Here are the winners of the 2012 Cellucor/GNC Olympia contest, chosen by YOU!
When Abe Cruz and Melissa Hong decided to show their stuff at our annual Muscle & Body Best Body contest at the 2012 Olympia Expo in Las Vegas last September, they hoped all that hard work would pay off with a feature in our magazine. Nice to know that some dreams do come true.
It’s a simple concept: Stop by our expo booth and have your photo taken. Winning is another thing entirely. While M&B editors choose the top five men and women, our readers take over from there. As you’ll see in the next three pages, they did their job well.
Melissa and Abe came to the annual fitness expo looking for inspiration, and now, with the help of our contest sponsors, Cellucor and GNC, they hope to motivate others to get fit with their own inspiring stories.
We want to thank everybody who stopped by our booth at the Olympia and all of those who voted on our Facebook page. We couldn’t have done it without you. Now, let’s meet our winners.
Abe Cruz: Making the Most of a Second Chance
Abe Cruz found success early in life. Growing up in Pasadena, Calif., he excelled in basketball and football, and in college, when he wasn’t scoring touchdowns, he was building a lucrative career in marketing while still maintaining high grades. But the good life quickly came to a dead stop when Abe became embroiled in a bad business deal. He ended up behind bars.
“You take for granted what we get every day,” Abe explains. “It’s just the norm. But when I lost my freedom, I began to value life so much more. I started to focus on every single opportunity that I came across.”
In prison, he turned his life around and wrote out a blueprint of what he wanted in his future. He owes this amazing transformation to his faith in God and in himself, and to his commitment to fitness and health.
“That’s what health and fitness does,” he says. “It creates the inner change and mind-set to succeed in all areas of life. It gave me the focus, drive and ambition to become a better person.”
Abe stuck to his blueprint and created his own clothing line, Forever Faith. Now, he’s in the process of developing an all-natural line of supplements through Youngevity.
But this driven businessman is not all about making money; he wants to give back, too. He’ll be traveling the country with Utterly Global, an anti-bullying program, speaking to America’s youth about his past and the importance of believing in yourself.
“My ultimate goal is to be a positive role model,” he says. “Paying it forward is what we’re here for.”
Although Abe’s business ventures and fitness career keep him busy (he’s been featured on three magazine covers, appeared on television and competed in bodybuilding competitions), he still makes it to the gym every morning by 6 a.m.
How does he maintain his rock-hard physique? “I do a combination of weight training and jump rope, moving back and forth between the two,” he says. He likes to focus on ab work the most—and it shows. His favorite exercise is hanging knee raises with a 45-degree lift, because “that one hits all the abs, from the bottom up.”
Abe has truly taken advantage of his second chance, and he’s quick to thank all of those who kept faith with him while he found his own faith. Between his family and several mentors who have guided him along the way, he’s found the support and inspiration to reach for success every single day. But in the end, he says, “It’s up to us to make it happen. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”
|Abe CruzAge: 31Residence: Los AngelesHeight: 5’9”
Weight: 170 lb
Melissa Hong: Inspiring Moms to Get Fit
The pace of Melissa Hong’s life was bound to slow down when she moved from Las Vegas to Grand Forks, N.D., nine years ago. “That’s what happens when you marry a farmer,” she explains. Now her two boys, ages 6 and 3, keep her on-the-go. When her youngest son starts school next year, she hopes to return to personal training, but for now, this makeup artist and stay-at-home mom is happy to focus on her two passions: her family and bodybuilding.
“I’m going to keep at it until I get my pro card,” she says. “That’s my goal. For as long as I’ve been doing this, it’s bound to happen, right?”
Melissa started competing in 2001 after an eye-opening visit to the Arnold Sports Festival inspired her to get into the sport.
She got her start in Figure, but after placing third at a Figure show in Fargo last year, she was told she was too muscular and should consider Physique contests instead.
“I switched to Physique in a week,” she admits. “I didn’t know anything about it. I just watched a few YouTube videos and then headed to the 2012 NPC Gopher State Classic in Minneapolis.”
She placed second at that contest and qualified for the NPC Nationals—a notable achievement in its own right—but in a fortunate twist of fate, she also met Jennifer Louwagie, who finished first in the Physique division.
If that name sounds familiar to M&B readers, it should. In a delicious irony, Jennifer won last year’s Muscle & Body’s Best Body contest. Like our readers, Melissa was impressed with Jennifer, and was determined to discover her secrets. She got in touch with her on Facebook, and the two bonded over motherhood and their love of the sport.
Now they share a trainer, Eric DiLauro, who helped quickly transform Melissa into the cut and curvy dynamo she is today.
“Eric keeps me motivated because he believes in me,” says Melissa. “It’s very important to have a good relationship with your trainer.”
When Melissa is preparing for a competition, Eric has her in the gym six days a week, eating seven and eight times a day, with lean protein at every meal and carbs to fuel her workouts. She opts for free weights over machines because she loves the mind-body connection she gets from lifting heavy barbells and dumbbells.
Melissa hopes her story will inspire other moms to get in shape. “You don’t have to give up fitness because you have kids,” she says. “There are always 20 minutes in the day to do some type of activity. Even Zumba on my kid’s Wii is a good workout, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Melissa’s next step is an off-season mass-building program to get her in top form for the Junior Nationals in June. And while we’ll be rooting for her to get that all-important pro card, we know that she has already succeeded as an inspiration to moms everywhere.
|Melissa HongAge: 38Residence: Grand Forks, NDHeight: 5’5”
Weight: 135 lb; 130 lb contest
Want to grace the pages of Muscle & Body? Stop by our booth at the 2013 Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, on March 1–3, and give us your best pose, keeping in mind that the more of your hard-earned muscle you show, the easier it is to judge your physique. Then be sure to follow us on Facebook and at muscleandbodymag.com to see if you made the cut. Good luck!
Image courtesy of Alan King.