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Published: April 12, 2013

More than Heavy Lifting, UT Bodybuilders Thrive on Drive and Focus

It’s about more than thick biceps and ripped abs, though the effects of bodybuilding are certainly rewarding. For the men’s and women’s bodybuilding team at UT, it’s about discipline, focus and goal setting.

“I like the feeling you get when you’re pushing yourself to that level,” said Dana Leithauser ’13 of the endorphin rush. “It also takes a huge amount of discipline, which gets you ready for the real world.”

Leithauser, of Perth Amboy, NJ, will graduate this May with a degree in exercise science. When she first started training at the McNiff Fitness Center, she got the itch to compete. She did her first show in August 2012 back home in New Jersey and placed first in her division. Leithauser is now training for the first Men’s and Women’s Bodybuilding Competition on April 20 in Reeves Theatre.

The event is free, open to the public and starts at 7 p.m.

Gina Ruccione ’13, president of the team, said people will be surprised by how much work goes into preparing for competition. It starts about three to four months in advance where the athletes focus on their diet, eating “clean” (think lean proteins and vegetables) with one cheat meal a week. A month before competition, they eliminate the cheat meal.

“It’s really, really hard in the college environment, but diet is the hardest part,” said Sean McCleary ’13, who weighs and measures his food down to the apple core (he then subtracts that from the original weight of the apple to know how much he has eaten).

McCleary joined the bodybuilding team for the challenge and to get to know people on campus.

“Genetically it’s really hard to get to that kind of physique. I thought I had the drive and determination to get there,” said McCleary, of Bozeman, MT. “I also wanted to be involved on campus so this was a good fit.”

Prior to competition, McClearly and the others will weight train five days a week with cardio exercises three to five times a week. As they get closer to competition, cardio could increase to seven days a week, potentially twice a day, to trim the fat. Ruccione swears it’s not obsessive and said they maintain a healthy diet throughout.

“It’s one of the best things you could be doing for yourself,” said Ruccione, an exercise science major. “It’s a whole lifestyle.”

Ruccione’s mother was a bodybuilder. Growing up Ruccione remembers her mother hosting at their house professional female bodybuilder Gladys Portugues, who has two top-ten placings in Ms. Olympia. Ruccione served in the Navy from 2001 to 2006 where she took to the personal training. Now a veteran, she competes, is a personal trainer and teaches group fitness classes including a weight lifting class at McNiff.

When she came to UT, she started the team with just four people at their first meeting in April 2012. Now there are 17 on the team and 10 who compete, including five women and five men.

Isabella Kane ’16 will be competing April 20 at Reeves. Kane became interested in the team after taking Ruccione’s class at McNiff.

“I’ve always valued exercise and healthy eating and thought this was a good opportunity to challenge myself,” said Kane who was a novice upon joining. She found encouragement from the other team members who constantly share training tips and nutrition information.

“I used to think bodybuilders were just huge, but it’s not an immediate thing,” Kane said. “Gina always says, ‘It’s not body right now, it’s body building.’”

The sense of camaraderie is what keeps the team growing. Katie White, UT’s assistant director of campus recreation and wellness, said the team gives the students a place to share ideas with others just as dedicated.

“It gives those interested in the health benefits of exercise a home,” White said.

The bodybuilding competition begins at 7 p.m. at Reeves Theatre on the second floor of the Vaughn Center, 200 Poe Parkway.


Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer 
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