The Webster definition of an athlete is “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina". From the start, Status Fitness has always included features for athletes every issue. We all enjoy watching athletes perform – from the Olympic games, the major sports to even our local sporting activities – athletes are exciting to watch as they push themselves to higher levels every outing.
I am starting an online feature titled Athlete Series where I will photograph and interview athletes - many of whom take to the physique stage to push themselves in new ways. I met Kelsey DeCamillis at registration for the BCABBA Popeye’s Fall Classic. I meet hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing and inspiring people every year but there continues to be a few people that stand out. Kelsey was positive and full of life despite the depleted condition she was in.
[Short behind the scenes video of Kelsey during her photo shoot with David Ford]
It was Kelsey's first show and I’m sure she was just as nervous as everyone else but her friendliness and smile stood out and any nervousness did not show. What I found particularly interesting about Kelsey was her athletic background. Kelsey has competed at the university level in shot put but rather than I tell her story, I’m going to let Kelsey share in her own words.
The gym photos included below are part of a one-hour photo shoot. They were taken at X Club Fitness in Port Coquitlam on November 24, twelve days after Kelsey's Popeye's Fall Classic show. The competition photos were taken during Kelsey's time on stage at the Popeye's Fall Classic on November 12.
Kelsey, tell me a little about your athletic background. What sports did you play growing up and at what point did you make the decision to go the route you did in university?
I’ve always been involved in sports since an early age and as a kid I tried some gymnastics/trampoline, swimming/diving lessons, softball, took some taekwondo lessons and got also involved in skiing and skied every winter up until around age 11. I also did a lot of ice skating and figure skated until I transitioned over to hockey and played defense from ages 12-17. Throughout high school while playing hockey I also played volleyball, basketball, field hockey, track and field (javelin, discus, shot put) and even pushed myself to do a season of cross country running in my senior year of high school so I could stay in shape for my final track and field season.
I started the throwing events in grade eight at around age 13. My P.E. teacher saw me throw a volleyball across the entire gym and encouraged me to try javelin and so I did. That soon progressed into me participating in javelin, discus, and shot put. By the end of high school, it was clear to me that my strongest potential was in the shot put for continuing after high school. It was between hockey or track and field when I started my first year at UBC. I felt my time with hockey was done and felt so strongly about continuing in shot put because I hadn’t had any formal training and was curious to see what could happen with that. I enjoyed being on the track team and enjoyed the individual aspect of it.
I started formal training with the Vancouver Thunderbirds and threw shot put for the UBC Track and Field Team from 2003-2005. My best meets were Canadian Junior Nationals in 2003 where I won bronze, and in 2005 I competed for BC Athletics in the Canada Summer Games and won bronze in shot put. Also in 2005, I started transitioning into hammer throw as it was felt there was even more potential with this event for me, and I stopped going to UBC and moved to Kamloops in 2005 to begin training under a world-renowned coach with other elite throwers.
Very impressive Kelsey. You have been far more involved in sport and athletics than I had realized. You are a very well rounded athlete. What made you decide to step on a physique stage? What was the transition like from athletics to physique/weight training?
I have unfinished athletic business. Training gives me life. I’m in my element when I lift and train. My happy place is in the gym with the iron and it makes me feel alive and so deciding to step on a physique stage means reclaiming my identity as an athlete. This has been a wonderfully healing thing for me. I have missed competing in sports. At the time I moved to Kamloops to train in hammer throw, I was really struggling with some things going on in my personal life including trying to manage severe depression, and encountering events that just stopped me dead in my tracks and ended what was just the beginning of a very promising throwing career. It would have required some years of training, but I have no doubt in my mind that I would have developed into a world class hammer thrower with my body type, strength and athletic ability. This has always been a sore spot in my life.
I reached a breaking point and had to take care of myself and moved back to Vancouver in 2007 and I barely set foot in a gym for nearly two years, maybe a handful of times during my absence from training. I started going back to the gym around 2009/2010 for the sake of building myself back up and things just started progressing from there over the years. I was working in a clinic in 2011 and someone there was prepping for a figure competition. I started considering it and thought this would be a great sport for me to settle into now as the training required for this is what I love to do. So, ever since then it’s been a thought to do a bodybuilding show. I didn’t know if or when it would happen or how.
[Kelsey on stage at the 2016 Popeye's Fall Classic in Vancouver.]
As soon as I got rejected from nursing school in 2014, and still unhappy, I asked myself if I had it my way and could be doing anything, what would it be? I’d still be training and throwing, and competing. So right then and there I decided that I’m going to put everything into training full time, taking my physique as far as I can on my own while learning as much as I can before considering a coach and feeling ready for expert guidance to take things to the next level. I trained hard for a full two years, twice a day, and was ready to hire a coach and did so in March of this year and set my sights on the Popeye’s Fall Classic as a great first show to compete in.
You are not alone in finding solace in the iron Kelsey. It is reassuring knowing that one thing will always be constant and no matter what attitude you show up with, it will be the same. It will challenge you. It will push you. Some days you’ll feel like walking away, and at times you might, but the iron will always be waiting. The training is quite different between athletics and physique bodybuilding. What have you found to be different?
Training for athletics involved a lot of technical work with event-specific training in the throwing circle, and lots of power/speed development with focusing on building strength and explosiveness. We did a lot of sprints, some tempo running, plyometrics for both upper and lower body and of course training in the weight room. Training for throwing involved learning the powerlifting movements, Olympic lifts, and lots of accessory movements as well. We did a lot of heavy lifting and I love how physique training is like what we did in the weight room.
Physique training is different because it doesn’t require explosive movements like Olympic lifting and low rep schemes with the powerlifting movements. I’m focused now on every body part and muscle group, using high volume lifting and using techniques to build upon my foundation of muscle that I developed in athletics. The goal is to look at my body like a sculpture and build the best physique I possibly can while maintaining balance and symmetry for a look that is powerful and strong, yet feminine and aesthetically pleasing. Physique training also requires cardio training as well, especially during contest prep, which was not necessary for my athletics training.
[Kelsey on stage at the 2016 Popeye's Fall Classic in Vancouver.]
Informative Kelsey and well described. I’m sure your new coach takes all this into account and utilizes your background when putting together your current training routine. Who is your coach and how does he adjust your training to push you to grow? With your background, I’m sure it takes a fair bit more than it does for a non-athlete.
My coach is Darren Toma – Custom Built Training. I made sure he was aware of my athletic background prior to starting training with him. I knew what I was capable in the gym and specifically searched for a male bodybuilder for a coach who would not hold back on me as far as training goes. I chose Darren because of his many years of experience in coaching other athletes who have done incredibly well under his guidance and being a professional bodybuilder himself and knowing what it takes from the athlete side of things. I thought that he could relate to me well being an elite athlete himself and hoped that my history would help him structure my training specifically to what I am capable of.
He incorporates the big lifts that I like to do such as deadlifts, squats, and all the variations of those movements and keeps the style of training consistent with what my physique requires. He’s got a great eye and I love the training he has me doing. It’s heavy, high volume, and intense – the way I like it. If the training is structured to fit my physique goals, I’m happy with performing these lifts and all the other movements with different set and rep schemes. It’s challenging and my body has been responding very well. I do love lifting heavy and there is something so satisfying about moving big weight.
I’m glad to hear you are finding the right path for you Kelsey. That will be rewarding. Let’s jump over to your first physique competition, the 2016 Popeye’s Fall Classic. What was your experience like?
It was an incredible day! I felt nervous and excited the whole day. This show for me was the first step in the biggest comeback of my life so it meant a great deal to me. The promoters and organizers for the show did an amazing job at making sure all the athletes were well taken care of. The volunteers were so helpful and it was great to finally experience what it’s like back stage. Sharing the stage with the other incredible athletes was wonderful and getting to know new friends and what their journey has been like has been so inspiring. There was a lot of positive energy back stage from everybody and you could feel it. It was amazing. Being on stage was so much fun! I loved it. At times, I felt stressed and nervous but always pulled back from that because I kept telling myself to enjoy every moment throughout the day and especially that posing routine! It was all about presenting my physique the best that I could and all this hard work is done now, and should be celebrated. Some fabulous new memories were created and I’ll never forget that day.
So much dedication goes into one show. For each person, there are so many variables. What was a typical day like for you?
A typical day would be get up at 4:00am, get to Gold’s Burnaby for 5:00am, do my morning cardio session, commute to my office job at UBC Hospital and work 8:00-4:00 and then head back to Gold’s Burnaby to train. Most days were 18-20 hours long. I had some fabulous friends who would give me a ride to the gym every single morning, weekends too, and other than that I would spend at least 3 hours a day on transit getting everywhere I needed to be, between UBC, Burnaby, downtown Vancouver and out to Langley for check ins with my coach and posing practices. I really was only home on Saturdays between 10am-3pm, so you can imagine how tough it was to get everything done. I would be up late cooking some nights. Whenever I could get tasks done, I did. You just have to find a way to make it work. Even Sundays were at least 12 hour days, leaving early and not getting back home until late. It was a crazy schedule but nothing good comes easy. I just did what I needed to do with the current set-up to get all the work done.
That is a pretty intense schedule Kelsey. How did the full contest prep affect you physically and mentally? It can be emotionally draining to say the least. Is it all sunshine and rainbows or are there some tough days in the mix?
It is definitely not all sunshine and rainbows. There were a lot of tough days and moments. If this were easy, everybody would do it. With my schedule and the commuting, I was sleep deprived at times, felt exhausted, but the end result kept me going. There were times I cried during training. There were tons of emotional moments and you’ve just got to allow it to happen and push through. You are pushing your body and mind to the max, every day, for weeks on end.
There have been many times in my life where I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety, and severe depression too. In all honesty, having experience in dealing with those struggles helped immensely with contest prep. The feelings were very similar at times; however, I was aware that the cause was for different reasons and so this helped manage those not-so-fun feelings during prep. I went into contest prep fully expecting that there are going to be a lot of tough days and I think going into it with that mind set also helped me manage.
[Kelsey on stage performing her routine at the 2016 Popeye's Fall Classic in Vancouver.]
Physically nearing the end of prep was the toughest. Even just walking up the street to the grocery store required what felt like an all-out effort. Sometimes I would just feel like I was moving in slow motion. Strange sensations physically, but even through the tougher moments, overall I absolutely enjoyed every part of the experience of prep, and can’t wait to do it again.
What advice would you give to a first-time competitor considering to do their first show that has no idea of what is involved but likes the “image” they have from seeing fit photos all over social media?
The “image” you see in pictures all over social media and magazines, is an image of somebody who is putting in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of training, if not years and years of training, thousands and thousands of pounds of iron lifted in the gym, carefully prepared meals day in and day out, with lots of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears… literally.
First time competitors should know that some days you’ll feel good, some days you won’t. There is a huge psychological component to this and you need to be able to manage your emotional health throughout this process to ensure you stay healthy and well, even through the days that feel really rough. It is hard, hard work to attain this desired ‘image’.
Also, it is unreasonable to think you can maintain that ‘shredded’ look all year round. Stage leanness is temporary. It is normal to put back on some weight after competing or after a photo shoot. Health and wellness should always be kept top priority in my opinion.
What is the reality of post-show? What feelings and thoughts have you experienced since your show?
Post-show has been a strange experience and I really didn’t know what to expect post-show. It is weird feeling your body go back to normal to what your more natural state is. The stage abs slowly disappear and all those wicked cut lines fade a little. I know it’s not normal and definitely not healthy to be stage lean all the time. Telling myself this over and over has helped and also knowing that I can’t build upon my current physique if I don’t put back on some weight. I had been thinking a lot about post-show training and reverse dieting and aware that I need to be careful coming out of my first show, food wise especially. I like to eat and I can be a bottomless pit and just keep eating and eating. Of course I wanted to allow myself some treat meals and foods but at the same time not go crazy. I do not want to blow up undo all the hard work that was done over the last several months, and come up from stage weight safely and slowly. It’s been helpful to have a goal weight range to come up to and maintain during off season time.
It’s been hard but I feel I’ve been doing well with it. To be honest I’ve been sticking mostly with regular pre-contest meals during the day for the last couple weeks and then losing it a bit at night, and that’s been okay. My treat meals and foods are always real, whole food, and I avoid heavily processed foods and packaged food with a lot of chemicals in them. I’ve felt anxious, frozen at home and not sure what to do, shed some tears, and also have felt relieved and excited about what’s ahead. This has also been a great opportunity to take some time and reflect and analyse the experience and see what I’ve learned and can take away from this to improve upon for next time.
I’ve struggled with allowing myself time away from the gym. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to go back but then just getting stressed out about it. Deep down I know I’ve needed some rest so I’ve been working on accepting that, and putting that into practice. The gym is my happy place but it turns out my body needed a break! No real surprise there. I had it in my head that I’d be back training right away, continuing with some cardio, but that hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve only been to the gym twice since the competition and it’s nearly been two weeks since, and this has been okay even though sometimes it doesn’t feel okay to be taking a break. I do a lot of self-talk and self-coaching to help me accept that this is good for my body. I pushed myself incredibly hard for a long time, and I think it is reasonable to allow time away to recover and heal. After all, off season training starts up very soon and so this has actually been a nice break for me. I want to feel re-charged and re-energized ready to attack off season like a beast. I don’t think I could do that if I didn’t take a bit of time away. I also believe that my body will respond better when I get back at it.
Everybody is going to be different, but I think listening to your body is key and taking some time away is okay, not for long, but necessary to just wind down, physically and mentally, after such an intense period of training.
What are your plans during the off season? Training and also time away from the gym? Any plans for the holidays?
Time away from the gym post-competition has been great because I’ve been catching up with my family and close friends, and enjoying spending time with everybody I care so much about. It was such a whirlwind for many months and it’s nice to slow it down and reconnect with everybody who supported me and encouraged me the whole way through contest prep.
Off season training starts up now at the end of November – there is four months of off season training ahead, so I want to get back into it. I feel a couple of weeks away has been the right amount of rest time for me. I’ll be in staying in town for the holidays and enjoying lots of family dinners and get-togethers while keeping up with training.
What is your next show and what changes are you looking to bring to the stage at that show?
My next show is the BC Championships in July 2017. I definitely want to put more time into posing, routine, and stage presence. I’m very happy with the physique and level of conditioning I brought to the stage for my first show so it can only get better from here. I think some more work on my upper body is needed while keeping my strong legs in check, and work harder to improve my conditioning for next time. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds over the next several months.
Kelsey, what are your long-term goals from competing?
I’ve always wanted to be a professional athlete. It was always the sport I was doing at the time, first figure skating, then maybe hockey, and then when I settled into shot put and finally hammer throw - I thought hammer throw was going to be my best chance to get me to that professional level of athlete.
As mentioned before, I’ve got unfinished athletic business, and here I am now going for it full force. From Popeye’s my main goal was to get in the best shape of my life and qualify for BCs, which I did. I want to qualify for Nationals from BCs, and just keep taking things step by step until it happens. I also have my certification in personal training. Although I’ve only trained myself, I feel some career in the fitness industry is definitely where I’m headed while competing as well.
Thank you so much Kelsey for sharing. It was fun getting to know you through our photo shoot together and through chatting about your background and your goals. Have fun in the off season and all the best as you prepare for the BCABBA Provincials in July 2017.
Thank you so much David for the opportunity to share my story.
Winning a show feels great and is rewarding, however, this opportunity is limited to only one person per class. A professional photo shoot with the opportunity to be published is open to everyone and if you have a marketable look then it is a near guarantee. The above banner shows just a few of the athletes David Ford has photographed already published in 2016. Want to be noticed by peers, company heads, supplement companies, trainers, photographers and editors? Contact David to schedule your professional fitness photo shoot around your 2017 show.