For first-time competitive fitness champ Nicole Quail, what she puts into her stomach, is just as vital, as keeping that stomach from ever sticking out, even an inch.
Seems basic, but it wasn’t always that way.
Not until she clicked up local competitive trophy winner and personal trainer herself, Linda Stephens, of Linda Stephens Fitness, run out of her Bailey Ave. gym.
“My trainer wasn’t a nutritionist,” said Quail, who decided it was time to find one last spring. “And I typed into Google and I found her in May.”
Less than half-a-year of eating wisely and winding up the reps with focused every-day training, and Stephens helped to produce her gym’s first fitness champion, as Quail, from Trumbull, took first place in the NPC East Coast Cup Bikini Championship.
For me, there’s no greater feeling than to help someone attain their goals and dreams.
Not all of my clients want to compete, but all of them want to either lose weight, have more energy and look and feel better.
— Linda Stephens
“Yes, that was my first competition,” she said. “I (would go) to the gym, but nothing crazy.”
That was until the start of this year, when Quail began to prep for some pretty crazy results to come.
“Another trainer I was working with started to go into competitions, and it kind of got me thinking… So I looked up online and it was like, alright, I want to start actually doing this.”
And that’s when she found Darien’s Stephens.
“I found her on her website,” Quail said.
“Nicole did start from scratch,” said Stephens, who began competing herself, from scratch, only a year or so ago and has taken her own trophies in big-time fitness competitions in short order. “She came to me through my website in late spring and we spoke and I had her forward her before photos to me.”
Quail, in her early 20s, and who did competitive dance while growing up, did have considerable natural talent when she first came to Stephens’ gym.
But charging into the stretch mile of fitness competition was another thing all together.
“We worked together on her diet and training routines,” said Stephens, who also works out of Infinity Fitness in town. “Once her physique started to come together we picked the NPC Northeast Cup on Oct. 20 in New Haven.”
The diet regime took some adjustment.
“I kept changing her diet and training regimens so that we could keep her body from getting used to what she was doing,” said Stephens. “That kept her metabolism going strong. We then worked together on the specific poses required for a bikini competitor.”
And Quail dropped 25 pounds along the well mapped out way.
I didn’t think I was going to place — never mind (take) first place. It was like, is it really me that they are calling?
— Nicole Quail
“Nicole followed my plan to a T and once she started seeing the results — the pounds melting off — it kept her motivated and focused.”
Enter the dietary missing link.
“When I started back in Jan. I was basically just exercising a lot,” said Quail, a St. Vincent’s College student who works at an animal rescue shelter as well. “But I really didn’t see a big drastic change. And I know that nutrition plays a big role. So I was trying to find somebody.
“And she was actually perfect, because she had done competitions before.”
Stephens sensed a little perfection as well.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better client,” Stephens, a NPC National Figure Competitor, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Management Consultant, said.
The eating emphasis was on “green vegetables, a lot of chicken and fish, and fruit,” Quail said.
And before buckling down for acing the bikini meet?
“I mean, I never measured anything out,” said Quail, a St. Joseph High Class of 2007 graduate. “So, like basically, it was just whatever my mom cooked — home cooked food for the night — like pasta.
“I’m from an Italian family.”
She got down to total commitment with Stephens’ plan in June headed toward the Oct. target date.
“Eventually she was helping me with posing and she was helping me with exercising as well,” said the two-piece champ.
So, how had her eating habits changed?
“It was actually really different,” Quail said. “Usually I would just snack and not really eat healthy. When I got with Linda I had to eat every two to three hours, and I had to start measuring food — completely different.”
The measure of coach and trainer Stephens’ pleasure could be no greater.
“For me, there’s no greater feeling than to help someone attain their goals and dreams,” Stephens said. “Not all of my clients want to compete, but all of them want to either lose weight, have more energy and look and feel better.
“When I can help them accomplish those goals then that’s a good day at the office for me. I have the best job in the world and it never feels like work.”
Quail got there doing cardio twice a day — running in good weather, treadmill or Stairmaster in the gym when not — and lots of weight training six days a week.
Usually I would just snack and not really eat healthy. When I got with Linda I had to eat every two to three hours, and I had to start measuring food — completely different.
— Nicole Quail
“And I stuck with the nutrition plan Linda gave me every single day,” said Quail. “I started doing it really hard core in June.”
Had to have been a hard run of months?
“It was tough, but I wanted to do it — I really did it for myself,” she said. “Because I wanted to see a change in myself, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”
But once show time arrived, what was hard suddenly became, at least in tone, kind of easy going.
“On show day my advice to her was to have fun,” Stephens said. “I told her, smile, hold your head high and enjoy your moment. This is what you have worked for over the last 16 weeks.”
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, because I didn’t think I could,” Quail said. “I’ve been on stage before, I used to do competitive dancing.”
She did not play youth or high school sports, instead started dancing at two.
“All the time, getting up on stage,” she added. “But I eventually quit because of my (injured) knee. But I was used to being up on stage.”
She was with the Minelli Dance Academy in Monroe up through 13. And she was involved with equestrian through high school.
Ten years in between competitive turns and she didn’t miss a beat.
“She did better than I could have hoped for,” said Stephens. “I was sitting up front in the auditorium cheering her on. When the judges put her in the center position on stage during the comparisons I knew that she was definitely in the top three.”
How could you tell?
“When the judges started moving competitors around, Nicole always remained in the center. Now, being a competitor myself, I knew that this was very good news! I knew that there was a real possibility that she could take first place.”
“At first it was really nerve racking,” Quail said. “Because I haven’t been on stage for a long time. So I was really nervous first getting up there.
“But after prejudging at the final, at the night show, I was a little bit more at ease.”
And the nutritional advise carried on right up to the final hour.
“After prejudging was over, I told her to go home and rest and just nibble on the food I told her to eat,” Stephens recalled. “I said, there’s a real chance that you could take first place and then you’ll go up for the overall award.
“The night show started around 7:30 and sure enough when Nicole’s class came out on stage she ended up taking the first place trophy.”
“When I won, it was definitely an exhilarating moment,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it, actually. I didn’t think I was going to place — never mind (take) first place.
“It was like, is it really me that they are calling?”
They included Stephens hollering up a storm.
“I was so proud of her I jumped out of my seat cheering,” Stephens added. “She didn’t win the overall award but that’s OK because she already had won huge.”