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Bodybuilding’s First Lady Is a Hall-of-Fame Hit

Doris Barrilleaux, the First Lady of Bodybuilding, was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in a ceremony that took place on March 5 as part of the humongous Arnold Sports Festival. In a class of eight inductees that also included eight-time Ms. Olympia Lenda Murray, eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney and powerlifting great Bill Kazmaier, she was hailed as pioneer.

“An outstanding competitor in her own right, she, perhaps more than any other person in the history of the iron game, made national and international women’s physique competition a reality,” declared the NFHF Web site of the eternally toned mother of five, who was born in 1931 and gained prominence in the industry in the 1970s and ’80s as a bodybuilder, official, promoter, publisher and photographer. “She devoted her endless energy to organizing and promoting women’s bodybuilding competitions, eventually in virtually every state of the union.”

Also noted was Doris’ stand against the growing use of steroids in the sport she had done so much to promote, which led her to walk away from her leadership role in the mid-’80s. She remained active as the photo editor of Florida Muscle News, photographing nearly all the contests in that state for some 35 years and racking up 178 magazine covers.

At the induction ceremony, which was hosted by National Fitness Hall of Fame board of directors member Bob Goldman, M.D., and featured an appearance by the guy for whom the weekend is named, Barrilleaux told a cute story about Arnold Schwarzenegger and had an interesting comment about recent developments in the world of women’s physique competitions.

“It’s ironic that in 1979 I called the first women’s contests I promoted Ms. Brandon Physique and Ms. Florida Physique, the longest running state competition in all the states. They were sanctioned by my organization, the Superior Physique Association,” she said.

“Later I attempted to have two classes, Ms. Bodybuilder and Ms. Body Sculpture. But no one would listen. After much controversy these past 32 years I learned last week that now they are adding a ‘physique’ category.  What took them so long?”

As for Arnold, she said he had figured in one of the biggest lost photos of her career.

“As chairman of the IFBB Women’s Committee, I attended the International Congress in Bruges, Belgium, in 1982,” recalled Doris. “Arnold invited me to the private party, with all his friends, after the competition.… He and Mr. Germany, Jusep Wilcosz, were sitting together. Photographer Artie Zeller, used my little pocket camera to photograph the three of us: I sat on Jusep’s lap, and Arnold kissed my hand.  Later it was such a shock when I opened my camera and the film had not advanced.”

When Schwarzenegger greeted her on the podium, he picked up where he left off 29 years before, a moment caught by IRON MAN publisher John Balik in the accompanying photo.

My comments here hit only on a few of Doris Barrilleaux’s résumé highlights. Not to be too trite about it, but at 80 she shows no signs of slowing down and acting her age. Terry Todd, Ph.D., of the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas, Austin, has called her a “Florida great-grandmother with the energy level of a hyperactive hummingbird,” and that sounds about right.

Doris, who has previously been honored by the Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen, authored two books, Forever Fit (1984) and Inside Weight Training for Women (1978), and contributed to Goldman’s seminal Death in the Locker Room (written with Patricia Bush and Ronald Klatch; 1984). In recent years she’s been compiling her memoirs, a multimedia effort that is almost finished, she said. “The award is my final chapter, I think.”

The title of her autobiography? And I Did—which seems to have been the lady’s unwavering motto through her many pursuits.

“I’ve had such a wonderfully full, interesting and exciting life,” she said. “I once had a dream to become a stewardess. And I did (but only after I was a grandmother). My other dream was to have women recognized and appreciated for their athletic physiques.  And I did.

The National Fitness Hall of Fame and Museum was established in 2004 to recognize the efforts of those who promote health and fitness to the American public. Doris reported that when Arnold kissed her hand, he told her, “You deserve it.”

Governor, when you’re right, you’re right.

Photos (from top):

Arnold Schwarzenegger honors Doris Barrilleaux at the National Fitness Hall of Fame ceremony.

Dr. Bob Goldman hosted the event.

The memoirs are still being made.

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