Why I get on Stage in a Sparkly Bikini and Flex
by: Emily Sanchez Otero
On Nov. 1st, 2003, I was on stage doing my first Figure competition in Sacramento, CA. Earlier that morning, I had driven the two hours north from Stanford, where I was a senior, a pre-med History major, a Pi Phi sister, and a very independent woman. Period. My boyfriend (DrH, now), was snapping pictures in the crowd, cheering. He was an honors-bound, pre-med Biology major who had just finished his Medical School applications. Smart as hell and hot, too. But, right then, he was my #1 Fan. And, I was in the spotlight for once. It felt scary…and nice. I got 13th place.
Fast forward six weeks. I was sitting in my 1998 forest green Saturn in the parking lot outside of Student Health, and I was crying. The test was positive. DrH was in St. Louis at his first Medical School interview and he was on the other end of my cell phone call—surprisingly calm. “We’ll make it work,” he said. “St. Louis seems like a great place for a family.”
And that was it. That was the end of me as an independent, sky-is-the-limit, might-be-a-doctor, too, intelligent, Woman. Everything changed instantly. And, eight months later, I was a mom living in the Midwest, married to a medical student, too uneducated (with my Stanford degree) to get a job that would pay enough for childcare. I spent my days nursing and trying to figure out how to live on $1700 per month (DrH’s MSTP stipend). There wasn’t a pretty wedding or a diamond ring—just a civil ceremony and a $40 band…that I bought for myself. But, I knew that I was lucky to have snagged a future-DOCTOR. So, I played the part of young, happy, new wife-and-mom. I worked tirelessly to lose my baby weight and to figure out the ins-and-outs of WIC and Food Stamps and Medicaid. Meanwhile, my new husband disappeared into his books, getting smarter and smarter and smarter…while I just got older.
In 2010, however, everything changed. My youngest was two and potty trained, and with three kids under 6, we were DONE. I had given up trying to live on nothing, as we had private Kindergarten and ballet lessons to pay for. (It wasn’t our kids fault we had them too early; they would not lack any opportunity if we could help it.) So, I was working as a personal trainer every free minute I had. While the job was stressful and the hours painful (most people work out before or after work), it inspired me to get back to my own fitness goals—to get back on stage.
Looking back, the idea of competing at that time was just short of insane. Prepping for a fitness competition is 16 weeks of working out at least two hours, daily. It is a constant ache of hunger, and never-ending stress—prep meals, do workouts, practice posing, repeat. The process is hard for a single person with no kids. For a working (50+ hours per week) mom-of-three, with a husband just about to start his away rotations (one of them would be 2,000 miles away for eight weeks); prepping for a show seemed impossible.
And, it was…almost. It was a messy, difficult, stressful, emotional experience that almost tore my marriage apart and made me question my ability to be a mom. But, on July 9, 2010—seven years, 2,000 miles and three kids away from Sacramento—I stepped back onto the stage. And, my DrH was there, just like the first time, cheering me on, supporting me like I had him through his MD/PhD years. It felt so strange, so scary…and so good. I got first place in Beginner Figure and Novice Figure, and I was hooked. DrH carried both of my trophies around with him all night while we celebrated, and he bragged about me to anyone who would listen. It was good for both of us. It was healing; we felt like we were back on track. He had felt bad for what life had taken from me, and I don’t think I realized it until that night. But, there we were, on the other side of the hardest seven years of our lives…and we hadn’t just survived; we had killed it!
That, my dear Doctor wives, is why I am a Figure competitor. It gives me something to think about besides “when is this going to be over?” It distracts me from the impossible life that we have chosen and gives me a chance to make and follow my own dreams, now. It makes me feel like I’m not “just getting older,” but rather, getting a little bit better. But, most of all, it gives my marriage a brief moment where I am the one on stage. My competitions allow my DrH a brief reprieve from being the star and give him the chance to be the supporter, the encourager, and my #1 Fan, again. It turns out that we both needed that.
(And, hey, let’s be honest…the sparkly bikinis are super duper fun, too!)