Serious About Fitness Brings out the Best in Women

This past weekend the Canadian Museum of History was the place to be but not because of a specific exhibit but because it was the home to the hopes and dreams of many women. The museum served as a backdrop to the latest Serious About Fitness (SAF) event. SAF has been in existence for approximately a decade and it is a women’s only federation that has a mandate to promote a healthy, athletic lifestyle that inspires other women.

As an observer and someone new to this world two things kept going through my mind; one being I don’t think these competitors eat chocolate almonds as much as I do and, two, I was blown away by the support they had for each other.

There is a stigma that women are not supportive of each other but that certainly wasn’t present in this environment. One of the things that sets SAF apart from other fitness competitions is that there are no coaches allowed backstage which means the competitors have to rely on each other, which fosters more teamwork and supportive behaviour.

As each competitor would finish their routine on the stage, the MC would ask them why they wanted to compete. The answers varied slightly but there were common denominators, ‘staying in shape’, ‘overcoming shyness’, ‘achieving a goal’. As someone who has struggled with weight, I was very impressed with their dedication.

There was also a feature in the show on transformation. In this segment the audience was directed to the SAF Instagram page where we saw ‘Before Pictures’ of individuals at the beginning of their journey and then were presented what they look like now as they came onstage and the results were very very impressive and inspiring.

After Friday’s show, I had the opportunity of interviewing the Head Judge of SAF, Debbie Leclerc.

Ottawa Life: Tell me about the origin of SAF

Debbie Leclerc: SAF started in 2007 by Doug Schneider. There was not a lot of organizations that catered to women who didn’t ‘fit in’. There was a lot of bodybuilding but our focus is more on healthy living and inspiring women. We wanted to be different.  In the beginning, it was Serious about Fitness but now it’s commonly known as SAF.

What are the things that make SAF different than the other organizations and competitions?

In a holistic way, the judging panel became all women because one of the mandates is inspiring to other women. It is an overall healthy look and shape. At the end of the day we want to inspire other women and it’s a very inspiring stage.

 I noticed there are women of all sizes.

Yes that’s correct but for the bikini category there can’t be any vascularity. Our fitness category is different.

What are some of the different events you have leading up to a competition?  For example, I know there are workshops that participants can go to.

The workshops are to make them aware of the work. Everyone knows about the training and the diet. At the camps, they learn different things like posing. We show them how hard it is to hold a pose and they think of me the next day because they are sore.  We also talk about the budget and where they should invest in things like costume, makeup etc.

Are there just two shows per year.

There are two shows in Ottawa. There is also an amateur show in Toronto and another one in New York State.

What is the biggest misconception about events such as this?

I know it can seem in many layers narcissistic as a sport. It is more of a celebration of women. There is something to be said about going out in a tiny bikini and overcoming shyness. I competed before and I was painfully shy. Everything I did helped shaped me today, which is why I am still involved and now I am the head judge. It got me out of comfort zone and it helped me with my work. I am a project manager and a business relationship manager and as part of my role I have to speak in front of others and lead meetings. If I hadn’t done SAF I don’t know if I could have brought my career this far. So the stuff women do to get there is gold.

It goes beyond the bikini; it’s the journey to get there. The inspirational stories that we hear are what keep me going.