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Wilbraham woman working hard to show off her figure

Wilbraham woman working hard to show off her figure figurecomp.jpg
Heather Sanford, right, and Kelly O'Brien, left, perform an arm warm-up at Realistic Physiques in East Longmeadow.
Reminder Publications photo by Courtney Llewellyn
March 22, 2010 By Courtney Llewellyn Reminder Assistant Editor WILBRAHAM -- Kelly O'Brien and Heather Sanford probably don't fit the perceived image of middle-aged moms. Both women are currently in training for upcoming figure competitions. Every muscle in each of their bodies is taut, toned and tanned. They bench press. They curl dumbbells. Come April 3, they'll be ready to strut their stuff. According to Wikipedia, a figure competition is a relatively new sub-category of fitness contests. Female competitors are judged solely on muscular symmetry and tone; muscle size is downplayed. A typical figure competition includes a symmetry round, where competitors appear on stage in high-heeled shoes and a one-piece swimsuit in a side-by-side line that faces the judges. They execute a series of quarter-turns, allowing the judges to view and compare them from all sides for symmetry, presentation and other aesthetic qualities such as skin tone, hair, make-up and stylishness of clothing. In the group comparisons round, competitors return in high heels and a two-piece bathing suit, executing a series of quarter-turns. At this stage, they are judged more critically against the others for conditioning, leanness and how feminine and athletic (as opposed to brawny) their muscularity is. Competitors also come out individually on stage for a model walk where they are judged on presentation, gracefulness, confidence, poise and professionalism. Wilbraham resident O'Brien, 41, said she's worked out her whole life, that she's always played sports and been very active and that she always wanted to compete but not as a body builder. Figure competitions opened up a new world for her. "I decided at the end of last year that I wanted to compete," she said. She said she started training at the end of September. When asked what the typical training session is like, O'Brien laughed and replied, "Hard." In the beginning, she said she trained three days a week. Now that competitions are just weeks away, she and Sanford are working out twice a day, six days a week. "Some days I ask myself, 'What am I doing?' but I'm really excited for this," O'Brien said. Sanford, 38, is a Ludlow native who is returning to competition. She was named Miss America Figure in 2002. "This is something I've always wanted to do since high school," she said. "I wanted to get back into it after having my son eight years ago. Another opportunity came up for me to get back into it and I'm taking it."

Sanford and O'Brien train with Ivan Dejere, a personal trainer at Realistic Physiques, located in East Longmeadow. "They're training for more than just a competition," Dejere said. "I love these girls because they have the mentality to win and to reap the benefits . . . It's not just a trophy. They're training for modeling contracts, commercials, a contract as a spokesperson for a company. These women have an opportunity to do a lot." Dejere, a former competitor himself, used to work with fitness guru Jack LaLanne, and was asked during that time if he wanted to train others. He has now been a personal trainer for 25 years. "I love that I can help people attain things other than just winning competitions," Dejere said. "If you like what you see, you can strive to go further. Health is the most important thing, though. And these girls do the work. They walk the road and it takes them a lot to walk it." Upcoming competitions that both O'Brien and Sanford aim to participate in include the Steve Stone Metropolitan Bodybuilding, Figure and Fitness competition in New York City on April 3; the BLNPA New England Natural Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure competition in Pawtucket, R.I., on April 10; the Fitness Atlantic Championships in East Haven, Conn., on April 17; and MuscleMania at Mohegan Sun on April 24, which will be broadcast on NESN. O'Brien is currently looking for sponsors to help her pay for the cost to compete. Expenses include her training, competition entry fees, suits and shoes, tanning, travel fees and accommodations. Those interested in helping her can contact her by calling 374-5671. More information can also be located by visiting the Web site