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When I got the opportunity to interview the two-time reigning Ms Olympia, one of the initial things we got out of the way is how she’s put together (physically). I know there are pics all over the web, but in bodybuilding, seasons bring fluidity to conditioning.
I wanted to see what I was dealing with today. Well, at 5’6″ and just north of 200 pounds (off season), all I can say is (in my best James Brown voice), good god, that lady is packing! So, me being me, there’s this initial bit of reticence, especially because that’s bodybuilder I-can-still-see-abs 204, and I don’t know this lady from Eve. Which begs to consider how I’m going to position some — not all — questions that might tread in a gray area.
That’s because I’m interviewing a lady here named Andrea Shaw. Not Ms Olympia. She just happens to be Ms Olympia right now. But that’s what she is, not who she is. Surely there’s more to her than that. And there is. But, like I said, I don’t know her. Some people (especially these days) get a bit guarded and sensitive when it comes to matters that people only think about and don’t much talk about, and certainly don’t ask about. So, yeah, this not going to be about reps and sets and macronutrients and all the other crap littering social media. I’m focusing on the actual person under the muscle. So, I gotta get personal.
Once I got done telling Andrea the long version of all that, I was sitting there at my desk with my shoulders hunched up, bracing myself for one of the typical responses I’ve gotten over the years when I’m posed with an in-depth interview of someone of particular importance, whom I don’t know personally. In my experience, some — not all — bodybuilders take themselves way too seriously and don’t like to open up their private lives (don’t think for a minute that a social media post is a glimpse into anyones actual personal private life, or any manner of how and what they think and believe). On top of that, it’s sad to say, too many of them have the personality of the middle of a donut. Getting anything raw and interesting out of them is like pulling teeth out of a sleeping bull.
Twelve syllables into her fist sentence, my shoulders retracted back to normal and a huge smile spread across my face. Absolutely immediately I could tell this girl is cool. First thing she said was something to the effect of, and I’m paraphrasing here, “so, what’s your background? What gives you the cred to be occupying this lofty position and interviewing the likes of me?” It wasn’t the question so much as it was the delivery — a jovial and assertive blend of sass and elegance.
Ahh, youth. Considering my first article was published a year before she was born, I had a little catching her up to do. I assured her though that I’m no stranger to the realm. And, I think girls with muscles are the coolest thing on earth.
But, the preference is a strong drink that few can take neat. Over the years, the drink has gotten stronger and the appetite for it has dwindled. In fact, during the era when Cory Everson occupied the office, the Ms. Olympia contest was held as a stand alone event that sold out the Felt Forum in NY’s Madison Square Garden. (for a little perspective if you’re not familiar with New York City’s most famous venue, selling out “the Garden” is usually reserved for world championship boxing, pro wrestling, rock concerts, basketball games and hockey. Selling out the Ms O was like topping a banana split with a pearl onion). The ensuing three decades suffered a precipitous drop however, and the lime light faded to a side show during the expo; prize money cut and recut; until the Ms Olympia was ultimately no longer held. (The same thing happened to the Arnold Classic’s Ms International.)
M&F: If it Wasn’t for Jake Wood, his vision and his resources, the Ms. O would still be dead. Why do you think that is?
AS: There’s a definite down trend. I wish there had been more interaction between the fans and the athletes. To let them know what it’s like to be a bodybuilder.
Did you always want to be a bodybuilder?
I shunned it, I didn’t want to do bodybuilding. I liked figure, but I naturally carried a lot of muscle. What I really wanted was to look like Lenda Murray.
Who could blame you? Probably one of the most beautiful women on earth.
Right? She was so feminine. The way she carried herself, her mannerisms. I didn’t want to lose that. I wanted to look like Lenda. But like I told you, I naturally carried a lot of muscle. My dad was huge!
I don’t think anyone could rightfully fault you for the job you’re doing. But it’s more than skin deep. Lenda always had a hundred-watt smile on her face. She was an infinitely approachable person. She wasn’t one of these girls always wearing their game face; no smiles, no eye contact, sour … Intimidating. It makes some people unapproachable.
Ladies have to have personalities. I’m a real person. I want to be able to open up a dialog with other ladies. We can talk to make a connection to make them interested in, not necessarily the sport, but at least wanting to know more about how their bodies work and how we can learn to control ourselves.
You make a good point. Back in the Cory era, that sold-out crowd at the Garden was mostly moms and daughters. Very different from the bulk of the fans today.
When people like you they want to follow you — it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. My purpose is not to be as jacked as possible, but rather to be a beacon for women to get interested in their health and their bodies. I realize I’m at a very high level, but that’s not what I expect from any of my sisters. I can help them though. Like the big sister…. How do you navigate? Would you rather learn how to drive from a high school driver’s ed teacher, or the reigning Formula 1 champion?
Do you think there is a sisterhood? I know guys are big on being “bros,” especially in the iron game [me included], because we’re all mutants. No one understands us except other bodybuilders. But, among women, I think the ladies have more issues. Is it prime time for a sisterhood?
Yes! We can make a deeper connection to lift each other up. Helping one of my sisters change the outside to feel better on the inside is the main thing. It’s like a spring board. Rather than changing your body be the end of the road, maybe its just beginning? Point is, sisters help each other.
So what do you say to the sister who seems to have taken it to the point — I don’t want to say “too far” — but to where terms such as “manly, “masculine,” “man face” or other descriptions that seem to decry the beauty lost in the game while hating on the player?
You should find a way to make bodybuilding beautiful and elegant for you. You have to elevate all that you are and project an air of regalness. It’s not all sweat and grunts. What is your brand of elegance? I find when I challenge ladies on that most of them bring it a notch higher. That’s uplifting.
What do you think is the most defining element of your brand of elegance? What’s that look like when you’re trying to tell someone how to do that?
It’s all in your mannerisms. Mannerisms, your hand movements, your walk, your posture, your expression — what do those things say about you without you saying a word? It’s the presentation. It’s called “elegant.”
I would have to say a bit of elegance is missing these days. Why do you think that is?
Because of male coaches who take on the roll of posing female athletes! I don’t get that. You’re not a woman! You have to walk onstage like you’re going to the prom, or a wedding, in a gown. How is a man supposed to tell you how to convey that I’m wearing an evening gown while I’m on stage in a tiny bikini flexing and posing? He cant do that. You need your feminine touch in the transitions. Male coaches don’t pay attention to guiding a female athlete to pull it out. That’s why some girls pose like dudes. Coaches are not doing their clients a good service. You have to farm that shit out. Find the best posing coach. Trust me, it plays out on stage if you’ve worked with the best.
So there’s aren’t any good male posing coaches, other than your coach [and former partner] John Simmons [laughs]?
There’s definitely one or two, but, for the most part, no. A posing coach for a woman has to do more than just teach things like take her time with her poses, make it graceful, choose the best angles that show off your physique. You can have a great physique, but if you can’t pose, forget it. Then what about your hair? Should you be wearing an up-doo? That’s more elegant if you’re wearing a gown. What about earrings? One time a girl said to me, “I thought you weren’t supposed to wear earrings at pre judging?” I said who told you that?! Sister, I’m wearing the biggest earrings, the biggest hair… I’m going up there like it’s the queen’s ball.”
So what is your relationship now? “Boyfriend? Coach? Coach with benefits?” [laughs]
[Laughing] ”Coach with former benefits. We dated for a while then decided we’re better as friends. He’s still my coach and we’re still really close.
So tell me about training at Highland Park Powerhouse.
Yes! I love that gym. I must go there especially during prep. The equipment there is like no where else. They have a vertical leg press! You know how rare that is? It is is my go to exercise. I’ve never seen some of the equipment they have anywhere else.
Is it a hardcore atmosphere?
Extremely! The atmosphere is dirty. Grungy. You go there to get work done. That’s the vibe when you’re in there.
Are you approachable in the gym?
Not during a set.mI’ll politely put them off until after I’m done training. But I’m always happy to talk to anyone afterward
What’s on your workout playlist?
Oh, man … well, my favorite song right now is Jung Youth and Sam and Tenniz Fighter, definitely some EDM (electronic dance). Some rap, you know, Tupac, DMX, Rough Riders.
Where do you live?
Just outside of Detroit.
Do you have any pets?
I don’t have time now for pets, but, when I do, I want a dog.
You don’t seem like a cat person.
Lenda has cats, you know.
How do you feel about Instagram and social media?
In general, I feel like people get too much confidence on social media. They get super courage behind a keyboard and say things they’d never say up front, in person. I call it “fat mouthing.” I just let the results speak for them selves. At that point, they’ll either go away quietly or just tell you good going.
Is it motivating?
It does motivate me. I can’t lie. I enjoy it.
What about in person, out in public. Are you OK with all that you got going on?
Sometimes not. I have to cover up when I go to the store. I hear people say negative things and I just don’t want to deal with it, But, I’m 90% happy with it.
And your love life? Are you at least 90% happy with that?
I’m not in a relationship right now.
Is it hard to be in a relationship with you?
Well, you have to understand the lifestyle. Prepping for a show isn’t easy
Do you get mean?
I don’t get mean,. but maybe a little snappy.
I imagine a man can’t let insecurity be an issue dating you.
Well, the guy has to be in shape. You have to understand the lifestyle.
I imagine you do. Which brings me to cheat meals. What’s your favorite cheat meal?
Hold on, brother! Cheat “meal”? No, it has to be a cheat day. It’s a cheat day for me.
Which, I imagine would start with breakfast?
Oh ye! Waffles. I love waffles! All kinds— light, crispy on the outside. I like them with berries, or bananas, or fruit.
And what about the heavy artillery later on? Whats the big meal?
Lamb chops. I like the Argentine restaurants.
Do you mean the places where they bring the meat to your table on a sword?
Yes! I tell them when I get there then I’m going in hard for the lamb chops. That chip is only going to be green when the lamb chops come out.
And the final act? You have to top that off with something.
With ice cream?
No ice cream.
Just plain apple pie?
It’s serious business. I had it back stage.
You carb up on apple pie?
Yup. .Walking around back stage eating it out of a big container.
So, Ms. Olympia carbs up on apple pie?
And some sweet potatoes. Rice cakes too. But not the plain ones. Yuck. I need the bougie rice cakes… cinnamon toast crunch flavor.”
Is dieting the hardest part of bodybuilding?
The hardest part in the off season is the body image. Once you see yourself in shape you’re never satisfied until you see it again.
What’s difficult about being the best bodybuilder in the world?
Making sure that mentally I stay balanced without going too deep into my head about me being the standard.” she replied. “I have to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Representing the sport well. If someone makes a rude comment…..can’t do that. I have to conduct myself on and off the stage that makes the best representation for women’s bodybuilding and the sport.
What do you think of society today?
“People have gone crazy! Covid was a horrible thing. I think we hit a note now that people are more health conscious. Today people know the word “comorbidity. People are thinking that maybe I do need to join a gym and get someone to help me. The healthier they are the better they can fight off being sick.
What’s amazing about living in America?
Our freedoms. We can be really good at something, work hard and get rewarded. God created this country to be the best on earth, because it offers an avenue to the be the best in the world. And in the process, we’re afforded rights and guidelines to keep us safe and healthy. It’s possible to president! No one does engineering like us. There’s brilliance in this country.
There’s a faction of society that disagrees with you.
Cancel all that woke s***! And there’s no privilege! When I was in college and I was studying late at night in the library, I was the only black girl there! You get out what you put in.
The youngsters have gotten soft, haven’t they?
“Could you imagine these kids going through what the kids in Europe did in World War II? Imagine them during the Blitzkrieg?! Bombs going off every night. People hiding in the subway. Could you imagine? No way! And post war? Rebuilding? Pff!
Rude awakening indeed. So, shifting gears one last time. I know we’ve been all over the place, but, what about if you were in charge? Like Dr. Seuss’ If I ran The Circus?
“Oooooh — thats a big question. I would find a way to have community involvement. You need to exemplify a heart for caring. I’d want to create a certain number of community events geared to different parts of the community – kids, for example – geared toward health, fitness, prevention. Help to get more education out to teenagers and college aged kids — if we’re going to be the best in the world we need to improve these people. If you’re going to compete then you have to give back to the community. Champions can help people to help make their lives better. Encourage people. Give them guidance. Be more socially involve with helping the community. If people like you they will follow you if you come from a genuine place.
Last question. Tell me something people generally don’t know about you and it’s surprising to them?
I’m a World War II history buff.
OK, one more question: What message would you like to impart in your send off here?
Don’t be afraid.” She replied. “Do it — take the risk. Evaluate the cost, but take the risk.