CARLSBAD — To many, fitness is a lifestyle.
Nutrition and workouts fuel their daily routines, but for some, they have taken it to another level.
Jim Smith, a former Mr. San Diego Masters Bodybuilding Champion, started Team Waya about three years ago, but with a catch. The bodybuilding world is filled with steroid use to sculpt the best possible physique, although the repercussions can be fatal.
Smith’s team prides itself on all-natural ability and to use fitness and bodybuilding as a tool to become a better person, both mentally and physically. Most importantly, however, is to pay it forward, the group’s mantra.
Over the past three years, Smith’s team has swelled to 56 athletes working all over North and Orange counties. On April 2, more than 30 members take center stage at the California Fitness Natural Tour in San Diego at the Kroc Center Theater.
The team, though, works together led by three veterans including Nicole Jolliffe, 33, Jennifer Ashley, 43, and Robert Lemus, 29, who also form part of the team’s leadership committee.
The trio were each recruited by Smith, although Ashley returned to the stage after taking years off. A master personal trainer, Ashely said she noticed Smith working with different women and wondered what he was doing.
Ashley was introduced and taken with Smith’s approachability and positive attitude. So, she jumped back in after a 20-year hiatus from the stage.
“It’s really giving back,” she said. “It’s so personal because I love training so much. I had an eating disorder when I was young. I started training when I was 17 and it changed my whole world. I know how empowering it is for women to have control over their physique through nutrition and training.”
Jolliffee, a single mother of three, began her journey about four to five years ago when she hit a rough patch in her life. Feeling down, she returned to the gym and was soon approached by Smith.
Her initial reaction was one of bewilderment, but opted to take a chance and no is on the top women on the team in both the bikini, which includes sportswear, and figure competitions (women also compete in physique). In addition, her self-esteem skyrocketed taking her life out of the dumps and to a place she didn’t imagine.
“I just loved being in the gym,” Jolliffee said. “It was a place I could burn off all the stresses of life.”
Lemus, a personal trainer, was one of the first to join forces with Smith, although he started slowly with the physique (which are upper body focused) competitions. His first show, he said, was nerve racking but he came away with a third-place finish.
The trust he gave Smith was rewarded and no Lemus is stepping up his workouts to take on the competitive world of bodybuilding.
“I was kind of the guinea pig,” Lemus said. “The first time I went on stage, it was completely brand new. I took third and fell in love with it. I never imagined it would grow this big.”
He, along with Jolliffe and Ashley, said their diet and mental toughness are two critical components in competing. They start preparing about six months out, then slice their protein intake with about 12 weeks before a show.
Another drop in protein is followed with what is known as “depletion” about one week before, then with about one to two days before the show, they can take down a good meal.
“Everyone’s body is different, so everybody’s process is different,” Ashley said. “You’re going to have to change your cardio, if you’re going to have to do more or less. Coach helps a lot of people with their diets.”
“Our depletion diet is done about a week out,” Jolliffe said. “You go about three, four, five days. A few days before the show, we refeed our muscle. You are completely shredded and there is no puffiness, so you see a really nice, full muscle.”
All three said the team is a reflection of each individual’s value and beliefs with a zero-tolerance approach to any shady or divisive attitudes.
Their ethos especially rings true when it comes to steroid use, which is common among bodybuilders. Using any type of illegal substance, they said, goes against their mission of creating a healthy lifestyle.
As for Lemus, the practice is unacceptable. He said he has witnessed many athletes openly speak of their cycles, but has refrained from using.
In addition, he said it is out-right cheating.
“The sport has a bad name because of all the drugs,” Lemus said. “To me, it’s cheating … and I have caught a lot of grief from people. I think it cheats the process. This is something that is supposed to be healthy. It can give you a short-term fix, but the rest of your life is going to be ruined.”
Although drug use makes headlines, Ashley said her team is above those practices. She said now a substantial team has been formed, they plan to reach out to the community through philanthropic efforts.
First up will be a monthly activity with the Humane Society.
“I think it’s super important because we are such a big team now, that we give back to the community in some way,” Ashley said. “We all love animals, they don’t have a voice so we can be a voice for them.”