MuscleTalk: Hi Cheryl, as a new World champ (congratulations!), there must be a great deal of interest in you, so thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview for us!
Cheryl Myers: Hiya! Thanks for the good wishes, and also for your interest in me. Even now, over five months after the Worlds (at the time of writing), I'm still getting folk either coming up to me, writing to me or emailing me offering their support and congratulations; I've been genuinely overwhelmed by it all, to be honest, as much as actually winning the Worlds itself in fact. Winning the Worlds was something that, in all honesty, I never quite believed would happen, but two nights before the show, I woke up in the early hours, having had what I can only describe as a premonition – I just thought "I can do this," and went back off to sleep again. I've never, ever had that happen before...
MT: How old were you when you started training and how old are you now?
CM: I'm just coming up to 42 in April. I had my first 'dabble' with weights when I was in my final year at school, so I was 15. One of the teachers was enthusiastic about weights and set up an after-school club, together with one of the PE teachers. A few lads went, and one girl, and as it was something I'd always sneakily wanted to do, I went along as soon as I found out it was going on. It was a good laugh – a couple of the school technicians used to go, and were forever trying to out-do each other, which made for a competitive atmosphere. The teacher kept telling me off for trying to put more weight on the bar – he kept saying I didn't want to end up looking like a bodybuilder!
Once I'd left school, I didn't get chance to train again till I went to University – on my open-day visit, I saw this muscular, ripped woman doing some squatting in the gym, and felt very jealous, ha ha! – But, it wasn't till I left Uni that I got that chance to train seriously. Rolls Royce Gym, in Barnoldswick, had previously only been for the use of employees of the company, but then it opened its doors to the public, and a friend from the local swimming baths, who worked at RR, took me down and sorted out membership for me. By then I was 21, and I've been training ever since.
However, I think my very first attempt at 'strength training' was when I was about nine or 10 years old – I noticed all these male gymnasts on the telly had huge shoulders, and that they did lots of handstands, so, I made the connection in my mind and did a handstand against the bathroom wall. I then lowered myself to the floor, with the intent of pushing myself up again, but it all went dreadfully wrong – it obviously wasn't as easy as the gymnasts made it look, and I came crashing down on my head, my legs went all over the place and I demolished the bathroom cabinet. I got such a bollocking for doing that...
MT: What made you decide to start working out/bodybuilding?
CM: I'd seen a programme on 'muscle men' when I was about eight years old, and, perhaps because I am an only child and have never really 'followed the herd', I thought "Wouldn't it be good it I could do that?" My parents, especially my mother, thought it was disgusting, so that probably made me want to do it all the more. I also remember being fascinated by the massive shoulders of Suzi Quattro's drummer and guitarist on Top of the Tops...
I used to watch things like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games and desperately wish I could be like the runners or the gymnasts – so lithe and fit, and everybody loved them - where the truth was that as far as sport was concerned, I was a bit of a duffer – got full marks for trying, but that was about it. My dad wanted me to excel at swimming, and I enjoyed it – still do to this day – but I was never going to make a champion on an hour and a half on Saturday mornings, when I preferred to have some fun rather than be bossed about by my dad anyway.
Neither did it help my cause that I had a weight problem – not caused by junk food, but simply by too much of a good thing – mother's overly generous portions. However, like I say, it didn't stop me trying, and by the age of fifteen, I'd managed to lose two stones, and suddenly found things easy – I could get round the cross country course with comparative ease, swimming became easier, in fact all the sports became easier, and I became a bit of a sporting nutter. I'd go out and do a cross country run in the pouring rain, just because I could, then come back and join in the volleyball or whatever. Then I stayed behind to do the weight-training club twice a week.
By the time I was at sixth form college, I'd become aware that female bodybuilding actually existed – I used to go for a run at lunchtime and sometimes stopped off at the newsagents, where they stocked bodybuilding magazines – but I never actually bought one till I was coming home from Uni for a weekend and wanted something to read on the journey. That was the edition of BodyPower magazine which covered the 1983 Mr & Miss Olympia contests, and I was just blown away by Caroline Cheshire, who used to write a column in the mag and took part in the Olympia that year.
MT: Where are you from and where do you train?
CM: I'm originally from a small Lancashire mill town called Barnoldswick, which is sort-of mid-way between Skipton and Burnley, but I 'defected' over the border into Yorkshire where I met and married my husband (he says I saw the light; I say I'm the start of the invasion LOL). I now live in an even smaller place, mid-way between Skipton and Keighley. However, I still train at a gym in Barnoldswick – Westy's – which Martin Westwell set up after Rolls Royce decided, for reasons best-known to themselves, to sack the free weights room in 2005, giving us a week's notice. He bought a lot of the old equipment from Rolls, and has progressively updated and upgraded ever since.
MT: What competitions have you competed in and where did you place?
CM: Oh gosh, let me think...
2006 – WNBF Worlds heavyweight and over-all champion
2003 – WNBF Worlds heavyweight 8th
2002 - BNBF Britain 1st
1999 – INB / ANB Amateur Worlds O-57kg - 1st
UIBBN French Grand Prix O-57kg - 2nd
ANB Britain O-52kg and over-all champion
UIBBN European O-57kg - 1st
ANB Northern O-52kg - 1st
1996 - ANB Britain O-52kg - 2nd
ANB Northern O-52kg - 1st
1995 – ANB Britain O-52kg – 1st
ANB North East O-52kg – 1st and over-all champion
1993 – WABBA GB Britain – 2nd
WABBA GB North East – 1st
NABBA Miss Yorkshire – 1st
1991 – NABBA Miss Yorkshire – 1st
1990 – WABBA GB North West – 2nd
1989 – WABBA GB Britain – 5th
WABBA GB North West – 1st
There were also a few local shows, such as the Pendle Valley, in my early days. My first ever show was the 1988 Mr. & Miss Lancashire, held at Colne Municipal Hall, which is where I first met Dawn (aka Kitty), (I placed fourth out of four – Kitty placed 2nd), then we met up again a week later at the NABBA UK, where I ended up 'helping' Kitty with her Bailey's backstage, heh heh! I didn't place there either, but after the Baileys, I didn't care that much!
I started out doing Figure, although I always wanted to do physique really, and made the switch in 1991. The first time I competed, I didn't really have much idea, so when all the other Figure girls turned up on stage wearing shoes, I had a bit of a shock. Determined not to be left out, I put on the shoes I'd turned up in, so went on-stage in these mucky old white stilettos (it was the eighties...big hair and all that...). Crikey, I cringe when I look back!
MT: What made you stick to the natural bodybuilding route, rather than take performance enhancing drugs?
CM: I just never wanted to take drugs. To be honest; it was and still is, just the path I decided to take. It's like deciding to do your shopping at Morrison's or Tesco – just a personal decision. Back when I started training, there were a lot of scare stories in those days about side-effects, especially in women, and whilst I can't say that particularly influenced me or put me off, neither did it exactly endear the 'assisted' route to me. There wasn't the wealth of knowledge about then that there is now, the internet and forums didn't exist, so all anybody had to go on was the say-so of the local 'Johnny Big-Boy'. Knowing what some of these lads were like, even if I had decided to go down the 'assisted' route, I wouldn't have been happy entrusting myself to some small-town hick who thought he knew it all, but in fact was way-off the mark.
Some of the lads down the gym when I first started training took drugs – I don't know what – and, unfortunately, epitomised all the stereotypes; some got nasty with it, one in particular, as well as getting some very visible side-effects, and it was enough to put anybody off. Looking back, I don't think most of them did any research or knew what they were doing; probably a case of the 'main man' took stuff, so they all followed suit.
I've no issue with anyone who has decided to use drugs; as long as no one gets hurt and folk are ok with me, I'm ok with them, and bodybuilding is a great sport whatever. Being a good or a bad person is no more dependent on whether or not you decide to use performance-enhancing drugs than it is on hair or eye colour, but if anyone is considering using drugs of any kind, for goodness' sake, find out as much as you can from a reliable source; they are out there. The only time I do have an issue with athletes who've chosen that route is when they enter Natural / Drug-free shows, then whine or protest ignorance when they get caught. If you set yourself up as a Natural, then the onus is on you to check out everything that goes into your body, not rely on a coach, trainer or your buddy.
MT: What's next for you in your competitive career? What shows have you got coming up?
CM: Well, I'm looking at trying to defend my title, at least in my weight class. In all the years I've been competing, I have never, ever, defended a title, even at local-show level, so that in itself is a challenge. There were some excellent girls in the line-up, as you'd expect at that level, and I'd like to prove, probably more to myself than to anybody else, that it wasn't a fluke.
MT: What's you ultimate goal in bodybuilding competitions?
CM: It's a bit strange, because in effect, I achieved it last year – I have to say, whilst I wanted it, I never 100% believed it would happen; I'm not the most confident of people anyway, even in my bodybuilding – I always think 'so-and-so' is much better than me and 'bound to win', so I'm still incredulous at what happened. I look at photos taken on the day and can't believe I ever looked like that.
So, my new goals centre on making sufficient improvements to secure top placings in the future. My physique isn't perfect by a long way – I'm reasonably happy with my symmetry, once I'm dieted down, but feel I could do with adding a little more density to my physique, and I still need to bring my legs on – I sustained a lower back injury about 15 years ago (not in the gym), which has hindered my leg training, but by putting a bit of thought into it, I think they've come on in the past couple of years. Ultimately, I don't want to be a 'one-hit Worlds wonder', if I can achieve as much in the sport of natural bodybuilding as the great Nancy Andrews, I'll be happy.
MT: Do you get much support from your partner?
CM: Yes; at the risk of sounding gushy, I couldn't wish for more support. Stuart and I have been together for 10 years now, and married for almost five, and it might be a cliché, but he is my rock. He grills my chicken and cooks my rice, so it's all ready for chopping up and putting in my Tupperware when I arrive home from the gym. He motivates me, especially when I'm having 'one of those' moments, and he listens when I'm all "moan, moan, whinge, whinge, I look fat, I look skinny, I look cr*p blah, blah, blah". Even though he's heard it five million trillion times before, he still listens (like he gets a choice...).
Neither does he complain when I pack him off to the pub for a couple of hours whilst I'm trying to formulate a routine...I always insist on absolute privacy when I'm doing this. Then of course there's his favourite job, tanning me up, although after putting four layers of Dream Tan on me throughout the day for the Worlds, I'm not so sure he's as keen as he was; poor thing was drip-wet through with sweat after that!
He also puts up with me nattering to anyone and everyone on contest day, and getting a bit prickly at times, although he says compared with what he's heard from other folk, he has it easy. To be honest, I don't really get that snappy whilst dieting – I make a conscious effort to curb it, even if I feel irritable – I tend to get 'downers' more than rages, and take myself off for a bit of a weep, often cuddling one of our poor cats. He's funny, he's kind, he's great with people and he enjoys meeting new folk at all the shows, not stand-offish at all, and I think we compliment each other really well; in situations when I'm stressing, he calms me down, and when the boot's on the other foot, I seem to be able to manage to reciprocate.
MT: How strict is your diet off-season? Do you eat clean while trying to gain size or do you allow any junk food in your diet? Do you like to stay relatively lean or do you bulk up a fair bit?
CM: Good, basic 'clean' food forms the mainstay of my diet off-season, but I'm not 100% strict; I absolutely love cheese, for example, although I've made a conscious effort to cut down lately, as it was getting a bit ridiculous, and of course, I like chocolate. It's 'picking' that's my downfall, as it doesn't register just how much I've eaten. Somehow, ten or so Quality Street or Celebrations, etc. don't seem to register on the scale like a full bar of chocolate would, when the reality is that I'd have been better off eating the bar and having done with it.
I wouldn't say I'm particularly into 'junk' food, to be honest – I enjoy the occasional pizza or Tex-Mex, but I could quite happily live without takeaways. I think I eat one Burger King a year (which I always enjoy), the last time I went into a McDonalds was three years ago – to use the loo, and I haven't eaten fish & chips this century. Then, of course, there's the alcohol...unlike many bodybuilders, I enjoy a drink, Pernod being my tipple of choice, but I enjoy the taste as opposed to the 'blast' - I can't bide either feeling ill or being out of control, so I seem to have an inbuilt 'stop' valve.
I don't think you can put on quality muscle without good food being the mainstay of your diet, even off-season, and I did use to feel a bit guilty for not being 100% strict off-season until I spoke to other people and started going on forums. I don't think there's anything wrong with having cake, chocolate, Chinese, pizza or whatever as long as it's not the mainstay of your diet; in fact I think being too strict off-season can be detrimental, especially psychologically. I've done it myself, eaten something I 'shouldn't' have, and ended up in that 'might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb' situation, bingeing out and feeling even worse about myself, so it becomes self-perpetuating.
Last year I competed at 130lb, which ironically, is all of one pound heavier than I did at my first ever show, and I don't like to go much above 147lb off-season if I can help it. Don't feel good about myself so heavy, and, as we do a lot of hill-walking the high hills are cruel if you're carrying much over, so I do like to retain a modicum of fitness year-round.
MT: How many times a week do you train and for how long?
CM: At the moment it's four times per week, for around two hours, although that includes half an hour's cardio (yes, year round), and 20 minutes spent on either abs or calves. I don't seem to be built for speed, and no matter how I try, I don't seem to get any quicker. I'm looking at starting my Saturday morning sessions again, which, for one reason or another, tailed off after the Worlds 2003, but I'll have to see. Sometimes, I forget that rest is as important as training, and I burn myself out.
MT: Do you ever have problems with motivation for either sticking to your diet or for training?
CM: Yes to both. I find there is no greater motivation than seeing my own progress, and if I don't feel it's coming I do get disillusioned. I'm very, very hard on myself to a fault at the best of times, in all areas of my life, and if I'm having one of those nights at the gym when it's not going the way I want it P's me off immensely. I think that because I'm fairly quiet and a bit shy, people don't always realise how intense I can be – it even shocks me when I think.
With the diet again, if I'm not seeing what I want in the mirror, or if the scales haven't registered a loss, I get frustrated with myself even though I know that the scales aren't necessarily the best guide to progress. Like I say I know these things, but the diet messes with my head, just the same as anyone else. I think it goes with the territory of being a competitive bodybuilder – you're in competition with yourself as much as with anyone else on that stage. However, I find that once I've got the first two or three weeks of the diet out of the way it becomes easier; in the early stages, the taste of all the things you can't now have is still fresh in the memory, and half the time, I think it's the habit you miss rather than the actual food itself.
MT: What kind of cardiovascular work do you do?
CM: I swim 50 x 25m lengths of the local pool before I start work (so I'm in the pool for 6.20am), then after I've done my training, I do 15 minutes on the cross-trainer, hill setting, followed by 15 minutes on the bike. Pre-comp, I might do the full half hour on the cross-trainer, or might substitute rowing for the bike, depending on what I've trained. Then there's the hill-walking we do on a Sunday – usually between three and five hours.
MT: In brief, what's your typical daily pre-comp diet like?
CM: I start my day at around 5.30am, with porridge made with water, with sultanas and blueberries stirred into it, an apple and a whey protein shake. Mid-morning, I'll have chicken and a small jacket potato or a banana, then at lunchtime I dip into my chicken and rice. I sprinkle lime juice and char-grill seasoning on my chicken fillets before they are grilled, and stick to white rice, as I find I lack energy with brown, even though it's supposed to be better for you. I'm also a fan of balsamic vinegar, which is calorie-free and tasty. I put plenty of that, mixed with pepper and maybe some other herb or spice, onto my chicken and rice (the Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker is great for mixing up oils and dressings).
Mid-afternoon, I have my second helping of chicken and rice, then immediately after training drink another protein shake. By the time I arrive home, it's 7.30pm and I'm ready for salmon fillet (a la George Foreman grill) and a jacket potato, again sloshing on balsamic vinegar for taste. I eat maybe three to five satsumas throughout the day, even on my diet and this time, after reading they were good for the immune system, added three or four Brazil nuts a day to my diet. The salmon and the nuts were my fat sources – I'm not a big one for oils etc., as I don't find the weight comes off me if I use them.
That's it really – not a lot of variation, and no secrets I'm afraid. I find weekends a little harder, especially when we're out on a walk. As I say we can be out for anything up to five hours, and it's a bit of a bind taking chicken and rice out into the hills, especially if it's blowing a gale and shelter is limited – there's rice blowing over half of Yorkshire, so I substitute a jacket spud for the rice, and take a protein bar with me. Towards the end of my last diet, I definitely found there was a point where the advantage of being lighter was cancelled out by the lack of energy!
In the last four weeks I cut out my diet drinks and stick solely to water, and in the last fortnight, I knock the rice on the head and use potatoes and oats as my sole carb sources. I'm such a fussy eater, it's a wonder I've managed to achieve what I have – if there's anything I don't like I can't eat it, no matter how important it is – the list is endless; I detest eggs for example and as for such staples as broccoli and sweet potatoes, forget it! I've even considered having hypnosis to get me to like vegetables, but you've got to really want it for it to work, and I don't want it enough.
MT: Which supplements do you use? Do these differ on and off -season?
CM: I take a daily multivitamin and mineral tablet, zinc, evening primrose oil and I've just recently started taking Lysine, which seems to help with my cold sores (told you I stressed). Then there's whey isolate. I take these year-round and pre-contest, add CLA, Peak Body's BodyBurn drink and their fat burners, although I don't introduce the fat burners till the last four or five weeks, as I think if the body gets used to them, they cease to be effective. I also keep a stash of protein bars handy, although I obviously limit these pre-contest.
MT: Do you have a sponsor?
CM: Yes, I'm lucky to be sponsored by Peak Body Nutrition, who took me on almost two years ago. Their product range is amongst the most comprehensive on the market and its quality stuff too, as you'd expect with John Citrone at the helm. I'd like to thank John and Kim Citrone and Dawn Azor, of Peak Body, for their support and belief in me if I may. The products have certainly made a difference.
MT: Do you have any useful tips to share with MuscleTalk members, which you can draw from your experience?
CM: All sorts, the usual things such as being consistent with your training and eating etc. Don't make the mistake of going for size over condition – you might get away with it at your qualifier, but at National level, you won't.
However, I think the biggest thing I've learned is to know thyself; not only what works for you in your training, but what sort of person you are and work with that, rather than against it. For example, can you be 100% focussed on your contest preps or do you in all honesty need distractions? I'm the latter, and I've found that trying to be too full-on and focussed doesn't work for me – I need to do what I do, do it well then move onto the next thing. Do you prefer people around you or are you happier in your own company? Find out what triggers your negative traits; are they really negative traits at all? Give yourself permission to be you and live with that, rather than what you think you should be doing, for only when you're true to yourself can you get the best out of yourself.
MT: Other than training and living the Bodybuilder's lifestyle, what else do you like to do in your spare time? Do you get much time to relax?
CM: Never as much as I like; I'm rarely sat down with everything done before 9.00pm during the week, so by then I'm practically brain-dead. I'd definitely say I'm a 'morning person' anyway. However, I do like crosswords, code-breaker puzzles etc., and I've recently managed to get back into reading, having drifted away from it as a result of A'level English. I like sports autobiographies – Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe, Denise Lewis – as much to see how they've coped with adversities and injuries as for life history. I also enjoy writing, and would love to write novels, short stories, etc. but for the fact I seem to have permanent writer's block (and lack of time).
My other big passion is the hills. We're lucky to live where we do, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales - if anyone has seen the film "Calendar Girls," that's where we do most of our walking and there are also the famous Three Peaks (Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside). You can do them all individually, but there's a challenge of doing them all in one, a 25 mile trek and the target is to do this in 12 hours or less. Stuart and I did it about three years ago for Diabetes research; it took us eight hours and 50 mins, so we were pretty pleased with that. We head off to Glencoe every year to tackle some of the big peaks up there. For me, it's the ultimate holiday; I'm not one for lying on a sandy beach. Other than that, I just enjoy spending time with Stuart and the cats.
MT: How do people outside of bodybuilding circles react to you as a bodybuilder and your bodybuilding lifestyle?
CM: It varies. I think my family humour me, and see it as my little bit of eccentricity. I wouldn't exactly say they are supportive, to be honest. My friends are different; my best friend, Michele Gough, is another WNBF Pro, so she understands everything. We actually met at the airport heading out to the INBA Europeans in Barcelona, hit it off and have been best buds since, and my friend Donna ultimately wants to compete too.
At work, they just know it's me and what I do, so whereas I get the occasional comment of "not chicken & rice AGAIN," by and large they've known me long enough to know what I'm like. They were all eager to hear about what went on in New York. The folk in our local have mainly been supportive, wonderfully-so, although there have been one or two blokes who think it's 'not right' for a woman and don't like it – tough...The comment that always makes me prickle is something along the lines of "how come you've still got boobs?" Oh for God's sake, if they can't think of anything more constructive to say than that, I wish they wouldn't bother...
MT: Do you feel that people's knowledge of nutrition and training has improved since internet bodybuilding forums have become so popular?
CM: Yes, definitely. It amazes me how much knowledge there is out there, and how many people are willing and able to share it. I read stuff and can't take it all in, to be honest – I'm not the most technically-minded bodybuilder; I just do what I do, it seems to work for me, but as far as helping anyone else I think I would be floundering. Unfortunately there's an equal amount of BS bandied about, so as with everything it's up to the reader to be selective about what information can be made to work best for them. However, I think this is one of the best things the forums are used for, when they degenerate into slanging matches, etc., I can't bide it; its bodybuilding not bloody Iraq or something...
MT: Many thanks for taking the time to be interviewed and on behalf of all the MuscleTalk members, I'd like to wish you all the best in your future career.
CM: No, thank YOU for showing interest! Thanks also to the following, for many and varied reasons:
Stuart, my lovely husband; Michele, Dawn, Donna Amanda; Vicky & Guy & my BNBF friends; Jon & Sandra; Andrew Jackson (top support, friend); Avril – you are a true inspiration; Julia & Keith; John Brewtser, osteopath extraordinaire, without whom I wouldn't be walking, let alone on the stage; all at The Old White Bear, Crosshills, especially Steve, John & Nigel... I'm sure I've forgotten many more, so apologies if I haven't mentioned you!
Photographs by Adrian Gough