Audrey DeLeon, at the height of bodybuilding glory in the 1990s, suddenly disappeared into obscurity, stunning fans and colleagues alike.
That unlikely, if not painful development was never publicly explained, until now, as DeLeon re-emerges as one of the top personal trainers in Jamaica, working out of John Giscombe’s impressive gym at Constant Spring Road, St Andrew.
A highly competitive individual, the one thing the many times Miss Jamaica Physique and Caribbean and Central American bodybuilding queen hated most in the sport was losing. But, as her success grew, she was increasingly facing competition from women who had virtually transformed themselves into ‘hulk-like men’.
“I had to make a fundamental decision. I was either going to lose and let down my country, or I was going to have to join them in ‘juicing’ up myself with banned substances and risk letting down my country, my fans and my family if caught cheating. I chose to leave,” says DeLeon.
“I believed that my personal integrity and the image of my country was too important to risk. That’s not to say the decision was easy, because I really loved bodybuilding and I had put a lot into it. But there are some things that are worth sacrificing for,” DeLeon says.
Born in Kingston and educated at Gaynstead High, Fitzhenley Business College and Jamaica School of Business, Audrey Theresa DeLeon began her winning ways at age 19 when she competed for the Miss Jamaica School of Business trophy and won. It was her first competition, and there were many more to come.
Miss Central America
Between 1989 and 1993, she won the Miss PowerLine Bodybuilding Championship three times, followed by the Miss Junior Jamaica. Then came the title of Miss Jamaica Independence Bodybuilding Championship in 1994. She topped the Miss Jamaica Physique four times: 1990, 1993, 1994 and 1999.
In 1993 she placed first in the heavyweight division of the Miss Central America and Caribbean Champion and took the runner-up spot in 1990 and 1999. That is when she stepped off the roller coaster and turned her back on something she believed she was born to do, a love that developed from early childhood.
“I loved bodybuilding even as a young girl. I liked to see women toning their bodies and building their muscles, and I wanted to be like that. The first gym I joined was the National Health Studio on Ripon Road. That’s where I started competing in the Miss Junior Jamaica and the Miss Jamaica Physique.”
The winner of Miss Jamaica Physique was chosen to represent the country in the Miss Central America and Caribbean Championships held in different regional countries. In her first entrance, she placed fourth out of 43 countries. But that didn’t sit well with her.
“I was very competitive and I worked hard to improve. In my second year of participation, I moved up to second place, but honestly that still wasn’t good enough for me,” she admits. But the sport was beginning to look different.
Miss Venezuela tested positive
On her fourth try, she again placed second, losing by one point to Miss Venezuela, a bulky, massive woman who seemed out of this world. DeLeon’s disappointment was great and she was inconsolable, feeling sure that she had done everything to win. Unknown to her, the stars were lining up in her favour.
Two months later, she was contacted by the competition’s official body and informed that Miss Venezuela had tested positive for a banned substance and the crown was hers. Still, Deleon’s joy was muted because she was robbed of the moment.
The win, however, established her as one of the greats of Jamaican female bodybuilding, and her legions of fans discouraged her from walking away entirely.
She still feels passionate about bodybuilding, noting that while she was competing she had learnt that it called for determination, self-motivation, and one couldn’t allow oneself to be derailed by detractors.
“The competitive side of me always said ‘you can do it’, and it could be done the natural way. That helped me when I came up against competitors who were using banned substances.
“You have to put in the training. I was training six days a week. The dieting I put my body through was not easy. But it was something I wanted and I had to get my body to the peak of perfection to match the competition. I learnt how to eat, when to eat, and how long to remain on a particular diet.
“And I had to be very disciplined, because most of the time I was my own trainer and I was setting my own diet plans,” she remembers. “I competed naturally until the drugs thing was getting out of hand.”
DeLeon admits there were times when she was tempted to try drugs because winning the Central American and Caribbean competition meant that she could go further and likely secure greater glory.
Feeling the pressure to win
“I remember feeling obligated to win. There is a pressure on you when you represent your country. I realised that the heat was coming on in terms of drugs. It is happening to some of our young athletes. But I resisted it, especially when I thought of the consequences of disappointing my country and the many people who had faith in me, both in Jamaica and overseas,” she adds.
“I am glad that I walked away a winner and not a loser,” she reflects.
Her decision was encouraged by an increasing interest in things spiritual, which would lead her to baptism and a life in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
She stopped not just competing, but also judging competitions, not wanting to indulge the skimpy bikinis and partying.
“”It’s a walk that you try to perfect everyday, but it’s a good walk,” she says.
After moving on, DeLeon worked a few years with Franklin Johnston, the current Jamaica Observer columnist who was running Teape Johnson Limited and was president of the Jamaica Amateur Bodybuilding and Fitness Association (JABBA).
Later she joined Advanced Technology Systems (ATS) as a secretary, and while there accepted an offer to be a personal trainer at Spartan Health Club, then the leading gym and fitness centre. She worked there part-time from the late 90s to 2005 when she went to the United States. Her second child, son Andrew, now 10 was born there. She had given birth to her first child, daughter Raquel, a physical therapy major at UWI, 13 years before.
Back in Jamaica, an important development would occur at Spartan. One day a customer approached DeLeon and asked her whether she could be her personal trainer. That request spurred her to do something she had thought about but not acted upon — start her own gym.
Audrey’s Fitness World
“So I set up a gym and called it Audrey’s Fitness World at Marketplace on Constant Spring Road. I bought most of my equipment from Giscombe’s Sports Centre at Premier Plaza, not knowing that we would work together a few years hence,” DeLeon recalls.
“I preferred working this way. I had more control and my clients had more privacy, which they wanted. But the rent was killing me. I felt as if I was working to pay the rent. So when John Giscombe invited me to operate from a gym and fitness centre he was establishing in August 2011, I grabbed at the chance.”
DeLeon’s clients include professionals such as lawyers, judges, doctors, journalists, business people, dancers and the like. Boasting the vaunted National Endurance Sports Training Association (NESTA) certification, she also offers services for children and seniors at their home. Physical training, she suggests, pays off every time.
“I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I hear my clients say, that after undergoing the training, they have greater self confidence and greater self-esteem. There is nothing like helping persons in their recovery after surgery, helping some to regain mobility and so on. It’s what I have always wanted to do, impact other people’s lives for the good.
DeLeon says her personal story also helps others to begin fitness training. She was diagnosed with Graves disease, which causes thyroid imbalance, at age 15. Training for her is, therefore, more than a job. It’s personal.
Looking back in time, she says she has good memories of the better days in bodybuilding. She also made lifelong friends like Jasmine Thompson and Audrey Allwood, her contemporaries. She is not impressed with the sport as it is today, feeling that the women don’t seem as muscular.
But DeLeon encourages them to keep at it and to strive to achieve the heights that await them.
Courtesy of: Jamaica Observer