The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
BEING told at the start of her bodybuilding career that she would not achieve anything in the sport spurred Bulawayo-born Rene Campbell to work harder to accomplish her goal of becoming a professional bodybuilder.
The 42-year-old Campbell, who resides in the United Kingdom took up bodybuilding in 2007 and has been an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness professional since 2013. She sees what she has managed to achieve in the sport as a key individual victory.
“When I got into the sport as a female to build muscle I realised there are a lot of people in society that don’t really agree with this (women in bodybuilding) and I was told many times by many people that I would never achieve anything, and that motivated me to push myself to prove people wrong.
“Anything that you set your mind on you can achieve. So the more you want something, if you really believe in yourself, you push forward and achieve your goals. To have achieved what I’ve achieved even though people said that I wouldn’t be able to do it, for me it has been a major personal triumph,’’ Campbell said.
Just how did this Bulawayo girl, who went to Coghlan Primary School, Townsend High School and Speciss College, get involved in bodybuilding? She explained that she was working in a gym and a colleague invited her to a bodybuilding show and she got impressed by female athletes she saw. So fascinated was Campbell by what she saw that she decided to get into bodybuilding. Before she got involved in bodybuilding, Campbell did triathlon which she stopped when the love for building muscles took over.
“I was working in a gym in the UK and at the gym where I was working there was a member of staff who was getting ready to do a bodybuilding show and she said if you are not doing anything on Sunday why not come watch me.
“The moment when she stepped onto the stage I was so taken aback and mesmerised to actually see in real life that women can build muscle, it was from that moment that I decided this was something I wanted to do. I had been doing triathlon and a lot of running for many years and I decided to just stop it and start the path of bodybuilding,’’ she said.
Initially, Campbell planned to do one show but up to now she is still involved in the sport. This is because she enjoyed how she could control the shape of her body into what she wanted it to be.
“The journey of bodybuilding has been interesting for me because it’s not what I expected, when I set out on the path of bodybuilding, my initial goal was to compete in one show, to see if I had what it takes to step on stage as a woman with muscle, I competed in that one show and decided at that point that I really enjoyed the sport. I enjoyed how you could manipulate and change the body and then decided to do the next show and competed in the British finals that first year and was placed second,’’ Campbell said.
Doing well in the British finals pushed her to change and compete under the globally distinguished IFBB and she was crowned the best UK female bodybuilder in the heavyweight division. This saw her go on to compete in Europe and eventually she won the world heavyweight title in 2012.
“It encouraged me to push myself further, so I changed federations to a world renowned federation which is the IFBB and in the following year I ended up winning the British title for women’s heavyweight and it was from that moment that I thought how much further could I take it. From there I competed on the European circuit for the IFBB and ended up winning the world title for women’s bodybuilding class heavyweight. This meant I could apply to be a pro athlete and I went on to compete in the pro scene all over the world representing women’s heavyweight class.”
The mother of two boys now competes in the United States with athletes from all over the world. It has been a humbling experience for someone who grew up in Bulawayo’s North End suburb.
“I have mostly competed in US on an international level, the women that compete in the US come from all over the world so you get the best of the best from as far as Australia, all parts of Europe across the UK, USA and Canada. You will get the strongest women from those countries coming to compete which is such an amazing opportunity to stand on that stage knowing that my roots come from a small town like Bulawayo, it’s been a really incredible journey and in that journey I’ve met some of the best athletes on a pro level,’’ Campbell said.
She still works in a gym in Brighton and also makes money from sponsorship, modelling and being a speaker at seminars. However, Campbell decried the difference that is there between what the male and female bodybuilders earn.
“When you are a pro athlete (you make money) through sponsorships, doing things like modelling and speaking at seminars, goings to sports expos so there is money to be earned but not on the same level as male athletes. Still in this sport there is a difference how much male athletes will earn compared to female athletes,’’ she said.
Her proudest moment remains winning the world title in 2012 which paved the way for her to turn professional the following year.
Campbell wants to continue being involved in the sport up to her late 40s while at the same time focusing her attention on helping up and coming female bodybuilders to realise their goals. She has some wise words for female bodybuilders who wish to make it in the sport. According to the professional athlete, uniformity in whatever they do is the way they can achieve their best.
“My advice to female athletes that want to get into the sport of bodybuilding is just to be consistent, be consistent with your training, be consistent with your dieting and nutrition, be consistent with your sleep and your rest. The more consistent you are the better your results will be. Keep persevering, believing in yourself because anything that you put your mind to and you truly believe in it, you can definitely achieve it,’’ Campbell said.
Bodybuilders have been known to have outrageous diets and for Campbell, she consumes food every three hours which must be made up of proteins, carbohydrates and fibrous carbohydrates. Campbell sticks to her diet even when she is not competing so as to keep her muscles in shape.
“My diet is typically the same in that I eat consistently, I usually eat at least every three hours and it’s very balanced, there is a balance of my protein intake, my carbohydrates, my fibrous carbohydrates and essential oils. So every meal will constitute of those four main ingredients. Even though I am not competing at the moment, my diet is still consistent all year round because I want to maintain the muscle that I’ve got which enables me to train at my peak.”
When she started bodybuilding, Campbell weighed 56 kilograms and worked hard to weigh 86kgs at her best.
“At the start of bodybuilding career I weighed 56 kilos and at the peak of my career I got up to 86 kilos so that’s putting on 30 kilos of muscle to compete. That has come from really consistent eating and taking your supplements as and when you should and really hard training.”
She spent more than a month in Bulawayo and trained at Body Works Gym in Belmont. During the period she was in Zimbabwe, she had to deal with the death of her mother. Campbell went back to the UK last Thursday.