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Flexin' in Florida—Again

ac09_2781sheilawbFairy tales can come true; it can happen to you. That’s what Tampa Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Championships promoter Tim Gardner must be singing after a grass roots effort by popular Web site led him to uncancel the women’s portion of his event.

Why is it a fairy tale? In case you haven’t heard, it’s a bad time for women’s pro bodybuilding. As of a few of days ago there were only two open shows for them on the schedule—which meant only two opportunities for the ladies to qualify for the ’09 Ms. Olympia—bad news for the burgeoning brood of female flexers in the pro ranks. Until last month their were three qualifiers on the list, but Tim was forced to pull the plug when he couldn’t get sponsorship money for the women, not surprising given the economy-challenged pool of sponsorship available for all physique competition. (The open men’s show was never in doubt.)

A pair of conversations I had on women’s day at the Arnold on March 6 highlighted the situation. The first, which took place at the expo, was with Sheila Bleck, the ’08 NPC Women’s Overall champ, who told me she planned to make her pro debut in August at the Tampa show. A couple of hours later, at the women’s finals, I ran into Tim, who sadly reported the problems he was having. I couldn’t help flashing on Sheila, wondering if she’d get to debut her celebrated posing routine in the pros this year after all.

A week or so later the PBW women’s contest was off the IFBB schedule. Concerned citizens asked what it would take for Gardner, who got high marks from athletes and fans for his inaugural event last year, to bring it back in 2010. The basic expenses would be $12,000, he said, “which does not include any costs of the venue, judges, stage set, hotel, advertising, transportation, trophies, etc.” Also that he would need it by December ’09. Within 10 days $17,000 in concerned-citizen sponsorship had materialized, and Tim was rethinking his decision regarding this year’s show.

In a “reinstatement” notice posted at on April 1, he gave credit for the fund-raising effort: “With IFBB Pro Debbie Bramwell at the helm,, photographer John Hawley and approximately 12 individuals plus Ed and Betty Pariso as its supporting cast,” it grew to $3,400, he said. Then “lo and behold, I woke up on Saturday the 28th to an anonymous e-mail stating that the Web community would contribute the balance of $8,600.”

As of this writing, the PBW Women’s Championships is not listed on the schedule at, but, Tim confirmed to me this weekend that “Mr. [Jim] Manion has approved the reinstatement, and we are officially back on the schedule for August 7 and 8 for the 2009 IFBB Tampa Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Championships, which will encompass open men, 202-pound-and-under men and open women bodybuilding in conjunction with the NPC Tim Gardner Extravaganza Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure & Bikini Championships.”

For Sheila and all the other ladies who were targeting their prep for August 7, it’s a happy ending. Let the diets begin.

Props to Debbie B. and for helping Tim give new pros like Sheila—and all the women who are not Iris, Dayana, Yaxeni or the other perennial top-six Olympia finishers—a chance to compete.

Props also to the fans at, who took action rather than just complain about the situation. As a certain Austrian-accented governor would say, the people have spoken. Those who participated were not looking for recognition. They just wanted just to help keep the show on the schedule in the current economic climate. As one member posted, “2009 will hopefully be the last time a schmoe bailout is needed.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Photo: If Sheila’s still hoping to make her pro debute in Tampa, it could be time to start dieting,

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