Yukoners compete in first bodybuilding competition

Eleven Yukoners climbed into a bus and made the 18-hour drive to Fort St. John, B.C. this past weekend to flex their muscles.

Eleven Yukoners climbed into a bus and made the 18-hour drive to Fort St. John, B.C. this past weekend to flex their muscles.

The crew of amateur bodybuilders, a group of nine women and two men, were led by trainers Tanja McPherson and Lee Anne Henderson. The Whitehorse contingent traveled to Fort St. John to compete in the Northern Classic Bodybuilding Competition, hosted by the BC Amateur Bodybuilding Association.

It was the first competition for the team. Of the 11 athletes, five took home prizes.

The importance of the competition extends far beyond trophies however, said McPherson.

“This was a life-changing event for a lot of them. A lot of personal struggles they had throughout their life went away this weekend. It’s been an emotional journey.”

McPherson spoke of those who struggle with body image and fitting into a body type and the stigma around bodybuilding, that if you pick up a weight you’ll suddenly turn into a lump of muscle.

One competitor had never donned a bathing suit before the weekend’s competition because of issues with body image.

“The transformation they’ve taken so far from where they started to where they are today, I can’t even explain it,” McPherson said. “A lot of tears were shed at the competition.”

The team began training at Better Bodies eight months ago, taking people with no previous experience in weightlifting and bodybuilding and fine tuning their bodies.

McPherson and Henderson, each personal trainers, laid out the programs, the routines and the diets, while also juggling their other clients and working towards their own goals. It paid off.

McPherson placed first overall in both the master’s and open categories. She was quick to deflect attention back onto the team though, when asked about her success.

“It was just a really gratifying feeling to go down there and see your competitors place and know that it made a difference in their life,” she said.

McPherson watched over the team carefully during the training, making sure workouts and diets were being followed, exchanging text messages late in the night, sending encouragement and helping the team avoid pitfalls and overcome food cravings.

In Fort St. John the togetherness of the group was noted by other competitors.

“The whole team is being talked about,” said McPherson, “because of their attitude and their positivity and their approach to the competition. Lee Anne and I are proud mommas.”

The team, which started with just one member eight months ago has now grown to 17.

McPherson and Henderson use a simplified program, with much of the focus being on clean eating and staying active.

McPherson also said one of the best suggestions they offer for those interested in getting into the gym is to find a training partner.

“It’ll give you extra motivation and support,” she said. “Often it’s taking that first step, just getting into the gym, that’s the hardest part. Once you’re there it gets easier.”

In July, Henderson will be taking the national stage at the Canadian Bodybuilding Championships and McPherson plans on returning to the Fort St. John event next year and for the foreseeable future.

“As long as people want to give it a shot, we’re going to be around for a long time,” she said.

Contact Sam Riches at


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