Yes, it was the dreaded bathing suit photo that started this – a little snapshot of a big subject.
“I started crying when I saw it,” recalled Jenni Whipple, “and I asked my friend … ‘Do I really look like that?’”
In her mid-30s at the time, Jenni was busy tending to her three children. They were her first priority. But she couldn’t get over the image of herself in that photo.
At the time, a small trailer sat beside a construction project on Indian Trail, taking membership signups for what would become the Vaughan Athletic Center.
Jenni and her husband Scott were charter members when the Vaughan opened in 2005. Little did anybody know at the time that this mom would soon become an elite level bodybuilder.
“I started working out, started looking better, started feeling better and … one thing led to another,” said Jenni. “We had all-inclusive memberships, so the whole family was able to enjoy everything the Vaughan Center offered. We were there almost every day – an active, happy family.”
The unflattering photo faded to a distant memory as Jenni became a fitness buff – and it showed. One day, while thumbing through a fitness magazine by legendary body builder Robert Kennedy, Jenni’s vision was born – one of her standing on stage, sculpted, muscles rippling, with a gold medal framed by her six-pack abs.
A boot camp session in Boston at Camp Savage – headed by nationally renowned fitness coach Cathy Savage – got Jenni started. Returning home, she made the commitment, and began work toward her first competition.
She didn’t place in that statewide competition in early 2006, but “once you set that goal, it gives you something to work toward,” said Jenni. And she did just that, placing fourth in just her second competition a few months later.
It’s been a whirlwind in the six years since. She and Scott continue to work out at the Vaughan Center six days a week. They’re often joined by the kids – Brandon (21), Brianne (16) and Stephanie (12) – who have experienced first-hand the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle.
“We’ve all learned through this that exercise and fitness really do become a lifestyle – one that we really enjoy,” said Jenni. “Not only do you lose weight, but you learn how to eat healthy and take care of yourself. It’s a great feeling.”
As an added bonus, Jenni discovered her passion for body building. She competes in only natural competitions, which test for performance enhancers, steroids and prescription diuretics among other illegal drugs.
In August, Jenni competed in the ABA Natural Illinois Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure Championships where she placed first in Women’s Novice Bodybuilding, Women’s Masters Bodybuilding (ages 40-50), and second in Women’s Open Bodybuilding.
Her showing there led to an invitation earlier this month to the INBA Natural Universe, where she placed second behind Pro Bodybuilder Laura Ellis in both the Masters Women’s Bodybuilding and Open Women’s Bodybuilding.
With that, Jenni has been invited to compete in the DFAC (Drug Free Athletic Coalition) World Championships in Miami next month and the INBA Natural Olympia in Las Vegas in November. She is currently looking for local sponsors to assist her with means to getting to one of those competitions.
From that little, dimly lit trailer in the Vaughan Athletic Center parking lot to the big stage and bright lights of Miami and Las Vegas, Jenni’s journey is not your typical fitness log. But it illustrates what is possible – and how to (body) build a dream.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fox Valley Park District
Sunday, Sept. 23: Raku Pottery firing and decorating at Blackberry Farm, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 28: Mom & Son Dino Night at Eola Community Center, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 29: Daddy/Daughter Princess Pancake Breakfast at Prisco Community Center, 9:30 to 11 a.m.
Saturday, Sept. 29: Fox Valley Pop Stars at Prisco Community Center, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 5: Zombie Invasion 5K Run at Blackberry Farm, 5 p.m.
Columbus Day Weekend (Oct. 6-8): Pumpkin Weekends – and grand opening of the new Adventure Playground – at Blackberry Farm, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.