Michele Harris never thought she’d have the most confidence in her life at the age of 40.
“You think when you’re 25 that you’re in your prime. I’m by far the best version of myself now at 40, and it’s only going to get better,” she said.
Harris will represent what she calls “the new 40” at the second annual Pocono Classic Bodybuilding Competition on May 9, in Old Forge. “The new 40 is healthy; it’s strong. Forty is sexy and beautiful where you can still rock a bikini like I can,” she said.
The event’s co-organizer, Vince Cardamone, said the competition will feature 41 different classes; including Male and Female Bodybuilding, Male and Female Physique and Female Bikini.
“Bodybuilding might not be your thing,” Cardamone said. “That’s why we brought in other classes to the show. We brought in Bikini for the girl who just wants to be in great shape in a bikini, like Michele.”
For the past 16 weeks, the Scranton woman has trained her ass off for her first bikini competition with the help of Cardamone as her trainer.
The experience was an unforeseeable journey she says changed her life.
CHANGE YOUR STATUS, DON’T WRITE YOUR STATUS
Harris said her workout habits thrived while she was going through a divorce five years ago. She said it gave her “a little attitude” and the confidence she needed to leave her toxic relationship.
“I was 35 and I left a 17-year relationship. We were married for 10,” she said. “He beat me down mentally. Going to the gym helped me clear my mind. When you’re feeling bad or depressed or sad and you work out and sweat and you’re giving it your all, how could you not feel good?”
Harris said she has friends who will talk themselves out of working out because they might have had a fight with their boyfriend the night before.
“Like, no, go work out. You’re going to feel better for working out,” she said. “Some people find every excuse for not working out. Stop sitting on Facebook writing that you had a bad day. Women need to change their status instead of writing their status on Facebook.”
LIKE A VIRGIN… IN A BIKINI
Harris is no stranger to working out, but she said she is a “virgin” when it comes to competing in bodybuilding and fitness competitions. In December 2014, that changed when a friend approached her at a Scranton gym with a striking proposal. “I was working out at Uno and Pat McNichols, a dear friend of mine for years, came up to me and he said, ‘Hey, how would you like to compete in the Pocono Classic?”
Without hesitation, Harris said she turned around and accepted the proposition — but she had one vital question.
“Where do I begin?” Harris remembers asking McNichols. “I didn’t know how to get to that level. I never competed before. I never thought I’d compete. He told me to message Vince Cardamone.”
Cardamone is a competitive bodybuilder, who trained McNichols five years earlier, and the co-organizer of the Pocono Classic. “There used to be many [bodybuilding] shows in this area at one time, but they faded away. I wanted to bring the bodybuilding scene back,” he said.
Cardamone launched NEPA Natural in 2006, held in the fall, and re-launched the Pocono Classic in 2014.
“The Pocono Classic used to be a show put together by the NPC [National Physique Committee] in Nanticoke. They stopped doing the show 15 years ago. I wanted to have a spring show for amateurs in addition to the fall show. I got the rights to use the name and re-launched the show. Pocono classic has a name behind it, so I wanted to bring that tradition back,” Cardamone said.
Harris enlisted Cardamone’s help and the two began a strict training regimen and rotating diet plan to whip her 40-year-old ass into the best shape of her life.
“It’s been difficult,” Harris said. “I’ve always been a pretty healthy person and made pretty healthy choices, but I’ve never had to be this disciplined. I didn’t realize how much wine gives you a muffin top until I met Vince.”
Harris said she noticed major changes since training with Cardamone; such as her weight, strength and overall mental health.
“I was 134 pounds when I started training. Now I’m 122. I weigh less, but I’m stronger than I ever was; I’m stronger than I thought I was. When I started training, I was leg-pressing 50 pounds. Now, at 122 pounds, I’m leg pressing 400 pounds,” Harris said. “Now people at the gym are coming up to me for advice.”
Harris said she is “always in a good mood now” and more confident than ever when she looks in the mirror.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE
Feeling and looking her best, Harris says her definition of what sexy is has changed throughout her training process for the Pocono Classic. She now realizes “sexy goes beyond how pretty your face is.” It’s confidence and strength, she said.
“Women look at Victoria’s Secret models their whole life and want to look like them. When you see them on the runway, they literally weigh nothing. I always thought, ‘That’s what I need to look like.’ I always thought I needed to have a thigh gap,” Harris said. “But now, I don’t have one. I have quads. Now when I look at a thigh gap, I don’t see sexiness. I see someone who is unhealthy or starving themselves to look that way.”
Feeling and looking her best, Harris is ready to dominate the competition at the Pocono Classic. If she wins her bikini class, she’ll qualify to compete as a pro, Cardamone said. She’ll be able to compete for money instead of just a trophy at the NEPA Natural show in October. Harris said she hopes women will watch her compete and realize that it’s never too late to start a new goal; never too late to get into the best shape of your life.
“Even if I don’t win, I feel like I’ve already won,” she said. “I get to take this body home with me.”