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Introducing Athena Lee, aka the Buff Goddess
- Updated: January 26, 2017
Athena Lee, the former teen bodybuilding phenom, was Boris Vellejo’s own personal hand picked athlete for the infamous Joe Weider BIG ad campaign. The lightweight, who slammed her way through high school winning every bodybuilding title she could get her hands on, moved on to all the New York NPC national qualifiers, took those, and ended up the first and only competitor in bodybuilding history to take the overall USA 1988 by age 22 and get disqualified for that infamous “moon pose.”
Q – Athena!! Welcome back! Before we ask where you’ve been, let’s talk openly about that show, that infamous pose… and what DID happen?
A – Fair question! Here you go: I was simply being an artist. My journey began as a dancer. So dance, expression, art, telling the story… that’s in my DNA. I’ve always choreographed my own routines; this was one of them. I was focused, hungry (literally and figuratively) and in my zone. Thats all it was.
I found the rumor mill quite entertaining. I’d heard it was a publicity stunt (huh?), a plan… all of this stuff. Not true. Getting that call out is still surreal to me. It’s literally an outer body experience. And then I saw the score cards! Those straight ones across the board. And then I realized something else – I was pegged “controversial bodybuilder” on top of all that!
I liked it. Still do. Everyone loves a controversy; there’s a mystery to it. Suits me. Between THAT and the straight ones on the scoreboard, I felt like, ‘you know what? I’m happy with that.’ Point proven. Mission accomplished. And besides, where does “conservative” come into this SPORT? Thats’s where they decided to draw the line? Clearly whoever that leads back to probably shouldn’t even be attending a female bodybuilding show, much less on a judging panel. This is just NOT the right venue for prudes. Anyway, we all know what happened. I stuck to my schedule as a professional and did all of my after party shoots with a smile. (Well, the smile had lots to do with all the cake I stuffed myself with after, but smiling, nonetheless.)
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Athena chose a bodybuilding career at age 14 despite having any encouragement from anyone around her.)
I was literally gifted enough to come into the very birth of women’s bodybuilding, a time where the amount of bravery to be around for even a fan, I just literally experienced magic. When I fell in love with the sport, that came from the notion it was possible to cement a new ideal for women. One who was strong, healthy, sexy and confident. And that is was. For a short amount of time.
Then unfortunately the health was last on the list. And when your health is bad, you can forget about the confident, sexy and strong. Because you just can’t feel those when you’re unhealthy. I was starving, I was counting grams of things all day – protein, supplements, reps. I was no longer coming from a place of love. And when you do your job like that, you’re in a lose-lose. Trust me, that is not something that’ll end up good. That’s a big feature in what I teach now. When you come from a happy place, your body works.
I kept the love I have for the body and through trial and error on myself, I created a system that’s banging and you get the health. Your strong and your hot on. Plus I never been a happy dieter. I like to eat. I like looking a certain way. Why can’t I have both? And that I know I can teach this way and feel the love. Because I have the fat gene. So don’t believe anything just because someone told you so. Have the teacher back it up. Always.
Q – Are you back to hardcore weight training and being super buff again and would you consider competing again?
A – First of all, the question alone is a loaded compliment. So, thank you. Here’s what: I’d get ON STAGE again in a heartbeat. Period. Never doubted that. The stage has been my comfort zone complete with euphoria and I’ve been wired like that since childhood. Competitions and stage are very different animals. One has you confined to fulfilling someone else’s ideal.
Now, I understand and applaud anyone who’s doing that if thats where they’re at right now. I’ve been on that side of the spectrum and I know how greatly it’s appreciated having the love and support. For me, however, because of where I’ve been and been lucky enough to accomplish and experience such magic, I’d prefer to leave the subjective side out.
Having found my way home to hardcore training again, I’m looking forward to inspiring a new ideal. As a veteran and old school champion, I know I’ve earned that in the work alone. And in my humble opinion – damn, do we NEED a new ideal!
I’ve only recently been exposed to the new women’s competition forum… whatever that means. I can’t quite understand it. I’d tend to not participate in something I don’t understand. From what I’ve seen, the starved, anorexic look is being rewarded and I’ll never condone that. As a person who treats all things food related, that would be morally incorrect.
So I am me now. The new me. The reinvented me. I hope that me represents strong, healthy, happy and feeling great. I’m setting my sights on being the inspiration. For the young girls, for the moms, and for the men who’d love to have their wives at their best. Not just for them, but to have their women feel amazing, also. It’s kind of like putting on a super hero costume but you have it on 24/7. If you think of yourself right now in a “costume,” you’ll feel how quickly that change of your behavior, your character. This goal has you living the character.
And as to the lovelies setting their sights on competing, well, if thats where they’re at, to this I say: I shall just give them the love. Because it’s the right thing to do. Be the best corner and cheerleader you can be for everyone you meet. Lead by example. Just give the love to them and you make yourself a better human in the process.
Q – What goes on in your head while you’re training?
A – Exactly this every time: How can I be better? How can I bring it up a notch – or 10 – to serve my (training) partner? Does my partner need my energy or do I need to lean on him this particular day? Or is it a little bit of both? The training is all just a metaphor for life. It’s all: How can I roll with it? How can I bring my A-game and deal with the every day curve balls of life. It’s all practice. It’s all rehearsal. But you treat each practice like it’s the actual show. Honestly, I aim to think of every set and every rep as a performance. Like I’m on stage. If I do that, it not only helps me but it hopefully inspires anyone who’s watching. So this approach is a win-win. I highly recommend it.
Q – What exactly is your current job title?
A – I prefer coach. Though I have all the typical certifications, I’m not a fan of labels, like trainer or nutritionist only because competitive bodybuilding just gives you an enormous edge. Because you played science roulette with your own body. So it’s pretty hard to calculate in the form of a written test. I get the job done. I rewire food and fitness habits. We’re talking someone’s really ready to transform. It’s going down! I’m going to get them results and I’m talking long term. It’s all forensics and dissecting those habits. Because I’ve had to do it to myself. I’m very flawed. I have much less willpower than you think. I, however, walk the walk, and I couldn’t teach anything I don’t believe in. I wouldn’t want the karma.
And just to work for aesthetics – this butt, these abs – that’s all cool but you need the strength, health and happiness to have those. Magic of science. And bodybuilding. People have habits; they live in their heads, It can start as innocently as a remark in your head, “This line is too long,” “I don’t have time,” “I want to lay on my couch.” But if you wire your mind to check yourself you have the ability to turn the entire perspective around. You can turn it into “I’m lucky I have TIME to wait on this line,” or “I get to be lazy AFTER I do the work.” It feels so much more satisfying then. It feels more earned.
And be aware: Just because you don’t speak negaholic doesn’t mean whoever you’re surrounded by doesn’t speak it. This language is infectious. There’s no difference between that and the common cold virus. Those infections get in there and get spread. Does anyone WANT to catch another persons cold? No. But it happens quickly. I’m not saying this will come overnight; it takes work. But we’ll get to that when I explain exactly what I’m doing in my work right now.
Q – What do you mean by ‘perform your way?’
A – It’s means it would have a deep and profound message. And also that I’m not following contest rules. I’d perform as an artist. That’s what the beginning of female bodybuilding was – art.
Special shout out:
Brian Moss, my very first coach Golds Gym Venice