In spotlight: Record-setter Leclerc steps onto fitness stageLincolnville woman muscles up for curling, body competitions
Belfast — Sequined bikinis, fake nails and perfectly-styled long, flowing hair, all things that would make one think of the beach in Miami, Fla. Instead, it is a stage at a fitness competition.
Although, with each passing year, what was once a rare goal for women, now is becoming more common in this fitness age.
The number of women taking steps to become dedicated and committed to the goal of hitting that stage in a competition has been on the rise.
And, on Saturday, Oct. 26, Aimee Leclerc of Lincolnville joined those ranks.
Although Leclerc did not take the trophy home for her first competition, the Granite State Open in Dover, N.H., she is positive and upbeat about the experience. "I am very proud of myself for what I accomplished. It took amazing amounts of discipline to get my physical and emotional self prepared to compete against some of the most fit athletes on the East Coast," she said.
Leclerc said that the energy before, during and after the competition was wonderful. She added that everybody was so supportive of one another, saying it was awesome to be surrounded by so many like-minded people.
"Being on the stage was terrifying at first, but I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I earned my way there and had every right to stand on that stage," Leclerc said.
"I learned so much and will definitely be back at it again in the spring. Having one competition under my belt taught me enough about posing, training regime and diet that I feel confident doing it again. And next time I’ll be holding a trophy," she said.
Leclerc accepted the goal of competition earlier in 2013, but was side tracked and her goal briefly put on pause when her trainer saw something more in her. That something garnered Leclerc, in June, world and national records in the strict curl and the national record for the free curl in the 97-pound weight class.
Despite the off-step to focus on curling, Leclerc was readily able to refocus on her competition goals immediately after nabbing those weightlifting records.
For Leclerc, 41, who has an eclectic sporting background, the knowledge of the dedication needed to give to a goal, is not lost. Having started running at age 8, Leclerc saw success in cross country and indoor, as well as, outdoor track throughout her school years. When sports burnout occurred in college, she was led to rugby.
Rugby, the sort of rough-and-tumble, padding-free sport that can make a grown man cringe, is what had Leclerc making the trek to the gym to start weight training.
"I started lifting because I felt like the runt," Leclerc said.
Starting as a journalism major at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Leclerc quickly switched to health and wellness. At age 20, while working at Shapes, an all-women chain gym, she received her personal training certificate. In her time at Shapes during college, she shadowed other trainers until after college when she made the move to Lake Tahoe in the California-Nevada area.
In Lake Tahoe, Leclerc not only continued her focus on weightlifting, she took up motocross, ice hockey and again began running. Just shortly after Sept. 11, 2011, she made the move back to the East Coast, taking a position with Outward Bound.
During her time at Outward Bound, she focused on her master's degree in social work. Leclerc was a substance abuse counselor for three years before transitioning to Harbor Family Services working with youths in residence. Following Harbor Family, she worked five years at Sweetser with adults. Eventually, Leclerc returned to Harbor Family Services to start that organization's adult program.
While focusing on her schooling and career, Leclerc still looked for new and different things to do, to continue to challenge herself. As someone who is into water sports, she is a surfer. Leclerc also took up stand-up paddle boarding, an activity for which she now is an instructor.
Along with SUP, and being a part of a women's ice hockey league, Leclerc has a passion for dog sledding. Leclerc is the owner of 13 Alaskan Huskies, she uses for her dog sled team. "It's almost like running a farm," Leclerc said of having the dogs. The care and attention they require fills time throughout Leclerc's days, year round.
Over the years, Leclerc also has begun to compete in mud runs, and discovered that's where her most intense passion fell. To date, in 2013, Leclerc has participated in four mud runs.
Leclerc said she and her trainer, Ed Flanders, were training her arms one day during the first week of May when he commented on how blown away he was with her bicep strength. Realizing that they could be on to something, Flanders, who has six world weightlifting records of his own, researched national and world records for curls. Not telling Leclerc his thoughts, he showed her how to complete a strict curl, then asked her how many she could do.
"You just broke the world record and the national record if you can do just one of these in front of a judge," Flanders told her once she completed five repetitions of the lift.
At that moment, training for figure competitions was put on a brief hold. "It was a very whimsical three weeks of training," Leclerc said. She added that the hardest part of her training was getting into the weight class that she needed to be in.
She kept mum on what exactly she was doing with Flanders and their goal of going to Derry, N.H. to break the strict curl records. Leclerc said the reason she did not talk about it was because she did not want the disappointment of not placing well if that happened to be the end result.
Once in Derry, Leclerc admitted that since she is not good with the kilogram conversions, she had no idea what she was really lifting during the event. Flanders would tell those who placed the weights on the bar which colored weights to use. For Leclerc, it was a breath of relief. She knew she was psychologically-minded enough that if someone told her how much weight they were adding, she would not have been able to do it.
"No one said that I was going for the record either," she said. "I didn't know [I had done it] until it was over and they handed me a trophy and medals."
It was not until she started receiving phone calls and several Facebook notifications of messages and comments that it stuck with her. "I've overcome a lot of personal obstacles in my life, but this is definitely one of the top-three things that I am proud of," she said.
Setting the world record in strict curl and the national record in the free curl has not put Leclerc on a parade float and booking television interviews, however. She remains humble of the experience, stating, "It's five minutes of fame that I don't see as a big deal."
There are other events Leclerc could participate in in the world of heavy lifting, or "heave-ho" events, as she refers to them. However, she knows that they're not for her as she thinks that the moves in heavy lifting events are rough on one's body. She added that the strict curl is a disciplined and slow movement, not detrimental to your body, unlike moves such as the military presses, dead lifts and others like them.
"All those jerking motions, that's not me. I want to be a healthy 95-year-old woman at some point," she said.
After setting the records, Leclerc switched trainers, teaming with Tamera Blades of the Waldo County YMCA, and got back on track to her goal of figure competitions. Leclerc said normally Blades does not take on or do intense training because of her own schedule demands as the YMCA's fitness and events person, but since Blades had faith in Leclerc and feels that she would do well, she took her on.
The road to take to prepare for a figure competition is not for the faint of heart. A grueling schedule of training and strict diets more or less become a way of life. If there is even a slight misstep, progress can be slowed or halted. Blades stressed that getting lean requires discipline.
"I lift three hours a day," Leclerc recently said during her training. She added that her diet slowly became more and more challenging. "For the next several weeks, I have to live a different life."
"The determination and time it takes to [increase muscle, and lower body fat] is more than most of us can comprehend. Aimee is an amazing athlete. I was proud to be there as her coach. We have had lots of laughs through this process and I will cherish every one of them," Blades said of the experience in training Leclerc.
Leclerc said when she showed her family photos of women competing, they were thrown off that she would want to do something like that. Being an outdoors-type of person, who does not even wear nail polish, her family wanted to know why and how she was going to do it.
"It's just a costume change," she told them. Everything Leclerc has done in her life has been an eclectic mix, so the competition mades sense to her. "All of the things I do in my life, I do to challenge myself," she said.
It is not just challenges she enjoys, Leclerc said she likes trying new things as she grows older.
"If I really put my mind to it, what can I do to myself?" she said.
When Leclerc competed at the Granite State Open Oct. 26, it was as a novice in the masters and short divisions.
In a show of stamina, Leclerc, during the first part of the contest, contracted and posed, showing her muscles for nearly an hour.
After the first full lineup of poses, she was the first person the judges called to step forward. Based on the first dozen women they pulled out and then to learn that five of them won the awards, Blades was confident that Leclerc was in the top 10.
The next segment had each contestant do a stroll across the stage where they did three poses. For the evening performance each contestant was solo on the stage for one minute to do a T-walk which included nine poses.
Age does not make or break one in the fitness world. International Fitness and Body Building professional Adela Garcia is 41 and, in September, took first in the fitness division at the 2013 Olympia in Las Vegas.
Leclerc was judged on her muscular symmetry and definition. Unlike in the physique competitions, muscle size is typically downplayed. The figure category focuses more on how feminine and athletic a participant's muscularity is.
In the final few weeks of the countdown to competition, Leclerc essentially had to live a different life.
"If I had banker's hours, I don't know if I could do this," she said prior to competing. Leclerc added that not having children freed up her schedule, however, her dogs take a considerable amount of time each day for feeding and care.
Her flexibility in her job as an adult mental health caseworker allowed her the time needed to get into a gym and do her workouts in preparation for the competition. The organization she works for, Harbor Family Services, along with her family, has been extremely supportive in her goals. Leclerc said the more she succeeds, the more they encourage her to keep moving.
A lot of Leclerc's plans for the future hinged on the results of the Oct. 26 competition. Before the competition, she admitted that if she had not place well, she has a competitive edge and wondered if she would give it another try, to improve her placing. She added that it was possible she may get there, look around the dressing room and ask herself, "What was I thinking?"
But she did get there and realized she belonged — and now may go back.
Juice Plus and Hydroflask have approached Leclerc offering sponsorships.
Positive results from the competition also will be a benefit and look good on her fitness resume. With them, many doors can be opened. One door is fitness modeling. With the light shining brighter on the fitness industry, the norm of the 20-something or 30-something in ads, magazines and the likes looks to become a thing of the past. The industry is realizing that there is a call for a broader age range, which is how Leclerc, in her early 40s, can help them expand that range.
Aside from the possibility of modeling, Leclerc has her most significant focus at the moment narrowed to competing in the mud runs, and obtaining sponsors for that, along with figure competitions and collecting sponsors for those.
"It costs a lot of money," she said. Entry fees for both competitions are costly. Figure competitions also bear the price tags of a personal trainer, gym memberships, travel and outfits.
Leclerc also said she is not opposed to the idea of doing short-distance dog sledding races this winter.
Given Leclerc's eclectic history in sports and outdoors, the transition from one goal and challenge to the other is sure to be seamless.
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Holly has been part of the team at Courier Publications since mid-2009, working mostly with the sports department, but occasionally lending a hand throughout the company.
She hold degrees in photography from Maine Media Workshop and University of Maine. Her column, "From the Pit Box," has won a second-place award from the Maine Press Association.
When she's not in the office, Holly can be found in her garden, kayaking, running or at the gym. She is an avid racing fan, and enjoys watching European League Football and Major League Soccer.
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