Cushman discovers confidence in bikini fitness competition

Rutland accountant is the Overall Winner of the Granite State Open

By Carrie Cushman

Back in high school if you asked me if I was ever going to enter a bikini contest I would have told you you were crazy. “What woman would intentionally show their backside to an audience?” I’d have asked. To this day, I don’t know very many that would be willing. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered that many of things I believed were defects about myself were actually assets. I’ve also heard many people talk about doing big things but not take action — they have not had the courage to spread their wings. Many say “if I was younger I would be this” or “if I had more money I would do that.” I don’t want to be the person that makes excuses for not achieving my goals. So I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to look back on my life with regrets.

This choice manifested itself to my husband and me traveling to Portsmouth, N.H. so I could enter the 20th annual Granite State Open Bikini division fitness competition, Oct. 25.

The journey to that competition began in July of this year when I started training and eating a regimented diet. I hired a trainer here in Rutland, John Scaralia from Bodytech. He has been a long time competitor in the fitness industry and an expert in diet and nutrition.

Although I have been training with Scaralia for 13 years at his 6 a.m. morning class at Peak Performance, I hadn’t taken the class very seriously. It was mostly a social hour for me. John Scaralia told me I was always “sand bagging it.”

When I ultimately decided on a competition, Scaralia and I set a date to start really training. He told me I needed to lift more often, so I added an extra day of personal training outside of class and started putting more weight on my bar bells — it didn’t come without a lot of moaning and groaning. He also turned my diet upside down and consequently for the first two weeks food was all I could think about. Every time I saw him I told him I was hungry. Thank goodness this was short-lived. As my body readjusted I got past the hunger pains. I noticed I was feeling like I had more energy. When I started the personal training sessions my muscles were so sore I could barely walk up and down my stairs at home. In addition to the classes I also started at home workouts which consisted of running five miles in the morning at 5 a.m. and lifting with my home weights in the afternoon.

Each week Scaralia weighed me and took my measurements to make sure I was losing fat not the lean muscle mass I needed to compete. His diet worked like a charm and I showed results on a consistent basis. As the competition got closer I didn’t waver in my commitment to the diet or training but the fear of being on stage in a bikini scared me to death. I asked myself, more than once, what the heck am I doing? For the first couple weeks I couldn’t even tell people I was training for a bikini competition because of the fear of failure. Fear that I had put all this effort into something and would not be successful. Fear drove me to continue on and I forced myself to be completely vulnerable. I needed to take myself to a place that kept me on track to obtain my goal: Displaying my body in front of hundreds of people.

Doubts and temptations

As the weeks passed and the competition got closer I found myself looking for reasons to quit. One weekend my husband and I went camping with friends. Everyone was eating s’mores and other camping fare— I was having a protein shake. I wasn’t quiet about my feelings. After the 20th time of saying I want a hot dog, my husband said no one is forcing you to do this competition. If you want a hot dog, eat it. I didn’t do that but it made me realize that I had to change my mindset. I was the only one who could alter my destiny.

Being around lots of food wasn’t going to work for me. I knew I wasn’t hungry, but the fact that I thought I was missing something made me re-evaluate. As the weeks passed my commitment to my goal was tested over and over.

One morning, while running at 5 a.m. up the hill through the main street construction zone with my dog Newton, I stopped running through the ripped-up sidewalk. I was being extra careful not to trip on the smashed concrete, only to get back on the pavement and catch my foot on a big caution sign. Down I went! The only thing I could think of was “great, after all this, I’m going to enter the stage with ripped up elbows and knees.” Of course I didn’t fall in a dark corner, where not one could see me, I fell under the bright lights where there were lots of construction workers! Here I come, stage.

Stage presence

The posing classes were next. I learned that you do not just walk on stage and think you’re going to win it. Certain poses are mandatory in competitions.

I called at least 10 different places around the state but no one called me back. So I went back to Scaralia. He said he would help me. Unfortunately, he had a family member become very ill and it took him away from my training and also any help with my posing.

I then went online and found one of the most successful posing coaches in the country, Julie Lohre. I took a chance and emailed her asking for help. My higher power must have been watching out for me as she was the only person who emailed me back! She directed me on what I needed to do. Then I called my friend Stefania Nardi at Vermont Center for Dance Education and asked if I could use her dance studio to practice my posing. I was so anxious when I pulled in the parking lot for the first time, I didn’t want to get out of my car. During that first practice I can’t say I nailed my routine. I was very stiff and visibly nervous. More classes came and after practicing my routine over 100 times I felt much more comfortable.

Then there was hair, nails, waxing and figuring out how to use the right tan using products for the fitness industry. These responsibilities all came within four weeks of the competition.

The competition

I had my last weigh-in on Oct. 22. I achieved 7.05 percent body fat and had shed 13.4 pounds. I was in the best shape of my life! I had more confidence than I had ever experienced about my body. However, this was momentarily challenged, when I finally set foot on the stage and realized most of my fellow competitors were 18-22 years old. I was not placed in a different class because I am in my 30s. But the competitor in me came out. I said to myself, “You didn’t put this much effort into this to fail.”

Scaralia’s advice was “even if you’re not confident fake it on stage. That’s what wins!” Thankfully with the support of so many people I didn’t have to fake it. I was ready to face my fears.

It wasn’t about winning, anyway, it was about embracing my best self. I walked on stage with the attitude I had nothing to lose and I had already won.

I am very grateful to say I did win, though. I am the Bikini Novice First Place and Overall Winner of the Granite State Open.

Thank you to those who supported me the most: John Scaralia at Bodytech, my best friend Alicia Cassidy, my brother Kenny and his wife Shannon, Jim Potvin, the girls at Special Effects, my sisters-in-law Stacey Gile and Tracy Sadikeirski and most of all my husband, James Cushman. I couldn’t have done it without you all!

Carrie Cushman, E.A., is an accountant at Stevens Wilcox Potvin Cassidy & Jakubowski, a professional corporation of certified public accountants located at 204 South Main Street, in Rutland.

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