Oh wow. Have you ever been picked up and thrown into a swimming pool of icy water? That's what I felt like. It was my first experience of anything like this, and it was extraordinary, unreal. I might be reporting things in the wrong order, please excuse me, I was so busy taking pictures, I didn't have time to take notes.
OK, begin at the beginning. Diana the Valkyrie sent me to the WSE to get pictures, video, audio and anything else suitable for the web site. I had half a ton of cameras with me, a list of questions to ask, a list of people I had to talk to, and a big box of business cards to show I was from Diana the Valkyrie's web site. And I knew what would happen if I returned without a boatload of stuff, it simply wasn't an option, you don't give a Valkyrie excuses, you give her results. Under those circumstances, shyness isn't possible.
I reported early in the morning at the show desk - too soon they said, and they sent me away. But not really too soon, I hung about and pretty soon, I was taking pictures. Fitness competitors, bodybuilders, strength competitors - anyone female with muscle. Summer Kalish, Dawn Whitham, Christa Bauch, Linda Wood-Hoyte, and so many more I can't even remember. It was easy, I just went up to them and said "Hi, I'm from Diana the Valkyrie..." and they'd smile and pose and show off for the camera, and I'd ask them some questions, and bingo, I had another interview in the bag. You'll be seeing this stuff on the web site.
And we'd arranged for Nicole Bass to look after me, and that she certainly did. I don't have to tell you what she's like, there's a big area on the web site, you can go and look. But what you can't see from her pictures is that underneath that big hard muscle is a lovely woman; hard body, soft heart. She introduced me to people I would never have otherwise met; Tazzie Colomb (she won the strength event a few years back), and Lenda Murray (who, by the way, looks even bigger in person than her pictures), and all the really big names. Oh, and what I heard about Nicole's voice being deep like a man? Rubbish. When you see her, she's 6'2", and big, big. Did you expect a little girly voice? No, you get a big woman voice. And with that New Yawk sound, and that New Yawk attitude.
So we were all hanging about outside the event room, where the vendors had tables; you could buy vitamin supplements and stuff. And I bought four T-shirts from Charles Peeples, he runs a T-shirt company called The Valkyries . There's no link, but he's a really nice guy, and his T-shirt designs are great, and I bought four, including one for Diana. I bought the one with the woman on a horse, what else? And I took a copy of his brochure, and he said I can put it on the web site, and you can order T-shirts from him if you like. Recommended.
While I hung about outside the hall, I met Dragon and Rambler (Dragon writes mixed boxing stories, and he told me he had a new Elaine story, and Rambler writes love stories about Larry and Donna, you can read them in the Library. And they told me how excited they were by the event, and how they were really looking forward to it. And then they called us in.
I had a Special Sponsor ticket *and* a press badge, so I got almost the best seat, right next to the photographers from Women's Physique World. But one big difference; they had standard 35mm cameras, and I had a digital camera, a Canon Ion 260 that takes pictures that you convert straight to JPG, just what we need for the web site. I wasn't allowed to take video in the event itself, only in the outside hall, but I could take as many stills as I wanted, they said. I didn't count exactly, but I guess I took two-three thousand. They won't all come out good, of course, I was just clicking away as fast as I could. But I hope I've got a big bunch of stuff for the Galleries.
In the morning, they had the preliminary events for the fitness competitors, and I can see why they call them that. They had routines that left me exhausted just watching them, and I tried to pan the camera to follow them as they leapt from one side of the stage to the other. I bet I got a lot of pictures of where they were a tenth of a second earlier. And I thought someone said that no-one could do one-handed push-ups? I can tell you, these girls can, and a lot of them did.
And then they had the first part of the strength competition, and it was chinning. And they pumped up and down like machines, 20, 30, on and on and on. I guess I could do one, maybe two. And I was so busy taking pictures, I forgot to write down who won, can you believe that? But it'll be in Women's Physique World, they did major coverage of the event.
And then some more fitness competitors, and how do you time a picture so you get her just as she's doing a one-handed press, or a free somersault? I did my best.
Then we had the second part of the strength competition, squatting. And that was better than the chinning, because the competitors were facing us. And you could see the effort, and watch the muscles straining to do one more rep, and another, and then one more. I was very impressed with Annie Rivecchio (she won the popularity poll on the web site recently) because I saw her give everything she had, 100%, and then she stood for a few seconds, and shook her head, and then she did three more. And then she stood again for a few seconds (they were allowed up to 10 seconds between reps) and she did another two, and I don't know where she got it from. And then she shook her head again, and she reached down inside somewhere, and she did another one! And remember that's 150% of bodyweight. You put 150% of my bodyweight on my shoulders, and I move in just one direction, until the floor stops me.
Annie didn't even use knee wraps, and I asked her why, it's supposed to be safer if you do. She said they interfered with her performance, so she didn't use them. You see what I mean about 100%? And after the last squat, she collapsed on the floor, but she was OK, just exhausted.
And that was the end of the morning schedule.
So I dashed up to my hotel room, swapped batteries, reloaded cartridges, and ran down to do some more interviews, getting them on video tape, because that's OK outside the event. Lunch? When the Valkyrie sends you to do a job of work, you work, you don't eat. I didn't eat at all that day. I mixed, I mingled, and every time I saw muscle being flexed or photos being taken, I shot.
So, after lunch, the show restarted at about 7pm. Christa Bauch came on as guest poser. She isn't tall, but she is just so hard, so defined. And she came on dressed as a German beerhall maiden, dancing on carrying two steins of beer. She handed the steins to two guys, then off came the Fraulein costume and she showed us why she's so well regarded. She told me later, she has a son of 27, and I'll leave you to work out how old she must be, but she looks not much older than her son really is. A very impressive display, and everyone yelled and cheered and screamed.
Then we had the finals of the fitness events (yes, I know I should have taken notes about who placed where, but I was so busy taking pictures, I reckoned you can find out who won in WPW). And then the third part of the strength competition, the bench press. And that was really disappointing in a way, because you couldn't really see anything except a weight rising and falling, and maybe a rather muscular arm. And they were spotted very carfully, because you don't want a huge weight like that falling on your chest, so there were three big men standing round in case the girl couldn't handle the last rep. And I begin to understand the meaning of the word "Valkyrie".
And then there was the Masters Physique competition, and I really can't understand why you would call a woman a "Master", but "Mistress" isn't right either. What they meant, I think, was "veteran", because it was for the over-40s.
The last part of the strength competition was barbell curls, and that was very impressive indeed. Again it was done according to bodyweight, and I don't think I could even lift that much, let alone curl it. And Annie did the same as in the squat; she gave 100%, then another 10% on top, and another 5%, and she even got managed one more, by which time the crowd were hollering and screaming and yelling, and afterwards the women said that the audience excitement pumped them up some more and they did more reps than they thought they could because of that.
Again, I can't give you the placings, I had my hands full of camera, but the winner was Christie Wolf. So afterwards I interviewed her, and I told her that this makes her officially the strongest woman in the world, and I thought she also had the nicest hair of all the competitors. I didn't tell her she also had incredible arms, I guessed she already knew that.
So then the hall emptied, and I got back to the table where Nicole was meeting her fans and talking to people, and she was lifting them up to show them how easily she could, and I watched her lift up some of the guys who had come from the web site (but I'll let them tell that story themselves), and she put one really big guy in a headlock, and she wasn't really hurting him much, but there was no way he could get out till she let him go, and all the time she was laughing and grinning and for her it's just so much fun, she overpowers a guy totally and she's talking all the time to someone else like she isn't really trying hard. Which I guess she isn't. And she nudges you in the ribs, playfully, and you try not to wince and say "YOUCH!!!" because big men don't cry.
And for the next hour I was videoing and interviewing again (and I have to digitise it now, and sort out the good stuff from what didn't come out, and put it up on the web site). Until eventually the crowd thinned out, and I couldn't see any more female muscle to tape, so I went and did the bit with reloading and new batteries again.
That evening at the buffet for Special Sponsors of the show (you pay $100 for that, and get the best seats, and an invite to the buffet to meet the women afterwards), I was able to announce the sponsorships that Diana the Valkyrie is offering to female bodybuilders. You have no idea how expensive it is to be top ranked in this sport. If you're competing in a national event, then is it's just a matter of pumping iron for a few months. For three months before the event, you diet, and that means boiled chicken, white fish and shrimp, again and again, you eat every three hours. And boiled rice or potato for carbohydrate. And the food alone is hundreds of dollars per week, and then there's protein shakes, and vitamins, and supplements. But no drugs, steroids can ruin your health. And the time it takes to prepare means you can't hold down a normal nine-to-five job. So the web site is offering sponsorships worth $1000 per month, because it means we're putting something into the sport, and it's going direct to the people who need and deserve it the most, the women. And in return, the web site will be getting pictures, video of training sessions, interviews, participation in the Message Boards and the Chat Room, so Members of the web site can talk to real female bodybuilders and ask them about the sport.
And I was able to announce that Diana the Valkyrie's first sponsored FBB is Nicole Bass, the largest female bodybuilder in the world at 6'2" and 200 pounds contest weight (she says 199 1/2). She's competing in the nationals and then probably Ms O, and she's determined to win, and everyone on the web site will be rooting for her, and we know that will help her give her best.
In the evening, there was a buffet dinner for the Special Sponsors, a social event where they could meet the competitors (and also some non-competitors, such as Laurie Fierstein and Sharon Marvel). And you could just walk up to someone who you had only seen pictures of, and say "Hello" to her and ask her about her plans and ambitions, and I took some more pictures there, and so did a lot of the other guys.
And then around midnight the party broke up, but it wasn't over yet, because everyone went to the bar, and I don't know how those women kept going after such a long hard day, but they did, and most significantly, they didn't *have* to, they were there because they wanted to be there, in the bar talking to their friends. And I admit, I had to leave before I fell asleep on my feet, so I don't actually know how long it went on for, except I had breakfast with Dawn Whitham, Tazzie Colomb and Gayle Moher, and that was great because although Gayle lives in Ohio, she's from England, and we were teaching the others some of the English words and how you pronounce them, and Gayle and I were laughing at their efforts on words like "Worcester" (which we pronounce "wooster").
I was sent to the Women's Strength Extravaganza to take a huge number of pictures for the web site, and I did that, but I really didn't expect to have so much fun at the same time. I asked the promoters, and they'll be running the event next year they said, and I told him I'd be there for sure, and I knew the other guys from the web site would too, so save us a big block of seats.