Aleesha's Roller Coaster Year by Hans K. Jens
One of the biggest stories in women’s bodybuilding in 2017 was the controversy surrounding Aleesha Young’s placing at the Omaha Pro in June. The 32 year-old fan favorite was making a comeback after recovering from Bell’s Palsy last year and was the favorite to win the show. But although she came in in incredible shape, she placed seventh out of eight competitors. She said one of the judges told her she needed to lose 20 pounds of muscle – to which she reacted: “not gonna happen”. Instead, she said, she was retiring from competing and was going to get even bigger. However, in August, Aleesha received a special invite to the Rising Phoenix, which sparked further controversy – one pro called her “crybaby” on social media. At the show in Arizona on 9 September she made second callout and eventually placed sixth – an incredible turnaround after the Omaha show. She talked to us the morning after the show.
This year has been a real roller coaster for you. A few months ago you were quitting competing. Last night you placed in the top six at the biggest women’s bodybuilding show in the world. How does it feel?
Relief is probably the best word. I was like, if what happened in Omaha happens again, I’m going to be devastated. So I just felt relieved.
What changed your mind about competing?
I just decided that, you know, I was this close and I would give it another shot – what’s another eight weeks when you’ve already been dieting for 16, right? I knew that maybe some of the girls would be upset about me being there. But at the end of the day I truly respect all the women up there because it is so much work and it is so hard – whether you’re first or last. How we place is not up to us, it’s up to the judges, so I would never be angry at another athlete. That doesn’t mean I have to be okay with the placings. But my frustration is at the situation, not the athlete.
Were you surprised to receive an invitation?
Yeah. I considered it for a few days and I did go back and forth but in the end I decided I owed it to myself and I owed it to the fans. Despite the placing in Omaha, I didn't feel I was my best – just for myself. Like, I looked better 10 days before and made a few mistakes at the end that could have changed how I looked, so I wanted really another chance for myself to try the whole water depletion and everything again and see if I could be a little bit better.
How do you feel about how you looked?
I think I looked better than I did in Omaha. I was obviously super stoked to place well. But it was mostly about me just looking how I wanted to look.
Did you worry you might be overlooked again?
Yeah. I did. But I prepared myself for that mentally. I don’t think people realize how traumatic Omaha was for me. I don’t usually go into a show super confident – usually I am my own worst critic – but I went into Omaha feeling really good about it. I was like, I’ve really done everything and I felt really good about the package I was bringing. So it was really devastating – and I really let it get to me. But this time I prepared myself mentally. I honestly had no expectations. I said, I’m going to do this for myself and just be the best I can be.
So you were surprised when you made second callout?
I was really surprised. Prejudging was a little confusing but it gave me enough hope that I didn’t go and stuff my face after prejudging. I’m glad I did that – it was worth eating the rice cakes and chicken through the day!
So what’s next for you? Do you now plan to continue competing?
Yes. I’ve competed pretty much every year since 2008 except the year my daughter was born and last year when I had Bell’s Palsy. I love the sport and I love to compete. I believe bodybuilding the hardest sport in the world. You don’t just show up, play your game, and live – it’s literally 24/7. But there has to be a place for the bigger girls because genetics play a huge role. Genetically someone might be able to get super super lean, and really do half the cardio that I’m doing. I can get to 230 pounds no problem. I think personally what would really help at this level is two weight classes. Maybe some of the bigger girls have a harder time getting that really conditioned look would have a place. It’s apples and oranges – we have totally different bodies and it doesn’t mean one is better than the other. There is definitely a fan base for larger-than-life girls. Some of the fans couldn’t even tell you where those girls place – it’s not relevant to them. But without the shows those fans wouldn’t have any of footage of those girls in contest shape – they’re not going to diet that hard and get in shape just for a photo shoot.
You’re passionate about inspiring the next generation of female bodybuilders. Tell us more about that.
I’ve thought about that a lot. When I was a little girl I hated having muscle. One of my earliest memories is that at school they teased me to the point of where I would only wear long-sleeved shirts. At eight years-old you just want to fit in. So I did everything in my power to get rid of it – I ran long distance, I was vegetarian. It wasn’t a cool thing for me. I’ve obviously embraced it now and I love it. But if I can help a 10 year-old or 12 year-old little girl who is a little thicker and more muscular and more athletic and is uncomfortable with it think “You know, this is okay!” then it’s all worthwhile. When I drop my four-year old daughter off at school, the other kids are like, “Wow, your mom’s a bodybuilder! Look at her muscles!” I look at that as an opportunity to talk to them and educate them and give them a positive perspective on it. That’s our job. (Follow Aleesha on Instagram: @aleeshayoungfbb and Wing of Strength @wingsofstrength.)