Army wife challenges body, finds self
June 2, 2011
FORT DRUM, NY -- Hard work, determination and family support keeps one Fort Drum spouse focused on living a unique lifestyle.
Last fall, Marie Blakley, who has spent most of her adult life focused on other people, such as her husband, Capt. Michael Blakley, and their daughters, Hailey, 4, and Alyssa, 2, decided it was time to concentrate on someone she had been neglecting for quite a while: herself.
So in October, while her husband was away at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., Blakley began to train for a bodybuilding competition. What seemed like a chance to change her physical appearance turned into a journey of self-discovery.
But Blakley's journey didn't start last year; it actually began quite some time ago.
In September 2008, her husband deployed to Iraq, and Blakley had just given birth to Alyssa, so she was looking for a way to occupy her time and get back in shape. She began working out at a local gym, and one day was approached by a woman who asked if Blakley would be interested in entering a bodybuilding competition with her the following spring.
Although she agreed to train with the woman, Blakley said she never got into it. Soon after, her husband redeployed, and they moved to Georgia.
After the move, Blakley was again approached by a friend who knew a husband and wife team of certified trainers and asked if she was interested in bodybuilding competing.
Blakley was sold on the idea when her friend uttered the words, "She'll train you for free."
After a move to Fort Drum last fall, Blakley felt she was finally ready to begin training. In four months, the 5 feet, 6 inches tall 27-year-old went from a size 8 to a size 0.
Although the normal training time before a bodybuilding competition is 12 weeks, Blakley's trainer, Danielle Dison, wanted to get the ball rolling sooner. Because it was Blakley's first competition and she had baby weight to lose, she began training 18 weeks before the competition.
"It wasn't even that I needed a personal trainer. I needed somebody that I couldn't make excuses to," she explained. "(Danielle) is putting all this work into me, (so) I don't want to let her down."
Blakley's diet was chock-full of high-protein foods, and she was allowed to eat only a few carbohydrate-based foods each week.
Before she began training for competition, Blakley said she and her Family ate a healthy diet.
"I want to be a good role model for my kids. I want to be somebody they can look up to," she said. "Because they're little girls and I know how society is, I want them to be healthy. I want them to understand that working out is healthy, but eating right is healthy too; it doesn't matter how much you weigh."
Blakley, who spent Sundays cooking her meals for the entire week, stuck to that specific diet for three weeks. Afterwards, her diet was altered, depending on how much weight she was losing.
"For the most part, it was the same foods each week: broccoli, fish and egg whites," she explained, noting she hates the taste of fish.
"My first goal wasn't even to do the competition, it was 'how much can I change my body?'" she explained. "The main reason why I did it was (so that) when Michael left for JRTC, I wouldn't have to be sad that he was gone, because I was so focused on training."
Blakley woke up each morning at 4 a.m. and walked at an incline on the treadmill for an hour. She then got her children and herself ready, dropped the girls off at day care and went to work, where she serves as Fort Drum's assistant retirement services officer.
After work, she put aside her training and spent time with her children.
"Training consumes your life, and I didn't want the competition to take time away from my kids," she said. After her children were tucked in bed, she would sneak off to their at-home gym and do cardio and weight-lifting workouts from 8 to 11 p.m.
There was also a time period during those four months leading up to the competition that Blakley would cook separate meals for her children, her husband and herself each night.
She learned to be very organized and disciplined.
"I slip sometimes and eat the wrong things, but that's OK. You just forget about what you did wrong yesterday and fix it today," she added.
Blakley admits that the diet she followed during the competition is not healthy to maintain for longer than the allotted time she was on it.
"The way you look on stage for a competition is healthy for a short-period time; it's not healthy to maintain (long term)," she said, noting that the practice becomes unhealthy if the person isn't doing it correctly, which is why it's important to take advice from a certified personal trainer.
Blakley participated in the bikini division, which she describes as the least muscular-looking group in the Body Building Competition levels: body building, physique, figure and bikini.
She placed third out of 15 contestants in the competition, which took place Feb. 26 in Covington, Ky.
Dison and her husband reside in Illinois, so she and Blakley communicated via e-mail and text message. The trainer and trainee didn't meet until the day before the competition, which made Blakley shy and apprehensive.
Dison said she chose to help Blakley because "she sounded like a driven, motivated, organized individual who had already had the discipline to lose weight prior to speaking to me."
"Danielle really enjoys helping people accomplish their goals," Blakley said.
Blakley noted that the competition was nerve-wracking " between all the unfamiliar faces, the judges critiquing her every move and this being her first competition " but she convinced herself to "just have fun with it." She admits that she was more nervous to meet the Disons than she was to compete.
And she walked away with quite a few lessons learned, such as confidence, self-awareness and acceptance.
"The competition made me more aware of my body … because it's all about what you think of yourself," she said. Now she tries to smile more often and reminds herself to stand up straight.
"If you don't like yourself, then nobody else is going to like you," she said.
Blakley said since his wife has competed, her confidence and determination have increased dramatically throughout all aspects of life.
"Our whole Family lifestyle has even changed for the better," he noted. "(We) developed much healthier eating habits, and we all stay pretty active. Weekend workouts and activities are the norm that even my daughters love participating in."
Blakley said the hardest part for her was not the competition or the diet or the schedule; the thing she struggled with the most was explaining herself to people. For instance, she would go to dinner at a friend's house and she wouldn't be able to eat what her host cooked. She wasn't trying to insult her friends, but they had a difficult time understanding.
"This is the only thing I've ever done for myself that's hard. It's the first time I ever really tried at something that I thought I could fail at," she noted.
Blakley did, however, receive a lot of support from her husband.
"Michael really wanted me to compete, because it was something I wanted to do and he knew it was important," she said, noting he was so supportive that he used his block leave time to travel with her to Kentucky for the competition.
"When I was having a hard time with the diet, he ate exactly what I was eating," she added.
Blakley said he chose to help his wife with various aspects of her training because he believes that setting goals and working to accomplish them is important to maintaining a positive balance in life.
"A goal such as competing in a physique competition requires a lot of discipline, and without my support at home, it makes everything even more difficult (for Marie)," he said.
Because Blakley placed third in February, she is able to move onto the next level in the bikini division. She has until January 2013 to enter another competition and obtain her International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness professional status.
Dison said she admires Blakley for being a military wife.
"Being in a city with two small children and no family to help while her husband is (deployed) takes a lot of courage and strength," she said, adding that's why she believes Blakley was successful with her training.
"Given all of the stress she was under while preparing for this competition, she proved that people can overcome anything to reach their goals. That is the great aspect of this sport: meeting other people who have the drive and desire to reach their dreams and don't let boundaries get in the way," Dison added.
Blakley had her sights set on another competition in July but decided to hold off on competing until next year, mainly because her No.1 fan " her husband " won't be there to cheer her on this time.
In March, Blakley, who serves as assistant S-3 with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan.
"Michael was really excited and proud of me. It was something I enjoyed experiencing with him, and I don't think it would mean as much if I didn't get to do it with him there," she said.
"As a military wife, Marie supports my career regardless of my assignment or deployment. It's only fair that I return that support to her in any way that I can," Blakley said.
"Could I have done it without Danielle? Maybe. But I didn't have the right diet, and it was nice to have somebody who believes in you," Blakley said. "I know my husband and parents believe in me because they love me. Danielle is somebody who doesn't know me and she believes in me, and I think that's a cool experience that somebody could feel like that."