The Year of Change

Many of us set New Year’s resolutions. Maybe yours was to quit smoking, or to lose those last 10 or 20 pounds, or to stop saying “yes” to everyone and take some time for yourself. We are usually good through part of January, then February sets in, and the commitment is getting a bit stale. By March, the honeymoon is over and the old habits have returned and there you are, promising yourself that in the spring, or maybe in the fall, or maybe next year, you will try again.

This is the year I turn 40 and I suppose this has made it more of a landmark for me. I have decided that 2010 would be the year of change for me—change on many levels. Some of the changes will be voluntary, and, undoubtedly, some will be involuntary. I, Julie Panaro, the pasty-faced, desk jockey, dumpy attorney and entrepreneur that I am, have decided to enter into a figure competition.

“What is a figure competition?” is the first question that usually follows when I announce my plan to friends or family. In a boiled-down description, a figure competition is “body building lite.”

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There are three levels of competition for women who lift weights:

(1) Bodybuilding, which is for women who have heavy muscular development and have been pumping iron for years to achieve the look (think Cory Everson and Marla Duncan, some of the original athletes who made weightlifting appealing for women, and more currently Karen Sessions)

(2) Fitness, which incorporates a leaned-down version of the bodybuilding look with gymnastics and dance routines (such as Adele Garcia and Jennifer Hendershot), and

(3) Figure, which is a softer look for women to maintain a feminine silhouette, while having more muscularity than the average female and a lower body fat (Nicole Watkins and Monica Brandt—who originally started in fitness).

More recently, a new division, “bikini,” has arisen and is gaining in popularity, since it, too, encourages a feminine fitness physique, but has much less muscular definition and is focused on overall beauty and grace. As I do not have the mass required for a bodybuilder, have no gymnastics background (or desire to go there at this age), and I am not so sure I want to be judged on beauty or grace, I chose to start with figure.

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Unlike volleyball or soccer, where you are part of a larger team that actively participates to achieve the objectives of the game, in bodybuilding (which is best pronounced in the way Arnold would say it), it is just you and the weights. So what, right? Well, you might find out that the people who engage in this sport seriously are an interesting bunch. The first word I can use to describe them is: DISCIPLINED. The second is: ORGANIZED. You will see what I mean in coming installments about that part. There is no “time off” from this sport. Period.

I started my weight-loss efforts in May of 2009 since I was heavier than I liked, going from 150 to about 138 or so. In November, once I was really considering entering a figure competition, I hired a personal trainer, Lisa Reale. We train at Retro Fitness at Kirkwood Highway in Newark, (which, I can honestly say is a great gym for those who like to lift—no pool, no aerobics—just weights, some cardio equipment and a protein shake bar for post-workout nutrition). I have never hired a personal trainer before, so this was all new. Lisa is a high-energy, upbeat trainer who is truly committed to fitness. Lisa helps her clients achieve their goals by giving encouraging words and practical advice. Check out Lisa’s Website at You can reach Lisa by phone at 753-0848.

Starting in January, once I had committed to the competition, I hired Dave Pulcinella of Pulse Advanced Nutrition (, who also has an office with Retro Fitness. The competition is in June. I know this sounds way off, but, to someone who has about 15 percent body fat to lose, it is only right around the corner! Dave competed as a bodybuilder for years and has earned the Mr. Delaware title, along with a host of other awards and championship titles. For customized meal plans for your lifestyle and body type, contact Dave at, or 351-3443.

So, between Lisa, my “Training Nazi,” and David, my “Food Nazi,” I hope to achieve the goal of competing in the novice category of some local figure shows without totally embarrassing myself. Lisa and Dave will be providing practical tips as a sideline to this blog, and I will also be featuring interviews of each of them over time. They are key players to my success.

Check out the blog next month where I reveal to you my “starting” pics and show you my “progress” pics. It may be TMI, but I am being persistent and hope that June shows me in the best shape of my 40-year life! Stay tuned.

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