As with every graduation, for the Class of 2014 closing their books also brought an end to taking advantage of Huden’s buffett, late night Fireside indulgences, and Fishtail dollar draft beers.
However, for Ben Pearce and Sarah Alexander, recent additions to the Castleton alumni community, graduation opened the door to a summer of extreme lifestyle and physical transformations. After four months of intense dieting and weight training, the two took to the stage this fall to compete in a series of body competitions in the New England area.
“Going to the gym and working out is the easy part. Sticking to your strict diet is the hard part,” said Pearce.
Alexander agreed with Pearce in the test of mental strength and self-control that comes with extreme dieting.
“I still crave foods that I shouldn’t eat during competition prep- like right now I would really love some fresh bread and Nutella,” she said. “The reward for me is the outcome of the show.”
Pearce made his debut as an amateur on Sept. 13 at the Boston Battle of the Naturals, where he clinched second place. A few weeks later, he returned to the stage in Biddeford, Maine, where he scored high enough to receive his professional status. Most recently in Cape Cod, he took fifth place in his first professional show.
Alexander has been in one competition to date and said she chooses to enter in the bikini portion of the event. She said the bikini category calls for a more feminine look and more natural posing than female bodybuilding and figure competitions.
“The competition atmosphere is full of spray tanned muscled bodies and full of stage make-up,” she said.
The two agreed the most difficult part of the process was not standing on stage nearly naked to be judged by a panel of strangers, but rather the last few weeks leading up to that moment of their first show.
“The diet was starting to become almost unbearable,” said Pearce. ”What made it even more difficult was not really knowing what I was doing it for.”
Leading up to his first show, Pearce said his mind was flooded was uncertainties. His good friends and supporters throughout the process, Cameron Maurer and Isaac Bashaw, attested to the mental pressures Pearce faced throughout the process.
“He gradually gets quieter and it was very intense toward the end,” Bashaw said.
Maurer and Bashaw joked about Pearce’s vicarious indulgences of foods he craved. The pair said Pearce once took his younger brother, Luke, to three different McDonald’s in one day to watch him eat. Bashaw said he once sent Pearce a Snapchat of cupcakes and received an infuriated response.
“Do I ever want to compete again? Why am I doing this to myself? Is it really worth it?’ Are just some of the questions I was asking myself everyday,” said Pearce. “All of these questions vanished the second I stepped on stage.”
Pearce said he immediately became addicted to the rush of being in the spotlight.
“Not only did I show up in good condition, but I had a hell of cheering squad in the stands that would go nuts after every time I hit a pose,” he said.
Dressed in matching black and neon green Team Fearce shirts, Maurer and Bashaw were in the crowd among Pearce’s followers.
“We had the biggest group of supporters,” said Maurer. “When Ben wasn’t on stage it was so quiet, but we were so loud when he was.”
After witnessing Pearce’s diligent 17-week training process, Bashaw and Maurer said his results were a true testimony to their friend’s character and self-discipline.
“He’s so serious about everything he does,” Bashaw said. “It’s something he can be so passionate about because it’s something he can do himself.”
Once he steps off stage, Pearce allows himself one cheat meal where he gives into to his months of pent up cravings.
“After he did his competition he was craving a jelly doughnut and a pumpkin spice coffee. And he got it,” said Bashaw. “Right after he had a full barbeque chicken pizza and a bacon cheese burger.”
Bashaw and Maurer said the food vanished as soon as it was placed in front of the ravenous Pearce.
“He put it down so fast, I didn’t even know it was there,” said Maurer.
Pearce said he is ecstatic with his results, but plans to take the next year and half off to train and build more muscle.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first season,” he said. “The time off will allow me to work on my physique as well as other aspects of my life.”
For Alexander, she said she is still preparing for competitions, but has come to notice the social hardships her training can create.
“Food is a huge part of our culture and choosing not to indulge in certain meals with family and friends can feel a little isolating,” she said.
However, she said that as a nurse, she tries to model healthy behaviors and the competitions have helped her to create a more balanced lifestyle. As she prepares for her next competition, Alexander said she has started working with a trainer and nutritionist to maximize her results.
“I have the first-time jitters out of my system so I feel more confident going into this competition,” she said. “I know what I need to work on this time as far as posing, stage presence and overall presentation.”
Alexander said she plans to take to the stage again on Nov. 15 in Syracuse, N.Y. and will be joined by Castleton student Zach White, who recently placed second in his debut at the Cape Cod Men’s Physique Competition.
After her November competition, Alexander said she plans to take some time off during the holiday season and is looking forward to returning to a normal diet. She said she will return to the stage for her third competition in March for The Green Mountain Thaw in Brattleboro.
“My goal is to feel more confident on stage and to make impact on the judges,” she said.