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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
Blanchard approaches fitness as a 24-hour pursuit
by Randy Pascal

A long-time competitive swimmer in her youth, Sarah (Mailloux) Blanchard has never really been out of shape. She had also, however, never taken her fitness to the level she now maintains, at the age of 32.

Competing recently in the open bikini five division of the 2017 GNC ALLMAX Ontario Natural Championships, the teacher by profession earned a top five placement, in a field of twelve, qualifying her for nationals next year.

It's just the latest sign of progress that Blanchard has seen, starting from what was already a very healthy base some five to six years ago. "I got introduced to the gym through swimming, basically in university, because that's when we started doing more weight training," she said.

"That's when I really fell in love with it. But I didn't put all of the pieces together until later on. Nutrition is such a huge piece. When it all came together, I started really seeing body transformation."

Blanchard realized early the naysayers would be present, those who suggested that she was taking an already fitness-oriented lifestyle a touch too far. She also realized, quite quickly, that the true motivation for her pursuit lay very close to home.

"It had always been a dream of mine to do a fitness competition, but you have those thoughts, worrying about what people will think," she said. "I really wanted to do this for me." That inner drive was not new to Blanchard.

The very nature of competitive swim training can easily take a toll, mentally, as the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of laps of the pool add up. For Blanchard, who competed as a member of the Laurentian Aqua Vees during her time completing her Sport and Physical Education program in Sudbury, the demands of workouts were even more taxing.

"I had to swim by myself a lot, because I was an assistant coach with the club team," she recalled. "Not only is it an individual sport, but when there's nobody else even in the water with you at the same time, it makes it that much more challenging."

With her teaching career taking her initially to the far north, then off to England for three years, it wasn't until her return to Canada, in her mid-twenties, that Blanchard felt a need to fill the void that swimming had previously occupied.

"Getting back in the gym, to that level, was easy," she said. "The biggest challenge is the nutrition. It's everything that goes into your body." Before long, the urge to compete would return, as she searched for the proper match in a sport that features four standard classifications for female competitors: physique, figure, fitness and bikini.

"I do bikini because it's the stream that requires the least amount of muscle, relatively speaking," she explained. "I'm a very petite person, by nature. It's very difficult for me to put on huge size, because of my body structure. This is what I am working with, and you have to be comfortable with just improving what you have."

In fact, that comfort in her own skin was revealed at various times in our conversation. It's something that comes part and parcel of a sport that lends itself to an often judgemental lens through which outsiders view the participants.

"I already knew a lot about a healthy lifestyle, but the real difference now has been the consistency part," she said. "Anybody can make changes to their body. It is really hard, and people are going to judge you sometimes for it."

Blanchard noted that, in her opinion, she does strike a balance. "I like how I feel when I eat healthy, I like how I feel when I go to the gym and I'm consistent with it. Being "stage lean" is not maintainable, and I would never recommend it - but it doesn't mean you need to put on twenty pounds after a competition."

Beyond the physical rewards comes the mental payoff. Fleeting self-assuredness does not play well in the world of bodybuilding. "The second your shoes are on stage, they start judging you," said Blanchard. "That confidence on the stage is something they look at, and something I've been working on."

There are those who might suggest that self-confidence is seldom lacking, almost to a fault, for those that compete in bodybuilding. Yet there is a humility that is evident as Blanchard speaks of her passion.

Confident? Absolutely. Cocky? She certainly doesn't show it.

"It's something that's in society in general, there's always going to be somebody trying to knock you down," Blanchard noted. "This sport has taught me that I'm much stronger mentally than I thought."

Not that she wants to travel this road alone. "This is truly a 24-hour sport, in that it combines training, all elements of nutrition, and even the importance of proper sleep and rest," said Blanchard.

"I am very fortunate to have such a great support system. My husband, family and close friends all understand what it takes, and are super supportive and encouraging. Without a strong support system, it makes the world of competing that much more difficult."

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