Friday, November 19, 2010

IFBB Pro Zoa Linsey Ms. Olympia Interview

I don't want to give a long intro here because Zoa gave one herself, and it is better than anything I could write. So I will just write a little bit about how I became aware of Zoa and such a huge fan. At the Phoenix Pro someone asked me my picks. I picked a woman who I used to talk with frequently and was a fan of. This person who asked me, picked Zoa. Soon I saw many people picking Zoa and saying how great she is. So I decided to find out more about her....... why do so many people like her. I looked at as many photos as I could and saw that physique and the grace and beauty she has on stage and quickly understood the incredible support she was getting. Then I read more about her and even read what she wrote on sites like siouxcountry, and realized even more why she had that support. Withing moments I became a huge Zoa Linsey fan and found myself now rooting for her in the Phoenix Pro. Fast forward to now, and I have no problem saying that when it comes to not just female bodybuilding, but bodybuilding in general, to me, Zoa Linsey is the ultimate. There is no one who can combine physique, beauty, stage presence, attitude, and kindness that she can in this sport. I have said many times, while I have my competing goals, and train like a bodybuilder, to me, I was not a bodybuilder until Zoa Linsey said I was a bodybuilder. I have gotten to know Zoa and consider her a friend, and to me, that is an honor. Zoa went on the Ms. Olympia stage and despite being in incredible pain, looked amazing and made all her supporters, fans, and friends proud. There is no doubt Zoa will be back on stage one day, and there is no doubt she will continue to make us all proud. So if you do not know Zoa or her story, please read this. You will find a woman who is proof that a lot of stereotypes are not true. People have said many different things about female bodybuilders. They have said things like, not feminine, not attractive, not nice, stuck up or arrogant, don't work as hard as men, all kinds of things. None of these are true, and no one proves that more than Zoa Linsey. Yes this was a longer intro than I planned to write, but when talking about Zoa, there is just too much good about her to write in one small paragraph.

Reflections on the Journey – November 16, 2010
(Excerpts from November article on

Before I answer all of Jason’s questions, I want to share a few of my thoughts regarding the importance of the journey and having ‘support’ when you are both preparing for a show or even just going through an injury or other type of personal or sport related challenge. Being asked to do this interview by Jason instigated my reflections on ‘success’, because Jason is one of those people who is a great supporter of not only me, but many other women in our sport. Despite the disappointing injury I experienced prior to the Ms. Olympia, and what may be considered a disappointing finish to those who did not know my struggle just to get up on that stage, Jason still stood by and called me ‘champion’. He believed in me and knew I had done my best and for that reason he and many others did not let me for a moment believe I was a failure.

In addition, Jason is succeeding with his own incredible journey transforming himself from who he once was, to the fit person, the bodybuilder he knows he is. At the same time, he is a staunch respecter and promoter of the women he admires in our sport. Jason constantly reaches out and shows us through his actions and encouragement, that we too can succeed, despite limitations that may come our way. The same hope that he shares with us, is the same energy that feeds him on his own transformation story. When someone believes in us so much that they express their admiration, it becomes our responsibility to live up to that respect, it pushes us to not ‘slip’ or become complacent or negative. For that reason, Jason is one person that I respect and would like to thank! Those people who may admire me push me to be that much better when I face my daily challenges. I want to be worthy of their respect and deserve their appreciation.

Who we are as individuals is just as important as our beautiful physiques, external gratification, or our success in competition. Beyond a trophy and the external gratification of accomplishing a goal, the lessons we learn along the way are in fact far more significant and longer-lasting. With that said, it’s vital to take the time to focus on the daily, small moments in our lives, doing our best within each one of those fragments of time to find happiness and contentment and appreciate those who have helped us along our way.

Competing at the Olympia and any of the successes I have experienced pales in comparison to what I have learned along the way on a personal level, over my last ten years of competition. I have accumulated many friends along the way, and through the challenges of pursuing my goals, I have seen myself become stronger, more focused, more positive and increasingly thankful for the small blessings of everyday life. Before completing this interview, I wanted to take this moment to thank those people who have been a part of my life as I’ve worked year after year to both refine my physique but to also refine my mind and my character. I’m thankful for the many people in my past and present who have pushed me to excel and in various small and large ways have inspired me to be exceptional. I’m even thankful for the people who have tried to hold me back, or push me down. My journey is far from over, and I am not done with pushing myself further, but I’m content with where I’m at now. I’m surrounded by people who care and support me and I hope whatever the future holds, I can continue to learn and give a small part of that back to those around me.

Jason, thank you for supporting me and you know I wish you all the best success in all your goals. Keep doing what you do, as you do it well!

Q: Zoa, first, thanks so much for doing another interview for me.
A: My pleasure!

Q: For those who somehow may not be familiar, can you tell a little about yourself.
A: I live in Okinawa Japan with my husband and 3 kittens. I work as a personal lifestyle coach and in-person trainer for both lifestyle (weight loss) and competition (figure and bodybuilding) clients. I’m originally from Vancouver, Canada.

Q: I must say congrats on the Olympia. You looked incredible, despite your medical issues.
A: You’re being too kind. I was just happy to get up there on that stage after what happened, and the consequences to my physique, but despite the circumstances just hoped I did not disappoint the many people who had supported and helped me along the way.

Q: Speaking of those medical issues, you have a very severe injury leading up to and during the Olympia. Can you tell people exactly what happened.
A: I flew into Las Vegas and woke up on the Wednesday before the show with a debilitating injury. Turns out I had a mammoth herniated disc between my C6/C7 vertebrae which was causing enormous amounts of pain, numbness and lack of mobility on the entire right side of my body. I have experienced many types of pain in my life and this is a pain I would not wish on my worst enemy! The nerve damage was extreme and rapid and the pain was unbelievable! According to the doctors the injury could have occurred at any point in my past, and just reached an extreme level where the nerve was being impinged to such a degree that I became severely disabled. I spent the entire Wednesday jumping between specialists and pain management doctors in Las Vegas to try to find some sort of relief. By the time I got on stage on Friday, I had received 4 muscle injections of a cortico-steroid/anti-inflammatory cocktail in my trap and lat muscles and was on a combination of 4 different drugs (muscle relaxants, narcotics, anti-spasm drugs and anti-inflammatories). I made the decision on Wednesday that I wanted to be up on that stage, regardless of the side effects of the drugs, which the doctor had warned me would include water retention, muscle smoothing and swelling and skin irritations. I just wanted the pain minimized so I was able to function for 30 minutes on show day! At that moment before they injected the solution into my muscle, I looked at my husband and we both said, it’s better you get up there and do this…we both knew my condition would be drastically affected but felt there was more value in walking it through than bowing out beforehand. It was really a choice of the ‘better of two evils’. Get up on stage and not be your best, or don’t get up on stage and not have the experience of completing the process.

Q: I know you said you couldn't even pump up before hand. What other affects did it have on you leading up to and during the Olympia?
A: I was unable to sit for more than 3-4 minutes without excruciating pain, and unable to enjoy the camaraderie of back-stage as all I could focus on was getting it over with as soon as possible. I really missed the aspect of ‘enjoying the experience’ and was just focused on getting up there and showing that I was able to walk through a very difficult challenge. I had no strength in my right side and was unable to do the movements necessary to pump up, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as without nerve function to my right side I was unable to flex it anyway. Standing back-stage waiting to walk on that stage, I just kept repeating to myself “You can do this Zoa. You’re stronger than your pain. You can do this. Just smile and show your spirit.” The lights were so incredibly hot and due to the many drugs I was on, I almost passed out. Finally finished, I quickly gathered all my things and collapsed in a corner and begged one of my friends to go find my husband. We rushed out of there without talking to anyone, so I could get back to the hotel and rest. (Lying down offered a little relief). To be honest, the entire day felt like a death sentence, I would not wish that pain on ANYONE.

Q: As I said, especially considering the injury, you looked incredible. Was their one part of your physique you felt you really most improved on this year?
A: Well before the injury I was feeling very good about my abs/obliques and back. Of course none of that matter as soon as I felt the injury come on. I couldn’t focus on anything but finding a position to feel some relief.

Q: Is there one part were you feel you need most to improve on?
A: Due to my height I will continue to need to ‘fill out’ in order to be competitive. I am the tallest woman on stage (usually) and consequently no matter if I am 10-15# heavier, I look much smaller!

Q: Was there anything you were surprised about in the whole Olympia experience?
A: Honestly Jason, I didn’t focus on anything but getting through the weekend! Sad to say, the part I missed the most was the ability to socialize and enjoy the experience with friends and fans. I spent the time either in my hotel room lying down, or fulfilling my obligations as an athlete, or going to doctors and filling out prescriptions! Even the following days I spent going to the doctor to get MRI, epidurals, more/different prescriptions and meeting with pain specialists, massage therapists, ortho-surgeons and working to get official permission to take the long flight back to Japan. (They were worried the injury would have caused further damage such as paralysis).

Q: What was it like being on the biggest stage in the sport. How is it different than another show?
A: Obviously my experience was tainted by being heavily medicated and in pain – looking back I can ‘theoretically’ imagine how I felt but all I truly remember is trying to ‘get through’. That is the part I regret about the injury the most and that’s why I’m not done yet!

Q: Was there any point where you considered not competing due to the injury?
A: Every minute!

Q: Was there anyone else you got to see who really impressed you?
A: I got to meet Brigita, Tina Chandler, Sheila Bleck and many other wonderful people. I wish I had been well enough to spend more time with them or focus on something else other than ‘existence’. LOL

Q: Did the prep process go the way you would have wanted it to?
A: Well there were a few lumps and bumps as there always is, but working with George was very good and he certainly knows what he’s doing. My job was to work hard, which I did. The most difficult was my lower back issues during prep so experiencing a neck injury was unexpected LOL…I had more concern over my lower back muscle spasms than anything else, ironically enough!

Q: Whats the first thing you ate once it was over?
A: I was able to eat a burger in between the AM and PM shows which was pretty tasty. But again, I didn’t really care about eating, my appetite was so affected by the pain and drugs. It was very difficult to eat. After the Olympia I sat at my competition weight for about 5 weeks, my body just didn’t want to gain any weight!

Q: Are you sick of Cod yet?
A: I promise you I will eat no cod until my next diet! LOL YES!

Q: You have really built a big fan base and become one of the more popular women in the sport. Is there any one thing you attribute that to?
A: Respecting other people, treating others how I wish to be treated and appreciating the journeys that each of us are on. Still seeing myself as a work in progress and being open to learning in any experiences that comes my way. Forgiving myself when I fail and picking myself up again and pushing forward no matter how painful! I hope that by sharing what my life is like people see my character just as much as they see my body!

Q: Do you take a sense of pride in being one of the more liked people in the sport?
A: I’m happy that I have not allowed what I do to influence how I treat people. Everyone is valuable and deserves respect. Dieting is hard and drains you but the ability to compete is a blessing. We need to remember that and stay thankful no matter how tired we get! (or cranky!)

Q: Getting back to your injury. How long till you are allowed to get back to normal training?
A: 5 weeks out and I’m allowed light movements in the gym. I am told to keep it light as long as possible, as we have to wait for the bone to graft together and form a solid union (right now I have a titanium plate holding my spine together). So I need to until probably February take it easy with light, high rep training and movements where my neck is mostly supported. Of course my training will change permanently in some ways due to things I’ve learned, but I have been given permission to pursue a ‘comeback’!

Q: When it was over did you say "I am real happy with how I did considering the pain" or is it more "How good could I have done totally healthy?"
A: Both things! It is inevitable that we as competitors evaluate our experience and look at what happened and how we could have improved. Every show prep I learn something new about myself and how my body works.

Q: What will be your biggest memory from the entire weekend?
A: The kindness of my husband and the support of my friends and fans. When I received the official diagnosis it sounded like a death sentence, it was so serious. My chin started to quiver and I knew the tears were coming. My husband looked me straight in the face, directly into me, and said ‘CUT THAT S*** OUT, WARRIORS DON’T CRY!’ I looked at him, shocked (we were in an office full of care practitioners) and he repeated ‘YOU DON’T GET A MOMENT OF SELF-PITY. YOU ARE GOING TO FIGHT THIS THING. STOP THAT S*** AND FOCUS ON BEATING THIS. WARRIORS DON’T CRY AND YOU ARE A WARRIOR!’ Every moment since then he has reminded me of this message in various ways and I’m thankful to him for changing the direction of my thoughts the moment it happened.

Q: I know your husband is incredibly supportive of you. How important is support from family and friends at a show like this?
A: Essential. Relationships should never be sacrificed for bodybuilding and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many people who care about me and give me energy when I need a reminder of the type of person I want to be, despite circumstances.

Q: Anyone you want to take this time to thank for helping you in the whole process?
A: My friend Jody who lives in Las Vegas and who I used to train here in Okinawa was a complete angel during this time in Las Vegas. She made the whole trip, the injury, the appointments with the doctor, my food prep, EVERYTHING…possible. She was unbelievable and we could not have gone through the experience without her help. My friend Tamara who did my make-up and supported me that weekend in person through all of the stress. My friends Alex and Craig who came to see me that weekend and who hugged me after the show as I knew I had not been at my best. During my moments of weakness, these people showed me unbelievable support. And of course my husband who was amazing, his family for allowing me to live with them the month before and supporting me 100%, and my coach, George Farah for helping me get ready. So many others that have made my journey possible.

Q: So anything planned for your off season?
A: Recovery, rest and grow!

Q: If you have it your way, when do we see Zoa Linsey on stage next?
A: Ms. International 2012

Q: Zoa, again congrats, you really looked amazing. I was so happy for you. You are everything that is good about this sport. I am a male but I have no trouble saying that you as a female are my favorite Pro bodybuilder. I know we will see you back on the Olympia stage and keep getting better. Any last words before you go?
A: Jason, you ROCK! Thank you and I am very proud to be your friend.

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