After including Bodybuilding and the 212 Division (whatever that is) for men at last year's Texas Pro, this year the event Wings of Strength built around the Rising Phoenix had no male classes at all. Absent in 2015, the Bikini division was added this year, making the IFBB Arizona Pro a first. Ladies only, and all the ladies included.
Today we begin our "review" of this feast and festival of female muscle in all its (IFBB prescribed) forms by taking a look at one athlete from each of the five divisions.
DEBORAH GOODMAN (6th)
Six children have come out of Deborah Goodman, two of them one right after the other. It was after the birth of my twins that I really got interested in the idea of competing, she says. I always knew how to be "skinny" but wanted to take my training to the next level. There was something about the sport that drew me in. The women always looked so fit and healthy and had an air of confidence about them. I thought that this was impossible for me to achieve since I had given birth to six children. Believe it or not, my husband was the one that convinced me to compete. Funnily enough, I don't find that very hard to believe Deborah, I really don't.
Being pregnant with twins I never thought I'd get my body back, having split abs post pregnancy I thought my stomach would be forever ruined. Six years after that and unsurprisingly, Arizona-based Deborah is a bit of a poster girl for "Fit Moms" everywhere. In fact, she co-led a "Fitposium" for busy mothers at the competition venue the day before she went on stage and achieved her best pro placing. It was the first time she'd let her children come and cheer her on. Guess they brought her luck.
Deborah has a website, and 44,000+ followers on Instagram.
GIORGIA FORONI (1st)
The question now is, wondered Giorgia, where to put this on the plane?
A former rhythmic gymnast from beautiful Verona in Italy, the beautiful Giorgia received her mighty but logistically problematic shield for her first professional win. She's only been competing for three years and, like most European IFBB pros, has had to win at international contests to get her pro status. Having been Italian and Arnold Classic Europe champion in 2014, she achieved that feat again last year at the Arnold Amateur in Ohio and received her pro card from the man himself.
You can follow the gorgeous Giorgia and at the same time brush up on your italiano via her website, Facebook, and Instagram. Movement and caring for my health and body have always been priorities in my life, she says. Fitness is my art, my way of expressing this passion. Sounds like something Oksana Grishina might say!
CARLY STARLING-HORRELL (2nd)
22 women, more than in any other category, competed in Figure last weekend, and the line-up included starrier names like Candice Lewis, Jennifer Taylor and Krista Dunn using this show as a warm-up for the Olympia. But despite the competition, it was another woman warming up for Las Vegas, the less fancied (yet very fanciable!) Carly Starling-Horrell from North Carolina who took the runner's-up prize.
Carly wins her class & pro card, 2013 NPC Nationals
I always wanted to be athletic so I tried to find sport but I just couldn’t commit to one, it felt too much like a chore to me, she says. When I was in the gym, I felt comfortable. I felt like I belonged there [and it] turned out to be something I was willing to commit my life to. She won her pro card at the NPC Nationals in 2013 at 33 and after 6 years of trying. Success has come to her a lot more easily as a pro, and victory at this year's IFBB Governor's Cup booked her a place at the Figure Olympia.
If you want an indication of how highly she valued her placing here, then check Carly's Instagram. You honestly wouldn't know that she competed in Arizona last weekend, everything is about prep for the Olympia. Disappointing? Well, yes, a little - I'd like to think all the women were behind Wings of Strength and what they're trying to do and would want their followers to know about it. But on the other hand there's no point being delusional about the status of this show compared to the Olympia - for the women in four of the five IFBB divisions it remains the ultimate goal - and Carly's single-minded focus might well be the secret to a top 6 finish this weekend.
B BARNETT (7th)
Whether off or on stage, nobody, and I mean nobody, looked like they had a better time last weekend than the divine Ms B. But having said that, B (it is just B, not Bee) generally looks as though she's having the time of her life wherever she is and whatever she's doing. Apparently I am ADD, she confesses. You have been warned!
B was a Figure competitor (and a not very successful one at that) until she made the switch to Physique this year, and things have been looking up ever since. 8th in Dallas, then 3rd in San Antonio (where many of the cognoscenti had her in 1st) and here another top 10 finish in a very competitive field. The class was stacked, she said afterwards. I'm honored to stand next to these women... But you better believe I want to beat them too! I brought my best package to date, but it will not be my best ever.
Her mission, she says is "proving muscles are fun to make and pretty to have". Or should that be "pretty to make and fun to have"? Whatever. She's proving them both! Join me in following her Instagram. There's hardly a post in which she isn't grinning like a fool. I suspect she is, as they say, as daft as a brush. In a good way.
ANGELA RAYBURN (11th)
Angela, as we noted in one of our RP2016 previews, is a serial competitor. No breaks for her, not in the last 11 years anyway - and for the first nine of them she was an amateur, trying and failing and trying again and again to gain that coveted pro card. Finally, in 2014, she got it at the NPC Masters Nationals, and this was her sixth pro show in the two years since. I love this sport! she says. Who could doubt it?
Her excitement to be taking part in the world's premier female bodybuilding event was evident on her Instagram as the day drew near, and she spent the entire weekend with a B Barnett-like countenance, making memories and enjoying "fun times" with her sisters in iron - at rehearsals, check-in, backstage, after party, and all points in between, a beaming proud Angela was there with the "wonderful people".
I think it's kind of fitting that Angela and some of the other women who have flourished slightly later in their career than planned are doing so now that Wings of Strength, an organisation whose aim is to do right by them, are running their shows. The IFBB made FBBs feel unwanted (and they were). Wings of Strength, with their attention to detail, make the women feel like stars, which of course is exactly what they are.