PT: This month we're chatting with Lennoxville Quebec Math teacher and Fitness competitor, Allison Ethier.
We're looking forward to talking with you this month Allison, and I must say that if my grade 9 math teacher had looked more like you I might have paid more attention in class. Would you mind telling our readers a bit about yourself?
Allison Ethier: I was born in Halifax Nova Scotia, but was mainly raised in Moncton New Brunswick. I did mainly gymnastics up until high school, when I discovered cheerleading and stuck with that. I eventually went to the University of Western Ontario to participate in their cheerleading Program - in which they are the undisputed Canadian Cheerleading Champions - got my BSc. in Biology and returned to the Maritimes - Prince Edward Island in order to receive my B. Education. I moved to Quebec and am currently teaching at an Eastern Townships School - Alexander Galt RHS, and where I am living with my high school sweetheart. I teach math at Levels III, and IV, which is equalivant to grades 9 and 10.
How did you first get interested in fitness?
While in University on a cheerleading trip, I remember being in a hotel and watching this fitness competition on TV. I was thinking, "hey I can do that". But I never really pursued it until I was done at Western and found the time about 1 year into my B. Education degree. After about 10 months of investigation, I could not find one person in my area that partipated in fitness to help guide me so I decided to read as much as I could and asked many questions of various fitness resources and basically found a small competition, trained for it, and won. It was not a big win, as there was only myself and one other girl, but none the less, it did have an impact as now I am entering my 4th year of competing
Is Lennoxville a big fitness town?
Lennoxville is very small, but has a strong sense of community. There are various schools in the area, such as the private school - Bishop's College School and of course Bishop's University. There is also a cegep - Champlain College. But during the summer months the place is very quiet and almost like a ghost town, when all the students leave. People are often outside gardening, biking, being neighbourly. I do know that there is a Curves opening up around the corner from my house though....
Do you train on your own then or do you have access to the gyms in the various schools?
I train myself and by myself. I am on a schedule and having a training partner would be much more fun, but I cannot socialize and since I have not found anyone as motivated as I am, being by oneself can have its advantages. I have 2 gyms that I attend in Sherbrooke/Lennoxville area. One opens up early - at 5:45am that has great weight and cardio equipment, while the other is at Bishops University and opens later but has an awesome aerobic room. The folks at BU know what I do and are curious and very supportive. We do have a gym in the high school where I teach but the equipment is very old and they really need to have some money to update the whole thing. I have learned everything from reading and asking questions. Some women are a bit scared to be among the weights - where the bigger guys hang out and grunt, but since I listen to my walkman and focus on my own workout, I really don't feel intimidated.
How about coaching, are you still mostly self-coached?
Again, I do everything myself. I do my own diet, training, design of music for my routine, the routine, and design/sew my own costumes - my routine outfit and my swimsuit. I guess you can see why I don't have much spare time.
Indeed. What other sports were you involved in earlier?
During high school my coach only allowed us to do cheerleading. We were not permitted to be a part of any other team because we cheer-lead for all the teams in the school. We went to every event. If not, we practiced after school for 2 hours at least. I have in the past been known to play badminton, I have tried squash, rollerblading is a lot of fun, biking - as I just won one from a show, and walking. Lennoxville is definitely a town you walk through, driving would actually take too long.
Do you still participate in organized sports?
Not really. I work out (which is my training), and I go to work, sleep, eat and when I have the time, I do spent time socializing with friends - which I love cause this means I can eat normally. I don't really have the time to do anything else.
Do you compete naturally?
Definitely. I have never used drugs in my life. I have always been athletic and have had muscle. I am genetically built this way. I have refined my shape though, through diet and exercise.
Have you ever been tempted to take steroids, to make that shortcut?
Never. I would not even know where to get them if I wanted to. But I am sure that if I asked a few people at the gym, I could find the right path to getting them.
How often do you compete?
Right now I compete at least 4-5 times a year. I would love to compete more often but the money situation holds me back, and of course, the time. Being a teacher limits how many days, or when you can take days off. I cannot take days off whenever I want to. I don't have that luxury. We all know that when you have a substitute teacher very little gets accomplished, and picking up the pieces when I get back is not worth the time wasted. Especially when you are on a schedule for testing etc. for your subject area.
Can you tell us about your competition record please?
Usually I place anywhere from 1st to 3rd but this year at Nationals I unfortunately was only ranked 6th. This was my worst placement since 2000. I will be aiming for the top spots this year at the Fitness Univese, Fitness Canada and Fitness America nationals. I am also entering a Women's Tri-Fitness Competition - I have never done this, so I have no expectations nor are there any expectations on my performance in this event.
Here is a more comprehensive list.
Many people think that fitness competition and bodybuilding are the same thing, can you tell us the difference?
Major difference - fitness does not pose. Meaning we do not deliberately flex our muscles for the sake of showing them. We do a fitness routine and demonstrate all components of fitness, such as flexibility, dance, gymnastics, agility, coordination, and energy. We also have a diet that is a little more tolerable. The diet for a bodybuilder is very restrictive. They cut out many things from their diet that we fitness girls would probably still eat.
What do you think about bodybuilding?
Tough sport that is equally subjective in its judging. I could never do the diet that they do. They are truely the greatest athletes in terms of willpower.
It seems to me that the dieting fitness athletes do is a bit extreme, do you find it hard on your body?
The first time I dieted for a show was the easiest - as I ate doughnuts and still lost weight. As I am getting older, not in my teens, with the whole metabolism thing and strangely enough my intolerance of high fat foods, dieting does seem to get a bit more difficult but not by much. I know what I need to do to lose the weight and if I don't I won't do as well as I would like at the show. It's about keeping the willpower and the idea that the show is right around the corner, as it is really hard not to cheat when the show is 3 months away.
How are you careful to make sure your diet remains healthy while working toward a competition?
I write everything down and when I see that I have been good I will reward myself and not feel guilty about what I am about to eat. I also eat pizza every Friday which helps keep me more disciplined during the week. I also keep myself very busy with other things such as cleaning the house, and making sure I am up to date with everything at school. By keeping myself busy I hopefully don't think about food so often.
Do you have any major sponsorship or do you rely on your job to make a living?
I do rely on my job for this sport, as having a sponsor to help you financially seems to be hard to come by in Canada. I did however, sign with Prolab-HBS Canada just recently which is great 'cause now I have all my supplements. Not to mention that Prolab is a fantastic product that I have used ever since I began competition. I am also in talks with FAREMON sports about a Team FAREMON which would be great if this could pan out into some interesting promotional opportunities. Fitness to me is half hobby, half part-time job. I do it more in the summer than the winter, but I am always thinking or preparing for the next event, at least a little bit.
Supplements seem to be very popular with bodybuilders and fitness athletes, are they really that beneficial or necessary?
I do believe that supplements are beneficial. For me, I only use whey protein, as it is quicker and sometimes tastier than eating more natural protein - say another chicken breast. Also I do take a fat burner - as I cut back on my carbs during my dieting phase and I do need a little more energy now and again to get through my workouts. I also have begun to use creatine which I have had great results with. Necessary - probably not, you could get the same results eating natural foods, but they do make the life of fitness easier.
Do you find it hard to juggle work and training?
In the summer no, but the winter can be the real challenge. My school board does not give time off with pay for international competitions - even though that is what I do - so if I do take a few days off I am docked those days, but if the competition is important enough to me the money is not such an issue. Working full time and training does make for long days. I teach for only 5 hours a day, but I often take extra work home in the afternoon. This means that after the gym at 4-5pm, I get home and eat and sometimes I have another 2 hours of marking/work to do. I also make my own costumes so this usually gets put to the back burner or whenever school is not so hectic. I am very well organized, but it is difficult just getting the energy to complete everything. Did I mention that I am in bed by 9pm every night - especially the weekend?
Where do you see your career going in the next couple of years?
I would like to get a few magazine covers. This is my ultimate goal. I know that I may change organizations in the next 2 years, but I am not sure if I want to develop the body that they are looking for. Competing with the CBBF/IFBB is very different than WNSO/Fitness America shows. Any one who follows the sport knows the difference in the physiques and the caliber of the routines.
Any thoughts on modeling in general? Would you like to do more in that area?
The first time I modeled for a photoshoot, I thought it was the toughest thing. I never realized how much work goes into one shot. I thought that I would never do it again, but as with anything that you have more practice with, it does get easier. You learn how to move and know what facial expressions to use, or even what you are doing with your face. Practicing in the mirror has definitely helped.
The modeling can be fun, and it is rewarding to see your face in a magazine, but some girls think that it is a life of glamour when it is really hard work. I like to think of it as a perk for all my hard work in the gym, but as for a career - I don't think it is the job for me.
You're 27 now, in a lot of sports you'd be over the hill by now, what would you say was the age range for competing in fitness?
Actually I am still only 26. I am still known as a baby in this sport. It takes quite a few years to develop good solid sustainable muscle that looks mature. Women can be anywhere from 28-37 and some don't even start until they are in their 30s. I see so many young girls coming into the sport - like ages 18-22 and it is tough for them because they have not developed the physique and it takes time. In this world where everyone wants things to happen yesterday - these women should know that they have to be patient.
Oops, sorry, let me get my foot out of my mouth for a moment here. Is there a minimum age you'd recommend girls be before they get into competitive fitness if they're interested?
Good question - I would say 21 would be a good age to compete in both rounds. There are junior categories for those 21 and under, but I don't think they should have the physique round, only the routine. Their bodies are just not comparable to someone who has been working out for 10 years more. The different categories help to keep those girls involved by not being compared with those with more experience. Besides, dieting at such a young age cannot be too good physically especially when these girls are still maturing.
The sport does seem to involve a lot of dieting, not to mention those early nights, something a teenager might have trouble with. Do you think there's anything to the accusations that fitness, bodybuilding and/or modeling somehow creates eating disorders in young girls?
It is funny that you mention this because one of my fitness magazines just had an article on this very topic. Not from the point of view of being detrimental to young girls, but actually helping them with overcoming their eating disorder. I am very conscious of what I eat, and in this sport the emphasis is on eating, but on eating natural, meaning no processed foods. You would basically stick to the perimeter of your grocery store and avoid things that come in a can or a box - with a few exceptions of course. The modeling may be a bit different, but again with fitness modeling you have to have some muscle and in order to have muscle you need to eat. I guess it is the term "diet" that throws people. We do eat lower calories foods, that are natural but we eat all the time. Diet is known as the "foods you consume" and not by the general population's understanding of diet, which can be interpreted as "the hell you go through to loose a few pounds". This is just another part of our training, as with a runner, their diet would change as well to accomodate their sports needs. Every athlete has a modified diet, ours is designed based on our needs and desired results.
What are your long term goals?
Long term goals - win the Fitness Universe, FitnessCanada and Fitness America in the same year. If not the same year, then win all of them. It does not matter how long it takes, like I said I am still considered a baby in this sport. I would also like to be picked up by a good sponsor financially so that I don't have to pay for anything.
I'm sure our readers will be rooting for you Allison. Many thanks for taking the time to talk with us.