection of the window her roommate practicing her poses in the bathroom mirror. We begin to talk about what it takes to actually compete and the amount of control, or lack thereof, competitors have on the day of a show. There are so many variables that are out of the competitors' hands, from the judges who will see them to their own genetics. "Think about how much we can't control, from the amount of water we hold (which she likens to your bank account after a long night out, 'In constant flux,') to who our competition is on that given day. The irony is that the serious ones are the control freaks. The lack of control keeps us coming back and working that much harder."
Jodi is a very proud and thoughtful individual highly aware of what she wants to put out there for the world to see. When the subject turns to social media, she cracks an amused smile. "It's changed everything," she remarks. "I try to create a well-rounded presence online. I create drafts of every post I want to make and think about whether or not the world needs to see this or if this is something I should keep to myself for now. It's amazing... I try and write something thought-provoking and I think to myself 'How many followers will I lose'? I can post a picture of me in a bikini from 4 years ago and get 200 likes. It's crazy."
Bodybuilding is not a team sport, and the requirements on one individual can be taxing. To use another football metaphor, players can look at film and practice the plays to score more points than the opposition on game day, but bodybuilding is not so cut-and-dry. "The judges have to pick someone, but both judges and competitors are responsible for how they come into shows. There is criteria set for the Women's Physique division, but in the end it comes down to which physiques actually show up on the stage, and which one of those particular physiques is closest to the criteria. Sometimes, the winning physique may be closest to the criteria but still miss the mark, and then women and coaches examine that show and say, 'I guess that's the look they want,' and then they chase it, all the while not understanding that the judges had to pick someone out of the group to win that day even if it meant that the criteria was not matched 100%." It is obvious that the question of how to approach entry into the show is one Jodi has thought about quite a bit. "I can't think about what other competitors are bringing to the stage. I only have one body. It is only this one body that I need to concern myself. In this way, I go up on stage knowing I controlled everything I could to look as good as possible that day. As a result, I don't need to see my competition prior to show time (like football players reviewing film of an opposing team) because I know I am only as good as what I bring to that stage at that particular moment."
"I step on the stage as a representative of the Women's Physique division. Charles Barkley once said 'I am not a role model' but I think the sheer nature of the spotlight makes me a role model. How I act is my choice, but those actions, those choices are viewed by others whether I like it or not simply because I have allowed myself to rise to a level that presents more eyes on me." Every choice Jodi has made for these last 82 days of prep and her competitive career spanning over 15 years culminates at the NPC Universe. On this day she has brought her absolute best package to the show. She stands on stage with a twinkle in her eye and a beaming smile, a proud vision in purple. As master of her own destiny, Jodi wins her pro card. When asked about the possible pressure to compete as a pro, she replies, "I want to succeed, but the pressure is off because I achieved something I always wanted. I guess the physique matches the personality after all.
Jodi recently co-authored a book called Ready, Set, Achieve, which she was actually writing during her prep. "What's in that book, I lived it." Jodi Leigh Miller was able to achieve her goal through patience, perseverance and steely determination. Those traits have helped her get far in all of her endeavors. The day after her win, as she waits to board her flight back to Dallas, Texas, she remarked that the achievement still hasn't sunk in. "I was in such shock that I actually forgot my client had given me a package of Oreos. It was two hours after I had stepped off stage that I finally picked up an after-contest cookie and found it tasted like sawdust. No food could ever have provided the feeling of pleasure I got from that win."
Jodi would like to give a special thanks from to my sponsor VIP Supplement Warehouse, Destination Gym and Better Bodies for their continual support.