To her surprise, Janna O’Malley found it at the gym where late in the evenings often without a soul in sight because of her shy and humble nature she unearthed a talent and discipline for bodybuilding.
The mother of three then found it on the stage where an unexpected adulation and awards in her new found sport nearly floored her.
With less than three years in bodybuilding – a sport that requires intense discipline, high levels of organisation and exceptional mental strength – Janna has already scaled heights that others who have spent many years in the sport have not.
Her first triumph came just nine months after she started training when she entered the NZIFBB Waikato Regional competition with no intentions other than making it to the stage.”
“I won the novice figure short but was marshalled back to the stage and I won the overall novice figure section, which was a real surprise too and I thought it was definitely over when I was marshalled back again.”
“This time I was being put up against the veterans – all seasoned ladies - and my heart was thumping hard.” “I ended up winning and I came away with the overall Waikato figure champ title, it was so amazing not just for me but for my family and my kids.”
While bodybuilding is in the blood in the O’Malley whānau – younger brothers Kenny and Teina are both hulk-like professionals – Janna had never considered it seriously until she needed an outlet to cope after the breakup with the father of her three children.
By winning the 2014 Waikato event, Janna qualified for the nationals in Auckland the following week where she placed fourth in the open class. She then went to Melbourne a year ago where she competed with the best amateurs around the world at the Arnold Classic.
“There was a lineup of 36 ladies and I placed sixth and I was like, “wow!” It’s an international show with the best amateurs from around the world and I placed sixth.”
A win at the NZIFBB Pro-Am champs for the overall figure title in Auckland followed soon after qualifying the 38-year-old for the Arnolds Classic’s once again.
Janna’s sights at this stage, however, are competing at the International Amateur and Professional bodybuilding championships in Auckland in eight weeks.
A win there would make her eligible to compete in the professional ranks and make her first steps towards her ultimate goal - standing on the Olympia stage in Las Vegas in 2018.
She’s now in competition mode which she says is not just a case of “going to the gym and eating chicken and broccoli every day”. Her days generally start at 5am with a one hour cardio workout and end late at night after her children are asleep, her meals prepared for the following day and she’s completed another 2.5 hours of weights and cardio.
“There’s a mental element in this sport that can kick your butt if you don’t have your feet on the ground.
The nutrition part of this has to be the hardest part but I constantly reframe things and say to myself “I can do this”.
With her children aged seven, nine and 12, her training, her mahi as national programme manager and her commitments to her marae - she’s Ngāti Raukawa and Te Ati Haunui-ā-Paparangi - Janna’s organisation has to be meticulous because her training and dietary demands basically double and the mental demands further intensify.
“It becomes a mental game because there are certain foods you extract out of your diet that leave your body and mental state unstable.”
Janna, who after being badgered by friends to write fitness and nutrition programmes for them qualified as a personal trainer last year, says she’s been fortunate that she’s genetically suited to bodybuilding.
But she’s adamant “the gym saved me”.
“Some of us find a way of dealing with things like what I went through but some of us don’t. If this can help someone else to get out of that black hole that I was once in then that has to be amazing.”
“I remember when I got on that stage it felt like I was in my undies and bra and I was standing in front of a whole lot of strangers for judgement..”
“Māori women are generally modest about their bodies and I felt so exposed and I thought ‘what would my nanny think?’ it was very confronting.
But when you walk off that stage and can hear people cheering for you it does something, your Mauri is elevated.. I want other women to experience that too.”
“It gave me confidence. It gave me my life back and I want that for Māori women because Māori women are strong. I’m keen to take anyone who is willing to give this a go with me just let me know.”