In August 2019, Maggie Shay of Flowery Branch said she realized she didn’t just want to just lose weight, she wanted to compete as a bodybuilder.
“I made a leap of faith,” she said. “This gave me a hard-set goal that I couldn’t fall away from.”
Around 83 pounds lighter and over a year later, she took the stage on Oct. 17, at the National Physique Committee Upstate Classic in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“It was probably the best day of my life,” she said. “It was so neat and surreal.”
Going up against 40 other women in front of a panel of judges, Shay took home the prize of overall best posing and overall women’s physique.
“You’re presenting yourself and showing off what you’ve been working on for years,” she said. “The posing is what took me by surprise. I had no idea I was going to be receiving it. That especially made my whole weekend.”
Shay describes the competition as “a giant science experiment.” Weeks leading up to the big event, she eliminated salt from her diet and consumed little to no carbs. She said this temporary alteration helped prepare the look of her body for the show.
Although Shay followed a natural path toward reaching her goals, including exercise and diet, she said many of the men and women who compete in bodybuilding shows use steroids to achieve a sculpted physique.
“Being up on stage, you know who’s using what and who’s not,” she said. “To be able to get up there and beat them when you know you’re not taking anything is really exciting.”
Before the competition, she underwent a full body spray-tan, which she said helps enhance the definition of her muscles. After getting her hair and makeup done and donning her suit, she said the entire picture came into focus.
Running through a series of poses before judges, Shay gave it her all.
“It was so neat to finally see it all together after over a year of working so hard and sacrificing so much,” she said with emotion. “To be able to be backstage and look the part of a bodybuilder, was so worth it in the end.”
During her bodybuilding journey, Shay said she was coached by Susie Fuller, a local fitness instructor. Even with her fulltime job as Sterling on the Lake’s activities director, she put aside time for training. Little by little, she kicked up the intensity of her workouts. She currently exercises for three hours a day, seven days a week.
One of her more challenging workouts involves “getting on an elliptical with sweatpants, a sweatshirt, waist trainer, sweat belt and putting in 45 minutes, and peddling and burning 450 active calories.” Right after that, Shay said she jumps into an intense leg workout. And if she doesn’t get enough cardio in her day, she’ll run for four miles on a trail.
Shay said food discipline has proved one of the biggest challenges in her routine. To stay away from temptations, she avoids family cookouts and packs her own meals when away from home.
From starting at 220 pounds and dropping to 137 and reaching her bodybuilding goal, Shay said she discovered something new about herself.
“I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” she said. “When I started, I didn’t think this would be what I’d look like. I did it all by myself. That’s the surprising piece. There wasn’t a boyfriend pushing me along, no medical reason. It was, ‘I wanted to do it.’ When I set my mind to something, I do get there.”
Shay said she plans to compete at the 2020 Lee Haney Games in Atlanta Saturday, Nov. 13, which is an NPC national qualifier. After the show, she intends to go into “off season” and then undergo another event in the summer.
For those interested in embarking on their own bodybuilding or weight loss journey, Shay encourages them to seek out help from a coach, and above all else, “find balance, be consistent and drink a lot of water.”