Thursday, May 6, 2010
Christopher Ray AKA C-Ray Fitgems Nation Interview
If you follow women's fitness you most likely know Christopher Ray. You may know him better as C-Ray. He runs one of the best sites out there covering women in the industry, fitgemsnation. It meant so much to me, and meant I was doing ok when C-Ray acknowledged me and sent me an email telling me he liked what I was doing and advertised my blog on his site. Didn't take me as this new guy trying to compete, he knew, like other people know with their sites, we all have the same goal, get women in the industry respect, and few work as hard as he does to get that. Fitgems always has new things on there with lot's of great information, and a great many competitors are actually members there. To me, compettitors being there means it is a respected site. When I have needed some advice, I have called upon C-Ray, and he has offered that help. In this interview he mentions it will take a team effort to help get women respect, and I am consider it an honor to be a small member of a team that has him on it. It is more than likely if you follow in or compete in the sport, you know about fitgems, but if not, please take my advice and visit it. Call him Christopher, or call him C-Ray, either way, I am truly honored to have him be the first male I have interviewed.
Q: First, Christopher, thanks for taking the time to do this.
A: It's an honor to do this, Jason. Thanks for this opportunity. :)
Q: Can you start out telling a little about yourself.
A: I go by the name C-Ray (a nickname I was given when I was a sophomore at high school (I'm now a college graduate, getting my masters in education and eventually my MBA). I live in a small town with my grandparents and siblings. Unfortunately for me, I believe I'm the only person who likes and respect the industry. I could try to talk to them and try to make them understand, but there are those that will never understand what the men and women go through to achieve their goal. Can't please everyone. It won't stop me from supporting the athletes, though.
Q: So what made you become a fan of the women's fitness industry at first?
A: When the Fitness America Pageant was on TV. I enjoyed everyone who stepped on stage on that show, but there were two people that got me hooked on the industry: Julie Shipley (now Julie Shipley-Childs) and Tanya Merryman. Their routines, their physiques, the way they carried themselves is what drew me to the sport. I've never looked back since.
Q: Now you have an amazing site and blog and things. Can you give out the address's.
A: Yes, I have a site and blog. Part of the FitGems Nation. The site is http://www.fitgemsnation.net and the blog is http://fitgems.blogspot.com.
Q: What made you decide to start FitGems and how did you come up with that name?
A: I was inspired by ANOTHER Jason, Jason Lan (siouxcountry) and Jeff Olive (FBB/Fitness and Figure Admires). Both have great sites that focus on promoting the female physique industry with respect and dignity, and I was inspired to contribute more to the industry after being a member with who knows how many sites. (If there's a female physique board, chances are I'm a member there.) I first started with the blog, and then I went on to make the site, with some assistance from Mark of FBBFan.com. As far as where the name FitGems came from...it kinda popped up in my head. I decided to add Nation to it because of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), who used to call their fanbase "WWE Fan Nation". Now that they are known as the WWE Universe, I thought I'd go ahead and stick with FitGems Nation. Apparently it's catching on a bit. :)
Q: Did you at first think it would be as popular as it is?
AL Absolutely not. To be honest, I didn't think anyone would be interested in anything I did. Maybe...just maybe 10 people, if that. I mean, I'm a guy in his early 20s trying to support the females in this industry. If I were a woman, I would question the sincerity of someone like that myself. I feel that my age, not my race (I'm black, fyi) puts me at a disadvantage when trying to get points across. I'm well aware that there's a ton of people who don't believe I'm sincere, and they have every right to be. I still respect and will continue to respect and support all the ladies, regardless of how anyone thinks of me personally.
Q: What was your first sign that you had a site that was pretty popular?
A: When people I'd never thought I'd expect to sign up for the site did, in particular Jenny Lynn and Jennifer Worth. Both women are icons in this business, winning numerous titles and earning respect amongst their peers as among the best of all time. When legends notice your site, and you don't force it upon them to join, that speaks volumes.
Q: Do you have any personal favorite competitors?
A: WAAAAAAY too many to name right now. But here's who pop out in my head: Adela Garcia, Meriza Deguzman, Jenny Hendershott, Jennifer Gates, Gina Aliotti, Heidi Sullivan (Fletcher), Tanji Johnson, Tracey Greenwood, Cory Everson, Dayana Cadeau, Yaxeni Oriquen, Sabrina Gibson, Jenny Lynn, Jane Awad, Carla Guttierez, Diana Stanback...I could go on and on and on. Like I said, too many to name. However, I would like to talk about my two favorite physique athletes of all time: Christine Pomponio-Pate (my all-time favorite figure competitor) and Julie Shipley-Childs (my favorite fitness competitor of all time).
First, I'll start with Julie. She was part of the reason I became a fan of hers in the first place. She had it all; entertaining routine and incredible physique. And she carried herself in a respectable way. To me, she was (and is) like the muscled-up Barbie (with an athletic personality.) To say that I was stoked to find out that she joined the NPC rankings and eventually joined the IFBB rankings would be an understatement. My respect for her went up even more when I found out she's a cancer survivor! She could have gave up on life, but she didn't. She kept on going and is among one of the most respected persons in the industry. I'm unaware if she will compete anymore (Her last competition was the 2007 Fitness Olympia), but she forever left a lasting impression for me, and I can't thank her enough for opening my eyes to the industry. Before FitGems was born, I created a fan club on Yahoo (http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/julie_sc/) and her AND her husband Jason (I know, ANOTHER Jason, right?! LOL.) emailed me and appreciate the hard work I put in it. That made me very happy and humbled that they took the time to let me know that they appreciated what I did.
Christine is someone who I can't talk about enough. She was (as she's done competing for the time being) an amazing competitor. She's beautiful, strong-willed, strong in the physical sense of the word, funny (from what I've heard from others) and has a sweet personality. I might be a bit bias when I say this, but I think she's one of the best to NEVER have won the Olympia or Arnold figure title. Plain and simple. Let me tel you something, Jason, her life story would make a great Lifetime movie; she's been through hell to get to where she is today. From near-death to a rebirth in more ways than one. When I found out she was going to be a part-owner for a publishing company (Milverstead Publishing) as well as be featured in Time Square AND the Vegas Strip, I was floored. It's rare that a member of our industry gets an opportunity like this! :) We have communicated ever since around 2005 or so, and I created her Yahoo fan club (http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/christine_pp/) in 2005 (Next month on the 15, the fan club will be five years old) which has (as of this interview) 800 members and counting. I think God has blessed me to know Christine, Julie, and the great women and supporters that I've met in person and online.
Although I keep in touch with both ladies via email, as well as others, I know my limits. I don't take my conversations with them to sexual conversations. Not gonna happen. I was raised to respect women, and that's what I'm going to do. I won't shame my family or any woman in this industry.
Q: Do you follow men's bodybuilding at all?
A: Not as much as the ladies, but yes, I do follow men's bodybuilding to a degree. I'm well aware of the current stars (Jay Cutler, Dexter Jackson, Phil Heath, Dennis Wolf, Branch Warren) as well as the legends, especially Ronnie Coleman, Frank Zane, and or course, the one and only Ar-nold!
Q: We both have the same goal, which is to get the women in the industry more credit. Sadly most attention seems to be given to men. You have any theories as to why?
A: It's today's society, Jason. That's part of the reason. I mean, why do you think there are more sports for men than women? Men have been branded as a whole by society as tough and physical, while women have been billed as delicate and soft. Their sports are "tennis and gymnastics" and men's sports are "football and basketball". Take a guess at who gets the most credit...
I think that's (to a point) how the IFBB/NPC sees their women, an appetizer rather than part of the main course (I seriously think that's how WWE sees their women, but that's a different story for another time). I don't like it one bit, and the best part is...we have what it takes to fix it for the ladies, or at the very least even the playing field.
Q: What is it going to take for the women to be treated as equals to men in the sport?
A: Teamwork, teamwork, and...oh yeah,TEAMWORK!!! From the competitors, from the fans/supporters, from the contest promoters, from the photographers, from everybody! Jason, you and I can only do so much as individuals. The competitors, as many as they're are, can only do so much as competitors. We all need to come as one unit, take a stand and show the federations out there that the women work just as hard as the men (some work HARDER). As long as I'm breathing, I'll won't stop until the ladies get the respect they deserve. If it's going to be a long fight and struggle, so be it.
Q: Like myself, you have talked to many women in the industry. What would you say is the biggest misconception people have about the women?
A: That women who lift weights are manly. I swear to God, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that statement or seen that statement, I would retire in peace. That is a complete piece of crap. You touch a weight, you automatically get huge and masculine?! That's completely bogus. I know, as I go to work out with a female at my school, and she is no where near being a man, yet she lifts some, and no, I'm not talking pink dumbbells. I'm talking real weights here. Also, there's this friend of mine who's graduating soon who can lift more them some of the guys at my school (including yours truly), but there's no way you can EVER call her a man. No chance whatsoever. She's not afraid to throw some weights around in the gym, let me tell ya. :) I'm hoping that I can convince her to do at least ONE fitness, figure, or bikini show (Her genetics are suitable for physique contests). So yes, lifting "like a man" won't MAKE you a man. Plain and simple.
Q: Does it bother you when you see other sites or blogs that mainly talk about the women more as sex objects instead of athletes?
A: Absolutely. It's sad that ALL some of these sites talk about is how sexy they are, and don't give them credit for what they put themselves through to get to that point in their lives. Don't get me wrong, I like sexy things, but I can at least appreciate and respect the work the women go through. There are better ways of making a name for yourselves without having to do the muscle porn route. That's why I try to keep FitGems Nation a classy yet cool environment for the ladies and fans who want to celebrate and support the ATHLETES within these women, not the sex toys that most people (especially guys) seem to label them as.
Q: You also actually interview competitors yourself. Can you share some of the names of the interviews people can find on FitGems?
A: Here's a list of everyone I've interviewed thus far: Jane Awad, Rosa Marie Romero, Jennifer Gates, Jenn Jackson, Jennifer Hendershott, Meriza DeGuzman, Gina Aliotti, and Monica Mark-Escalante. I have a few more committed interviews in the works as well. I'm always looking for more people to interview. So expect more to come in the not-too-distant future.
Q: You recently had a contest for your first sponsored competitor, which was won by one of my favorites Victoria Larvie. I have a soft spot for Victoria because I believe her doing an interview with me, helped give me credibility with some of the other women. You want to take the time to explain what the sponsorship entails, or even hype up Victoria a little?
A: The sponsorship consisted of having her own website done by Kirk Ashley of ImageWorks Jamacia, her own special page on the FitGems site, and $300 (raised by Carl Burkins (dallas3), Stegraf, Siouxcountry, and myself) toward any contest of her chosing. She used the money to help pay her way for the 2010 Europa Show of Champions, where she placed last. I was disappointed that she was last, but I was very happy with her showing. Victoria is an awesome competitor and represents the future of this industry, and she's not even 20 yet. At the first-ever FitGems Awards, she won
Amateur Fitness Competitor of the Year and One To Watch in 2010 for Pro Fitness by a landslide. I expect big things from Victoria in the years to come. :)
Q: Is that something you would eventually like to do, have more women you can do that for?
A: The one main thing I think would help show how serious I am to seeing the industry grow and to make sure the women get the respect they deserve is to attend a show! For two years, I've been trying my best to attend at least ONE show, but shows are not as common in my area as they are in other places such as New York, Colorado, and Atlanta (to name a few). Finances and transportation aren't my best friends at the moment, so that doesn't help. Not gonna lie, this year, I thought would be THE year I would attend the Arnold. Things feel flat and it didn't happen. I won't give up. I will do everything in my power to make sure I attend a show. I mean, you can only do so much online. Attending a show and telling the ladies TO THEIR FACES how much you inspire them and how much you support them speaks volumes. Jason, I know you felt that during the Arnold this year. I hope that will be me in the very near future.
Q: Why did you have voting instead of just pick the one you wanted?
A:I picked people that could choose who would represent FitGems in the best way possible. If I chose them, it would seem like I was playing favorites, and that's not fair to me, nor it is far to any of the women that entered the sponsorship contest.
Q: One thing I love is that there are a few of us who have sites and blogs like this, and instead of viewing it as competition, we all seem to be willing to help advertise for the other and even help get people to check out each others sites and things. Why do you think it is that there isn't competition and instead more supporting the others? My belief is it is people with the same goals, and we can tell you the ones are who are trying to help show these women in a positive light.
A: Yep, I don't see competition when it comes to this. Promoting Real Women, Siouxcountry, Bodysport, Hardbody News, FBB/Fitness and Figure Admires, and FitGems Nation all strive to help the ladies however they can. As long as the message is true to the ladies, I will support any and every site that wants to see the ladies thrive. If you don't represent that vision, don't waste my time.
Q: As far as competing, it seems there is a lot less women doing Fitness. Any opinions as to why?
A:I think to a small degree, the emergence of figure and bikini might have a part in the low numbers of fitness. Women can focus on training and not have to worry about a routine or risk of a potential career-threatening or career-ending injury. Plus they feel like that don't have the gymnastics background to succeed, which is kinda bogus. Ask Adela Garcia. No prior gymnastics training, and she's arguably the best fitness competitor out there today. But J.M. Manion, Siouxcountry, and myself won't let fitness just die, and neither will the veterans. If I can recall, Liza Hughes has sent some form of letter to Jim Manion hoping for some form of fitness activity. And I've got some friends at my school would look like they could be some awesome fitness competitors. Like I said earlier in the interview, it comes down to teamwork to produce results.
Q: Some of the people I am closest to are women who compete in Bikini, so I love to promote Bikini. DO you feel Bikini competitors are starting to get more respect from other competitors?
A: It had gotten more respect, but it's got a LONG way to go. Especially since the division is called bikini. The first thing people think of when they hear of bikini is "Hawaiian Tropic" or "Sports Illustrated Model". They don't think of IFBB or NPC. They think the division is just another way for the IFBB to make money, and it's not made to give the women something else to compete in. I can understand their complaints when someone who's never seen a gym in their lives (genetically gifted) walks in and places in a contest or even WINS a contest. I can understand the sheer hatred of them seeing someone like that actually become a pro and/or win a pro show! However, there are those who take this division seriously and are doing their best to show that it's not easy being a bikini competitor. Sonia Gonzales, Rebecca Staggs, Lizzy Ostro, Stacey Oster-Thompson, Kristal Marshall, Kristal Martin, and others out there (you know who you are), my hats off to all of you for representing TRUE bikini competitors. REAL women who sacrifice free time to make sure they hit the gym and hit it hard to be the best THEY can be. If the NPC/IFBB were smart, it will be THOSE women who place, THOSE women who become pro, THOSE women who win pro shows. And I hope and pray to God that it's that type of competitor that becomes the first-ever Bikini Olympia this September and Bikini International next year.
Q: Five years from now where do you see FitGems, or where do you hope to see it?
A: I hope it's still alive, despite whether I'm hear or not (tomorrow's not promised to anyone). I hope it continues to grow in terms of size but never loses focus on why it came together in the first place: to help and support the women. FitGems represents one voice in an ever-growing choir of supporters; and I hope the choir grows within the next half-decade and beyond. :)
Q: Anything else you want to take this opportunity to plug or promote?
In addition to FitGems, I'm also the writer for the HDPhysiques blog (http://hdphysiques.blogspot.com) and Save Fitness Now blog (http://savefitnessnow.blogspot.com). In addition to supporting women's bodybuilding, fitness, figure, and bikini, I'm also a fan of women's wrestling (mainstream wrestling, not the mud wrestling crap). Like the ladies in the muscle industry, I want to give respect back to the ladies in wrestling, just they seemly don't get the respect they deserve. I created Divas 411, a social networking site dedicated to fan of women's wrestling. I'm hoping one day Divas 411 will do for women's wrestling what FitGems Nation is trying to do for the female muscle athletes; give credit where credit is due and show them the respect they rightfully deserve. You can check out Divas 411 at http://www.divas411.com.
Q: Christopher, I want to thank you for doing what you do, for showing these women in the positive light they deserve, and for taking the time out to do this interview. Any last words before you go?
A: I'm very blessed for this opportunity, Jason. I really am. :)
To everyone I've ever met online, in person, through phone conversations, whatever...words cannot express how thankful to God I am that He's allowed me to be a part of this industry. I'm no Messiah, no Savior, no nothing special. I'm just a kid wanting what's best for this industry, and for everyone that's a part of it.
Christine and Julie, I'm blessed to call your both my all-time favorites. You've both inspired me in ways you've probably not aware of, and I hope I get to see you one day.
To Sioux, Isaac, AirHarp, Carl, Jeff, Roman, Mark...Believe it or not, I consider you bros and father figures. Arnold 2011...I will do everything in my power to be there. Bank on that!
To all the ladies, I respect each and every single one of you as athletes, as women, as human beings. Keep doing what you're doing. Don't let the haters get you down. One day, I hope to tell as many to you as possible..."Thank you."
And to you, Jason, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak my peace. I wish you nothing but the best of luck with everything you're doing and continue to do for this business. No good deed goes unrewarded. :)
A few words of encouragement: We are not promised a tomorrow, but let's live like today will never end. Never live life like it's your last day, like every like like the best is yet to come.
Thank you and God Bless you all!!! :)