About Zoa

What you see on the outside isn’t the full story! That’s something I always remember when I meet new clients and any new people enter my life. A person’s body tells a story, but it also hides a lot if we are quick to judge. The same is true with me…I may look muscular and fit, which often makes it an easy to make assumptions, but the reality is that I’ve had a story just like each of you, and it’s taken hard work and pushing through many challenges over the years to achieve my goal. My body also doesn’t tell the full story of my life, there is much more to me than lifting and eating protein!

I had a conservative upbringing with parents that loved me and helped me learn the value of hard work. My parents were passionate and hard-working and they tried to teach me to always do my best in everything I tackled. They genuinely daily wanted to give me the best they could. Looking back, I would say I lived a very sheltered life in many ways, as I grew up without a lot of popular media, TV or what was termed ‘secular’ music. I read a lot, listened & studied classical music and had a very fun and close church family.

I began music at an early age, playing piano, learning music history and finally settled on violin after 8 years of piano and all the music theory and history courses required in order to earn my Grade 8 Royal Conservatory. However, my heart was in playing the violin as my grandma had played ever since I was a child. I loved listening to classical violin and at 13 was finally allowed to begin my violin studies. My parents worked hard to give this to me, and the practice of doing something daily certainly taught me discipline early. Discipline most definitely does not come ‘naturally’ and I learned that the hard way with hours practicing and learning to commit daily to what I wanted in the big picture.

Learning discipline early is a gift a parent can give their child. It’s also a skill I teach my clients because it is never too late to study and learn this skill! Simply put, discipline is simply the ability to want something more in the future than you want in the present. It takes practice and repetition. Being ‘forced’ to continue during moments of laziness and distraction taught me that emotions are often deceptive. What we want in the ‘now’ is not always what we truly and deeply desire. Thanks to my mom and dad for teaching me this invaluable lesson.

On the nutrition side, I grew up with a lot of natural foods, simply prepared and managing a large seasonal garden. Fortunately, simple and unprocessed foods have always been a part of my life. Some of my fondest memories are canning with my mom in the kitchen or freezing berries for winter. I grew up with home-baked bread from natural rye flour, home cooked meals and my mother feeling embarrassed if she ever made a cake from a box. I watched as both my mom and dad worked hard to provide the best they could for us. I always appreciated their effort and heart. They both affirmed to me that I was worthwhile and could achieve anything. Not once did I ever hear “this isn’t for girls to do”!

Unfortunately my parents were going through their own well-hidden problems. When I was 17 they separated and then later divorced, surprising and shocking their family, our church family and all our close friends. It was unbelievable and catastrophic in the conservative world I had been brought up in. It devastated me. Within the space of 2 years, at a time when I may have needed their guidance the most (deciding on my future, schooling, career, etc) they were unable to guide me or help me. They were experiencing and absorbed in their own emotions. With everything around me disintegrating, I graduated high school at 17 and without anyone to discuss my future I had to ‘cold-turkey’ into growing up very quickly.

I was so hurt by the multiple loses I had experienced, I vowed to never feel again. I would not allow this type of pain again. I decided to become as successful as I could be and not allow anything to control or take me down. I shut off my emotions. I worked hard and put myself through university and finally technical college in Marketing & Business Management. I worked a multitude of part-time jobs to pay for school and bounced between parents who were caught up in their own drama, doing the best they could for us in the meantime. I had already been teaching violin to a number of beginner students as well so I continued this to help pay for my university. However my own violin studies disappeared as my family disintegrated and my life just got too busy. In a matter of years I had lost everything that was familiar to me and like many other young adults was already trying to figure out just who I was.

During this time I began to exercise and experience the self-control that I felt through exercise and nutrition. I realized how much I loved training and over the years, recreationally enjoyed road racing, mountain biking, triathlete training, running and weight training. I studied nutrition and bodybuilding and realized the amazing world of physical fitness. I found any way I could to keep activity in my life, getting up early in the morning running to a gym that was a few miles away, and running back. I became known as a ‘crazy fit girl’ in the gym as well as working hard in my schooling and eventual career in Marketing.

In response to my need for control and my great feelings of loss, I began to develop eating disorders that included anorexia, bulimia and obsessive and unhealthy exercise habits that scanned the next decade. Of course during this time I recognized the dilemma and fought to try to fix it…reading books, creating journals, self-assessments. Fighting to be well. And all along working hard with my education and career to continue to feel successful. My eating issues remained a very private issue I did not share with anyone.

After graduating, I worked in the corporate marketing world. I enjoyed this part of my life to some degree and had a lot of great experiences, but at the same time was having more fun in my athletic endeavors. My job was not at all what I had wanted, but it just was a result of me ‘doing work’ and ‘being successful’ to avoid my feelings. I felt in my heart there was more to what I wanted in life than what I was doing. It wasn’t until after competing in my first bodybuilding show in 2000, I realized I had finally found something that I had a passion for.

Over time, bodybuilding helped me transform my eating disorders into an athletic endeavor instead of an unhealthy, unrealistic “perfection based” body image issue that I had struggled with in my eating disorders. I continued to pursue mental well-being as I challenged myself in the gym and in my preparation for competition. I saw that I needed some healing from the past and worked very hard on assessing and challenging myself and who I had become.

Bodybuilding is a very solitary sport and when used well it can teach a person multitudes about their own motivation and internal awareness. When you cannot use food to change your emotions, you must know and recognize and acknowledge those emotions directly! Bodybuilding has always been about a mental game for me and I’ve learned that to tame the body you must tame the mind.

Bodybuilding fit me perfectly. I enjoyed the discipline, setting long term goals and training hard. I would get up early, go to the gym, go to my corporate job (which involved a lot of travelling), go back to the gym and workout again, then pack my meals and start all over again. I was tired but I never felt any discouragement. Only excitement. From the first show onwards, I realized that this sport fit me. The bonus was I found that I loved to compete and it woke up something inside of me that I didn’t know I had, or had missed out on after not having the opportunity to continue to pursue violin studies.

Eventually I changed careers. By 2003 I was self-employed as a personal trainer and weight loss consultant with my own business, which at the time I named Powergirl Fitness. I had modelled as Powergirl for a DC comic artist in the past and I felt that this name epitomized what I felt exercise and health had given me- power and confidence! My business continued to evolve as I did, and as my own personal experience and education broadened. I experienced a number of life changing events that shifted my belief in what my purpose was, and as I continued to learn from my experiences, my business also grew. My coaching became an opportunity for me to use health and wellness to create a template for me to encourage and motivate others to be their best.

As I continued to compete, work through challenges and learn more strength, I was able to help my clients more effectively. I used many of the life experiences I had once fought, to help others overcome their issues. As I competed and encountered many other challenges, both health and personal, I was able to use these as a stepping stone to learn more and better assist my clients. I battled many lower back spinal issues, thyroid cancer, thyroid disease, cervical spinal fusion. Each of these required extensive recovery and knowledge to rehabilitate and continue maintaining my fitness even with enormous adjustments. They challenged my belief in myself and my commitment to my health.

However as each challenge occurred and I dealt with the process of recovery, I began to stop looking at my challenges as tragedies but as training grounds. How can I help others heal themselves if I am unable to heal myself? On a practical level, each physical or training challenge has also ensure I have a solution to my clients for almost every issue or problem they may encounter. Each of my physical challenges has been a catalyst for me to become a more experienced trainer and consultant for others who have similar issues.

As I continued to compete and advance my certifications, I specialized in advanced biomechanics, nutritional training for athletes, and weight loss for otherwise ‘impossible’ or frustrated and over-dieted clients. With my background I simply did not believe ‘impossible’ or ‘can’t’ was a word I could include in my vocabulary.

Currently, with my background as a top professional bodybuilder, I utilize specialized metabolic techniques to help even the most stubborn clients begin to change their diet. I help everyday people learn to care for their body. I provide tools for my clients to help them learn confidence and freedom. It is very gratifying to be such a positive influence in so many individual’s lives. My clients continued to motivate me as I believed that to be a true leader I must truly test myself and be able to live the life that I teach!

The last decade has been spent living overseas working with military members and their spouses and/or dependents. Working intimately with the military community has helped me evolve my nutritional training practices further as I look for creative ways to help those with challenging schedules, work environments and stressful jobs maintain or improve their health. Helping someone get ready for a competition or stay ‘battle ready’ and in good mental health during a deployment to a war zone offers a unique set of challenges and pushes the boundaries of a person’s comfort zone.

For the military, typical issues are those such as working within 24 hours shifts, eating well while living in barracks, maintaining good nutrition while on a two week long field exercise with MRE’s, or helping a busy spouse with three or four kids keep herself or himself sane while the other spouse is deployed for 9-12 months. Dealing with being far away from family during tragedy, learning to commit to good health practices despite the lack of variety and options available, learning creativity in the kitchen…these and others are just some of the very common scenarios I encounter with my clients and those who look for expertise in nutritional consulting. It is truly why my business is a “lifestyle coaching” business. A person’s life must be considered when creating a plan that will work for them and I take that role very respectfully and seriously. I have someone’s trust and their life in my hands.

After all these years and hundreds of clients, my business continues to grow but the foundation has remained the same. That is, to teach others to achieve their own personal best. To provide real-life information and help to people who have been confused or mislead by falsehoods in the health and fitness industry. To believe in another person’ dream and to be the foundation for them to see dreams realized. To empower others to “never stop chasing their dreams…”.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope my story and the stories of a few of my clients profiled will help encourage and motivate you!

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Zoa's Competition History & Experience

I competed in my first bodybuilding competition in 2000 in the CNBF (WNBF) Regional Championships. I won the Novice Class which sparked my appetite for further challenges. From there I went on to compete in a number of shows over the next three years in a variety of organizations, enjoying excellent placings.

  • Amateur Competitions
  • 2000 - WNBF Heavyweight Division - 1st Place
  • 2001 - BCABBA Heavyweight Division - 2nd Runner Up
  • 2002 - ANBC Tall Class Division - 1st Place
  • 2003 - WNSO Western Canadian Musclemania Heavyweight Division - 1st Place & Overall Champion
  • 2003 - WNSO National Championships - Toronto, Ontario
  • 2003 - BCABBA Pacific Nutrition Heavyweight Division - 1st Place & Overall Champion
  • 2004 - BC Provencials - Overall & Provencial Champion
  • 2005 - Canadian Nationals - 3rd
  • 2007 - Canadian Nationals - 2nd
  • 2008 - Canadian Nationals - Withdrew due to illness
  • 2009 - Canadian Nationals - 2nd - Link to pictures
  • 2009 - North Americans - Overall Champion - Earned IFBB Pro Card - Link to pictures

In 2004, I decided to tackle the largest stage in BC, that is the Provincial Championships, and once qualified, competed and won the Heavyweight and Overall and the title of BC provincial Champion which also earned me a spot to compete in the Canadian Nationals.

I prepared all year and in 2005 competed in my first Canadian Nationals and took 3rd place. For this trip I travelled nationally from Vancouver to Montreal. Following this competition I moved permanently to Japan. Although I trained and prepped the entire year, I made the decision to take 2006 off from competing due to the necessity of having thyroid surgery and leaving time to recover.

I returned to Nationals in 2007. I trained hard for the whole season and was very happy with my conditioning but unfortunately fell very sick upon arriving in Edmonton and was forced to withdraw from the competition despite attempting to get up on-stage in the morning show. I learned some valuable lessons about the stress of travelling internationally this year and how landing in the hospital doesn’t help your conditioning! Travelling internationally definitely added a new dimension to prep that was stressful and often unpredictable. In order to avoid this same situation the following year, I arrived early and prepped in Montreal for the 2008 Nationals. Again, I earned 3rd place.

In 2009, I was very excited to compete in the Canadian Nationals as the competition was being hosted in my home town of Vancouver, BC. Again I came well in advance and prepped ahead of time in Washington, a shorter drive up to BC. I ended up in second place, just missing my pro card again. This was the only year the association did not award a second pro card, which was a big disappointment in the moment. In retrospect, everything worked out perfectly but at the time I definitely felt that perhaps the cost and effort of competing may not be worth it, considering the time away from home and work, stress on the body with dieting and jet lag, and the cost of competing internationally.

That said, I decided to go to the North American Championships the next week while already in North America. We drove back down to WA, and I rapidly depleted and reset my body for the next show. From there my husband and I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio where I competed in the 2009 North Americans. I was able to maintain and slightly improve my conditioning and took overall in both the women's open division and the women's master's division, winning the pro card's in both divisions which apparently had only happened once before in 26 years by a Canadian.

Now as an IFBB pro, I was anxious to start competing as a pro and set my eyes on the 2010 season. I decided my first pro show was going to be the Phoenix Pro in February. I also decided to apply for the Arnold (Ms. International) as this competition is invitation only. I figured it was a long shot to receive an invitation as I had not competed as a pro yet, but had nothing to lose by applying. In December when the invitation list was announced, I was in shock to see my name on the list with 13 other top Pro's in the world that I had admired and looked up to for years to include; Iris Kyle, Yaxeni Oriquen, Betty Pariso, Debi Laszewski, and other amazing women that had been more source of inspiration for years. It was a dream come true once it sank in and I would be on stage with them.

My first pro show was the Phoenix Pro, I ended up in third place behind former Ms. Olympia, Yaxeni Oriquen and Betty Pariso. My third place also earned me a qualification to compete in the Ms. Olympia. I could not believe that I qualified for the Olympia in my first Pro show. It was an indescribable moment in my history of competing. I competed at the Arnold two weeks later on March 5th (coincidentally my husband's birthday). I ended up placing 7th, which I was very happy about.

After the Arnold, there was no time to waste as I had to prepare for the Olympia in August. This is it! The "O", the competition that every serious bodybuilder dreams of competing in, but only the best make it to. To make a long story short my prep went extremely well as I prepped with the legendary coach George Farrah (coach of many top pro's). My conditioning was spot on and I was very happy with my physique. Unfortunately, as I flew into Las Vegas I could feel something was terribly wrong. I had very serious pain in my neck and shooting down my arm. My husband and I ended up driving to different clinics and hospitals in Las Vegas to find out what was wrong. Turned out that I had a severe C6/C7 herniated disc that would require surgery. I did compete in the Olympia but was in terrible pain, I had to max out on pain killers; Vicoden, etc just to step on stage. Needless to say the pain killers made my physique water over and I ended up in 11th (last) place. Despite my placing, I was proud that I made it through and actually stepped on the Olympia stage, it was an amazing experience.

With-in two weeks of returning to Okinawa, I underwent surgery to repair my herniated disc. I ended up having C6/C7 spinal fusion. At this point I had no idea if I would ever be able to compete again. Needless to say I spent all of 2011 rehabbing from surgery. I started lifting again with-in about six months. I started feeling pretty positive about the possibility of competing again. I once again submitted my application to compete in the Arnold and was very happy to have the opportunity to compete again.

After a very difficult year of rehab and just getting back into the gym, it was very gratifying that my first show back was the Arnold. I can not express the emotions I experienced when I stepped onto the stage. The Arnold was the only competition I competed in, in 2012.

In 2013, I decided that it was best for me to downsize my physique as I was finished playing the size game. I decided to challenge myself and shift to the newly introduced Women's Physique Division. I brought my physique down around 20 lbs by the time I competed in the Europa Pro in Dallas, Texas in August, 2013. The physique division was just beginning at this point and in its infancy and the guidelines were still be configured by the judges. At this point the smaller girls were still being rewarded and my physique was, albeit it shapely and well-balanced, just simply too dense and detailed for the look. However I was very happy with my prep, my final look and the entire experience.

After shifting gears, I took the next off-season and simply trained for health and enjoyment while at the same time re-addressing my thyroid issues that had begun in 2006 with surgery. I wanted to compete again by the spring of 2014 but definitely didn’t want to focus on size. I also didn’t feel as though I wanted to downsize much more as I wanted to stay healthy and strong, and not feel a pressure to do anything but fit the body that felt good for me. I ended up competing at the Chicago Pro and the Tampa Pro in the bodybuilding division, a month apart at the end of the summer of 2014 and made these my final days in female bodybuilding. I fell sick travelling into the Chicago show (again) and was able to improve my look for the Tampa show while feeling much healthier. Feedback was I was now ‘too small’ for bodybuilding, which was just fine for me as I was content with my ‘classic bodybuilding’ look at this point.

Looking ahead, I am eager to compete in the Women’s Physique Division which has dramatically shifted gears once again in the last two years. The women are well-developed, better conditioned and the division is progressing. What was a top placer two years ago has shifted once again, just as all the divisions are constantly evolving. I am happy the IFBB is including a division for women who want to train hard, develop a symmetrical physique and work hard to be well-conditioned. I look forward to new goals in the upcoming year and I hope to continue to inspire and motivate others to be their best, whatever their fitness goals may be!