http://www.adn.com/sports/story/9330383p-9245507c.htmlComeback will culminate on Ms. Olympia stage
By BRIAN SINGLERbsingler@adn.com
Published: September 25, 2007
Everybody who works in the produce department at the Midtown Fred Meyer knows Valentina Chepiga.
And if everything goes as planned, the rest of Alaska soon will too.
The Anchorage bodybuilder is aiming to become Alaska's first winner -- she's already its first contestant -- at Friday's Ms. Olympia contest in Las Vegas.
That's right, Ms. Olympia.
As in those striated, oiled-up figures that grace the magazine covers a few aisles from where Chepiga shops to support her largely vegetables-and-meat diet.
Chepiga's fiance, Timothy Kirby, is a Fred Meyer produce clerk and the one who encouraged Chepiga, the 2000 Ms. Olympia heavyweight champion, to make a comeback at age 45.
"Everybody (at Fred Meyer) knows Valentina," Kirby said. "They're all following her to the contest. They're all bodybuilder educated -- the whole store."
Chepiga, a Ukrainian citizen who moved to Anchorage a year and a half ago, is a 5-foot-4, 140-pounder who can eat five chicken breasts and two steaks as part of one of her five daily meals for the four months leading up to the contest.
Chepiga is one of two professional bodybuilders in Anchorage, joining Karen Patten, a fitness and figure pro.
Patten turned pro last year. Chepiga is a nine-year veteran with a list of accomplishments as long and detailed as her workout routine.
She was named 2002 Ms. International at the Arnold Classic, considered by some to be bodybuilding's second-biggest event -- following the Olympia Weekend.
She also won the World Amateur Championships and the European Championships in 1997 as a middleweight.
Now at 5 percent body fat -- which she hopes will drop to 4.5 percent by show time -- Chepiga is out to prove whether she can return after two years off to dethrone Californian Iris Kyle, the woman at the top of the female bodybuilding universe. Her age is not a detriment at that level -- fellow competitor Betty Pariso is 51.
"That's Fred Meyer veggies right there," Kirby said, pointing to Chepiga as she practiced posing two weeks ago at World Gym. "She goes in and wrecks the place."
'HISTORY-MAKING FOR ALASKA'
Somebody as ripped as Chepiga is a rare sight.
Her abs look ready to pop off her 24- 1/2 inch waist with each breath. Veins twist down her back. Striations bulge from her shoulders. Calves any 200-pound man would be proud of look ready to burst from her skin.
Sometimes people wander over to Chepiga at World Gym, where she works out, to ask if she competes at local bodybuilding shows.
Chepiga and Kirby share a laugh. She is one of the 14 competitors at this year's Ms. Olympia and a woman who was once the best in her sport on the globe.
"Valentina is the only athlete in the IFBB to ever come from Alaska to compete in Olympia," said Kirby, a longtime amateur bodybuilding judge. "This is history-making for Alaska."
This particular day is shoulder day in a workout routine that includes weights five to six days a week and intense cardio every day.
First comes the military press, which involves lifting and lowering a barbell overhead from a seated position.
After a couple of warm-up sets she moves to 65 pounds; her face trembles and her lips are pressed together as she completes her set.
At 85 pounds, her whole head shakes and her face contorts
At 95 pounds, she asks for help from Kirby and takes two quick gasps of air to eke out her eighth and final repetition.
"Let's try for eight again," she tells Kirby, who stands ready to assist her. "Not too fast, not slow. When the weight comes down, get your hands out of the way."
The first four reps look as if they hurt. But Chepiga's only halfway there.
Rep 5: "No, No!" she hisses as Kirby tries to help her.
Rep 6: "I'm good."
Rep 7: "Help!"
Rep 8: "Help!" she screams again when she can't finish under her own power.
The sheer weight Chepiga lifts is not what's impressive. It's the strict form and concentration, the mind-muscle connection that results in a contraction powerful enough to stimulate muscle growth.
"It doesn't matter how much I lift," she says. "I am not a power lifter, and I am not trying to make records. If I use 5 pounds and I can make my body change, that's what's important."
From there, it's on to shoulder raises, an exercise in which she lifts her arms out to the side and front, holding a 15-pound dumbbell.
Minutes later, the individual bundles of muscle fibers bulge and she's "all blooded out," her muscles swelling.
Building bigger shoulders was a goal to help widen the "V" from her waist. As she poses between sets, the "V" is so pronounced Chepiga almost looks like a comic-book figure.
"She's more massive than she's ever been," Kirby says.
She is so intense by this point she's giving one-word answers to questions and has removed her engagement ring because it's in the way.
She finishes with a last set of shoulder raises and some decline abdominal crunches, the skin around her abs so tight it wrinkles from top to bottom.
"DROOLING" FOR A COMEBACK
Kirby and Chepiga met over dinner at the 2005 Ms. Olympia, around the time Chepiga was contemplating leaving the sport. After coming to Alaska briefly in December of 2005, the former Washington resident moved to Anchorage permanently in February of 2006 -- as a retired bodybuilder.
A short time later, the couple, who plan to get married in the spring, were watching a Web cast of the Ms. Olympia competition and the couple thought Chepiga could challenge or beat most of the competitors.
"I saw it in her eyes, the desire to come back," Kirby said. "It was like a Doberman drooling over a steak."
"He just encouraged and made me believe in myself that I can do it and do it great," Chepiga said.
She began to train full time again, starting a year ago.
"She's genetically gifted," said Patten, a former fitness and figure pro with the IFBB. "It's an astronomical accomplishment (to win Ms. Olympia).
Patten pulled out of the IFBB after just one show and has joined Fitness America because she is "excited to compete in an organization that claims it's drug free and follows that up with drug testing."
Chepiga said she's never used steroids and thinks she is in good enough shape to seriously challenge for another title. She just finished making an expensive hand-made crystal-studded suit and spent $250 to get her hair styled.
"Given her history (and) her making a comeback, I am excited to see how she is going to do," Patten said.
CHEPIGA IN ACTION
Friday: Ms. Olympia Web cast replays available at www.bodybuilding.com/fun/2007olympia.htm
Oct. 20: Chepiga will be the featured guest poser at the 2007 Anchorage National Physique Committee Crystal Cup Championships at Egan Center.
How she does it
Breakfast, 7-8 a.m.: Oatmeal (when consuming carbohydrates) and a 6-to-8-egg-white omelet. Steamed potatoes, flavored with a little salsa.
Lunch, 11 a.m.: Top sirloin steak or two chicken breasts with a green salad (cucumbers, mixed baby greens and tomato) and one and a half cups of vegetables.
Meal No. 3, 2-3 p.m.: Another green salad plus steamed chicken or turkey breasts mixed with a combination of yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, green beans, bell pepper and carrots.
Dinner, 6 p.m.: Four Kashi Foods multi-grain cookies with rice and chicken breasts.
Meal No. 5, 8 p.m.: Entire bag of prepackaged salad with raw vegetables and either chicken breasts, fish or large, lean steak.
60-90 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week; 8-10 reps on free weights and 12-15 reps on cables.
Monday, shoulders: Military press (90 pounds), side raises (15-20), and a variety of self-designed exercises using cables ropes and benches.
Tuesday, legs: (All 15 reps) Mixture of squats (135-150 pounds), leg press (500), leg extensions (100), lunges (150), hack squats (140) and calf raises (weight varies).
Thursday, chest: Incline barbell press (135 pounds), single-arm machine press (60-70) and occasionally chest dips.
Friday, back: Pullups (100 pounds of bodyweight), Bent-over barbell rows (95-100), Seated cable rows (80-90), one-arm dumbbell row (45-50) and bent over dumbbell rows (30 pounds).
Saturday, arms: Barbell curls (70 pounds), concentration curls (25), one-arm preacher curl (25), barbell preacher curl (45), french press (70), seated triceps extension (50-60 with two arms, 25-30 with one), cable pushdowns (20 pounds), one-arm cable extension (20), kickbacks (20) and overhand grip barbell curls (40) or single arm hammer curls (20).
Daily: 30-45 minutes of cardio on the elliptical machine at full inline and full resistance and 130 strides per minute.
(photo courtesy of ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News)