Real Life

Muscle & hustle! Gwyn’s bodybuilding secrets

What started as a birthday challenge led to fab abs and trophy triumph!
Bernadette Peters

Standing on stage in a sparkling teal bikini with the crowd cheering as she showed off her flex appeal, 53-year-old Gwyn Pardoe smiled through any fear and had one of those “pinch me” moments.

It was her first time wearing a bikini, first set of high heels on a wooden stage and first time flashing a spray tan (the darkest colour the salon had!) in her first-ever body- building show.

As someone older and new to the sport – she’d only taken it up three years earlier as a challenge for her milestone birthday – the fun-loving Whanganui mum-of-two only had one goal: to enjoy showcasing her hard work in the gym.

But Gwyn was recently named New Zealand Novice Figure Tall national champion, taking out the title in what was only her second competition.

“I loved being up there,” enthuses the early childhood education teacher, who gets up at 4.45am for training each weekday before making the commute to Palmerston North for work. “And funnily enough, there’s been no nerves – just learning curves!

“Underneath my wrinkles is a pretty good abs package. I’m not an overly confident person and my self-image isn’t way up there, but I can pretend quite well. Fake it ’til you make it.

“When I’m on that competition stage for a tiny five minutes, I’m swimming around like a beautiful swan on the top, but underneath I’m paddling like mad,” she admits, adding that her husband Bruce, 62, their two sons, Ziek, 32, and Samuel, 27, and stepson Corey, 44, are also extremely proud of her.

“They’re buzzing over my wins more than me!”

With a Novice cup to her name, Gwyn’s in winning form!

Gwyn’s quick rise to success began when she was about to turn 50 and her close friend Cindy James suggested they mark the big milestone by doing 50 special things over the coming year.

So the two women – who had met decades earlier while attending Whanganui High School – started making lists.

“Cindy decided she was going to Singapore for her birthday and that was going to be her big thing,” recalls Gwyn. “I needed a big thing too because you have to do something spectacular when you hit that age.

“In the meantime, I happened to stumble across a photo on Facebook of a former pupil’s parent and she had just placed in a body-building competitionin Australia.

“And I thought, ‘Man, you look magnificent!’ and knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do. So I sent her a message and asked her how she did it. From there, I decided body- building would

be my big thing.”

Taking the Napier Art Deco train trip was one of 50 ways Gwyn and friend Cindy kept their birthday goals on track.

Up until then, Gwyn had paid for yearly memberships at two local gyms and only gone a handful of times before stopping. She also tried CrossFit and still does pole fitness for strength-training too.

The first person Gwyn approached was former body- building coach Pat McNamara. She admits “nagging” him to coach her for about six months, but he kept telling her he had retired.

“I was very lucky that in the end, he probably thought, ‘I’d better train this girl or she’ll never shush.’ He is extremely passionate about helping people achieve goals.

“For me, it wasn’t about losing weight. The challenge was putting on the muscle, which can prove to be tricky when you hit 50. I could lift a whole bunch, but those muscles were stubborn.”

You got this! A 100kg squat with coach Pat.

She also hired a posing coach and a nutritionist, which meant her diet changed dramatically. Gwyn jokes that her first adjustment was to make friends with fish.

“It isn’t something I really like. When my husband would buy fish and chips, I’d only eat the batter because the smell of the fish would put me off. But I had to get used to eating hoki every day.

“So I dry-fry a piece until it’s nearly black and crispy, and when I flip it, it looks like chicken,” she grins.

“Meal preparation is another big thing. You have to be aware of exactly what and when you’re eating. Weighing my food was something completely new for me.

“However, these days, I’m slightly more relaxed about it,” admits Gwyn, revealing she ordered four mini Caramilk donuts and a carrot cake as her reward after completing the nationals.

At her first show in October, Gwyn was named Overall Novice Figure Winner at the National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association (NABBA) Lower North Island Championships. Initially, she thought the bodybuilding competitions might be a bit “dog-eat-dog”. But that wasn’t the case.

“It turns out everyone is great mates out the back,” she reveals. “There are little training tips and compliments about your bikini, or the shape of your earrings against your face. I kept getting told how well I did at my posing transitions.”

For her next competition, the modest champ is considering entering the 2023 Great Lake Classic in Taupō this May.

“We began as two 50-year-olds choosing to do 50 things in their 50th year,” Gwyn explains. “My big goal was to enter a show and that’s now completed. It’s not just a matter of doing one show and stopping, because it’s become a lifestyle that I love and I intend to do this for as long as I can.”

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