Ashley Sebera Wins Pro Card at Fitness Nationals

•July 7, 2012 • 2 Comments

Ashley Sebera

The other half of Ohio’s new fitness dream team just joined her trainer among the IFBB ranks. Ashley Sebera, training protégée of new pro Amanda Hatfield, earned her pro card at the NPC Fitness Nationals on Saturday night.

Last month, longtime fitness star Amanda finally broke through with a pro card win after taking the short class at Jr. Nationals. Meanwhile, good friend Ashley took the stage in Chicago and made her mentor proud with a third place finish in the medium class. But she wasn’t done.

This weekend, it was Ashley’s turn to shine—she earned a pro card by placing second in the medium class in New Jersey. Amanda was on hand to cheer her good friend from the audience. Both are now fitness pros from the Buckeye State.

Ashley has shown dramatic improvement since finishing out of the top 16 at last year’s North Americans. Back then, she was still competing in bikini; since shifting to fitness this year, she’s been a revelation. During 2012, she was sixth at the Jr. USAs before climbing to third at Jr. Nationals. Now after Fitness Nationals, she’s an IFBB pro.

Amanda’s talent, dedication and coaching have clearly inspired the young rising star. Before Fitness Nationals, Ashley took a moment to praise her friend and teacher on Facebook. “Never met someone more deserving and hardworking than her! Amazing mother. Amazing woman. Amazing best friend. Amazing athlete!”

Amanda Hatfield

Both competitors were gifted gymnasts before turning to fitness. Still to come on the site, pictures and video from Ashley’s new shoot at Jr. Nationals, including can’t-miss footage capturing some of her strength moves and overall athletic talents. Here’s a look at her routine from Jr. USAs.

“I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to be here and have an awesome support team,” Ashley wrote in another post. “I smile every time someone says ‘good luck, Ash,’ or even my other fitness girls acknowledging one another and coming all together! It’s an awesome feeling! I have to give it to my role model Amanda who has taken me under her wing [and not only] built me up to where I need to be but never left my side through the journey!”

These days, Amanda and Ashley seem to be feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm. Their shared success this season has been a great story for a sport that struggles to grow in numbers but electrifies audiences like no other division.

But with exciting new pros in the mix like Amanda, sensational young Jackie Abrams (reigning Jr. USAs overall champ), the incredible Jodi Boam (Toronto Pro winner and legitimate Olympia contender), and now Ashley, just to name a few, things are definitely looking up.

Ashley sums it up best. “Now fitness ladies, let’s take over and bring this sport back to where it needs to be!”

Marissa Hein Seeks Rebound at Team Universe

•June 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Figure competitor Marissa Hein

Like many competitors, winning a pro card is important to Marissa Hein. Even the title of her blog, Road to the Pro Card, a spontaneous chronicle of her journey this season, exists as a constant reminder of her goal to reach the IFBB.

The 30-year-old from Oregon, a former collegiate fast-pitch softball player turned national level figure athlete, realizes that there’s little margin for error at this level. “Every single person looks great at nationals and it really is about catching the eye of the judges and making sure that everything is right on point,” she wrote after competing at Jr. Nationals, the latest stop in 2012, her third year competing.

Marissa finished out of contention in class D, the largest and probably toughest of the show. Afterward, her disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that she has a chance to turn things around in a hurry—that chance arrives Friday at Team Universe in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Marissa’s finish at Jr. Nationals left her resisting hints that she switch to the physique division. But she remains committed, at least for now, to making her mark in figure. “The feedback I received is that I have too much muscle and some suggested that I look toward the physique class,” she wrote. “I am determined to make the changes necessary to continue to compete in figure this year and I have taken the last week to refine and focus more.”

Posing during shoot at Jr. Nats

How’s this for focus? Marissa, who works as an elementary school teacher, traveled to Texas to spend part of summer vacation working with—and actually living with—her trainers, IFBB figure pro Catherine Holland and Jason Phillips. “I am so excited to be in that environment,” she said. “No distractions, no work and complete focus.”

You’ll get to see a sample of Marissa’s gym intensity and power in a workout segment featured in her debut shoot. Among her athletic achievements, the Western Oregon University graduate is a distance runner and once qualified for the Boston Marathon. She looks back over her background in sports and fitness with pride. “I am an athlete through and through. I have grown up playing sports, played softball in college, coached softball, fell in love with running and marathons, found and fell in love with lifting weights. I love to workout.”

On her current look, Marissa cites upper body as a positive but hopes streamlined legs and improved conditioning will be there by showtime. She’ll need to win her class or place second to earn the coveted card. “I know that in these three short weeks between Jr. Nationals and Team Universe I will bring a better package, but when I step on that stage all I can do is hope that it is enough.”

Hopefully this time she’ll catch the judges’ eyes.

Interview with Bikini Competitor Capucine Leconte

•June 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Personal trainer, nutrition expert and soon-to-be registered dietitian Capucine Leconte.

Capucine Leconte was going to keep her upcoming competition plans a secret until this interview. The 28-year-old personal trainer and diet expert was one of the best kept secrets in the industry until the Miami, Florida native was discovered at this year’s Arnold and ended up in several photoshoots including a pair for the studio.

But some secrets are meant to be told, and you can’t keep contest plans or a rising star like Capucine a secret for long. She’s getting ready to journey up the east coast from the Sunshine State to Newburyport, Massachusetts to compete at the OCB Natural Yankee Classic on July 21, where she’ll be going for an IFPA pro card in the bikini division. It will be her first show since 2007.

Meanwhile, she’s working on a new website aimed to deliver fitness tips and guidelines for healthy nutrition. The project is very personal for Capucine, who reveals heartbreaking details in the interview about the loneliness and lack of support she encountered battling weight and self-esteem issues throughout school.

But she refused to be defeated and with plucky determination and cagey wit, Capucine channeled the pain and anger of her past into a passion for fitness, eventually becoming a student of nutrition and exercise. She’s currently working towards becoming a registered dietitian—another secret too good not to tell.

* * *

Dean: Were you always active and fit growing up? What kind of activities or sports were you involved in when you were younger?

Capucine: “Believe it or not I was a very insecure child growing up. I struggled with my weight till about the age of 17. I ate 20-piece chicken nuggets & fries from McDonald’s every afternoon for years. My mornings consisted of French toast from BK, OJ in a carton and those little hash browns they gave you with the kids’ meal. I wore huge eye glasses that were just shy of windshield wipers and had tons of acne.

Capucine’s stats: Age: 28; Height: 5’1”; Weight 115; Hometown: Miami, Florida.

“Luckily because of my mother’s active involvement in school activities and the grades I received in grammar school, I generated a lot of friends. So I hid behind my personality, so to speak. Indulging in school events, sports, contests like the spelling bees, etc. Deep inside, I envied my thin and attractive girlfriends and only dreamed of having the attention of a boy. I was always the ‘home-girl’ to the boys I secretly crushed on and it killed me inside.

“I did eventually join the cheerleading squad after my second attempt; I hadn’t nailed it the first time due to my shyness. Then later, I pursued some dance but never considered myself to be, so to speak, ‘active.’ My jaw was active, basically. Lol.”

Dean: When did you first begin working out with weights and thinking about fitness as a lifestyle? Do you have any role models in the industry that inspire you?

Capucine: “It’s sad to say, but although my mother had been there for me in school, birthdays and such, she had a very strange way of motivating me to lose weight. She had been feeding me a healthy dose of laxatives and broccoli since I could remember, and had a side kick to boost up her idea that I had been way too overweight for my age. My father called me fat or fatso and teased me all the while, and as I struggled with my own beliefs on how I looked, I decided I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything dictate how I live my life. I was fed up, hurt, and most importantly, MOTIVATED!

“I challenged myself with a three mile walk to the neighborhood gym and sought out the most interesting machine I could find. I got on the elliptical everyday for 45 minutes and completed my exercise with a three mile walk straight back home. I was too embarrassed to do any abs work there so I did it in the comfort of my bedroom—300 to be exact in combination with walking lunges. I was on the way to a new me!

“Later, I signed up at a gym closer to home; I was approached by a man by the name of Yosiah Israel, a trainer and former New York native. My relationship with him grew deep and after he took me to my first bodybuilding show I was hooked. He offered me free training as long as I’d show up each morning at 5am! The hours weren’t a concern—the way I saw it this was signed contract for a better life and I was going to enjoy the ride. From then on I educated myself pretty extensively in food and went to get my personal training certification. Couple years later, I took on my major as Dietetic Professional or better known as a Registered Dietitian.”

Dean: What changes to your physique have made you most proud since you started and what areas are you trying to improve?

Cap will try for her IFPA pro card this summer in the bikini division. Here she is during her shoot at this year’s Arnold.

Capucine: “Abs by far! It’s my favorite question of the day: ‘How did you get your abs like that?’ It’s funny how people swear I either don’t eat, do tons of cardio, or have some secret abs routine. All of that is hunky dory but it doesn’t deliver unless you’ve got diet down to a science. You are what you eat, and my abs say it all. The minute I take advantage of my sweet tooth it shows. You have to have balance and discipline to see results without feeling like it’s a chore. Although the improvements made in my legs have not been overlooked and I’m becoming quite proud of them.”

Dean: Could you share your competition history and upcoming plans?

Capucine: “In 2007, I competed three consecutive times at an NPC show sponsored by Sergio Pacheco and at the Florida vs. Bahamas Invitational. I placed first in one show and second at the Invitational competing against the wife of Pro Bodybuilder Darrem Charles. Since then I have not competed again. Although, I was not going to share my current endeavors with anyone, because of this interview I must disclose my secret. I am currently preparing to compete in the 2012 Natural Yankee Classic for my Pro Card in the Bikini division.”

Dean: What kind of reaction have you gotten from family and friends on your healthy look and habits? Have you inspired anyone you know to begin working out?

Capucine: “My family has probably been the most unsupportive of the group; my friends, on the contrary, have always been impressed in my transformation and admiring of my endeavors. So, in regretful honesty, if I had paid a fraction of attention to the opinions of my family, I probably would have never discovered my true calling, and in fact never used it as ammunition to go against all odds and show them this is who I am and I’m great at it. Sometimes the support you need comes from the unexpected and other times the negative feedback can come from the people you least expect it from. The key is to take what you need and keep it moving!”

Dean: Noticed from your Arnold photos that you have some very impressive bicep peaks! Have you done any special exercises to get them that way or is it mostly genetics?

Cap on armwrestling: “I do! When I worked a WWE event all the wrestlers tried to wrestle me but I confessed right away ‘it’s all show boys’ and winked-it off.”

Capucine: “I suppose I’d have to say they are mostly genetics, because I do not work on them. Often the minute I put in a day of training, I’m pushing about 13-inches all around. Always pumped and vascular. I have to give credit to my diet for that, because I strongly believe a well kept diet is what gives you the most impressive and lasting results.”

Dean: What would you say are your biggest goals with working out and being involved in the fitness industry?

Capucine: “I hate to answer this question sometimes because I have so many things I see myself doing and portraying that often I lose track of the main objective. But simply put, I see myself completing school as a Registered Dietitian, and being able to be at the one place I can always be happy and feel empowered—and that place would be a gym specially designed and incorporated by myself, calling myself a proud business owner where I would share my expertise in fitness and especially foods with anyone who desires to live a healthy lifestyle. I am currently working on my own personal food website designed to provide healthy regimens and tips to staying fit and eating clean. My website is”

Dean: Is there anything else we can help you promote or any special shout-outs you’d like to give to those who have helped you along your fitness journey?

Capucine: “I’d like to thank the strangers who passed me in the street, bookstore, coffee shop, various gyms, gas stations, and all major drug stores and grocery markets. These people truly kept me driven by constant compliments and words of endearment stating true appreciation for the dedication and struggle it took for me to get this far physically and mentally.

“Not to forget my boyfriend for making me feel beautiful, glad you came into my life, Juan; my long and devoted coaches Yosiah Israel and Sergio Pacheco and all the great people I met along the way; Steve Calabrese, owner of Natural Body Inc. Metabolic Nutrition, for the trusted belief in me through sponsorship; and the boys from coliseum gym, CraziJerrY Rodriguez (J- Rod) & Christian Castillo. And lastly the angel from above who recently came into my life, Jeffery Fine, for his relentless support through my ups and downs. There are not too many people we can call friends but this person has set a new definition in friendship. Thank You.”

Casie Shepherd Wins Pro Card at Jr. Nationals

•June 20, 2012 • 1 Comment

Former figure girl Casie Shepherd wins pro card in physique division at 2012 NPC Jr Nats. New pics from her latest shoot coming soon. Photo credit: Dan Ray.

Casie Leigh Shepherd has never had any trouble standing out among fellow competitors. That’s the easy part when you happen to be 6-foot-2 even before slipping on a pair of heels. Harder was what she accomplished Saturday night, when she stood out for a much more satisfying reason after winning a pro card in the physique division at Jr. Nationals.

The breakthrough win was a surprise to many, including the former figure competitor herself, who later wrote on Facebook, “Never have I ever gone into any competition expecting to win but to only do my very best.”

This time, her very best was good enough to make her the tall class champ. And she didn’t even need heels during the routine round.

Since starting in 2008, Casie had some success in smaller shows but was never quite able to find the next level in figure. That all changed when she decided to switch to physique. The transition was a huge challenge, but the result proves she has found her niche.

The dream-come-true moment left Casie in a whirl of unexpected excitement and happiness. “This weekend was by far one of the most crazy and emotional of my life,” she wrote, “and one that I will never forget.”

Neither will her fans. We’ve got Casie in a new shoot coming soon and you’ll see the IFBB pro showing off her contest shape, championship look fresh from her unforgettable win.

Jr. Nationals Photoshoots

More shoots from the weekend include six brand new models. Jill Dearmin, physique competitor out of Scotland; figure competitor Nicole Logan; Tracy Pruitt, figure girl from Texas; Ashley Sebera, former gymnast now fitness competitor out of Cleveland (and a training partner of new pro Amanda Hatfield); Marissa Hein, former softball player from Oregon; and Melissa Shuster, figure competitor from Minnesota who could switch to physique.

Michelle Smith Wins at Southern Cal Champs

•June 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Michelle Smith is 2012 NPC Southern California figure overall champ.

News, notes and pictures from around the studio…

Michelle Smith was in prime condition and proved it last weekend at the NPC Southern California Championships, winning class B and the overall title in the figure division. The contest was a virtual home game for the San Diego native, who earned her national qualification with the win as well as a pretty cool sword. Michelle topped more than 35 competitors from four height classes to claim the prize.

Sara Butler, who took second in her class at this year’s Emerald Cup, is one of several new women’s physique competitors making a splash. Better yet, don’t miss her long-awaited solo shoot, sporting a cute pink top and bodybuilder-like muscle, especially arms and abs, along with that trademark playful swagger.

A knee injury cut Amber Jacobs’ season short last year, but the adorable Seattle native has bounced back, finishing fourth at the Emerald Cup and winning her class at the Empire Classic in Spokane. She plans to compete at the Los Angeles Championships July 21 before heading to the NPC USAs the following weekend. She’s looking fierce and determined.

Capucine Leconte, a wonderful discovery from this year’s Arnold show soon will light up the stage competing in the bikini division. I’ll have an interview with the beautiful Floridian coming up later.

Lastly, the Jr. Nationals begin today and along with some newly minted pros celebrating will be plenty of shutters clicking between now and the end of the weekend. Stay tuned for a rundown of all the latest shoots.

Interview with Bikini Competitor Allison Taylor

•June 12, 2012 • 1 Comment

Getting Set: Allison started competing in bikini this year after being a star track & field and soccer player during college.

Not long after completing a splendid collegiate career as a scholarship track athlete, Allison Taylor is off to another running start in the fitness industry. The 25-year-old out of Whittier, California only began training to compete this past January, but after placing second in her debut show has quickly added her name to a growing list of striking new competitors to hit the scene.

Allison competed again at the recent California State Championships, taking 12th in bikini C, the largest class with 21 women. She’ll likely place higher in figure given her level of muscle, and she’s contemplating a switch. Her next show will be the highly challenging NPC USAs in Las Vegas next month.

Considering her athletic focus, it’s not surprising Allison’s legs are outstanding—check out this impressive photo comparison featuring her calves unflexed and flexed—but her impressive back, shoulders and triceps are also a badge to her progress in the gym and other sports (like gymnastics and basketball) she has played.

An honors graduate of Cal State Fullerton, Allison is an academic as well athletic standout. She didn’t start working out until college but was a quick study, soaking-in knowledge that she now passes along as a personal trainer. She plans to continue to educate on health and fitness in a variety of ways.

Allison’s balanced symmetry and muscle proportion give her physique a flowing, elegant quality that perfectly compliment her beautiful, natural look. She’s one to watch, whether on stage collecting a trophy or in a magazine with her picture on the cover and her byline next to a training article.

Someday, maybe all three.

* * *

Dean: You were a track and field & soccer star in college. Which university did you attend and what were some of your top achievements? What else did you study?

Allison’s stats: Age: 25; Height: 5’3 ½; Weight: 116; Hometown: Whittier, California.

Allison: “I graduated with Academic Honors and a BA in Business Administration (concentration in Marketing) from California State University, Fullerton. Walking onto the track team was one of the best decisions I made in college. I learned so much from being a part of the team and actually earned a scholarship from placing 8th in the long jump at the West Coast Regional Championships my first year.”

Dean: Were you always athletic growing up? When did you first start working out with weights?

Allison: “I found my love for sports when my parents allowed me to join the local AYSO soccer team at the age of 10. I loved the game, the competition and being part of a team which encouraged me to also join gymnastics, dance, basketball, soccer and track and field. I couldn’t keep up with all of the sports in high school so I narrowed it down to soccer, dance, volleyball and track; only focusing on soccer and track and field for my senior year.

“I didn’t start working out with weights until I got to college and I have to admit that it was a little intimidating at first. After learning about technique and seeing the results it became my favorite part of practice. I wanted to share this knowledge so I became a part-time personal trainer at the 24 Hour Fitness in my home town.”

Dean: Being in California, you probably knew about bodybuilding and fitness shows. Was it something you always thought about trying? Did you know some competitors?

Allison: “I had always read about bodybuilding and fitness shows in Oxygen and Fitness RX magazine, but had never thought I could get in great shape to compete. I supported a few friends who competed and I soon took an interest in the industry and the sport. After being inspired by a few pro competitors (Amanda Latona and Nicole Wilkins) and my coach, I committed to doing my first competition.”

Dean: Congrats on competing in bikini at the recent California State! Was this your first show? How did you feel leading up to the moment you stood on stage?

Allison: “Thank you! My first show was the GNC 2012 Muscle Contest in Torrance where I placed second in the Bikini C class. Leading up to the Cal Champs I felt great. I was really proud of how hard I had worked and the package that I was going to bring to the stage that day. I had a good experience from the show and it only motivated me to continue to pursue my fitness dreams.”

National Debut: Allison is preparing to compete at the USAs in July. It will be just her third show overall.

Dean: Have you made any other contest plans? Are you looking to stay in bikini or maybe bump up to figure?

Allison: “I plan on competing at the USAs in July and might be stepping up to compete in the figure category soon. After the Cal Champs my coach and I have gone to the drawing board and are finding a solution that will be a great fit for me.”

Dean: You look amazing in your new pics on the site—great symmetry and proportions! How does it feel to have developed your physique to a point where you’re doing fitness magazine-style photo shoots?

Allison: “Thank you! When I first started training in January, I could never have imagined my physique to develop the muscles that I have now. It is so amazing to look at pictures and see that my hard work is paying off. Looking at photos from shoots helps to keep me on my toes and I use them as motivation to keep challenging myself and improving.”

Dean: What else would you like to accomplish in the fitness industry?

Allison: “I am very driven and have many goals that I’d like to accomplish in the fitness industry; to continue to motivate through personal training, to someday be on the cover on one of my favorite fitness magazines, to inspire through blogs, articles, workout DVDs, fitness modeling and much more. Most of all with each and every accomplishment, I want to motivate people to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Incorporating working out and eating clean into your everyday life can provide so many benefits that many people are unaware of.”

Allison has made amazing progress in a short time. “I could never have imagined my physique to develop the muscles that I have now…my hard work is paying off,” she says.

Dean: What are some things people always say to you about your physique? Do you remember a moment when you surprised someone (or even yourself) with how strong you really are?

Allison: “I think I have surprised quite a few people, myself including, with my progress. I have gotten so used to my body now that I have to try on a pair of my old pants to remind myself of how far I’ve come. I usually get quite a few compliments on my arms, shoulders and legs which is always flattering.”

Dean: Thanks again for doing this interview and hope we can catch up again! Is there anything else you’d like to promote (website, sponsors, etc.) or any special shout-outs you’d like to give?

Allison: “Thank you for giving me this opportunity! :) I am very thankful to have such a wonderful support group: my family, friends and my amazing coach Chris Lewis and would love to give a special shout out to them.”

Jami DeBernard “Ecstatic” After Winning California Pro

•May 28, 2012 • 2 Comments

Jami DeBernard is your 2012 Cal Pro Figure Champ.

Figure competitor Jami DeBernard notched her first IFBB win Saturday night at the California Pro. The Sacramento-based personal trainer competed in five shows since making her Olympia debut as a rookie pro last year and stood among the best each time. She finished fourth once, took third place three times, and was runner up once.

But no wins—until now.

The absence of several top tier pros like Nicole Wilkins, Erin Stern, Candace Keene and Heather Dees made the show a wide open race. Still, with plenty of talent left on stage, the win wasn’t any less sweet.

Jami was clearly thrilled afterwards and shared her excitement on Facebook. “I am beyond ecstatic & grateful to have won last night’s California Pro!” she wrote before thanking fans, many of whom already flooding her with praise, for their support and encouragement.

She continued: “Special thanks to the IFBB for providing us athletes this opportunity to be part of such a great organization and sport, Jon Lindsay for putting on a first class event, the judges for making the difficult decisions, my coach Kim Oddo for guiding & mentoring me through my journey, my husband, sister and family for the love & support & my sister Oddo’s Angels who are the most graceful, kind, classy & beautiful group of women.”

The picture on the right is from Jami’s second shoot at last year’s Olympia. The California Pro champ returns to Las Vegas later this year to compete for figure’s greatest prize.


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