Zlata Sushchik is an international competitor from Russia, now living in Alaska. In addition to being a competitor (She competes in bikini), she is a full-time student and procurement specialist for a oil company. In other words, don't you DARE call her an airhead! Trust me, after reading this interview, you will be able to tell that she's far from being one. (All photos were provided by Zlata herself.)
FitGems Nation: First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Zlata Sushchik: My name is Zlata Sushchik. I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. I made my big move towards the "american dream" about 7 years ago. I currently reside in the beautiful state of Alaska where i am a full time MBA student and a Procurement Specialist for a major oil company.
FitGems: How did you get involved in the fitness industry in the first place?
Zlata: I grew up playing piano and singing in a choir for over 8 years. This took up most of my childhood time that kids usually dedicate to sports. In fact my mom always used to say... and still does "sports are bad for you". It wasn't until high school when my friend asked "Hey, there this bodybuilding thing next month, want to compete with me?", i actually got into sports. To be honest, i didn't step foot on track or let alone the weight room until i was 16 years ago. I am not sure if it was my lack of speaking english or if it really sounded fun at the time, i decided to do it. I dedicated whole SIX weeks of my life to the high school figure show. This is going to sound silly but that very show changed my life. Looking back it was probably one of the best decisions i've ever made. Needless to say, i did not win, i placed dead last. However, i received my trophy with a great sense of pride and accomplishment. After all, it was the most exercise i have ever gotten. I came back in 2007 and took the Overall High School Figure Champion title, i won 2007 NPC Crystal Cup Junior Figure DIvision shortly after. Competing didn't necessarily become my life but it played a huge role in it.
After my first year of college, which i payed for myself, i decided that if i decide to continue my education i must get a scholarship. In 2008, one of my friends, knowing my fitness background, asked me to help her get ready to compete in the upcoming Miss Alaska Pageant. Wow, i thought, how cool. Then she spoke the , oh so familiar words, "Its next month, want to compe with me?".... I know it wasn't the language barrier this time, i said "YES". It sounded like a great opportunity to win a full ride scholarship to the university i've been attending and have fun! Obtaining the 2009 Miss Alaska Teen USA title was one of my best experiences since this is the largest pageant network in the world which is a part of the Miss Universe organization. I learned a lot!
I got back to competing in the NPC world when the Bikini Division was introduced. I had an amazing year in 2010 starting with NPC Heart of Alaska Bikini Champion Overall title, moved on to nationals and obtained 2010 NPC Collegiate Nationals Class B Champion title, place Top 3 at NPC USA, Top 5 at IFBB North Americans. Whew, what a year THAT was.... Being a full time student and working, my schedule was jam packed. Certainly learned a lot about time management and multitasking.
FitGems: What do you enjoy most about competing?
Zlata: I enjoy being fit, feeling fit and living the lifestyle. I made a major change in my life style probably about a year ago where i don't have an off season anymore. I used to live "show to show", have to "lose 10", fit my "27s"... I don't do that anymore, i wake up knowing that i am going to feel great for the rest of the day, my clothes will fit and i will be comfortable in my own skin. Being in the fitness industry a lot of women i know start having body image issues, that are associated with rapid weight loss or weight gain. In the locker room, you will often hear "omg, im so fat", "i ate cake, have to work out now", "oh girl, i look (insert rude comment about yourself here)" and so on so forth. Yes, there is an off season, yes there are times where we don't feel our best. But it is not the reason to punish yourself with work outs and it sure isn't a reason to reward ourselves with food. Fitness is about not only looking great, but feeling great physically and mentally
FitGems: What do your friends and family think about competing?
Zlata: My family is Russia always gets really excited when i send competition photos or progress pictures. My dad was a former speed skater, he loves sports and loves what i do. I think he is the only one in the family who can see past the pretty picture. Mom, who lives here in the states, she still doesnt get it, but is EXTREMELY supportive. Present at every show, with her cute poster and a bouquet of flowers.
I try to surround myself with friends who are understanding and supportive of my lifestyle. They know about my busy schedule due to working a serious job and going to school and of course hours and hors at the gym. My friends are great! But it did take me some time to find those people and some of us who are just getting into fitness don't have the patient and understanding friends that i do... i am currently working on a article of how to overcome those issues with friends and family... we have ALL been there.
FitGems: Have others mistaken you for something of than a female physique athlete, like a softball player, volleyball player, MMA fighter, wrestler, etc.?
Zlata: Are you like a swimmer or something? Gymnast? Pageant girl (yes, pageant is a sport), distance runner?There have been lots of variation, last thing they guess is bikini division in the NPC organization =]
FitGems: If you weren’t part of the fitness industry, what would you be doing now?
Zlata: Good question, if i didn't do my first show in 2006 i probably would have never gotten into fitness or nutrition. I probably would be munching on chips or cookies at my desk at work.... Now i do that with protein cookies i make myself. I treat fitness and competing as a part of my wholesome lifestyle where i have my personal, education and career goals. Fitness is a way for me to manage busy schedule, relief stress and feel awesome! I have always been very goal oriented. When i originally moved here i raced through my high school education. Barely speaking english i managed to graduate a year early and get into college right away. I raced through my bachelors and jumped right into the Masters program. I've always had a very stable job and now work in a very exciting career field for a global oil company. My point here is, i would be doing the exact same thing but now it is so much more exciting because i have a hobby i am passionate about.
FitGems: Any closing words for your fans and supporters?
Zlata: Confucius - "It doesn't matter how slow you go, as long as you don't stop". This is my most favorite quote. If you don't succeed once, don't give up and keep going. If its not the greatest day at the gym, don't just leave, do something. If you didn't turn pro, try again. If you didn't place, come back looking better. You aren't competing for the judges, for the trainers, nutritionists and coaches, you are competing for yourself. Find what stimulates you most about the sport and have FUN!
FitGems: How can fans contact you if they want to keep up with your career? (Facebook fan page, Twitter, email, website, blog, other social media outlet, etc.)
Zlata: You can find me on www.facebook.com/ZlataSushchik or follow me on Twitter @akhotmess .... Yes, hot mess =]. I am also working on launching a website. Stay tuned!