I Went From Beauty Queen To Champion Bodybuilder
She was Miss Leicester 2014 and came ninth in Miss Great Britain – then Victoria Thornewell swapped beauty for barbells to become a champion bodybuilder
"I'd dipped in and out of modelling since I was young, but never really taken it seriously. Then, last year, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw an ad for the Miss Leicester pageant 2014. I thought, 'why not?', I'll give it a go. There was a round where I had to be interviewed on stage and one where I had to parade in an evening gown, and, to my total surprise, I won.
Despite being in the bottom set for PE at school, I'd taken an interest in fitness as I got older
"As the regional winner I was put forward for Miss Great Britain, where I came ninth. And, while I wasn't sure beauty pageants were for me, I realised I loved being on stage – I'd caught the bug.
"Shortly after, I went to see a UKBFF [UK Body Building and Fitness Federation] show with my boyfriend, as he's interested in it. Despite being in the bottom set for PE at school, I'd taken an interest in fitness as I got older. I went to the gym regularly and did cardio – I could spend hours on the stepper and stairmaster – but I'd never tried weights before as I didn't know what I should be doing. When I saw all those people on stage though, I thought this is it – I like fitness, I like the stage – I'm going to do this.[related_articles]
"It might have been a spur of the moment decision but I meant business. I hadn't got a clue where to start so I spent hours researching bodybuilding on the internet. This was pretty tricky as there's lots of contradictory information out there, but I threw myself into and it and started training in November last year. I was mainly lifting light weights as I was still trying to find my feet and learning the moves and I didn't want to injure myself or make myself look stupid.
While I'd trained for around six months on my own, I needed the expertise of a coach to guide me towards the competition
"My goal was to enter a competition so I chose the UKBFF Ultimate Beginners Stars of Tomorrow in Dartford Kent, held in July. While I'd trained for around six months on my own, I realised I needed the expertise of a coach to guide me towards the competition. On the advice of a trainer at a local bodybuilding gym, I chose Gordon Greenhorn – a natural bodybuilder himself, he'd coached a lot of female competitors.
"Gordon is based in London, so the majority of our training was online and via Skype. There were 18 weeks till show day and he provided me with training plans that changed every six weeks. Every Monday I sent him progress photos – front, back and side – and my measurements on a spreadsheet so he could work out my body fat percentage and see how my shape was changing.
Following and sticking to a plan made me feel like I was achieving something every week
"Having a coach meant my workouts became much more structured, I was working out more logically, training muscles in groups such as upper body and lower, and training progressively and consistently. Almost straight away I felt different and stronger, following and sticking to a plan made me feel like I was achieving something every week and it was really mentally rewarding.
"Diet is a big part of bodybuilding and many competitors will follow a strict plan that their coach provides. I'm quite a fussy eater and knew I wouldn't be able to stick to this, so instead Gordon provided me with my daily macros and calories and I worked out what I could eat – which was mainly lean meats and carbs – using My Fitness Pal.
"I was eating six meals a day to meet my nutritional needs – which was pretty expensive – but choosing my own food worked out really well as it meant I enjoyed what I ate and food didn't become an enemy. Eating with friends and family was a bit tricky though, they couldn't understand why I couldn't just have a biscuit.
When I saw my veins popping out mid-workout I felt great as I knew it was working
"For the first six weeks of training I was lifting heavy weights, sustaining my weight and building muscle, but with 12 weeks to go I started cutting – gradually reducing calories and introducing more cardio to lower my body fat and show my muscles to their best effect. Having lower calories did mean I got tired more easily but I was still going to the gym after a full day at work as a marketing coordinator, and when I saw my veins popping out mid-workout I felt great as I knew it was working.
My bikini was pink with rainbow gems that change colour in the light
"As the competition neared I went for a lesson with a posing coach to learn how to walk and flex my muscles on stage. Then I spent hours practicing on the gym floor in my high heels – I did get a few funny looks. I ordered my specialist competition bikini – it was handmade and bright pink with rainbow gems that change colour in the light. It cost £250 but I loved it! I also booked in for my spray tan.
"When the day came I was really nervous as it was my first time and I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd resisted the urge to look up the other girls on social media as I knew it'd mess with my mind, so I first met them backstage.
In a beauty pageant the changing rooms can be quite bitchy, but everyone at the bodybuilding competition was really supportive
"In a beauty pageant the changing rooms can be quite bitchy, but everyone at the bodybuilding competition was really supportive, lending each other dumbbells and helping with hair. At that stage you know you've done all you can and how someone else looks isn't going to make any difference to your results so there's a real sense of 'we're all in this together'.
"The actual time on stage is a bit of a blur. As I'm 21, I was in the junior bikini category – for women under the age of 23. There were 14 of us on stage at first and then the judges picked out three of us – including me – and asked us to do a T walk to music along the stage. This means you parade for around five minutes and flex your muscles and pose. If you're called to perform a T walk, you pretty much know you're going to place, but I still couldn't believe it when I realised they'd called my name and I was first!
I celebrated with a Krispy Kreme doughnut, then the next week I went straight back to the gym
"I felt so proud. My family had come all the way to Kent to support me – and while my dad had been a bit sceptical about bodybuilding at first, when he saw me on stage he realised how much it meant to me. I was handed a medal and trophy and I knew that all that hard work and effort had been worth it. I celebrated with a Krispy Kreme doughnut, then the next week I went straight back to the gym.
"Now I'm training for my next competition in April, which I 100% want to win. As for beauty pageants, never again!"
Victoria is an ambassador for Monster Supplements