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June 26, 2012

Fit and Fem: Competitive fitness

Terre Haute’s Jessica Roberts pushing herself all the way to national fitness championships

TERRE HAUTE — Muscular, yet feminine.

That’s how Terre Haute athlete Jessica Roberts, who will turn 31 Friday, likes to think of herself and she’s proven her point in fitness contests over the last few months.

The 5-foot-4 3/4, 124-pound Roberts, who moved to Terre Haute from Massachusetts with her husband Owen in September 2010, entered bikini and figure competitions in her late 20s.

Those probably weren’t athletic enough to be featured in a newspaper sports story, but few would argue that what she does now is worth coverage in this section.

“I’ve wanted to do fitness competitions since I was in [Portage] high school,” she told the Tribune-Star. “I had been in gymnastics my whole life and this is a nice spinoff of gymnastics. Then earlier this year, I decided to give it a try and signed up for a competition.”

Roberts and other female fitness contestants are judged in two rounds.

In the first round, they wear a two-piece bathing suit and pose to demonstrate muscle definition, low bodyfat content, symmetry and femininity. In the second round, they perform a two-minute routine — choreographed to the music of their choice — during which they must show five mandatory moves. Those are a pike hold, a straddle hold, a high front kick, a side split and a one-arm push-up.

“It helps to have gymnastics ability, flexibility, strength and dance skills,” she mentioned, “but only strength and flexibility are mandatory.”

A part-time personal trainer at Ultimate Fitness in Terre Haute and full-time mother of a daughter who’s almost 3, Roberts said she can do as many as six left-arm push-ups in a row. She also can perform three different no-hand flips successfully.

The 2003 Valparaiso University graduate made her fitness-contest debut in the Kentucky Derby Festival Championships back in April in Louisville, where she finished second. This event was sanctioned by the National Physique Committee (NPC).

“I learned a lot about posing in that competition,” Roberts reflected. “I knew I had to step up my routine.”

She quickly changed up her routine and entered the NPC Jay Cutler Classic in May in Boston. This time, she received the overall championship trophy, beating out 11 other fitness competitors. She posed to “Little Red Riding Hood,” a techno song by A-Moe.

“I knew my poses better and I didn’t fall in my routine this time,” Roberts assessed, referring to a stumble in her April debut. “I think I did really well.”

By winning the Cutler Classic title, she qualified for the NPC National Fitness Championships on July 6-7 at Teaneck, N.J.

“Realistically, I would just like to place in the top five,” Roberts said. “It would be amazing if I became an IFBB [International Federation of Bodybuilding] pro. But I would have to place in the top two in my [tall] division to do that.”

After the national championships, she plans to eat regular food for a while, then gear up for improved showings in 2013.

Roberts said the diet of fitness athletes is strict — but not as strict as the kind required by competitive bodybuilders — noting that complex carbohydrates in small amounts are more tolerable for fitness athletes.

“We still need to have that muscle definition,” added Roberts, who usually diets down to 120 or 121 pounds to get in tip-top shape for competitions.

Roberts explained why she enjoys participating in a sport that receives so little publicity.

“It’s challenging,” she emphasized. “It gives me a sense of why I do the personal training. For some of my clients who are trying to lose weight, it gives me an idea of what it’s like when I’m losing weight. It gives me something in common with them.”

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