By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- When Joy Henderson takes the stage to compete in bodybuilding, it may well seem that her primary goal is to wow the judges with her chiseled physique and picture-perfect posing.
The judges can see Henderson's physical power, certainly. But what isn't visible under those glaring spotlights is the Winchester resident's equally powerful mental and spiritual strength. Without all three elements -- mind, body and spirit -- functioning at peak capacity and perhaps even a bit beyond as she steps onto that stage, Henderson knows she won't be able to present her absolute best self for competition.
Last month in Pittsburgh at the National Physique Committee (NPC) Masters National Championships, Henderson was at her best when it counted the most. Her second-place finish in the Women's Physique Class C proved Henderson ranked among the best amateurs in the country, and also landed her the right to move up into the professional ranks by securing a coveted International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) pro card. From now on, Henderson can be on the same stage with the very best bodybuilders in the world.
"These pro cards are not easy to come by," said Henderson, who secured hers on July 19 during the Pittsburgh competition. "There were times I didn't even know if I'd get it, but I really wanted to get it because I wanted to show people that you can, you can, you can. Just chase it down and work for it."
A civil engineer by day, Henderson has devoted hour upon hour to the sport she first took up during college. Her future husband, Vic, was a competitive bodybuilder and got her involved in the sport. Henderson took third place in her very first bodybuilding competition in 1999, and has been competing ever since.
Henderson credits her husband, who's given up competing and is now an avid big-game hunter, with providing the impetus to get involved in the sport. She credits her parents, Carolyn and James Colfelt, with providing the foundation for her success. Her mother died a little more than three years ago after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Her father, who suffers from macular degeneration the severely affects his eyesight, served as her caretaker to the last.
"My mother had so much spirit in life in her that she really passed a lot of that along to me, so I really feel like a lot of that came from her," Henderson said. 'My mother was also a very spiritual person, and she was a source of encouragement and inspiration to a lot of people.
"Dad was just a real source of inspiration. I saw dad strive -- he was never going to give up on mom, and he did what he had to do.
"... I'm really blessed because of the parents I had in my life and how I grew up. It means so much, and so many people aren't blessed to be born into good situations. But, that being said, I'm hoping that some people who aren't born into good situations can turn it around and focus on positive things and find their path to put them in better situations."
She's also drawn inspiration from others in the sport, notably the books written by six-time national champion bodybuilder and coach Skip La Cour and some personal coaching from IFBB and Ms. Olympia competitor Lisa Aukland. Henderson met Aukland after competing in an event Aukland judged, and later approached her for training advice.
"I've really enjoyed working with her, enjoyed just having someone to bounce strategies off of and to get her opinion on things versus what I'd think," Henderson said.
That idea -- to inspire -- drives Henderson more than potential trophies or the prize money she's eligible to compete for as an IFBB professional. Building up to her competition in Pittsburgh, Henderson blogged almost daily with stories and photos about her training and motivation in the hopes of encouraging others. She has a Facebook page titled "Positive Energy 247 Health, Beauty and Fitness" featuring that same can-do spirit. She hopes her new status as a professional will provide even more positive proof of what is possible. Henderson also has designed a meal plan, for sale on her website, for those interested in a healthier lifestyle.
"I want to be a role model for how people can look at things in life, to motivate them and inspire them and to show people what they can do if they put their mind to it," Henderson said. "I want to encourage them to go find these dreams that they want to find and work towards them. If you work towards your dreams and your goals for long enough, you can really make what you want out of life, no matter what it is."
For Henderson, setting concrete goals has been transformational. Her aim was to earn that elusive pro card sometime next year, and instead won it a year early. Henderson made the switch from traditional bodybuilding, with its emphasis on muscle mass and definition, to the relatively new competitive category of physique last year. One of the big differences between the two is the classification categories -- in bodybuilding it remains by weight, while in physique the competition is divided by height. Henderson, standing 5 feet, 6 inches, competes in Class C out of four divisions.
"Shorter girls just have a different look compared to a taller girl," Henderson said. "It's hard to compare physiques because they look so different a lot of times when you have someone who's say, 5-2 versus 5-6 or 5-8. You have more of a shorter, stockier, fuller look versus a taller, maybe more elongated look."
There are other differences in posing and judging standards putting more weight into symmetry, flow, balance and aesthetics designed to promote a more feminine look for competitors, and that was a draw for Henderson.
"It's still evolving, as far as what physique is," Henderson said. "But when you get into bodybuilding and especially in the professional ranks, you get girls that are very muscular. There's a lot of women that felt like they wanted to compete and they liked to be muscular, but they didn't want to take their muscularity to the level that a female bodybuilder has.
"To me, it's almost more artistic in a way because you're creating a different package, a different look."
Henderson said her competition mode training and diet regimen runs from 12 to 14 weeks beforehand. It's a grueling process, an amplification of the constant maintenance and foundation building Henderson does year-round.
"When I'm in that mode, I have to dedicate my outside time to either in the gym whether it's doing morning weight training, cardio sessions, lunch break running over to the tanning salon so I can get my tanning in," Henderson said. "Evenings I have to work on my posing, more cardio. Weekends are food prep, so there's not much time for spending time with the husband and just enjoying other things in life."
Henderson does make time for her marriage and other interests -- she limits competition to just one or two events a year. Now that she has her pro card, that won't change. Henderson is planning for just one or two events next year.
No matter how much work she puts in at the gym or how much discipline she has to maintain peak nutrition, Henderson knows that bodybuilding competitions are still ultimately decided by judges whose preferences can vary from event to event. That could be frustrating for some, but for Henderson it's just another challenge she's eager to face.
"You really have to be happy that you're presenting your best package and your best you," Henderson said. "That's what it comes down to with everything, whether its bodybuilding or whether it's physique. If you're going to stick with it, it's really you against you -- always you against you, and it's always self-development and looking your best."
The pro card, now that she's earned it, gives Henderson a lifetime pass to compete in IFBB professional events. She can no longer compete against amateurs -- it's the best of the best from now on.
"This is a whole another level where I can step on stage with the pros," Henderson said. "These are the ones you see in the Flex Magazine and the Muscle & Fitness Hers magazine. These are the competitors that I'll now be stepping on the stage with, and to be able to do that is really an awesome thing."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>