Friday, June 10, 2011
Athlete Spotlight Interview: IFBB Pro Heather Grace
Can you talk about how you initially found the gym?
A: I am a life-long athlete and have never quit. I started gymnastics at 4, and basketball at 12. I was a very strong and muscular kid- as all gymnasts are (hence the density in my back). I was at my first dance and had no idea how to dance. I noticed a basketball court outside (where all of the cute boys were playing). I went outside, jumped in, and ran the court for the rest of the night (once someone explained the rules to me). My mom gave me my first basketball the next day and I went on to play NCAA Division I Ball in basketball Mecca (NYC) at, Columbia University. After College, I was working part time at a gym, with the intention to move back to NYC and work on Wall Street, when I picked up a copy of Muscle Media 2000 (Bill Phillips’ magazine). I was mesmerized by articles by Charles Poliquin, Dan Duchaine, and Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale. I began training harder than ever and ran Phosphagen HP- my first cycle of creatine and was AMAZED by the transformation. I began implementing different protocols and experimented on myself with training and supplements (LOVED German Volume Training, back then). I was actually lean year-around, at that time- as I didn’t understand the nuances involved in bulking and cutting.
Q: At what point did you realize you wanted to get on stage?
A: I think I made the decision in July 2006. I did my first show in 2006: The Rocky Mountain, Carol Semple Classic, in Denver and won my class. I was training at a small little hard-core gym called Mahaney's, (Now: Colorado Pro Gym). At the time, it was home to several notable local bodybuilders and I was approached by a trainer to compete. The timing was right and we went to work. My posing was horrific. It's so funny when I look at those photos now.
Q: Anyone who sees photos of you on stage now can see you look so confident and comfortable. How long did it take you to feel confident?
A: We here in Denver have an amazing support network. Allen Watkins is my presentation coach, and he holds a posing class every weekend at Armbrust Pro Gym that always produces talent. On any given day, there may be 3-4 Pros and 5-6 top 5 National level athletes, in addition to those preparing for local shows. We have a ton of talent and a great group of women. I always try to bring my “A” game and simulate stage-like situations. Having said that, I had about 4 days to prepare for my Pro debut and didn't realize that would entail roughly 25 minutes of holding a “model-T.” I wasn't prepared and don't think I looked as poised and relaxed on stage as I would have liked.
At any rate, I'm very blessed to have such an extensive support network- and such an amazing coach in Allan Watkins.
Q: After that first show, did you know competing was something you wanted to keep doing?
A: Of course! I actually cut my finger off four weeks prior to the show (hence the permanent “hook” of my left index finger). It's fairly obvious from my front pose, as it's stuck at a 90 degree angle. After I had the surgery to re-attach my sad little digit- I continued to train my upper-body with AB-straps- I reasoned that it was time to finally stop threatening and step on the stage. I was in condition at that poing, and knew that needed to simply go forward.
Q; Was there a point where you realized you had the potential to be a pro?
A: That was the goal initially. I didn't just jump into the sport. I was threatening to compete for many moons. I was a huge fan of the sport and followed the magazine trends and continued tweaking my physique through various training and nutrition protocols. I had a fairly decent grasp of what worked with my body- and I felt as though it was attainable. Of course, I had no clue as to the amount of preparation involved, but was coming from a place as a ball player where I was spending six hours a day playing ball in the gym. So, in my case, I scaled back gym time- WAY back.. but struggled in learning to better manage my time out of the gym and in the kitchen.
Q: There are a lot of girls who said to me you were a guaranteed pro and won the 2011 Is Their Year award on my blog.....
A: I cried when I saw the results of last year’s voting. What an honor! It was so rewarding to be recognized by other athletes.
Q: But to be recognized like that by your peers is that more rewarding?
A: Of course! Absolutely. I mean: I work hard, I know that. I lift hard, I lift heavy, AND I lift consistently. Again, I am in an area where there are so many incredible athletes and I’ve had so many friends get the “nod” in earning their pro cards (deservedly so)... Of course I support them- but at the same time… I was constantly thinking… “OK… what will it take to make this happen for myself?" I was constantly motivated and moved by the emails/messages I received from athletes, soccer Moms, and just random folks that took the time to reach out and tell me that I had somehow given them inspiration. It's totally rewarding and inspirational and helps me push forward through the trying moments. You know, there are times when you are 40 minutes into your cardio; and may step off the stepmill to refill the water bottle. Then REALLY have to force yourself through the final 20 minutes… those are the times when I remember those messages- and push forward.
Of course it's huge to be recognized by other athletes- it's a tremendous honor.
Q: We discussed you just got your pro card at Jr. USA's. That first minute when you realized you got it, what went through your mind?
A: Honestly: "Thank you God, Thank you God, thank you God"- THEN… OK: How am I going to make the Cal Show- a reality? Allen was in Charleston with me and suggested that I contact Jon Lindsay immediately- as we had discussed the possibility, the week before, during a delt session. He said, “Alright Gracie… if things go as planned what are you thinking?". I replied, "The Cal!" He smiled, "Yep, that's what I was thinking too".
It's all soooo exciting, wonderful, rewarding… it's great! I suppose I probably should have been thinking about brownies- but: once it finally happens, you realize that the journey is just beginning and you just want to jump in and get the party started.
Q; For those reading who may not know, what is the significance of winning an IFBB Pro card?
A: Wow- tough to put into words. It’s an accolade that validates sooooo many hundreds of hours of work and grants you access to a very select, and elite group.... So, at this point: everything changes. There are thousands of athletes that are working for the elusive “nod” and securing a Pro Card validates the sacrifice. Of course, it also enables one to earn money doing what we all love to do- not a ton of money, but it's a huge honor. I have a huge appreciation for the athletes competing at this level and am so happy to have the opportunity to become a part of it all.
Q: One of the reasons you are one of my favorite people in the sport is because.....
Q: I knew you were going to do that. There are a lot of people you meet and are excited and they may not live up to expectations... But you are always accessible and very thankful and appreciative. Does winning your pro card mean you have more responsibility to handle yourself like that?
I think you find that to be the case in almost any situation.. Haven’t you ever met a celebrity and thought… "wow.... I liked you better before you decided to open your mouth.” LOL
I guess the politically correct answer would be, yes. But, I don't know that I buy into that Jason. For me, I've always tried to help because I'm always looking for help, myself. I’m always looking for better and more efficient methods. I’m questioning; doing research; and looking toward others with experience, for answers. I’ve been very blessed in receiving that help from those I respect (most of whom aren’t exactly accessible)- still.. they’ve taken the time to take care of me. I enjoy encouraging and interacting with people- and, of course.. I’m STILL learning.
Q: They started the Physique division this year, do you see it having any affect on Figure?
A: I did an interview yesterday for No Holds Barred Radio and Rick asked me the same question. Allen and I had a long talk with Bob Chic after pre judging at Jr. USA's and he was really pleased with the turnout- as well as the numbers of athletes. I KNOW there are a LOT of women that don’t fit the “figure” mold and aren’t willing to downsize and sacrifice their hard-earned muscle. There is a huge contingent of girls out there who hold a lot of muscle and want to flex and present it on the stage. I get quite a few questions from these athletes regarding my placements, as I have also come in fairly conditioned.
I don't know that physique will change Figure all that much. The posing will have to change. The girls with a high level of muscularity aren't going to be able to flex as hard as they have in the past without being encouraged to move into that division. Personally, I think it’s fairly easy to tone-down muscularity through presentation. You just have to very mindful, on stage. If the flexing and posing is what is most appealing (and I hear that often on the boards)- then Physique is the way to go.
Q: Would you ever consider it?
A: For me... no. Not right now. I've worked really really hard to fine tune myself as a Figure athlete. Who knows what will happen in the future.
Q: As I mentioned earlier I have a lot of people say you are the next pro. Now you are a pro, so who is the next pro?
A: Well, Gloria Keplinger, has to be a fore-runner. I actually thought she was a “lock” in Charleson. I also love Wendy Fortino’s physique and I know she will be hitting the stage at Team U. We are bringing a ton of talent from Colorado to Chicago next weekend and I’m REALLY hoping that we do well. In fact, I just saw Laura Santos (4th at 2010 USAs), she's another shorty... Her structure is very similar to HMF. Class A is going to be TOUGH!
I’m very excited about Chicago. I’ve never had the opportunity to watch and coach at a National Level Show- can’t wait!
Q: Usually newer people ask for advice. They ask about abs and the answer is 'abs are made in the kitchen". When I annoucned this interview, several people told me to ask you about something. Yours isn't made in the kitchen. They asked me to ask what you do for glutes?
A: Haha. That's the number one question I get. Well honestly, rote repetition on the stepmill is going to create enough density in your glutes to facilitate I nice “tie-in” once properly conditioned. As a coach- I teach cardio as a tool. Two hours is not necessary- it’s a final resort. Twenty minute intervals are fine, day-to-day. Long duration, low-intensity cardio should be reserved for prep. Sprints, plyos, and stair work all have their place, as well (.. ever see a triple-jumper with a pancaked booty?... NOPE!) Also, I lift hard and heavy and always incorporate high-volume isometric work (once I’ve exhausted myself through compound movements). I hit quads twice; hammies twice; and do glute-specific work (of some fashion) every day. There are specific exercises that are important: dead-lifts, ATF squats, (use the Smith machine if you can’t get all the way down with free squats), weighted hip-thrusts, sumo deads, weighted lunges, step-ups, unilateral hypers, and my all-time fav: the glute-ham raise. The key is to bring it with intensity- and contract the muscle.. don’t just move the weight. Don't jump under the squat rack with a couple quarters, and think you are puttin’ in work at 10 reps with 2 minutes of socializing while sipping your recovery drink. LOL
LADIES: LIFT heavy with INTENSITY; EAT consistently (that means quality fats and well-timed carbs); give yourself 8 hrs of SLEEP: and your body WILL respond! We simply have to work harder to get into condition because we don’t have the hormonal profile that men do. I love to train this way- and all of my clients do, as well. It is incredibly empowering and cathartic to walk into the gym and find your zone.
Q: To compete as a pro, any improvements you need to make?
A: Yep. It never stops. My V-taper needs work. My delts are lagging and I need more width in my lower lats. I will also continue to work on legs.
Q: Now being a pro anyone you are excited to finally share a stage with?
A: I had the opportunity to share the stage with my girlfriend, Sara Hurley, at the Cal. We had a blast backstage and I was so blessed to have a good friend there through my debut. There are so many athletes that I respect and have wanted to share the stage with.. I still can’t believe that the dream is now reality!
Q: Any idea what you want to do next?
A: Yes, I plan to compete at the Jacksonville Pro, the Dallas Europa, the Phoenix Pro, and the Tournament of Champions – in the hope of a Rookie berth at the Olympia. Following the Olympia, I will do the Sheru Classic in Mumbai, India (In fact- I just submitted my contract today)!
Q: Anyone you wanna thank?
A: Definitely. First of all: my MOM- she is my biggest fan and I adore her. Allan Watkins had stood behind me through thick and thin and I am incredibly blessed to call him my coach and friend. Tony Racanelli (a Florida based trainer) has proven to be an invaluable source for training protocols, suggestions, and overall support- he was instrumental in developing leg and restoration protocols this year. Also, I want to thank ALR Industries for creating HumaPro- a protein replacement that actually made me significantly stronger as I leaned out, yet kept me fuller than ever before (check it out at: humapro.com).