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Theresa Ivanick personifies toughness, and not necessarily just in the physical sense, although one look at her Olympia-caliber physique and you see that she checks that box off as well.
We’re talking mental toughness, and in this case, Theresa Ivancik is the real deal. Simply put she gets the job done. She proves this by sharing some of her most personal moments of her life. She used her house arrest as a motivator to get her life in order.
She’s also conquered bulimia, a devastating affliction composed of a vicious cycle that’s very hard to disrupt without a significant motivator, and a condition many women in body sports suffer from. “Bodybuilding pulled me out of bulimia,” she stated. “I can eat now because I’m a bodybuilder. I’m eating for a reason.”
Why I say that comes from several different elements of her life that Theresa shared with me. The first is how she conquered her eating disorder. Bulimia is a devastating affliction. It’s composed of a vicious cycle that’s very hard to disrupt without a significant motivator. I’ve been keenly aware lately of just how many women in the body sports suffer from it; Theresa Ivanick is no exception.
What do you like about being muscular?
From being bulimic, it was good to have a purpose. I also wanted to be different. I believe in daring to be different.
How did the bodybuilding bug bite you?
I was under house arrest in 2001 for a DUI. My parents had an old Weider system in the basement, and I started messing around with it. Then I saw an “Oxygen” mag and said I wanted to look like this! I got a job at a local gym and dabbled. When I started asking about competing, someone told me to go see Jeff Harlan. He had his own gym and he was the only guy in town who knew anything about the sport and competing. He told me I had to eat and I didn’t want to hear that, so I left him and figured I’ll do it myself. While I was under house arrest, I was able to research all the shows and I focused on one the day after my house arrest was over. I did that show myself. Then got back with Jeff and we prepped for the 2008 Mr. Pittsburgh Figure. After that, we agreed to move up to bodybuilding. I took 2009 off so I could eat and grow. In 2010 I did my first bodybuilding show with my 83-year-old grandfather.
That was it then, you were hooked?
When did performance-enhancing drugs come up?
Not long thereafter. I went from 120 to 180 in a few months. So, yeah, it was an easy decision to take PEDs.
Like swapping one addiction for another?
Not PEDs specifically. The whole thing – the lifestyle, competing – but, yeah, PEDs are part of it. There are certain things you don’t take. You have to be smart about it. I’ve been able to keep my femininity for 15 years with no time off.
You were obviously well advised and did it right. What about the girls who don’t do it right?
They don’t last — one and done…. maybe two years, then they just fall off.
Well, they don’t fall off. They just go in another direction and start serving the sleazy end of things.
That’s true, I suppose. It shouldn’t go that far.
Porn, sessions, Only Fans — Is that what you’re talking about?
Yes. I treat this like a business. You don’t get a second chance. If you want to be a bodybuilder you have act like one. I don’t like what some of these girls end up doing, but I understand. It’s just not bodybuilding. I can’t cross that line because I have a business.
Some girls cross that line fairly easily. Doesn’t seem to bother them, but you never know what they deal with later. All I can tell you is one minute you’re up on stage and next thing you know there’s a porn star standing next to you.
“That actually happened! I didn’t know that was what she did until after the show, but, it was interesting.
And the allure of women’s bodybuilding? Why not any of the other divisions?
I did figure. I was too big for that. Then we thought I was too big for WPD. I wasn’t ]”home.” I’m a bodybuilder. I’m proud of it. I have pics of me when I was 6, flexing in a connected two-piece bathing suit! I tried posting on TikTok and they took it down because it was “kids.
But it was YOU!
I know, it’s nuts.
Do the people in your town know you?
Where do you live?
Butler, Pennsylvania. It’s about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh.
Kind of a small-town feel?
Yes. Everyone knows us. People say hi to us on the street by name. Afterward, I ask Jeff who that is and we don’t know.
Was it always like that?
In the beginning, people were rude. If I was out without Jeff, I’d have to cover up.
The usual ignorant comments.
It got pretty bad at one point. I guest spoke at the local college about breaking norms. How to deal with bullies and that sort of stuff. When I first did it, I was in the paper and the article said horrible things about me! While I was there doing something positive for kids.
How did you overcome that?
I kept at it. I kept winning. I kept getting in the paper — I would kill them with kindness. Eventually they accepted me.
So now that you and Jeff are part of the local community and well liked, what’s a typical day in Butler like? I imagine you guys get pretty busy.
We have our own gym (Harlan’s Elite Fitness) that we run and do personal training and online coaching. We’re also working on a film called Beyond Bodybuilding. It’s an independent film project a local girl took on. She approached us with the idea and we tossed it around. We revisited it again around 2020 when we did the first filming. There are three of us in the film. It teaches girls to be powerful and beautiful and away from the sessions and the drugs.
A noble cause, for sure, What about clothing? I think I read somewhere you guys have a t-shirt company.
We do — Harlan’s Elite Customs. We initially started it to get rid of the middleman. When we started the gym, we had a financial backer. Instead of us paying him back, he wanted us to pay it forward. So, we bought two presses and we gave this opportunity to a kid we know who comes to the gym. He was a good kid who needed a chance. We said let’s try it, and it took off.
Don’t you also work for Jake Wood in some capacity?
I actually first worked for Jake in 2011 when I did a Wings of Strength photo shoot. Then I met him again in 2016 when I turned pro. I’ve been working for him as a fully sponsored athlete since 2017, when I made my pro debut.
Did you live in the Muscle Mansion with all the girls who did Buff Dynasty?
What was that like?
It was very well run. All the girls were presented really well. They really cared about the athletes. That’s how I ended up being accepted into the family. All the old episodes are on the Wings of Strength YouTube channel if you want to watch.
What’s the overall message you put out there? What should people notice about you and about your portrayal of the female bodybuilder?
That I practice what I preach. Bodybuilding plays a role as I play that part. When people come to us at the gym we want to help them. Reverse diabetes, get people off medication — that’s the big thing. Presented correctly, people will seek you out for your knowledge.
How did that play out during COVID?
We didn’t get into the negativity. We kept the gym open during COVID. We didn’t let people tell us what to do. Instead of living with a bunch of rules, we just did what was sensible. Everyone has their own personal mechanism of what’s right and wrong. You know what’s really right in your mind. And that’s not always popular. I posted a lot of stuff that wasn’t being talked about — the fraud, the lies, manipulation, make shit up as they go, corruptness — I gained followers, but then I had to consider my business. I had to stop alienating people.
What about bodybuilding? Would you run things differently?
That’s a very tough question. It’s getting to a point where we can’t afford it anymore. Getting ready for the average pro show is like $5K – it’s hard for people to pay. Something needs to be done expense wise. We’re the only pro athletes that pay to play. Pay per view helps and it gives the audience easy access. But the money has to come from somewhere. It’s almost like a nonprofit; in general there’s no money. I don’t know if there will ever be enough money. Maybe top 5 or 10 will get sponsored? $2,000 for first place doesn’t cut it. We have to pay for coaching, posing, flying, hotel, food, choreography, posing suits, tanning, hair, makeup, etc. It adds up.
Give us your final thought: What message would you like to leave us with that defines your role as a human?
Do what makes you happy. Do what you enjoy. Live with no regrets. Do everything you possibly can to be positive and motivating. Our goal is to help anyone we possibly can to be better and put them ahead of us.