Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Kassandre Harper-Cotton Interview
Usually at this point, I do a nice intro. Describing the person being interviewed and setting the stage for what you will read. I feel I can't do that here. Why? Because with over 400 interviews done, Kassandre Harper-Cotton did one of my five favorite's ever. I want you to do as I did, read it and prepare to become a fan. Kassandre is the type of person we need more of in the industry. She has competed several times and done well, and in 2012 will rock the stage in her first National competition.
Q: First, Kassandre, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this.
A: Thank you for the opportunity to do the interview. I have been following the blog for some time. And, it is always a pleasure and an inspiration to read about why and how women compete and train they way that they do.
Q: Can you start out by telling a little about yourself.
A: I was born and raised in the Central Valley, more specifically, Stockton, CA. I am so honored and proud to say that my parents have been married for over 35 years. I have a younger sister in North Carolina (who cannot be convinced to move to the East Bay.) I have been married to my wonderfully, supportive husband for ten years. And, we have an inquisitive and humorous seven year old. I am 37 years old. Thanks to weight training and taking better care of myself, I welcome my forties with open arms. I am a middle school English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at a charter school. I always say, "Teaching chose me; I did not chose it." Four years ago, I had to substitute teach and the rest is history. I cannot imagine not being an educator. I have found my calling.
Q: Before the gym were you an especially athletic person? Play any sports or anything?
A: I was never athlete. I wanted to be. I did not come from an athletic family. We did not participate in sports and we did not watch sports. My dad is 6'4" tall, and people assumed that he just had to play basketball. I never experienced the whole "Super Bowl phenomenon" (you know, those big sporting events when everything stops) until I was with my husband.
In middle school I wanted, so badly, to be an athlete. I saw the camaraderie amongst the athletes, especially the girl. I also admired the physiques that sports built. I secretly wanted a letterman's jacket, something to say that I excelled at something physical.
The first sport that I wanted to try track. I think I was hoping I had some innate ability to kick in. I was long and gangly. I, unknowingly, ended up at cross country try-outs. They ran, and ran, and ran. And, just did not stop. I kept wondering, "When do we get to the track? And, when do we stop running." Needless to say, I did not make the team. The second sport I tried was badminton. Our high school had a team that did really well. In P.E. it was such a delightful game, with the birdie flying slowly through the air. Competitive badminton was a different story. Those "delightful, floating, birdies" became heat-seeking missiles, complete with the whistling sound. I did not make that team, either.
Q: What initially led you into the gym?
A: I joined my first gym in college. Well, it came with the tuition. I used it very sporadically. At, 5'8" and 120 pounds, I never felt the "need" to use it. I gained 20 pounds in the my freshman year, but that additional weight made me "look healthier" and I finally had some "curves". So, again, I did not feel inclined. However, fast forward to adulthood, after working, being married, and motherhood I found myself at 185 pounds and feeling increasingly self-conscious about how I looked.
In March 2007, my goal was "be a size 10 and 150 pounds". My only concern was seeing the number on the scale go down and choosing pants that did not read "14/16" on the label. I had made this promise many times before, but something in me was unyielding, this time. I was tired of wearing jeans in the summer. And, I was not going to buy another piece of clothing that I was uncomfortable in physically and emotionally. I wanted to feel and look strong and confident. I desired to be a hero to my daughter and to myself. So, I set upon the task of educating myself on nutrition and training. I made mistakes early on, like, relying on a lot of cardio. But, the reality was, I just was not comfortable in the weight area.
Q: Was training something you picked up fairly easy? How long before you started to see results?
A: In March 2007, something in me changed. I wanted to learn and apply what I learned about strength training. I was still married to that goal of "150 pounds and a size 10", though. Instead of focusing on what I was doing, I began to focus on small, daily goals. I realized that I kept quitting after a few weeks. I would declare that I had "done everything" and "nothing" was happening. And, that had to change.
Once I started focusing on my behavior and getting in the gym several times a week, I began to enjoy my time in the gym. I found Bodybuilding.com and became more knowledgeable about strength training. I even caught the attention of my first trainer, who I was with for three years. He helped me accelerate the changes that I made.
Q: What made you decide to compete for the first time?
A: I began frequenting message boards, websites, and profiles of women with admirable physiques. I learned that they were not in the gym all-day, they were not all "models", and some did not have trainers--as I had assumed. They had the same responsibilities that I did. I had not excuses. I also began to let go of my "magic number". I no longer wanted to limit myself, as I began to see that my potential was limitless. I told my trainer, at the time, that I was going to compete. Neither of us had experience with competing or knew what to expect. But, he knew that I was serious and we learned as we went.
I had gotten in the habit of taking and posting progress pictures. I remember getting a comment about my shoulders and quads. I was paying so much attention to what I was lacking, that I almost missed the wonderful changes that were happening. I had delts and quads. My body would never be the same. I just had to keep pushing to see what else would develop. My body began to look like an athlete's. And, that made me ecstatic.
Q: Is competing something your family and friends supported?
A: Overall, I received a lot of support. There were a few unsavory comments such as, "Why would you want to look like a man?" and "You are getting too skinny." I was even poked in the ribs. These comments did bother me. However, this was my personal challenge. I had the support of the people who were closest to me. And, while preparing to compete, I made very special friendships with women who understood my growing desire to compete--even when I did not understand it, myself.
Q: Was competing what you expected or did anything surprise you about it?
A: Competing was exhilarating! I was a painfully shy person. And, the process of getting to the stage to actually standing on stage required me to do things that were completely outside of my comfort zone. I began to blog, extensively, and share my experiences with others. This opened me up to new and beautiful friendships. I had to be structured and diet, consistently. I had to train harder and lift heavier than I believed that could. I was on stage in front of hundreds of strangers in a two-piece and clear heels. And, the photos of these events are online in perpetuity. These things have made me better in other realms of my life. It definitely made me more positive, more patient, and more willing to take risks.
Q: Can you share your contest history.
*July 9, 2011-NPC San Jose Championships: 3rd,Class D; 4th, Master's 35+
*October 10, 2009-NPC San Francisco Championships: 3rd Place, Tall; 3rd Place Master's 35+
*Jul 12, 2011: NPC San Jose Bodybuilding Fitness, Figure & Bikini - Placing: 3
*Jul 12, 2011: NPC San Jose Bodybuilding Fitness, Figure & Bikini - Placing: 4
*Oct 10, 2009: NPC San Francisco Championships (Masters 35+) - Placing: 3
*Oct 10, 2009: NPC San Francisco Championships (Tall) - Placing: 3
*Jul 11, 2009: NPC San Jose BB'ing, Figure, and Bikini_Class D - Placing: 1
*Jul 11, 2009: NPC San Jose BB'ing, Figure, and Bikini_Master's 35+ - Placing: 2
*May 09, 2009: NPC The Contra Costa Bodybuilding, Figure, and Bikini - Placing: 15
*Oct 11, 2008: NPC San Francisco Bodybuilding and Figure Championship - Placing: 2
Q: What do you feel is your best body part?
A: My favorite body parts are my shoulders and back. My shoulders changed the entire look of my physique. And, I love that I have a wide back and a narrow waist. I think my v-taper is my strongest attribute. Plus, it is my favorite part to train.
Q: Do you have a part you most like to train or favorite exercise?
A: My favorite exercises are: seated rows, lat pull downs, and I have a love/hate relationship with squats, lunges, and deadlifts.
Q: What is your normal training routine and diet like and how do you alter it for contest prep?
A; Prior to working with my current coach, would have been in the gym 6 times per week, doing two-a-days, reducing carbds, and drastically lowering my calories. Trying to figure out how to train and eat for muscle gain and then for leaning out is such a an art and a science. It was just a skill that I did not possess. Today, I work with Erik Ledin of Lean Bodies Consulting. I have been with him since October 2010. And, the experience (both off-season and pre-contest) has been eye-opening. I lifted heavy, had carb, had salt, and ate well during all phases of my training. I have gotten stronger, leaner, and continue to improve. Under his tutelage, I have done a TOTAL of 90 minutes of steady state cardio since October. And, that was during my peak week over two days!
Q: When someone sees your physique or hears you compete for the first time, what is the most common reaction? More positive or negative?
A: The most memorable reaction was accompanied with a gasp, "But, you are so small!" People have an idea of what they think of woman who lifts weights looks like. Prior to really getting into the sport, I was guilty of this, as well. For the person who said that, she went on to say that I helped to debunk the myth that lifting heavy will make you "look like a man". Usually, reactions are very positive, though. I think it is a great position to be in when you can debunk those myths and pique someone's interest and motivation to adopt some healthier habits.
Q: When they see you that first time, what is the one question or comment you are most sick of hearing?
A: The most annoying (and rare) comment can come, unsolicited, from men, "Don't get too big. Men don't like that." The only man I have to impress gave me his name. Secondly, the beauty of bodybuilding and training is that I can transform my body into my ideal. That is so empowering, to me. I will always be a work in progress.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about women who train and compete or the one thing you wish people understood?
A: There are so many misconceptions about women who compete. But, one that stands out is 'vanity'. People believe that dieting and training is all about just "looking good", "showing off", or being "selfish". Looking healthy and feeling confident in my skin is a benefit. However, there is so much more to this. Competing is such a small part of a long process. Competing requires one to practice patience, to be disciplined, to push the body beyond what is comfortable--all year! It is something that gave me an outlet. It is my "me time". It is something that I do for me outside of being a wife, mother, teacher. It is a way that I take care of myself so that I can do my everyday tasks, better.
Q: What is the best and worst part of training for you?
A: I enjoy each phase of training. Every phase has its benefits. I love the abundance and strength of the off-season. I love the weekly and, sometimes, daily, changes of preparing for a competition. I enjoy that training is NEVER easy. I am always trying to beat my best.
Q: Do you have any favorite competitors or any you admire?
A: The competitors that I admire, I do so not only because of their physiques, but because of who they are off stage. Christine Anderson is not only has this beautiful, mature, curvaceous physique; she balances being a wife, mother, model, coach, and business owner with grace. You can, indeed, "have it all". Laura Bailey, is funny, savvy, and so grounded. She is a beautiful example of faith and integrity in an industry that can make one forget who they are. Paula Hannah provides me with a daily example of how someone can take fitness and use it as a banner to change the lives of others. She shares her story and her struggles freely so that others have something to hold on to--nothing is impossible. When I think of supportive, positive, and consistently pushing to improve as an athlete and extend herself, especially to those new to the sport, I think of Kia Patrece. Alexandra Porshnikoff was the first figure competitor that I ever met. She took time to explain the ins and outs of the sport and helped me walk in my first set of clear heels. I cannot rattle off shows and placings. But, I do know how they have impacted me.
Q: Do you have a favorite cheat food?
A: Lately, I have had cravings for warm cookies. I love the smell, the texture, and the taste. Burgers, fries, and shakes are also another favorite. Oh, you said, "food"--I had to choose just one?
Q: If another woman told you she wanted to start training, what is the one piece of advise you would most want to give her?
A: Go for it. Start doing research. Surround yourself with positive examples, both virtually and online. Begin logging your work outs and diet. If you can, get a knowledgeable coach to help you come up with a plan. Then, be consistent and committed. And, understand that there are no shortcuts, no magic pills, and no "easy button". If it becomes easy, you are not doing it right!
Q: Do you think its becoming more common for women to use the weights as opposed to just doing cardio and things?
A: Fortunately, in my experience, it has been I am seeing more women using weights. However, that myth of "getting too big" or the goal of "just wanting to tone", prevails. I definitely would like to support more women in feeling confident using heavier weights and not spending so much time doing cardio.
Q: Outside of training, any other hobbies or activities you enjoy?
A: I enjoy blogging. Right now, the bulk of my time is spent studying for my teaching credential and getting ready for the upcoming school year. It sounds like work, but I do enjoy it.
Q: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Kassandre Harper-Cotton.
A: Right now, I am on summer break, so it is a luxury to be able to sleep late, and do what I want, at my leisure. But, during the year, my day begins as early at 4:00 a.m. I eat breakfast. Then, I will go to the gym and train until around 6-ish. I work from around 7:45-4:45. My students became very good and telling me when it was time to eat. After, work it is time for family matters. I like training in the morning because once the day is finished, I can just focus on family and relax.
Q: Describe Kassandre Harper-Cotton in five words.
A: Five words that describe me are: determined, open, friendly, creative, and diligent.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
A: Usually people are surprised by my lack of athletic background. I also enjoy fishing. My sister and I went with my dad as children. And, we introduced our daughter to it some time ago. She did not share the enthusiasm for that activity.
Q: Any set plans for the near future as far as competing or anything else?
A: I am going to do my first national show in approximately, 47 weeks (Jr. Nationals 2012). We know how fast that time can pass. So, I am ready to train hard and make some improvements.
Q: Kassandre, again, I thank you for taking the time to do this. Any last words before you go?
A: Thank you for the opportunity, Jason!