FORT MONROE, Va. (Army News Service, May 31, 2007) - The spirit of competition and the desire to represent her country during a major international event has one Fort Monroe spouse hitting the weight racks to further improve her muscle tone and become a major contender in the sport of body-building.

Theresa Hendricks is striving to reach the peak in a sport that is often viewed as a "man thing" - bodybuilding. Although she has scored consistently in the top three slots in amateur competitions throughout the country, she has yet to break through to the pros.

"People have told me, 'You workout harder than any man I know.' Yeah, that's because I have a goal. I work hard, I don't play," Mrs. Hendricks said.

Mrs. Hendricks' goal is to represent the U.S. in the Pro Gran Prix bodybuilding competition held each year in Santa Susanna, Spain. In 2005, she missed the opportunity by one point.

"I wanted to represent our country so bad. One point, just one judge's opinion was all it took." she lamented. "That's harder than losing by four or five points."

Mrs. Hendricks said she receives most of her encouragement from her husband - Sgt. Maj. Rick Hendricks, senior enlisted advisor for the Deputy Command General, U.S. Army Reserves, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. But she also credits her genes for keeping her in the game. Her father, Michael Cioppa, holds a 7th-degree Tai Kwan Do black belt and is also a bodybuilder.

The 46 year old said she has been competitive as long as she can remember and won sports competitions as early as elementary school.

"I've always been very athletic, all through school. I always won the president's awards and always had the best times in running, long jump, short jump, track and field, sit ups or who could hold themselves up the longest doing chin-ups," she said.

Mrs. Hendricks began lifting weights as a youngster during a time when it wasn't a vogue activity for girls. But, she found she could lift more than many of the boys her age.

"I was lifting weight just for fun when I was 15 and it stuck with me throughout my life. I just came up with the idea one day that I wanted to be a bodybuilder.

Hendricks took 1st place in her first show - the Chattanooga Choo Choo in Tennessee - and 2nd place in a competition about a month later. And then, she gave it up.

"I quit competing because, one day in the gym I looked in the mirror and said, 'I don't like the way I'm looking.' I'm tired and my face looked so stressed. For me to be 18 and have sunken eyes and dark circles around my eyes, that was a no-no for me," she said.

Mrs. Hendricks didn't have a professional coach or proper nutrition and dietary regimens. That frustrated her. But, she continued lifting weights. Through her college days and even after giving birth to two daughters, the Miami, Fla., native stuck with it.

Not until 2003 did Mrs. Hendricks begin training for competition again. This time, she was going in as a fitness competitor, not a bodybuilder, and with a coach.

She said a fitness competitor has dance moves incorporated with seven mandatory strength holds. Very high-energy routines are performed to music and must impress a panel of judges. Athletes are also gauged on power, flexibility, showmanship, physique - proportion and body tone - as well as how they perform to music.

"Most people don't think training to be a fitness competitor is as hard as being a bodybuilder, but it is twice as hard. Ever do a one-armed push up'

"You have to be in such great cardio shape to go out on stage and perform high-energy, high-speed for two minutes straight. It takes 3 months to prep for a show. It's not just about the body's appearance. The weights help the body look good, but you must have the cardio-vascular (fitness) to perform."

Mrs. Hendricks weight trains five days a week for about two hours and performs cardio six days a week in two 45-minute sessions - first thing in the morning and after weight workouts.

About four months before a show, her coach ramps up her routines and adjusts her diet to ensure her weight and 'cut' will keep her winning.

"I am an eating machine. I eat seven to eight times a day. It's a very high protein, low-carbohydrate diet. I live on a diet year round. If I ate what I wanted all year round, I would probably gain 50 pounds. As it is, I usually gain about 20 pounds, which is about the norm for most girls.

"Out of seven days a week, six or seven meals a day, I get one free meal where the coach says I can eat anything I want. Usually four months out, the coach starts taking away the free meals.

"I do cheat a little, but not with candy. Sugar makes your muscles soft," Hendricks said.

She eats mainly fish, turkey, tuna and cottage cheese, or carbohydrates like cream of wheat or a baked potato. She rounds her meals out with fresh fruit like strawberries or grapefruit, and vegetables like spinach or mixed greens. On top of the meals, she drinks about two gallons of water a day.

"Sometimes I wish I never stepped into this arena, because, it's too hard," she said with an exaggerated whine. "It's all about training and eating and cleaning the kitchen."

(Patricia Radcliffe writes for the Fort Monroe "Casemate.")