I started a new job in a new city just after Labor Day. Whether or not the fear was rational, I was concerned about being dismissed as the new guy who didn't know what he was talking about. After seeing how many people read and shared this story, my worries were gone. As silly as that seems, I felt welcomed in the community. And that's really what matters, right? Feeling at home in your new community.
I should also add that Leo and Suzi have lived incredible lives and their story is fascinating, so the article may have been widely read no matter who wrote it. Nevertheless, it is my favorite story I wrote for 406 MT Sports in 2019.
CLANCY -- During the fall of 2018, Leo Wiggins had been out of competitive bodybuilding for just over a decade. The National Physique Committee was putting on an event called Night of Champions in Spokane, Washington.
“We went to Night of Champions in Spokane. I said, ‘if you win a first place then maybe I’ll compete this next year,’” remembers Leo about a conversation he had with his wife Suzi.
She won first place in three classes as well as two overall first place finishes.
Here’s the quick and dirty on competitive bodybuilding. … Competitions have six overall or events: men’s bodybuilding, classic physique, men’s physique, fitness, women’s bodybuilding and women’s physique bikini. Within each event are various classes based on skill level and/or age. Different events will have slightly different suits the athletes will wear, and will highlight different muscles and poses.
The NPC is the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the US. An amateur can become a professional by joining the International Federation of BodyBuilders. An athlete earns their IFBB card by finishing first within a class at the NPC Nationals Championship or if they are the overall winner at the NPC USA Championship. Bodybuilding is the practice of sculpting one’s body as if molding a piece of clay. Other sports like power lifting are simply a measure of how much weight an athlete can put up.
Leo will be 57 in January and competes in the masters class, which is usually 55 years and up. As a former landscape contractor in Helena, he has always lived an active lifestyle. Leo lived in Helena off and on growing up. His father was in the Navy and whenever he would leave for a cruise, Leo would stay in Helena with his grandparents. He has fond memories growing up and playing football, baseball, soccer and wrestling as his main sport. He also enjoyed boxing, jiu-jitsu, white-water rafting, mountain climbing, hunting and fishing.
“I’ve always been in shape,” Leo says. “I like telling my friends from high school ‘I never left gym class.’ I kept going to gym class every day and a lot of people just quit going.
“I’ve always coached or participated in some kind of sports. But it was 2000, and I was lifting weights a lot and someone was like, ‘man you should try bodybuilding.’ So I thought, ‘okay I’ll try it.’”
Body building wasn’t very popular in Montana at that time and it was difficult to find competitions. Leo asked his buddies he knew from the 80s which he referred to as the ‘powerlifting days.’ He picked up anything he could to read about what to do to prepare for a bodybuilding competition.
Finally, he found a competition in Billings and took third place. This was through an organization called the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation.
“I learned a lot. I learned that I wasn’t tan enough,” Leo says. “One of my daughters was videotaping me and we looked at the videotape afterwards. I looked like a lightbulb on stage. Everybody else was dark and I thought they were nuts, as dark as they were.
“They looked as dark as my sweats. The stage has really bright lighting. And of course (not being tan enough) that takes away from your definition. So I learned a lot from that.”
The next competition was in North Dakota. Leo was far more prepared and took first place.
“I got pretty jazzed after that about competing,” he says. “You always had to travel somewhere to do it – Washington state, North Dakota and then one in the state of Montana.”
Leo competed in 11 meets from 2000-2007 before he stepped away from the sport to attend to his family.
“I was raising my daughters by myself, three daughters,” he says. “So, having time with their sports starting … they had music and school, and I had to start paying more attention to what they were doing. It’s a pretty selfish sport. So, I just bowed out of it. I was still coaching kids.”
As luck would have it, it was one of his daughters who later introduced him in 2014 to his wife Suzi. Suzi, 35, lived in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, at the time. She worked at a salon and a client suggested Suzi come over and meet her father.
“Leo was visiting his daughter and she said, ‘you should come over and meet him,’” remembers Suzi. “So we lit a bonfire and got married three months later.”
Suzi and Leo run businesses on the same lot in Clancy. Suzi is the owner of Country Beauty, which opened in 2014, and Leo is the owner of Country Coffee, which opened in February. Working 70-80 hours per week running their own businesses does not get in the way of their training.
“My day starts at 3:30 in the morning,” Suzi says. “I go to the gym, do an hour and a half of weight lifting and an hour of cardio. Then I come to work, and at night I do another hour of cardio.”
Depending on what day of the week it is, they will work specific muscle groups. According to Leo, with a competition coming up, it is important to have a precise routine. Working out specific muscles with the same lifts will help with definition.
Everyone has days they don’t feel like working out.
“Too bad,” Suzi says. “It’s not an option.”
“If I can get past the door (at the gym), I get through my workout,” adds Leo.
Obviously the exercise is important. However, if there’s one place that requires more discipline than the gym, it’s the kitchen.
“It’s the most important thing, bar-none,” Leo says.
During the offseason – when there isn’t an upcoming meet – they might have a “cheat meal” once a week, where they will deviate from their meal plan. Maybe they will indulge in some extra sugar or carbohydrates. In the instance when they do indulge, they don’t go overboard. And when there’s a competition coming up, forget about.
“If you want to win, there’s no cheating,” Suzi explains with a laugh.
Instead of a coach to help with lifting, the couple invests in a nutrition coach.
“I know enough about weight lifting to where I don’t need a coach teaching me the weight lifting,” Leo explains. “I have a coach for my diet, and Suzi does, too. She knows enough about weight lifting, also.”
As a completion creeps closer, you eat a lot less. Sugars are out. Recently, Leo says cut all his carbs when he was two and a half weeks out. The only carbs he will ingest are naturally in the vegetables he consumes.
There have been several scientific advancements since the heyday of Arnold Schwarzenegger during the 70s and 80s. Leo says that there are substantially more natural athletes now who do not use the supplements body builders used decades ago. Instead, they will start molding themselves for competition about five months out instead of 10 weeks ahead of time.
In addition to ramping up a diet and exercise routine, it’s also important to perfect various poses.
“During (competition) prep time you work on posing every day, sometimes 20 minutes a day,” Leo says. “That actually works in a lot of cardio because you’ve got to stand there and flex in front of the mirror; from one position to another, or you’re doing a routine.”
These sessions become critical when muscles start cramping on stage, due to the lack of nutrients the body receives when cutting carbs out of the diet.
“When we practice posing, we practice and hold it,” Leo adds. “There’s a lot of times the judges will have you up there for a long period of time.”
Suzi recently earned her IFBB card in August – something she aspired to do since she started bodybuilding when she met Leo five years ago. She is taking a year off to train before entering her first competition as a professional.
Leo is headed to nationals in Pittsburgh in July 2020, where he hopes to earn his IFBB card. In 2019 he earned two third-place finishes at NPC Nationals. He was third in physique for ages 55 and over. He also took third in bodybuilding for ages 50 and over.