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Professional body builder John Wales, a personal trainer at RAF Lakenheath, instructs 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson on poses she must execute for the Ultra Bodies contest in June at RAF Mildenhall.
Professional body builder John Wales, a personal trainer at RAF Lakenheath, instructs 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson on poses she must execute for the Ultra Bodies contest in June at RAF Mildenhall. (Charlie Reed / S&S)
Professional body builder John Wales, a personal trainer at RAF Lakenheath, instructs 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson on poses she must execute for the Ultra Bodies contest in June at RAF Mildenhall.
Professional body builder John Wales, a personal trainer at RAF Lakenheath, instructs 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson on poses she must execute for the Ultra Bodies contest in June at RAF Mildenhall. (Charlie Reed / S&S)
John Wales instructs 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson on poses she must execute for the Ultra Bodies contest.
John Wales instructs 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson on poses she must execute for the Ultra Bodies contest. (Charlie Reed / S&S)

It’s lunch time and 1st Lt. Kathryn Swenson is in the gym wearing a shirt that reads: “What hurts today … Looks good tomorrow.”

For once, Swenson, with the 100th Maintenance Operations Squadron, is not here to work out or teach aerobics. She’s learning to pose for the upcoming Ultra Bodies contest at RAF Mildenhall.

The annual bodybuilding competition has devoted work-out enthusiasts like Swenson thinking about more than diet and exercise months before the summer competition. Along with learning how to pose in front of the judges, Swenson must develop a choreographed routine, buy specialty swimsuits to perform in, and work on her stage presence. It all requires hours of training and preparation each week.

“There’s a lot more to it than you would think,” said Swenson, who has never attended a bodybuilding competition, much less competed in one. But come June 28, she’ll take the stage at the Galaxy Club to show off the muscles she’s spent months sculpting.

“Being fit is a lifestyle choice, it’s not a decision or a New Year’s resolution,” said Swenson, 25, who also swims and plays water polo for teams in Cambridge. “The reason I wanted to try this was to see what my strengths are, what my talents are, to see what I’m capable of.”

For many competitive bodybuilders, the hobby is addictive. Just ask Swenson’s posing coach. (She also has a personal trainer.)

Professional bodybuilder John Wales, a personal trainer at RAF Lakenheath, got into the sport 15 years ago while working in a factory and parlayed his passion into a career as a personal trainer. But Wales, who vied for the Mr. Universe master’s title in November, lives to compete.

“I know it seems particularly vain, but after you’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much, getting on that stage for a minute and a half while everyone cheers you on makes it all worthwhile,” said Wales, 42. “This is more than a passion for me. Sure, you’re in pain and hungry a lot, but it’s like you can’t go a day without it.”

For Tech. Sgt. Jarrod Thomas, bodybuilding is more of a lifestyle than a pastime. Thomas, with the 100th Civil Engineering Squadron, competed in the first Ultra Bodies event in 2002. He’s sitting it out this year, but plans to attend the competition.

“It’s fun to watch. Everybody gets cheers. There’s a lot of camaraderie,” he said. “I like bodybuilding because it keeps me energized. I’m a single dad of two, so it helps me keep up with my kids.”

After returning from a deployment to Iraq in January, Thomas said there was not enough time to prepare for the event, even though he stepped up his workouts downrange.

“You want to start about eight months out,” he said of the training. “There just wasn’t enough time. There’s definitely a science to it,” said Thomas, who has put on nearly 40 pounds of muscle since he began bodybuilding in 2002.

“It’s almost like the only sport you can control,” he said. “Most people are born with natural talents to play football or basketball. They either have the skills or the talent, or they don’t,” he said. “But in bodybuilding, if you do certain exercises, eat certain foods and take certain supplements, you can change your body. It’s amazing, but it’s a lot of hard work.”

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