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On Friday, September 6, over 100 female competitors gathered inside the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler, AZ, for the first all-women’s bodybuilding weekend. As the sun set during the afternoon athlete check-ins, competitors and fans gathered to welcome and celebrate the fifth annual IFBB Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championship in conjunction with the Arizona Women’s Pro, and kick off the inaugural NPC Women’s Extravaganza.
The energy was palpable as competitors from around the world embraced, complimenting one another and graciously wishing each other luck even though they would compete on the same stage in less than 24 hours. The solo sport of bodybuilding can feel like a lonely road; you might prepare for the stage with the help of a coach or team, but you ultimately stand on stage alone. However, the entire weekend was marked by camaraderie and sportsmanship that people often overlook in bodybuilding.
It was a true demonstration of women lifting each other up. The ladies were welcomed with a round of speeches that continued this theme. Wings of Strength VP of US Operations Alex Sacasa thanked the competitors for their participation at this all-women’s event and shared how honored she is to work with a team of amazing women who make every event a true labor of love. Emcee Sara Hurrle described the vibe as a “total love fest,” and reminded attendees that lighting another candle does not diminish your own light and to keep illuminating other women to help this sport and all women’s events grow brighter with love and support.
On Saturday, the stage was set. The large 20-foot video wall served as a resplendent backdrop, illuminating the competitors’ muscular silhouettes. The show opened with the Yellow Bird Apache dancers, a Native American tribe in Arizona who presented the unique spirit of the American Indian with energetic music and specialty hoop dancing. Then, the fans cheered as each bodybuilder posed on stage for a chance to win prize money, sponsorships, as well as qualify to compete on the Olympia stage the following year.
Bodybuilding shows are usually filled with athletes’ friends, family and fans, and this intimate crowd was no exception. The attendees included partners, parents, and children of all ages— there were many heartwarming cheers of, “Mommy!” It was the highest paying female bodybuilding competition in the world, and the crowd felt even richer with love and support.
While each division competed for prize money, the female bodybuilding division was competing for the coveted grand prizes: a $50,000 check, a brand new 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye, and the priceless title of 2019 Rising Phoenix World Champion. This honor was made possible courtesy of Jake Wood and Wings of Strength, who created the division in 2014 to fill the absence of the Ms. Olympia. The Rising Phoenix World Championship serves as a forum where female bodybuilders could compete and be recognized for their accomplishments.
Wood often says that Wings of Strength supports all athletes in all divisions—sponsoring and promoting multiple shows year-round—because, as he is quick to remind the audience, if women’s bodybuilding can go away, so can men’s bodybuilding. A bodybuilding stage should exist to support all competitors who wish to compete.
As the event reached its climax, the time had come to crown a new Rising Phoenix winner—but not before the women received special awards. Each of the 19 competitors submitted a video sharing what drives them to compete in bodybuilding along with a stage routine to express themselves artistically. Nicki Chartrand won the best video award and Janeen Lankowski won the best routine award. The final battle for the title came down to two former champions who had both won the Rising Phoenix World Champion title before—Margie Martin (2015 & 2016) and Helle Trevino (2017).
The crowd roared when the new 2019 Rising Phoenix World Champion was announced: Helle Trevino. After losing her mother unexpectedly earlier this year, Helle considered dropping out of the competition, however through hard work and a support system that included Wings of Strength, she remained focused and driven. She joked that she knew she would win a car that had her name in it, aptly nicknaming her new Dodge Challenger Hellcat, the “Hellecat.”
The 2019 fifth Annual Rising Phoenix had the highest attendance to-date. What started out as a show that had to light its own way, turned into a celebratory all-women’s event bringing female athletes from all over the world together to shine brightly enough to eclipse all obstacles. Wings of Strength is excited to announce that through the hard work of their team and all participating female competitors, the Rising Phoenix will carry the torch to the Olympia stage in Las Vegas and welcome the long-awaited return of the Ms. Olympia in 2020.
This content is sponsored by Wings of Strength.