I don’t get nervous when it’s time to step on stage. I get excited because I know that I did every thing I could to prepare for that moment.
Steve and my sister Mel were a different story. Mel always came prepared with a small container of what became known as “nervous mints.”
The two of them would sit next to each other during my competition and munch on mints the whole time. They didn’t savor the taste or suck on them like you’re supposed to, but they’d eat them one after another.
I gave Mel the title of my manger and stylist. She would always help me in my show prep. She used to have to paint my whole body with Pro Tan and a paintbrush. Thank goodness that didn’t last for very long and I figured out a spray tan strategy. Through each competition I got better by improving my physique, posing, and the glamour side of things.
Each competitor has his/her own routine. Some are wild backstage, cracking jokes, listening to music, while others keep to themselves and get “in the zone.” I’m the more reserved type. I will talk with other competitors but I stay focused the whole way through. There’s no letting up until the day is completely done.
I’ve always liked motivational quotes, movies, poems etc. I’d write out sayings and hang them up in my room to inspire me and to remind of why I’m doing what I’m doing. One of the sayings I hung in my room before my first competition was this one:
This quote always reminded me that my journey is going to be a challenging one. Our greatest victories don’t occur when we choose an easy path, but rather when our journey is full of challenges, obstacles and when the road is less traveled. We don’t become stronger by living an easy life, but we need resistance to build our strength.
If you asked any athlete, team or individual who has ever won anything, they don’t do what they do for the trophy—some piece of hardware to be taken home that eventually accumulates dust and becomes an artifact. Instead, they do what they do because of what the hardware symbolizes.
The countless hours of practice, training, sacrifice, frustration, internal battles, and all the effort that is poured into one single event…getting up in times when you feel knocked down and have nothing left to give.
Competing in any fashion is always a choice. You’ll never hear me complain about my training or diet, because I recognize that what I’m doing is a choice. Besides, who wants to listen to someone complain anyway?
I felt amazing that day. I just had this feeling that I was going to win. I was confident, but not overly confident because you never truly know until your name is called.
It was then I heard my name.
I secured first place in my height class and later was awarded the 2010 North Star Overall Figure Champion.
For that day, I was the best. I was the big fish in the small pond.
I qualified for NPC (National Physique Committee) Nationals in Atlanta, which would be just two short weeks after the North Star.
It was time to get to work.
After my parents met Steve for the first time, we continued to spend more time together both as a couple and with my family. The day in which we’d tell them about baby JT was a long ways off. We’re talking months.
Steve had the idea to take my dad to a Twins game, and then tell him about baby JT. That idea didn’t go as planned, because they ended up talking about other things, one of them being me competing in figure. If you don’t know what that is, you can read more about it here.
My dad never liked the idea of me competing because he didn’t agree with me being in a swimsuit, on a stage in front of hundreds of people, being judged like I was at a cattle auction. I know his perspective is out of his love for me and wanting to protect me as his daughter, so I will never fault him for that.
There are several views on the sport of figure and the world of bodybuilding. Every one competes their own reasons, and if you’re part of the culture, there more depth to your understanding and your norm is different than those outside of that culture because you’ve experienced it.
Some people compete because they love the challenge of contest prep—the rigorous hours of training, a disciplined diet and the gratification victory. This victory doesn’t always come in the form of a title or taking home hardware, because for some, the growth that occurs in the journey is the greatest form of victory.
Some people have the goal of stepping on that stage after major weight loss and celebrating the achievement of their goal. Some people do enjoy the attention and the glamour of being on stage and having the body that many people spend their life wishing for. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoy that part too.
I love competing because every thing about the sport stretches me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Training pushes me to dig deep in each of these areas and the growth that I experience is priceless. I like pushing myself beyond what I originally thought was possible, because it is then I truly discover what I’m capable of.
What I’m capable of goes well beyond myself. My strength is not my own, but it comes from Christ. My family’s verse is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
I am who I am and I have achieved what I have achieved because of Christ.
No matter how mentally tough I think I am, how strong I think I am physically, how dialed in my physique is, or how “in-check” my emotions are, the most important aspect is the spiritual side of my training—my faith.
As I sit here and write this post, I was prompted to write this:
The Holy Spirit prompts me when I write and at other random times. I get a burst of inspiration and then I run to find a pen or my phone so I can record the words I’m given. This is what came to me today.
Nothing we achieve matters if we don’t recognize where that success comes from. I don’t win because of anything I’ve done. I win because God has given me the body, ability, discipline, faith, heart, confidence, and endless means to succeed. All that I have and all that I am is because He is my source. My eternal victory is secure because of what He has done for me. Victory in Christ is the only victory that truly matters.
Growing in my faith is the best part of figure. I get pushed to the limit when I train and no matter how tough I think I am, there’s always a point where my strength is not enough, and in all actuality, it never will be.
I draw closer to Jesus because I’m literally depending on Him to deliver. He will always provide, and He promises that. What He provides may not always look the way I thought it would, but ultimately He knows what’s best.
My next figure competition would be the North Star on Saturday October 2, 2010. This would be my first competition in which Steve trained me from beginning to end. For my other competitions he started helping me in the final weeks of contest prep.
My goal in competing in the North Start was to win the show, but really what I wanted was to qualify for the national competition that would be held on October 16, 2010 in Atlanta. In order to qualify to compete on the national stage I had to place in the top three of my height class.
This was the moment I was waiting for…
It was real. Steve was a father and our talk of him becoming a dad was reality. Gone were the days when we’d discuss the what-ifs and how we’d handle things because this baby was here.
Now this situation wasn’t your typical parenting setup. Being that Steve and the mother of his son weren’t in a relationship, they set up time for Steve to have quality time with JT every day. As you probably know, newborns don’t spend time away from their mothers for obvious reasons, so Steve made daily visits to see his little dude.
My role was unique in that, the day that Steve would be able to have JT on his own was far off, so I didn’t know when I’d actually get to meet him. This meant that I’d only know and experience JT from what Steve shared with me. This little boy was a major part of his life, and my role in loving him was still from a distance. Every time Steve would go visit him, I’d ask how he was, what he did, what it was like to see JT at her house, and of course I wanted to see pictures of him. The fact that Steve was now a father gradually became easier for me, except for one thing.
My parents had no idea.
I was keeping the biggest secret of my life from the people that I loved the most. It was incredibly hard to hide something so huge from them. There were times that I felt I was living a double life and being deceitful, but I knew that I wanted to respect Steve’s wishes. He wanted to tell them himself.
The Parentals Meet Steve
It was a blazing hot summer day and my family (Dad-Brian, Mom-Jody and Sister-Melia), Steve and I were at Centennial Lakes Park for some mini golfing. This was the first time Steve met either of my parents. I’m not sure why we picked that day, because it was ridiculously hot, but we golfed anyway. That day was the sweaty equivalent to my previous Nickelback date with Steve.
My family is very competitive. We usually make some wager in whatever sport or game we’re competing in just to up the ante. I’m not sure what was on the line, but we all wanted to win.
It was Steve’s turn. We were all circled around the outer portion of the green and my dad just happened to be standing behind Steve. Steve positioned himself to make his putt, when he turned around with a witty grin on his face and questioned my dad, “Are you looking at my butt?”
My dad was stunned! His face turned red, as he assured, “Noooo!”
Steve chuckled and went about business as usual, continuing to take his turn.
I glanced at my dad and gave him a wide-eyed, pursed lip, shoulder shrug. My measly attempt to say I’m sorry, trying to pretend that awkward exchange never happened. Sometimes I felt Steve and his humor needed a muzzle or a mute button, even though I was fully aware that’s who he was. He always had to take things one giant leap beyond comfortable.
I wanted to give Steve an elbow, hoping he’d get the hint to pipe it, but really, I was most embarrassed for my dad.
What was Steve thinking! I was fully aware of Steve’s lack of a filter, but cripes! He had just met my dad and was up to his Steve Toms antics.
It was many months later that I asked my dad what he thought of Steve, hoping that Steve’s comment was long forgotten, but of course it wasn’t .My dad said, “Well, I thought he was weird.” He told my mom, “That guys, gotta be weird. What a terrible way to try to impress me.” We had a good laugh about it, but man was it uncomfortable at the time.
My parents were getting used to Steve being part of my life and theirs. We discussed when the appropriate time would be to tell my parents about JT. We went back and forth about it several times.
Steve wanted my parents to get to know him for the man that he truly was, and then tell them that he had a son. He was taking full responsibility of telling them himself and he wasn’t going to shy away from the situation. He had to tell them the truth. I was relieved I wouldn’t be the one to break the baby news to my parents on my own.
Keaton and Mel knew– of course I told Mel right away. She’s my sidekick and I needed to confide in someone.
Like I said before, I was raised with strong Christian values, in that there’s order in life. God gives us guidelines and expectations to live by for a reason. He has gone before us and knows the difficulties, heartbreak, and disappointment, and all the other consequences that we’ll face from living a life misaligned from his will. I still believe that God knows best and that getting married before having children is the best plan. I also know that God can take a mess and turn it into something beautiful.
I just prayed my parents would be able to see it the same way.
I waited for hours, wondering when I’d hear from Steve. Time, ticking by ever so slowly as each minute painfully dragged on.
My mind wouldn’t rest. I imagined what the whole scene would be like. The two of them in the delivery room, what sort of exchange would they have? Would he hold her hand and encourage her just as he did me—not in delivery of course. How did they even interact anyway? I mean, it has to be such an awkward experience to figure out how to act with the woman who was giving birth to your child when you’re in love with someone else, or at least I think it would be.
However they interacted, I don’t know. I just know that if I kept playing out every scenario any longer I’d go crazy.
The situation was challenging enough for me, but there was another aspect that was difficult for me too.
I was the woman Steve was in love with, although I hadn’t told him I loved him, I cared for him deeply. It was so hard to not be part of the biggest events of his life or to even be there in that moment supporting him. Obviously I wouldn’t be, but still. When you’re in a relationship you’re supposed to love and support each other through everything.
Thankfully he had great friends that were there when baby JT was born. One of his friends Justine recalled the day…
Jado and I went to the hospital together that day. She was in labor when we got there and I vividly remember Steve stepping out of the delivery room with tears in his eyes that his son was born! It was one of my favorite days! We went back later that day to see baby JT.
He was here. This sweet baby boy was here. I was happy for Steve because I knew his heart was full of the greatest joy he’d ever known. All the fear, worry and anxiety was silenced by the birth of his son. God had guided him up to this point, surely Steve knew He wouldn’t stop now.
The birth of JT pushed Steve to grown in many ways. As a man, in his faith, and now as a father. He was committed to doing everything he could to love this little dude and to help him be the best he could be by training him up in the ways of the Lord so he would be who God designed him to be.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
When we saw each other for the first time, I felt bipolar in my emotions. I could see the joy he had in being a father to his sweet miracle displayed all across his face. I was trying my best not to show my hurt by building him up, asking him questions to show I cared, telling him how happy I was for him and again affirming him that he was going to be such an amazing dad.
What he once feared was now something he embraced and he knew JT was a beautiful blessing from God.
This sweet baby boy would change his life…forever.
Today wasn’t just any ordinary day at the gym. I had trained with Steve earlier and then I was going to spend the day relaxing by the pool, or trying to relax I should say.
It was a rough one. The man I cared about was going to be leaving work to have a baby with another woman. I was dreading the moment he would call me saying he was leaving to go to the hospital.
I always wanted the experience of having my first child to be something I shared with my husband. This was supposed to be an experience for a married us, instead of a non-married them. That plan was out the window. It was hard to swallow the fact that my boyfriend, the man I cared about more than anyone, would be leaving to support another woman in labor. Is this really my life right now?
I tried to relax and calm my spirit by the pool, but I was restless. I laid on my stomach as tears rolled down my face just thinking about it; breathing slow controlled breaths, trying to get myself to calm down.
I felt sick to my stomach. What if he changes his mind about me? What if the birth of his son is so overwhelming and such a life changing experience that it brings them closer together and he decides he wants to be with her? No, he wouldn’t ever do that…would he?
All the time we’ve spent together, being so happy together, being passionate about the same things, working through the ups and down of the situation, surely that had to be enough?
He told me he loved me…surely he meant it.
He meant it.
He loves me.
Steve… loves… me,
and only me.
My phone rang; I glanced down and saw Steve’s name and picture on my phone.
Pulling myself together I said, “hello?”
“Ash I just wanted to tell you that I’m leaving now, and I love you.”
“Okay,” I replied, attempting to hold back my sniffle and tears.
“I will call you when I get back, okay?”
“Okay.” I muttered.
We hung up. It was happening.
Steve was leaving the gym and the next time I’d see him, he’d be a dad.
I cried, lying on the pool deck, as the commotion of the kids swimming and the upbeat music played in the background. I was anything but upbeat. I wanted crawl into a hole.
My phone vibrated, I opened up the text and it read:
“Ashley, remember that I love you.”