Strength In Weakness

After returning home from nationals, I felt like I could finally relax. I didn’t have to maintain such a rigorous training schedule and diet.  This was also time to reflect on everything. From my training prep, my competitions and life in general.

It was back to normal life. Steve and I still had our regular after school training sessions together. I looked forward to training with him so much. It was the best part of my day.

Besides the fact that he was my boyfriend, I couldn’t wait to see my smiley sassy-faced man and to hear what smart aleck remark was going to come out of his mouth.

He always had something witty to say, which only made me more drawn to him. You see, I’m a sassy girl at heart, and our relationship always had this healthy banter.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It wasn’t the type of back and forth rip on each other interaction where you were left feeling irritated. It was flirtatious in nature, not only in our speech, but also in the looks we’d exchange.  Steve would make a comment and the moment I heard it, it was as if some switch was turned on inside of me that caused me to raise my eye-brows and respond with an, oh really, attitude.

It was the same way when we’d work out. Steve knew how to push me to the fringe of my breaking point, but we both knew I’d rise to any challenge he’d send my way.  There would be no way that I’d give him the satisfaction of me giving up. That wasn’t going to happen. Each session I felt like I was proving what I was made of to Steve, but in all actuality, I was growing stronger and stronger physically, mentally and spiritually.

He pushed me like no one could and helped me to truly believe I can/could do anything. He reinforced what God says about me, that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13


Steve may not have known or recognized the depth of impact his training had on me. In my moments of weakness, I was reminded and humbled that when I am weak, Jesus is strong and that I truly need to depend on HIS STRENGTH.

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Corinthians 12:9



So there I was, in a relationship with a man who built me up, who reinforced what God said about me, who cheered me on, comforted me in the hardest moments of my training. He spoke life into me, or as I called him, “my biggest cheerleader.” Not only because he was the person in my life that encouraged me the most, but because he was the biggest–my meathead. He even had some cheerleader capabilities physically.


We had just finished our own boxing workout in the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) room. I was stretching and of course Steve was not. I was making fun of his lack of flexibility. He said “oh yeah?”

It was then that my meathead some how jumped into the air, legs in the straddle position, launching his 225 frame off the ground and touched his toes. He landed and I was speechless. He had me beat. How on earth could he do a Russian jump better than me!

Because he was Steve, that’s how.



I’ll never forget during the final weeks of show prep, I was at Steve’s house and we were just lying on his bed. I was completely exhausted. I was in the most grueling part of my training.  I had to make drastic changes in my training and diet that were draining me on all levels.


I was lying in his arms, and out of nowhere, I started to cry.


“Babe, what’s wrong?” he asked.


Sniffling I replied with a nasally, “I don’t know.”


Tears streamed down my face and Steve looked at me, pulled me in close and chuckled, “oh honey.”


“I don’t even know why I’m crying, I can’t even control it right now,” I said with a whimper.



In that moment being in his arms was just the comfort that I needed. I knew that I was secure there and that everything would be okay. I’d make it through this rough patch. I was an emotional wreck who needed the strength and comfort of something bigger than myself and in actuality, something bigger than Steve.

Me, alone…I’m not enough.


When it comes down to it, I’ve learned that my own strength will never be enough no matter what I’m facing. I can’t muscle my way through a physical obstacle without God’s strength. I can’t grin and bear a tough situation without God’s strength. I can’t bite my tongue in an argument when all I really want to do is throw a jab, without God’s strength.


I know I’m a tough cookie, but my strength is no match for the strength I have in Christ. He gives me power for strength and power for poise.

As I said before, I like training for figure because it challenges me spiritually. I rely on Jesus on my good days and even more so when I feel depleted, tired, worn out, exhausted, discouraged, and every other emotion that comes with being human. My human strength will never be enough and Jesus will be there to bridge that gap if we let HIM. Besides, any strength I have comes from Him to begin with…He’s my source.


God has done great things in my life. He’s freed me of the bondage of my sin and made me whole from the inside out. He’s given me a solid foundation, filled me with love, joy, hope and continued peace.

I have and continue to experience what HIS LOVE and HIS GRACE has done in my life.  I know that I’ve only life I’m only experienced a sliver of the beautiful things He has planned for me.

Regardless of where you’re at in life, what you’re doing, your position, status, past, present, or future, God is always trying to do something through you. Or as the saying goes, God can take your mess and turn it into a message.




We have the choice of choosing where we want to dwell, for when we dwell somewhere, we’re choosing a place to be, a mindset or an area of focus.


Instead of trying to find fleeting comfort in who we are alone, I challenge you to dwell in the confidence and strength that only He can provide, for HIS STRENGTH is made perfect in YOUR WEAKNESS.





Go Figure

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.”


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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:

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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.

DSC00149    ashley


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.


Know Your Source

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:


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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…






Fitness, a Shared Passion

I actually found the date that I joined Life Time, which was March 11, 2010. So somewhere around that time was when I first met Steve.

Through the course of preparing for figure competitions I met several people. Each person I met who had some experience in the world of bodybuilding or figure competitions always had an opinion about training for a show.  I found that talking to different people only seemed to add more confusion to what I knew and was starting to make me second guess my training.

Figure, like other sports, involves rigorous training. I have the body type that is stubborn and likes to hang on to anything and everything I eat, whereas, some people have been blessed with the natural ability to be lean. This meant that my training involved lifting four days a week and eventually cardio twice a day.

What people don’t realize about figure is that each and every training session matters. You can’t skip a workout because you don’t feel like it or because you have something else going on.  The planning involves calculating things down to the day so that your body “peaks” at the right time.  By peak, I mean that you’re lean but not overly vascular and your muscles are full and aesthetically pleasing.

Every single piece of food you put into your body matters and is accounted for. I knew the exactly amount of fats, carbohydrates, protein and water I was consuming. Tracking all of these elements is important to what your “end product” will look like.

I was an athlete in college. There’s no doubt that all of your practices are important and your ability to perform is a summation of those efforts. Figure is different because each tiny detail in the whole process is important. If you mess up your diet, it affects your product. If you mess up your training, muscles aren’t developed enough or in time. If you don’t know how to pose, then you’re not showcasing your product at it’s best. If you don’t have confidence on stage, it’s obvious.

My show schedule at the time was going to be to compete in the Gopher State Classic on April 10, 2010 and then the Great North competition on May 15, 2010. This was the first time I had ever done two shows so close together. So not only was I preparing for one, but I had to figure out how to get my body to peak for a second time a month later.

In this panic I called Steve. We ran through what I was currently doing and what I had done for my first show, the Northern States Natural Classic October 17, 2009. I was well aware of his expertise in training and thought it was fascinating. Through the course of his training career Steve had the opportunity to train Kelly Clarkson, the LA Lakers, Kareem Abdul Jabar Jr., actor Peter Gallagher, the US ski team and LA Dodgers alumnus Jim Riggleman. He also trained Hillary Hopkins, a car accident victim whom he helped regain full mobility after doctors told her she’d never walk again. He never used his experience as a way to boast about what he did, but I enjoyed hearing about his training past because I knew he knew what he was doing and that I was working with the best.

Through our conversation Steve told me “stick to what you know” and that I was the one that knew my body the best. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next and not only that, what works the first time around when competing doesn’t mean replicating the plan will produce the same result.

Bodybuilders are separated into weight classes and figure competitors are separated by height classes. Each height class is associated with the letters A-F. They also have a novice and three different masters divisions (35+ 40+ and 50+).

I ended up taking second in my class at the Gopher State Classic and I took first in my class at the Great North and won the overall. I was very excited for what Steve and I accomplished and looked forward to training together in the future.

After the Great North I went out to celebrate with my sister and some friends and Steve met us for dinner. I was excited about our shared love for fitness and grew even more curious about where this possible relationship might go.


Steve and I  May 15, 2010








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