‘Pretty amazing journey’

At first glance, watching Jen Gugino walk around the gym, one would assume she has spent most of her life working out.

Doing some of the most difficult core exercises with ease, the 1998 Fredonia High School graduate hardly shows an ounce of body fat.

But the truth is, Gugino just started lifting nearly four months ago.

Spending most of her life as a cheerleader, Gugino decided to start lifting weights to prepare for a Tough Mudder obstacle race. However, lifting opened up a new avenue for the spirited Fredonia native as friends convinced her to compete in body building competitions.

Showing a bit of hesitation at first, the Cheer Starz coach obliged. She is now just 13 days away from her first Bikini and Physique competition, which will take place at the Great Lakes Sports Festival on Sept. 13 at Family First Sports Park, in Erie, Pa.

“I did research and started training myself,” the bubbly Gugino said. “Originally, my first show was supposed to be in October. I go to the gym six days a week and I spend between an hour and a half and two hours there depending on the day.”

Gugino began working on her thighs, shoulders and back on Mondays and Thursdays, triceps and chest on Tuesdays and Fridays and legs and abs on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“At the four-week point, I changed it up to focus on where I still need to work on getting fit,” she said. “I added more legs. I have added stairs into cardio to change things up a bit. Diet wise, I have always been pretty healthy. In April, I changed to six meals a day, adding more proteins. I am slowly adding carbs back into my diet, but healthy carbs.”

Gugino has received plenty of support along the way as she has sought the help of Dunkirk native Ashley Shaffer, who competed in Ms. Buffalo this past April and currently resides in Sacramento, Calif. Also in Gugino’s corner is her cheerleading family, as she is a participant and coach of the Cheer Starz in Westfield.

“Ashley has been a tremendous help with the mental aspect,” Gugino noted. “A lot of competing comes down to mentally making sure not to talk yourself out of it and to stay focused on the right thing. My cheer family has been supportive and my family has been supportive. It’s been pretty surreal. I never figured in a million years I would be doing this.

“Up until April, I had never stepped foot in a weight room,”?Gugino continued. “Above all, it’s being a positive role model for kids I coach and show them if they set their mind to something, they can do it. It may take them a while, but they will succeed. Eating disorders are so prevalent. Whether it’s under eating or overeating, I want to help kids understand the importance of being healthy and being active. Everyone should push past their boundaries.”

Personally, the journey has been helpful to Gugino, who currently works at Don Frame Trucking.

“In a lot of ways, it has changed my outlook on myself, having more confidence and being able to do be me and not care,” she continued. “I have that attitude that whatever you do, do it well and if you fail, you did your best and you’re OK with it. Being a perfectionist and accepting failure has been extremely difficult.”

Admitting she is a bit nervous, Gugino is hoping her cheerleading background will help her when it comes to being in front of an audience.

“The competition aspect and being in front of people has helped me,” she said about cheerleading. “In competition, I get to walk out on the floor with my best friends and teammates. With this, I am walking onto the stage alone, which is something I will get used to. At this point, I am scared, but I know once I am there, it will be different.”

Gugino will be competing in the True Novice Division of the Great Lakes Sports Festival and she has her goals set on what she expects.

“I want to take Top 5,” she declared. “I want to get my pro card. That’s my far-out goal. This first one is experiencing it all, taking it all in and feeling confident and happy knowing I did the best I could for the first one. It’s been a pretty amazing journey.”