“I want to be like a sculpture,” said Elizabeth Rohde. “I think you can accomplish that ... I cannot give it up. I’m addicted. I love it. I just love the sport.”
It was 1 a.m., about five hours before Elizabeth Rohde had to rise to prepare for her latest bodybuilding competition. She was having trouble sleeping.
The 55-year-old mother of two was mentally fixated on how she would appear to judges, themselves veterans of the bodybuilding world, as they scrutinize every detail of her carefully-honed musculature.
“I got up at 1, went into my basement and I just pumped for about two hours and then went back to bed,” Rohde said. “I have to make sure I pump; if you don’t pump, then you don’t have that nice fullness. I’m a perfectionist. I want to have everything under control.”
Later that morning, on stage in a high school gym in Carver, Rohde sought to emit poise and elegance as she flexed. Her husband Mark, an engineer, had helped her apply a tanning agent in the back. She wore silver high heels and a glittery black velvet top, a sharp contrast from the workmanlike sports bra and weight lifting gloves she dons in the gym.
The hairdresser by trade has been on a pursuit of physiological perfection ever since a local bodybuilder introduced her to the sport two years ago.
“I want to be like a sculpture,” she said. “I think you can accomplish that ... I cannot give it up. I’m addicted. I love it. I just love the sport.”
It comes with sacrifice. In addition to keeping a meticulous diet, Rohde had to gradually stop most food and water intake in the days leading up to the competition. She drank just eight ounces of water the day of the event to achieve a look that is dazzling to the eye.
“Your muscle just sucks your skin like really tight, that’s the effect when you don’t consume as much water,” she said. “It’s a diet that you don’t want to be on. You have to deplete your water. You can’t do that all the time. It’s only for competition.”
Rohde left the Spirit of America contest with trophies in three categories, placing first in the novice division. She’ll compete again Sunday in the Jay Cutler Classic in Boston. Unlike the Carver event, where firm but not oversized bodies were the norm, there will not be steroid testing at the Boston event. Rohde expects some “very large” competition.
The New York City native isn’t intimidated. She’s been defying the odds since she was young, when there was violence in her household and her parents divorced.
She dropped out of school in ninth grade, only capable of reading at a third-grade level.
Despite the tough upbringing, Rohde, who currently lives in Carver, always found time for exercise and athletics. She lifted weights through her first seven months of pregnancy.
Rohde and her husband have raised two highly educated daughters: One attends Harvard and the other Oxford University. Rohde herself was encouraged to go back to school, and earned an associate’s degree in business from Massasoit Community College in Brockton.
At 55, she’s not sure how much longer she can keep up the regimen. She doesn’t even think about it.
“Only God can stop me,” Rohde said. “One day we’re going to go. But while you’re here, why not look good?”
Jack Encarnacao may be reached at email@example.com.