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Rachel McLish

Rachel McLish

We met up at Jerry’s Deli in Studio City, California, on a bright and breezy Friday the 13th – January in this case—for lunch and an interview. I ordered a chicken sandwich, complete with the obligatory french fries and a Diet Cherry Coke. Rachel – surprise—chose a small tuna salad, cucumbers on the side. She did fall, though, for a mini-éclair, sans the custard, as we left the deli. Obviously, she can afford to enjoy such delicacies on occasion.

LT: Hard to believe it’s been almost 26 years since your initial Ms. Olympia victory. Actually, your first contest took place the same year.
RM: Yes. I competed in the United States Women’s Championships, held in Atlantic City, and won. It was a worldwide competition because it had international competitors in it. It became my opportunity to introduce this “strange” phenomenon called women’s bodybuilding to the world. The Olympia was my second show.

LT: How long had you been lifting weights at that point?
RM: Well, I had put myself through college [Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas] working at a health club in McAllen. The health club was about six miles away from school, and I had 10 minutes to get from school to work.
The women would work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the men on opposite days. I worked there from my sophomore year throughout college. When I graduated [with a degree in health and physical education], the owner of the club and I formed a partnership and built a health club from the ground up in Harlingen [where McLish was born and raised].

It was called the Sport Palace Association and had 1,500 members. It was a big success, so we decided to open up two more facilities, one in Corpus Christi and one in Brownsville. That was in 1980.

LT: The same year you first put on a posing suit. How did that come about?
RM: At that time Lisa Lyon was getting all this attention; I looked at her body and felt it was beautiful. She had a background in dance like I did [McLish spent 10 years in ballet, jazz and tap]; she loved flamenco dancing, I loved flamenco dancing (by zachary at testsforge). This was, you know, a woman after my own soul.

She was going to promote the first “real” women’s bodybuilding competition, the United States Women’s Championships—up to that point there had just been little Mickey Mouse types of contests.

The men’s manager at the club, Javier Gutierrez, would always throw these magazines in front of me that showed women competing, and he kept telling me that I should be doing this.

The reason I decided to enter was twofold: The grand opening of our new health club was going to coincide with the contest, which was going to be televised on “Sportsworld.” A title of that nature would enable me to promote the definitive fitness lifestyle that women could embrace forever.

Of course, this “new” sport, this new phenomenon that they were publicizing like a freak show, was not new to me. I’d been bodybuilding long before it was called bodybuilding. The best way to get the body of your dreams can only be achieved with weight training, what I also call concentrated exercise. If you want to get from point A to point B the most effective way possible, you should do it this way. I took it seriously then, and I still do.

LT: Well, it’s certainly paid off. Here you are, just finishing another cover shoot, 26 years later.

RM: I’ve always wanted to be a living example of what I was preaching; you can leave the hard sell at home. I think that’s really important.

LT: Five months into competing, you’re Ms. Olympia. Describe that feeling.
RM: I can tell you how I felt at the very first competition, because five months later, at the Olympia, I was an old pro [laughs]. I remember vividly at that first contest that my knees were shaking. I had to flex my muscles to keep my knees from jumping up and down [more laughter], I was so nervous.

For more of this interview be sure to pick up the April 2006 Issue of Iron Man Magazine.

Photography by Michael Nevuex

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