Marla Duncan – The World’s First Fitness Champion
By Rob Wilkins
Professional Member of the National Strength
and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
If it were possible to clone the perfect example of a fitness champion, Marla Duncan would be that example. At 5’6 and 130 pounds, Duncan has been an outstanding role model and inspiration for many of the current fitness women to include former Ms. Olympia Fitness, Monica Brant. “In 1991 I started lifting weights with a friend and saw a photo of Marla Duncan winning a national competition. Her beauty and physique impressed me enough that I wanted to try what she was doing–fitness competitions,” said Brant.
In 1983 Duncan began swimsuit modeling and participated in calendar girl pageants, beauty pageants and bikini competitions. “Most of the time I did very well and smoked the bikini contests because women did not lift weights back then and the crowds and judges loved the look. Unfortunately, I was always labeled the muscular one and did not fit in,” stated Duncan.
It was about this time a new and exciting opportunity was developing for women and it was just what Duncan was looking for-it was the dawn of a new athlete the world had never seen before-the fitness competitor.
Duncan, who first began lifting weights at the age of 16 in high school gym class, was quickly attracted to this new forum. She heard about a fitness competition taking place soon and with only 2 weeks to prepare, she competed in the 1989 Ms. Fitness USA competition. Duncan landed in the 15th position-not bad considering there were 60 competitors. For many, placing this well in their first competition would have been quite satisfying however, this placing only inspired Duncan to take her body to the next level and in 1990 she came back to win the Ms. Fitness USA title and began one of the most successful fitness careers to date.
For the past twelve years, Duncan has been one of the fitness industries top supermodels appearing on over 100 magazine covers worldwide and dozens of fitness related catalogs. But her real passion is helping others reach their health and fitness goals.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with this fitness legend to ask her a few questions.
RW – Why did you ever get started lifting weights and working out?
Duncan – When I was in High School it simply became a choice between the girl’s Jazzercise class and weight training. I tried the Jazzercise with all the other girls and I hated it! Only the boys lifted weights so I assumed I couldn’t but thought I’d ask anyway. My P.E. teacher said anyone could do it so I changed classes. Only myself and one other girl in school took that class with he boys. I was hooked in one class and the rest is history!!
RW – What was the first fitness contest you competed in and how did you do?
Duncan – It was the 1989 Ms. National Fitness contest and believe it or not, it was actually the first and only fitness contest in the country at the time. I placed in the top 15 out of a field of 60 women competitors. I was thrilled with my placing considering I had only heard about the contest 2 weeks prior!
RW – In the early 90’s you were one of the most photographed people in the entire fitness/bodybuilding industry. Do you have any idea on the number of magazine covers you have appeared on?
Duncan – At last count it was over 100 worldwide but that was known covers. We don’t exactly get told about them ahead of time and most of the time I hear about them from friends, fans and family! It’s hard to keep up, but that’s a good thing!
RW – Along with Debbie Kruck, Mia Finnegan, and Laurie Donnelly, you are a member of the original class of fitness competitors. Did you find the other competitors to be friendly and helpful or was everyone out for themselves?
Duncan – Most of the time, yes. The three women you mentioned are very good positive role models and people. They were very supportive and sincere however, there is always a spoiled or insecure person to deal with back stage but that’s part of the game. I would also have to add Monica Brant and Amy Fadhli to the list of great friends and role models!
RW – Have you maintained a friendship with any of the original girls?
Duncan – Debbie Kruck and I have not spoke in a few years for no apparent reason other than time makes people drift. I have kept in touch with Mia and never really was close to anyone else except Monica Brant and we talk all the time!
RW – You have been working out for close to 20 years. What keeps you going?
Duncan – I have always believed that God gives you one body to have and keep for your time on earth. You can either make or break that body. I have always felt it was the least I could do to make my body all it could be, to keep it healthy and to be good to it. I have always told people that I want to stand upright on my own for as long as possible. It’s also AWESOME to look like a female superhero comic book character!
RW – As a personal trainer you have an excellent opportunity to help others set and reach their fitness goals. What motivates you to take on this huge and demanding responsibility?
Duncan – I love to teach. I have spent most of my life either training horses, instructing people on how to ride horses, or training people. When I’m able to help a person completely change their lifestyle to a more positive and healthy one the rewards are humbling. I am truly amazed every time someone changes their complete look by following my teachings. The human body is an incredible machine that never stops surprising me.
I cannot exactly describe how it feels when someone I have worked with who was in chronic pain or had a lifetime struggle with extra body fat or simply was not able to walk up a flight of stairs unassisted thanks me for improving their life. I have the best job in the whole world!
RW – If you were “Queen” for the day and could change one thing about the fitness competitions what would it be?
Duncan – I would require that all competitors be drug tested for steroid use.
RW – In your opinion, whom do you feel has the greatest untapped potential as a fitness star?
Duncan – She has in incredible body, great smile and face, nice symmetry, radiates energy and a radical rear end–Mandy Blank
RW – What is the biggest compliment you have received as a fitness celebrity?
Duncan – I want to look like you! That’s my reward for all my hard work but it rates right up there with thank you for inspiring me to work out and make a difference in my life!
RW – And finally, if you had one message to deliver to youth (especially young girls) what would it be?
Duncan – Don’t ever let ANYBODY or ANYTHING dictate to you what your limitations are or should be when it comes to achieving a dream. I see so many promising young people let drugs and alcohol influence their life’s and ruin their unlimited potential. Drugs and alcohol are bad news and will not assist you moving toward achieving your goals.
I also believe that sometimes even family, friends, and teachers can hold kids back from being all they can be. For example, a child may dream of being a cartoonist however, the parents may not think it is a wise career choice and discourage the child. I strongly believe the child’s passion to be a cartoonist should be pursued along with getting an education and developing a back up plan. I know if I was supported a bit more in my aspirations to be a drummer, who knows where I’d be now!
Before we close, I would like to wish you success in all you do and strongly encourage you to set goals and work hard at making your dreams come true.
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