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Jake Wood remembers vividly the first time he saw a female bodybuilder in person. “I was 16, and my friend and I went down to Gold’s Gym in Santa Monica,” he recalls. “We were benching—because that’s what teen boys do when they go to the gym—and I saw a woman curling who had seriously huge biceps.”
Back in the 1970s, the idea of females training for muscle was a little taboo, certainly on the societal fringes, even as men like Arnold Schwarzenegger were bringing bodybuilding into the public consciousness. “I had the idea in my head that women couldn’t add muscle like that,” Wood admits. He worked up the nerve to approach her and discovered it was Stacey Bentley— who would go on to compete as a pro, taking fifth in the inaugural 1980 Ms. Olympia, where Rachel McLish won her first of two Olympia titles.
Wood counted himself a fan of the women’s sport from that day on, but life kept him from doing much more than following along in magazines while he continued to train. When he was 19, his wife gave birth to his first daughter, and he ended up in the family aircraft fastener manufacturing business for the next few decades.
That is, until 2008, when that successful company was sold to Alcoa, and Wood, at the age of 46, saw a chance to finally do more for the sport he had loved for so long. He started with a sponsorship of promoter Tim Gardner’s bodybuilding show at the 2009 Tampa Pro, followed by a membership website launched with his now ex-wife and former business partner, Kristal, called Wings of Strength, which showcased female competitors in bodybuilding, fitness, and figure, paying flat fees for shoots while also using the proceeds to support contests.
Wings of Strength partnered with Gardner on the inaugural Chicago Pro in 2011. Other show sponsorships were added over the years, across the country from Omaha to Virginia Beach. When the Arnold Classic dropped the Ms. International, its women’s pro bodybuilding event, in 2013, followed by the Ms. Olympia cancellation in 2015, Wood leaped into the void.
“At that point, we saw the need for a women’s world championship and our opportunity to provide one,” he says. After meeting with IFBB Professional League president Jim Manion, Wood and Gardner organized the first Rising Phoenix World Championships contest in San Antonio in 2015. The show, held every year since, has moved to Phoenix and remains the top prize in the women’s professional bodybuilding circuit. This year on Sept. 7, the Rising Phoenix champion will take home $50,000, along with a new American iconic vehicle— last year’s prize was a Corvette Z06—and the title of world’s best IFBB Professional League female bodybuilder.
Recently, Wings of Strength began branching out into other businesses. Wood purchased digitalmuscle.com, and his team is relaunching its Wings of Strength website, while expanding into video and television production. The Arizona-based company has also signed on as a presenting sponsor for the 2019 Olympia Weekend, Sept. 12 to 15 in Las Vegas, as part of a larger effort to introduce itself to the widest possible bodybuilding audience.
In addition to hosting a booth at the Olympia Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center and being involved in numerous aspects of the weekend’s activities, Wings of Strength is planning a surprise for its fans.
“We will be putting on a women’s bodybuilding event—not a competition—on the Olympia Expo stage,” Wood says. “We’re still designing that event, but we want something that showcases the sport.”
The sponsorship falls directly in line with Wood’s vision as he expands his company into media projects and more live events. “Our mission statement here at Wings of Strength is to support bodybuilding, period,” he says. “We’re known for specifically supporting women’s bodybuilding, but we support the entire sport. I have stepped in because of my personal belief that if women’s bodybuilding goes away, so can men’s bodybuilding, and eventually the other divisions, too. That’s been my mantra for a long time: bodybuilding for every body.
“This all started as a passion project, but after years of hard work, we have earned the opportunity to serve as presenting sponsor at the most prestigious event in the world. I’m incredibly proud of what our team has been able to accomplish. The future is bright.”