Suzanne Hix dipped a finger in an old ricotta cheese container and extracted a homemade mixture of three parts pure maple syrup and one part peanut butter. She licked the goo and waited for an energy fix to juice her already jangled nerves.
In a few minutes, the 33-year-old Van Nuys mother would be on stage competing in her first body-building contest against some of the best bodies in the Valley.
While her husband, Peter, sat nervously in the audience with a telephoto lens on one knee and little Petey, 4, on the other, Hix was getting ready to put her rejuvenated body on public display.
After her son was born, she says, "I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, 'Things can only go downhill from now on. I better start doing something.' I hated aerobics, so I wrote my brother-in-law in Chicago and he sent me a 35-page letter on exercises to do in a gym."
Six months ago, Hix decided to go into competitive body building. She practically dropped out of family life but achieved the results she wanted. Her sleek, tightly strung body, devoid of fat after intense dieting and muscle training, was at her command.
On orders from trainer Ray Storti, she had eliminated protein and sodium from her diet for the last three weeks. Her skin had molded itself to muscle and her veins became were standing out like blue highways on a road map.
Hix, slender and attractive, was among 65 contestants, 15 of them women, who paid a $15 entry fee to take part in the eighth Golden Valley Physique Classic at John Burroughs Auditorium in Burbank. As contests go, a veteran body builder said, "This is one of the best local shows around, but Mr. America it's not." Still, competitors such as Hix had spent weeks taking pain and discipline seriously and learning all the nutritional techno-talk.
"The diet was especially grueling," Hix said. "Carbo loading. Carbo depleting. I had to cut out everything you could possibly enjoy in life. I didn't eat with my family. They were on their own. Training was really tough. I train at Gold's Gym. You can't be a weenie there. You've got to put out. Two solid hours of body building every day. An hour on the bike. A half-hour tanning. But I peaked perfectly."
Hix meant that her quest for body beautiful was timed to end on the day of the contest. But until Storti offered to be her trainer a few weeks ago, she never thought she'd be on schedule.
"I weighed 120 1/2 pounds," she said. "I wasn't able to lose any more weight. I had given up all hope of making the 114 1/2-pound (lightweight division) limit. But Ray found out I was eating too many complex carbohydrates. In three weeks, I wound up losing 8 1/2 pounds, mostly water. "
Although the finals weren't held until 6:30 p.m., the contestants had to arrive at the auditorium by 9 a.m. to go through prejudging. It's called prejudging because the winners were picked then, but not announced to anyone until the evening competition, a standard practice at body-building contests. So a contestant had only the morning session in which to sway the seven judges; the evening performance was only for show.
When Hix and her family arrived at Burroughs Auditorium that morning, she went backstage to the area designated as the "pump room" and warmed up with the other contestants, men and women. Muscles and veins were pumped up in light workouts. Then skin was coated with a heavy layer of oil to accentuate the rippling flesh. A sign warned contestants: Caution--oil up on canvas only. Contestants favored Baby Oil, Wesson Oil and Keri Lotion. Nobody fessed up to using 10W-40.
Because oil will mat hair down, all contestants, even men, had shaved their torsos. Most of them had also painted on their tans, using a stain called DyoDerm.
"You brush it on two days before, three or four coats," said Rob Nebeker, a 19-year-old from Huntington Beach. "Problem is, you can't shower, so you wind up washing your hair in the sink."
As Hix inflated her muscles by doing isometrics, others hoisted barbells, watching their efforts in mirrors. In a scene the Greeks would have appreciated, the highly sculpted bikini-clad contestants glistened under florescent lights as they fine-tuned their bodies. But the reverie ended as Kent Kuehn entered the room.
"Let's listen up," said Kuehn, a large, foreboding body builder who was acting as stage manager for the contest. "I've got your instructions, and I'm going to go fast, but tonight I'll go even faster. By 8:30 I want to be out of here and in a restaurant eating dinner. So put your oil on, your briefs on and your numbers on your right-hand side.
"Better put on two coats of oil. I want you to shine. There're two dead spots on stage. The lights are hotter in the middle than on the ends. If you don't have enough oil on, you'll look flat."
In the auditorium, a small audience, mostly friends and relatives of the body builders, watched the prejudging. Steve and Laurette Sigman of Simi Valley were there to cheer on friends from Mapes Gym.