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One on One with Mindi O'Brien
Jaime: Why did you choose to retire at this year’s Olympia specifically?
Mindi: I went into this Olympia with a specific goal in mind. I had been hoping for a top-five finish after I placed third at the 2016 Arnold Classic. Prior to this Olympia, I sat down with a very good friend and mentor in June and we discussed when it was time for an athlete to retire; that guidance gave me incredible closure to know that despite my potential retirement, I would never be truly removed from the sport. What really put the seal on the envelope was my husband’s near-fatal motorcycle accident—about a month before the Olympia, my husband was hit head-on and was airlifted to the hospital to have emergency surgery; we came to a decision as a family that it was best I finish at the Olympia and dedicate my time to family. Incidentally, my son was rear-ended on the highway the week before I had to leave as well … I’ve since put the two of them in a bubble. My real work begins now as my husband is still in the hospital recovering, and I can’t wait to see him back on his feet. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for all of us.
Not a lot of athletes get to go out the way I did—on the biggest stage in the industry, on my own terms. I’m not retiring because of injuries or age, but simply because I feel like I have truly accomplished everything I set out to do in this amazing sport. It has been an honour getting to compete alongside some of the greats in this sport! I’ve been given opportunities and experiences others can only dream of. I woke up the Saturday morning of the Olympia with a very clear vision in mind—I knew it was my time to retire. I was excited that I could finish in the manner I did—on the stage of the Olympia, surrounded by my fellow athletes, judges, friends, family, and fans. Who else gets that opportunity? Not only that, but I was also honoured to have my very close friend Bob Cicherillo announce my retirement onstage. He has been on every stage with me since the very beginning of my professional career, so to have him announce my retirement was very special to me.
I believe I have nothing left to prove, and now I get to reinvest my time into helping raise the next crop of athletes.
JF: What were some of the highlights of your IFBB pro career?
MO: During my fitness career, I placed top five in almost every Olympia qualifier competition. Some of my top highlights are:
• Winning all four rounds at my first show, the 2004 South West USA Pro Cup and qualifying for my very first Olympia
• Being awarded the Horizon Award as the most promising IFBB Rookie
• Competing in 6 Fitness Internationals/Arnold Classics
• Competing at the inaugural Arnold Classic Spain and placing 6th in Fitness
• Winning the 2014 Toronto Pro Show in Women’s Physique
• Winning the 2015 Tampa Bay Wings of Strength World Championship
• Winning the 2016 Vancouver Pro Show in Women’s Physique
• Placing 6th at the 2014 and 2015 Olympia in Physique
• Placing 3rd at the 2016 Arnold Classic in Physique
• Placing 7th at the 2016 Olympia and announcing my retirement in front of family, friends and fellow athletes
• Being presented the Steve Stone Image Award at the 2016 Olympia Gala
• Competing in 11 Olympias
• Competing in 9 Arnold Classics
JF: What kept you in love with the sport after all this time?
Honestly, it’s the power that this sport places into your hands. You’re the controller of your own fate, as you’re the one calling all of the shots. Being a professional athlete takes commitment, time, effort, and a desire to grow and develop every single day. You develop such amazing life skills from this sport due to the inherent competitive nature, and I’m confident that I would be a very different person if I had never done this. I’ve built my entire livelihood around this sport because it’s a world I love to live in. Watching people meet and then exceed their goals is one of the best feelings I can get as a coach and athlete!
My journey began when I had my son at a very young age. I wanted to make sure I was a great role model for him growing up, and I believe I have achieved that. He’s been my number one fan since he could walk, and I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished as a family. We’re all successful in our own ways, and I attribute a lot of that success to what I’ve learned about myself through this sport.
I also work very closely with the Ontario Physique Association, and I’ve made some incredible lifelong friends! I love to work with the younger athletes who are dedicated to becoming the best they can be, and it serves as a reminder to the passion I have as well. Seeing their commitment only works to encourage me to achieve my own goals and ambitions, and I always know that I have plenty of support along the way. I have a great team behind me, and I could never ask for anything more.
JF: How do you think you’ll be remembered in terms of the legacy you left on the sport?
I hope that my peers, friends, and family will remember me as a tireless worker with a passion for continuous improvement in all aspects of my life. I put my heart and soul into every performance; I take great pride in my routines and their choreography. Each one has a story behind it with a deep personal connection, and I believe that I conveyed that to everyone who was able to watch. Furthermore, I hope that I will be remembered as one who is respectful and caring to my peers and colleagues. I believe that I have been incredibly consistent both on and off of the stage as far as my professionalism, and I hope that I have been a true ambassador for this amazing sport. My personal belief is that high standards, strong character and leadership have the most impact on how one is viewed.
I was honoured when I was presented the Steve Stone Image Award at this year’s Olympia Gala; this award goes to an athlete who “portrays the image of sportsmanship, congeniality, and humble personality of a great athlete. Supporting the image of the IFBB and bodybuilding for the world to see!” It’s truly wonderful to be presented with such a prestigious award, and this will always mean more to me than any other. No other trophy or medal can compare to the compliment of my professionalism and character.
JF: What’s next for you as an athlete/businesswoman?
Though I’m officially retired from competing on the IFBB pro circuit, I will never be removed from this sport. I intend to continue to promote the Ontario Physique Association and all aspiring athletes in their dream to become an IFBB pro or support their decisions to improve their quality of life by competing. Annually, I host the OPA-GNC/Allmax Mindi O’Brien Fitness Extravaganza (www.mindiOshow.com) and I will always continue to coach and mentor athletes (www.teamobrien.ca). I truly enjoy guest performing, as I believe it’s a way to interact with many up and coming athletes I would never meet otherwise. At the moment, I’m in the midst of building a new Women’s Only gym, running my Mindi O Fit Champ Camps, and working closely with my colleagues and friends in the Ontario Physique Association to promote healthy lifestyles. I’m also making guest appearances at women’s events, being a guest speaker at the Swis Symposium (teaching and speaking about tips, tricks and advice on training), guest performing at a few upcoming competitions, continuing to be the face of Coolr Meal Management Bags, and being a sponsored athlete for BPI Sports.
I’ve learned that life’s path is what you make of it, and has no final destination. Every new door is an adventure waiting to be experienced, and I intend to make the most of each and every day! Our purpose is to continually grow and renew ourselves as we continue to enhance the definition of “possible.” I’m excited to see what lies ahead of me!
JF: What advice do you have for the current and future crop of IFBB pros?
This is a sport where the journey is more important than the trophy. Rookies and veterans alike need to remember why they’re here in the first place—we’re all here because we love to compete and improve. Enjoy the journey and make the most of your experiences! You dedicate long hours (weeks, and years on end) in prepping for each competition to compete and showcase your hard work for a few minutes total onstage. Take it all in and enjoy every second of it! Set realistic goals, a long-term plan and remember that in order to succeed and be the best athlete you can be, you need to stay motivated.
One aspect that is incredibly underrated and underappreciated is having a great coach to keep you accountable and on track. Many of the top professionals have their own coaches, and by no means does it make you a weaker athlete to have one! Work on being coachable, and learn to accept constructive criticism from more experienced coaches, athletes, and judges. They only have your best interests in mind.
Following your competitions, ask the judges for feedback on both your negatives and positives. Work on improving the negatives/weaknesses! Be respectful to the judges and your fellow athletes as well. Every person is there for the same reason as you. We all love the sport.
I think it’s important to go to posing seminars that are held by an official posing coach. You spend two minutes posing onstage, make them count! This can be the difference between a first place finish or a fifth place finish. The coaches are there to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward and ensuring your strengths are on full display!
It’s important to remember to have a bit of a thick skin. We’re in a world where we are solely judged on our looks/physiques and our ability to pose. While there is a specific standard, it’s important to remember that not everyone will like the package you bring, while others may love it. You’re not going to win every show, so don’t be offended when you don’t! Even the very best can lose a show. Just keep in mind that the only person you’re there to prove anything to is yourself.
The absolute number one piece of advice I have, though, is to have fun! Enjoy every second of it.
I would like to thank the following people for being so helpful and impactful in my career:
To my coaches: George Farah and Iris Kyle—George and Iris kept me focused and dedicated to maintaining the best nutrition and physique. While I only worked with Iris briefly, she truly changed the way I saw the sport and myself. I credit her greatly for my amazing physique at this past Olympia.
My mental preparation coach: Jodi Handrahan
My treatment team: Dr. Ken Kinakin, Serena Miresse and Sheena “The Stretch Girl”—Sheena helped bring in my waist!
Suit Designer: Sassy and Fit Boutique
Choreographer: Hailey Lewis
Coolr Meal Management Bags: Julie Wildgoose
Sponsor: BPI Sports—the best supplements on the market!
Averie Medical Laser Clinic: Chantelle Hendershot and Angie Taplin
Hairstylist & Colour Tech: Lisa Emanuele
JW Foods: Bill Fehr
The Ontario Physique Association
Teresa Heron—for being my sidekick and supporter throughout everything!
My husband: Dennis Beitler, my biggest supporter!
My son: Alex O’Brien, my other biggest supporter!
My family and friends, teammates and fans: Thank you all so much for being with me through my amazing career! I love all of you so much.