You are today exactly where you are supposed to be…
In competing, I have discovered that I am constantly learning more about myself, who I am and what makes me tick with the completion of every contest. This year (2013) was the most bittersweet of my competition career and I wanted to share my story of how the best day of my life was also one of my darkest. Looking back now, I truly believe that everything that transpired on that day was a direct result of fate, and it ultimately taught me that I am far stronger than I will ever even fully realize.
I FINALLY won my Pro Card in Physique Bodybuilding at the IFBB North Americans in Pittsburgh, PA. Not only did I win my card and my class, but I also went on to win the Open Physique Overall title and walk away the big winner of the division. Happily, my folks were there to witness it, there in my father’s hometown of Pittsburgh, which obviously meant A LOT to me to have them see it all go down first-hand in my dad’s old stomping grounds. It was the most memorable of shows and also the most forgettable – only because it seemed to fly by SO fast and everything felt dream-like and “pinch me” kind of surreal. The 24 hours that led up to the show were INSANE to put it mildly, and I learned more about myself that day/night than I had known for years. Needless to say, it was an extremely bittersweet 24 hours.
Before athlete check-in that afternoon as I was waiting in the lobby of the hotel to be spray tanned, I got a message from a friend that rattled me to the core and broke my heart in two. My dear friend and pseudo big-brother Jed had chosen to take his young life that very morning. As I read the message I sat stunned – in utter disbelief in what I was reading and heartbroken that I hadn’t spoken to him before he chose to leave this Earth. Every emotion I was feeling that day – sadness, nervousness, anger, frustration, fear and anxiety swelled up in the back of my throat and ultimately exploded out of my mouth as gallons of tears began to stream from my eyes. I got up, blurted out to my coach and friend Chris Cormier that Jed had died and ran for the doors. I pushed open the lobby doors and exploded onto the sidewalk outside, hysterically crying and still trying to process that my friend was gone. I had just spoken to him. We had plans to hang out when I got home. He promised me that I was going to win this show, get my Pro card and come home a winner. I was crestfallen and numb. I felt like the world had just been yanked out from underneath my feet. I had been on such a high that to suddenly hear this news…it absolutely devastated me. I felt broken.
I didn’t want to do anything except cry and die myself. I felt helpless.
If it hadn’t of been for Chris and Marilyn from Liquid Sun Rayz, I would have collapsed into a puddle of Jill on the floor. They truly were amazing to me at that awful moment and for that I am FOREVER grateful. As I stood in the tanning booth, buck nekkid, water-depleted and being sprayed a beautiful bronze hue, I quietly laughed through my tears only because I knew that Jed was looking down at me at that very moment, probably both mortified and amused at my nekkidness and of the scene in general. (If you compete, you KNOW how WEIRD a tanning area looks for a competition. It’s freaking BIZARRE.) Strangely, that provided me with some comfort and my innate ability to somehow find humor in an otherwise sick and twisted situation. But that was Jed, and this is me, and we always had the same dark sense of humor, so I found peace in that. And standing there being sprayed orange, I decided that I had NO choice but to win the show not only for me, but to keep my promise to my friend. I had a lengthy mental conversation with Jed during that hour, and knew that my failure, for once, was absolutely NOT an option this time around.
After leaving the hotel, I drove across the bridge and checked in at the host hotel. Easy enough, right? I checked in, said hello to a friend, and was in and out within minutes. I then left the hotel with the intention of driving straight back to my hotel by the University and laying in bed with my legs elevated the rest of the night. Instead I offered to pick up Chris at another hotel he was at to see a client, and somehow ended up SO lost that I found myself literally stranded in the middle of “Nowheresville” for 2 hours. Now, considering the news I had just gotten, my multiple days of water and carb depletion, being 3 hours late for a meal and stressed, I was not in what you would call a ‘happy place’. After a million U-turns, gas station stops, tears, and epic temper tantrum phone calls to Chris to somehow come save me, he managed to do just that. Annnnnd then he proceeded to get us lost for another hour and a half. LOL
When we FINALLY made it back to the hotel, I scarfed down some food, quickly settled in for the night and got my bag ready for the morning. I didn’t fall asleep easily that night…my brain was too overloaded to fully relax. Instead I lay in bed and replayed my last visit with Jed just a few weeks earlier at my house. He had been in such good spirits and seemed genuinely happy. So much so, that I offered to give him a key to my place to come over and bask on the sundeck anytime he wanted. He loved my little backyard and I now find great comfort sitting out there and thinking about my friend. I kick myself in the ass EVERY day that I didn’t get to chat with him before he chose to leave us, or that I didn’t do more or “sense” more was going on with him prior to his last few days. It will be a regret that I will carry the rest of my life. I still struggle with his absence…reaching for the phone to text him when I see something funny in the world of MMA, or calling him to come over and hang out or even just thinking “oh, I should invite Jed”…only to slowly realize that I can’t do that anymore. His absence has left a gaping hole in my heart that I doubt will ever be filled again. Probably not. He was truly one of a kind and one of the most gentle and genuinely “feeling” people I have ever met.
The next day I was eerily calm. I knew I had a mission to complete and I was laser-precision focused. If I could get through the last 24 hours of crazy my life, I was ready to tackle the world. Blindfolded. Handcuffed even.
And I knew that I would have the heavens shining down on me that day.
After I got my hair & makeup done and was suited up and ready to go, we left for the Sheraton. I felt eerily confident in my abilities and was calm in knowing that I had truly given it my all and felt 200% ready to take the stage. I also knew that I had a newly appointed guardian angel looking over me – one who was more badass than most others.
Now, I’m not religious by ANY means, but I will admit that I am spiritual. And I wholeheartedly knew that with Jed’s spirit by my side, I could achieve anything I set out to that day. Before I knew it, I was taking out my curlers and running onstage with Chris still trying to glaze my legs and back up, with almost 8 months of full prep leading up to that moment. I took a few deep breaths, smiled like a used-car salesman and walked out on stage. The judges had us do our mandatory poses and began to move competitors around like chess pieces. I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t been moved at all myself, just everyone moving in circles around me, and only after I came off stage did I realize that I had been holding down the coveted middle spot on stage. Once that was pointed out to me, I couldn’t contain my happiness and grinned ear to ear for the rest of the day. We schlepped back to our hotel where I took a much-deserved and extremely restful nap before waking up to re-curl my hair and again head out to the Sheraton Hotel.
That’s when everything became a super fast FLASH of blurred memories. I remember taking out my curlers, lining up, doing my routine, and being pulled into the top 5 line up. I went out on stage beaming with pride and personal satisfaction and remember squeezing my poses SO hard that all I could hear was myself mentally yelling “Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze!” and Jed’s voice yelling “War Team Rudison!!” – his personal war cry he had created for my shows. They began counting down the winner from 5th place, and after 2nd place was called I realized that I had FINALLY done it. I had finally won my class and finally won that damn IFBB Pro Card that I had only dreamed about for soooo long. After I won my class I walked off stage (felt more like floating, actually) and flew into the arms of Chris who greeted me with open arms, tears and excited cries. We spun around and around, jumping and crying and making a complete scene and before I knew it I was again being sent out on stage to compete for the Open Overall title. Again, I stood on stage like frozen Han Solo, until someone nudged me to walk forward and receive the coveted Overall trophy. I didn’t even know how to properly receive the trophy or do a victory pose, because I had never until that very moment been “victorious”. I was in absolute bliss. I have never in my life been 1st Place at a NPC show, much less an Overall Winner and now a bonafide Pro athlete. I was stunned and shocked and truly needed someone to pinch me until I bled because I still couldn’t believe it.
And I STILL cannot believe it. Immediately afterwards I did numerous backstage interviews and got congratulated by peers, fans, fellow competitors and chairpersons. I was on such a HIGH, I never wanted to come down. To have what I have known as being the WORST feeling in the world suddenly turn the tide into what I can only describe as the BEST feeling in the world is such a mind fuck. People always talk about the highs and lows of life and how fragile and delicate it is, and I can honestly say that I absolutely did not know this feeling until that very day. I am one of “those” people who believe that things happen for a reason – both good and bad – and that we are where we are supposed to be, learning and experiencing the things we are supposed to, when we are supposed to. I believe that people come into your life for very specific reasons and that even things that seem to be simple acts of randomness and chance, are indeed pre-disposed to happen to us, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem at the time. I know that my friendship with Jed was meant to be, just as much as I struggle to accept that he chose to leave when he did. I also believe that it was finally MY time to be victorious and my fate awarded me so.
After the show, I stayed behind a few days to check out the Andy Warhol Museum and visit with family I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. We had a great reunion with family in the lower bottoms of McKees Rocks, eating a ton of food, telling a ton of stories and somehow NOT taking any photos. (Ugh. The conversation was just too good, I suppose.) My cousin Shawn pulled me to the side and told me the sweetest story about how I hadn’t changed a BIT since I was a little kid. He laughed at how I had blossomed into a (muscular) woman, yet still somehow managed to retain the SAME laser-point precision and focus he said I have possessed since childhood. He swears I still have the same crinkle in my forehead and eerie stare I used to muster up at times when I was determined to set out and achieve a goal or prove someone wrong. 27 years may have passed, but he maintains that the little girl with the laser-precision stare still lives within me. I absolutely loved hearing that. And I love that I still am the SAME person I have been all of my life. I’m just more evolved and wiser.
The next day I returned to LA to everything being completely different, yet still exactly the same. I’m constantly being asked how it feels to be a Pro now and people seem truly alarmed when I say that it feels exactly the same as it did when I was an amateur. (Well, it does!) The only blaring difference now is that I have to work twice as hard, if not three times as hard, since I am now standing shoulder to shoulder with the best of the best. So, I guess to be 100% honest in answering the question, as much as everything shall change, everything shall remain exactly the same; Laser-point precision stares, friendships, victory poses, the sun shining on my back deck…the only difference is how you feel about it.
And these days I feel pretty grateful about life…
For you, Jed Abrams. Thank you for allowing me to know true friendship for the brief time you graced me with yours. See you on the flipside.