Cheryl, congratulations on your three back-to-back heavyweight victories at the WNBF World Championships. From where I sat you looked very composed and confident onstage, and glided through your poses very gracefully making it all look quite effortless. Does the stage presentation come easy to you or is this something you have worked hard at over the years?
Thanks for your kind comments. I had to laugh at your use of the word ďgracefully,Ē as grace is not something Iím known for! Iím certainly not one of those natural ďmoversĒ that you see, although curiously, I do have a very good sense of rhythm.
It has taken a long, long time to cultivate my stage presence and presentation; Iíve been to a lot of shows and watched a lot of videos and DVDs, and every so often, an athlete comes along who sets themselves apart from the rest by their stage presence. You pick up ideas as you go along, but ultimately, I feel itís vital to integrate these things into your own persona, rather than simply aiming to be a carbon copy.
Also, much as I find it a little uncomfortable to watch myself on video, Iíve learnt a lot from it; little adjustments here and there can totally make or break a pose, hence gaining you or losing you a few points. Holding your arms a little higher here, placing your legs slightly differently, twisting a little more there, SMILE... or accepting that certain poses simply donít work for you. Even discovering what colours and what style and cut of suit works best for you is trial and error.
I practise a lot beforehand, not just my routine, but holding the quarter turns and compulsories Ė thatís where the main points are scored. Itís invariably hot on-stage, and depending on the head judge, you may be holding such-and-such a pose for thirty seconds or more. If you havenít practised beforehand, it can come as a bit of a shock how hard that is Ė cue the shakes! Iíve never worked as hard on-stage as I did at the 2008 Worlds; I was still aching almost a week later from the effort.
A few weeks before my first WNBF Worlds win, I watched a documentary on the late Freddie Mercury. Now I canít claim to have ever been a fan, but what struck me was how shy and self-effacing he was off-stage and in his private life, yet once on stage, he had total command and ruled the stage. As someone whoís always suffered from shyness, sometimes to an almost crippling extent, a lightbulb went on in my head at that moment. When youíre up on that stage, no one in the audience needs to know that youíre shy, lack confidence, or anything about you Ė they just want to see a show. With that uppermost in mind, it revolutionised the way I presented myself on-stage, and dare I say, Iíve never looked back.
Three years at the top places huge pressure on an athlete mentally, what strategies do you use to fire yourself up for the challenge year in year out without cracking under the pressure?
I just get on with it! I have to be careful, as I tend towards introspection, which works against me, so the best thing for me is to stick to my routine, day in, day out, and not to put too much thought into it. The minute I start thinking too much, subconsciously, the pressure starts to weave its way in, and the little negative devil comes and sits on my shoulder, so I prefer not to invite it in.
Iíve learnt the hard way that Iím not a person who can live and breathe bodybuilding & training 24/7; to be able to enjoy it, I need other things in my life... to be able to focus, I need to DE-focus, if that makes sense?!
Thatís not to say I donít get the jitters before hand; I do Ė usually when thereís been a Pro show in the run-up to the Worlds and Iím anxious to discover the results. Seeing photoís of my potential rivals in contest shape, when I still have six weeks, or whatever, to go can mess with my head if Iím not careful. And donít talk about the competitorsí meeting Ė itís wonderful to see and meet up with all the friends Iíve made again, but when allís said and done, itís the biggest comp in the natural bodybuilding world, and there are an awful lot of lean, drawn faces there!
After winning my second Worlds, I laughingly said to Stuart (my husband) that the pressure was off, that Iíd proved that my first win wasnít a fluke... what a lot of rubbish! I was more nervous this time than ever before!
Which win has meant the most to you, the 1st 2nd or 3rd and why? Are you looking to make it 4 or even 5?
Thatís impossible to answer. Iíve gone over this time and again in my mind, and I honestly canít say which has meant most; they were all special, for different reasons.
The first win was special because it was totally unexpected. Iíd been hoping for a top five place, and it suddenly became apparent that I was looking at top three. So when Steve Downs announced the places from fifth down to third, and my name still hadnít been called, I thought, ďThis is getting silly now.Ē It took a few seconds to sink in when second place was announced Ė and that wasnít me either! So to then go on and win the Overall as well Ė it finally sunk in about 5.00am the following morning, I think.
Winning for the second time meant a lot because, as I said above, I proved, probably more to myself than anyone else, that 2006 hadnít been a fluke. Such was the standard of competitor in my class that backstage, I seriously thought Iíd blown it.
The third win was special because it was the toughest line-up Iíve ever been in, yet for the first time ever, I knew I was in the best condition of my life. That, in itself, meant more than I can tell you. I needed to be, because each and every competitor was in top shape.
Despite everything, I take the attitude that you are only as good as your last result Ė and that was last year, the culmination of last yearís work. Iím still genuinely overwhelmed by it all, to be honest.
With that in mind, I always had it in mind to take 2009 off from competing, irrespective of the outcome of the 2008 Worlds. But rest assured, Iím neither retiring nor resting on my laurels; I have identified areas I want to have improved by 2010, and the campaign has already started.
What reasons have motivated you to stick with the WNBF?
Itís very professional and very well run Ė but itís also friendly. I feel it offers the best and most satisfactory option for natural Proís. Iím more than happy with the WNBF, and proud to be a WNBF athlete.
Like any organisation, athletic or otherwise, there are rules and regulations to adhere to, and thatís when ugly politics can creep in if you allow it. But itís like signing a works contract; if youíre not willing to abide by those terms and conditions, you donít sign the contract and you go elsewhere... itís not rocket science. Nor is it Iraq Ė itís bodybuilding, something I do (hopefully) for fun.
The money doesnít come into it; itís a nice extra, but money goes. You eventually die and the moneyís forgotten Ė spent on something nice, hopefully. But no one will remember that you won $2000, or whatever, itís the achievement theyíll recall. One way or another, Iíll leave my (very big size 8) footprint on this Earth...
How did you first hear about bodybuilding competitions and what motivated you to compete?
I think Iíd always, somehow, been aware of bodybuilding. The Charles Atlas adverts in the Saturday newspapers, the ďmusclemanĒ portrayed as either the guy with the girls swooning on his arms in the 70ís cartoons or the buffoon...
The first bodybuilder I ever saw was at Scarboroughís North Bay open-air swimming pool, probably when I was seven or eight years of age, and I was fascinated. However, it wasnít until I was eight or nine years old that I saw a bodybuilding show on the telly that the seed was planted in my mind. Being a little strange, I wondered if women could do that.
As I say, I was painfully shy, the brainy kid who had a weight problem, who was passionate to prove herself on the sportsfield, admired the Olympic heroes / heroines, but was always last to be picked for the team. And although I was an only child, I felt, shall we say, a little ďinvisible.Ē So I had this vision of me, strong, beautiful, different...
I didnít get chance to lift weights until my final year in school, when one of the PE teachers set up a club, and I loved it. By then Iíd shed my ďpuppy fatĒ, and become quite fit. The teacher used to tell me off for trying to put more weight on the bar Ė he said I didnít want to end up looking like a bodybuilder!
What is your competitive history, any disappointing moments along the way?
My first ever comp produced a disappointment Ė I placed fourth out of four! My first WNBF Worlds was disappointing too, placing eighth out of ten, but it was my own fault Ė my timing was ďoff,Ē my tan was too pale, and Iíd allowed myself to become overwhelmed by it all, so I didnít present myself very well. Thankfully, Iíve learnt a lot since then.
My competitive history is as follows:
2008 Ė WNBF World Heavyweight champion
2007 Ė WNBF World Heavyweight champion
2006 Ė WNBF World Heavyweight & Overall champion
2003 Ė WNBF Worlds Heavyweight 8th
2002 Ė BNBF British Champion
1999 Ė ANB Northern & British Heavyweight & Overall champion
1999 Ė UIBBN European Heavyweight champion
1999 Ė UIBBN French Grand Prix Heavyweight (O-57kg) 2nd
1996 Ė ANB British Championships Heavyweight 2nd
1996 Ė ANB Northern Heavyweight Champion
1995 Ė ANB British Championships Heavyweight (O-52kg) British champion
1995 Ė ANB North East Heavyweight & Overall champion
1993 Ė WABBA GB British Championships 2nd
1993 Ė WABBA GB Northern Champion
1993 Ė NABBA Miss Yorkshire
1991 Ė NABBA Miss Yorkshire
1989 Ė WABBA GB North West 2nd
1989 Ė WABBA GB Britain 5th
1989 Ė WABBA GB North West Champion
1988 Ė Miss Lancashire 4th (out of four!)
Other local shows 1989-1992 Ė 1st & 2nd
What sports did you participate in during high school and college?
Oh, I was a complete duffer, but I always got full marks for effort! I always swam (still do five miles a week in the pool), and enjoyed badminton, cross-country (once I got my weight off Ė the muddier the better!), long jump, tennis and hockey. I wish ladiesí football had been around when I was that age; Iíd have been right in there!
What athletes have given you inspiration over the years?
Caroline Cheshire was the first British lady bodybuilder I was aware of Ė I still have the magazine featuring the 1983 Miss Olympia, in which she competed. It was the first bodybuilding magazine I ever bought, to read on a long bus journey home from university.
IFBB stars Anja Langer and Carla Temple both had ďthe lookĒ I wanted.
In the natural scene, the great Nancy Andrews is the epitome of everything a top natural professional should be. Sheís a complete athlete Ė totally awesome, not just on-stage, but as someone to look up to off the competitive stage too.
Does your training follow a Volume or HIT type approach, and has your training changed much over the years?
A bit of a mixture, to be honest; the middle ground seems to work best for me.
Do you train by yourself or with a training partner, or do you have a personal trainer?
I train alone. Iíve trained with partners before, and itís never lasted. Iím a bit set in my ways these days, and without realising it, or intending to be, I am quite demanding. I donít always take into account that people have other commitments. Going to the gym means a special trip out of my way once Iíve finished work, then a half-hour journey home afterwards. Iíve been out of the house since 6.00am, so by the time Iíve finished training, itís late and Iím knackered, so I donít take kindly to having to wait around for someone, or someone simply not turning up.
How long does it take you to get into top shape?
Iíve dieted from anything between six and sixteen weeks Ė fifteen weeks is standard. I never let myself get more than 20 lbs over my competition weight, so itís not as painful, allegedly! Last year, it was fourteen weeks, due to being forced to take a weekís holiday with my work at the time, and I was a little concerned about losing a week, but it worked out well in the end.
What does your husband think of your bodybuilding?
I am so lucky in that Stuart supports me in everything I do. I was a bodybuilder before we met, and prior to the ANB Northern 1999, he didnít quite know what to expect. Now, heís often better than I am at picking out a winner in a line-up. I couldnít wish for a better partner, whether itís helping to prepare my food for the following day, or bucking me up when Iím having a confidence crisis. Heís there for me, but Iím also seriously proud of how easily he mixes in with people I meet at shows. Heís just such a people person, more so than me to be honest; I love him and Iím proud of him.
With so many women going with the figure side of competition and bodybuilding dwindling, what do you think about the future of womenís bodybuilding competition?
Womenís bodybuilding is NEVER going to be accepted by the mainstream, especially the physique side of the sport Ė it just goes too much against the grain. Even the Figure look is too much for most people. Most folk, including some male bodybuilders, canít comprehend why a woman would want to develop muscle, and the most common fear for women entering a gym is that they will end up with big muscles.
Iíve had mainly positive reactions, but thereíve been negative ones too Ė Iíve been spat at in the street before now...
That said, I think thereíll always be a hard-core of ladies wanting to build muscle. Iíve been around long enough to see that the competitive scene goes in fits and starts Ė youíll get a few years when there are plenty of entries, then numbers will drop right down before slowly building back up again. From what Iíve heard, the American scene is suffering more than the British scene. Certainly last year, Britain saw a large number of girls in the Physique class, many of whom were of a high standard.
I can see how the Figure class would appeal Ė itís far more glamorous, with the heels, the sparkly costumes and the ďbling,Ē and it is a very feminine, enviable look. However, as has been said elsewhere, Figure isnít just about that; itís just as much about hard work, dedication and discipline as is Physique Ė and heavy training! Choosing Figure isnít an excuse for training like a fairy!
That said, choosing Physique doesnít mean you donít have to bother about hair, make-up etc... itís still a stage performance after all.
What supplements have given you the best gains?
Iím lucky to be sponsored by Peak Body Nutrition, which has been a huge help since 2005. They have a comprehensive range of top quality products, but I particularly like their 100% whey, and they also do a very nice line in tasty protein bars.
Iím also sponsored by Savant distribution, who provide me with healthy oils; I favour flaxseed oil.
For years, Iíve been taking a good multivitamin and mineral supplement, evening primrose oil and zinc tablets, which all help with my immune system (I tend to get burn-out if Iím not careful.)
What ONE word would you use to describe yourself?
Complex! (Stuart has just suggested ďstubborn...Ē)
Whatís your favourite food and least favourite food?
Favourite Ė Granny Smith apples.
Least favourite Ė ALL vegetables, except potatoes, onions, leeks and spinach.
Please share with us FIVE fun things that the fans don't know about you.
1) I have a phobia of balloons.
2) Iím deeply superstitious about the number 4 and the colour yellow; both are unlucky for me.
3) My favourite flavour is liquorice / aniseed.
4) The only thing size eight about me is my feet.
5) I love vinegar, and even have it on my Christmas dinner.
What is your biggest gym pet peeve?
Oh donít get me started! There are quite a few things, but the big one is people using benches to put things on Ė coats & other clothing, keys, mobile phones, bottles, loose change... then they are genuinely amazed when you ask to move it all!!! Benches are for training on, not a storage facility.
What can we expect to see from you in the future, what competitive plans have you for 2009?
Iíd always said Iíd be taking 2009 off, irrespective of the outcome of the 2008 Worlds. Competitive bodybuilding is so time-consuming, in terms of the training, the limited diet and travelling to the Worlds itself that it means other things get shelved, so itís time to redress the balance, and make time to do some of those things. It feels strange, and I canít deny feeling slightly sad about not going back for 2009, but itís time to be fair to Stuart; not that heís put any pressure on me whatsoever; the decision was all mine.
Iím loath to make or state plans Ė it usually comes back and bites me Ė but I will be back on-stage at the 2010 WNBF Worlds.
Do you have any interests outside bodybuilding?
I never seem to have enough time Ė simply travelling from A to B in the course of my daily life takes up so much time, but I still swim a mile every weekday before work. It takes me about half an hour; Iím in the pool by 6.15am! It relaxes my mind, sets me up for the day, and I have to say, it can get a bit competitive at times!
However, the other big thing I love is my hillwalking, which, weather permitting, we do every Sunday. I grew up with most of the beautiful hills of the Yorkshire Dales on the horizon, and there was a plinth in the local park, with pointers, telling you what they all were, how high they were etc. I always loved that view, and wanted to be amongst those hills.
Whilst not having a family car meant that we always walked everywhere as a family, it also meant that those hills were achingly out of reach. Remember, this is a small town, which youíd probably class as being ďout in the sticksĒ and public transport was such that it could take you four hours to do a 40 mile journey (I kid you not.) So, once I left home and acquired my own transport, various people at different times in my life introduced me to the wonderful hills Iíd long admired from afar, and Iíve never looked back.
Stuart has always been a big ďoutdoors-typeĒ person, so I was lucky to find someone like-minded. However, Iíll also set off on my own, which some folk think is a bit odd. They ask if Iím not scared, but Iím more scared walking down a city street, what with all the crime you hear about. As I say, weíre off out every Sunday, up into Wharfedale or the Three Peaks area, and walk for anything from three to five hours, covering six to heading on for 12 or 13 miles.
Once a year, we head up to Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands, and we can be out for eight, nine, ten hours sometimes, yet due to the height of the hills, we might only have covered six or seven miles by the end of the walk. Weíve done a couple of challenges Ė we completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a 25-mile circuit taking in two peaks over 3,200 feet (Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough) and one over 4000 feet (Whernside), in eight hours, 50 minutes (you are allowed up to twelve hours to complete it) for diabetes research.
We also took part in a sponsored wheelchair push up Pen-y-Ghent (the lowest of the three aforementioned peaks) to raise funds for the younger Disabled Unit at Skipton Hospital. The guy in the wheelchair had been an avid hillwalker until being struck down by MS, and he mentioned in passing to his physio that heíd love to see the view from the top again, so wheels were put in motion. Unfortunately, on the day in question, the low cloud came down, as it often does in these parts, so there was no view to be seen, but it was still an extremely emotional moment when we reached the summit.
I find a sense of peace in my hills that I donít feel anywhere else - I couldnít live anywhere flat or built-up. If I had to choose between the hills or the gym, the hills would win.
Thank you very much for your time Cheryl, is there anything else you would like to add?
Firstly, thank you once again for your interest in me, and for giving me this opportunity, but also for all your unwavering support over the years, and especially at the 2008 Worlds.
There are several others to whom Iím indebted, not least to Peak Body Nutrition and Savant Distribution for their sponsorship. Iíd also like to thank the WNBF for granting permission for me to do this interview.
Huge thanks to John Brewster, my osteopath, without whom I wouldnít even be walking, let alone doing what I do in the gym and on-stage; to Martin Westwell of Westyís Gym, Barnoldswick; to Brendan Salmon of Barlowís Herbalist, Burnley; to my friends Michele & Adrian, Dawn & Dave, Jon & Sandra Ė you are so much more than friends to me Ė and to all those who support me, either in person or via the forums.
Special thanks also to Gary Thornton & Tracey Abbott of AktivBodz, Bradford, for your support over the years, and to Tracey for making such fantastic costumes for me.
Last but not least, the biggest thank you of all to my wonderful husband Stuart Ė I donít know where to start, so Iíll just say ďfor everythingĒ and hope that will do.