Friday, April 15, 2016

Interview with Brittani Simpson

In our earlier days, we saw this woman named Brittani Simpson, who was tearing it up in the figure and bodybuilding rankings in the local level and had high hopes for her when it came to competing in the National level and eventually the IFBB. Unfortunately, fate dealt a cruel hand and unfortunately, she was unable to pursue her pro card, which we honestly thought was inevitable at that point in time. Earlier this year, she made her return to the stage after a long absence, and it's almost like she picked backed up right where she left off. We asked Brittani if we could do an interview with her and she was very gracious in taking the time to do one with us. 

Also, photos used in the interview belong to Brittani herself (unless otherwise noted below the photo(s))

An elegant photo one day after her return to the stage this year.
Photographer: Tracy Coggin

FitGems Nation (FN): Thank you for wanting to be interviewed by us, Brittani!  Let's start off with telling us a little bit about yourself (name/occupation/how long you've been in the fitness industry, etc.)
Brittani Simpson (BS): My name is Brittani Simpson, and I work for E. & J. Gallo Winery as the Shopper Marketing Manager for the Northwest.  I've worked for Gallo for over 20 years in Sales and Marketing and a couple of years in our International Division.  However, my first occupation is Mom. This role always has priority in my life, and I've been blessed to have a challenging and rewarding career with Gallo, while being present and involved with my kids' lives.
I have always been active in many sports and started lifting weights in college in 1990.  As a challenge to myself to get "in the best shape of my life" after having kids, and to push myself way out of my comfort zone, I decided to compete at the NPC Vancouver Natural in 2008.  I was already in great shape at 11% body fat (always using hydrostatic testing), and in 9 weeks I leaned down to 6% and won the Masters Overall in my first competition.  Although I had never been to a show, nor did I know anything about them or the fitness industry, I had an incredible experience and decided to continue with improving my physique and compete again in the fall of 2008.  I won Overall Figure at the NPC Seven Feathers and NPC NW Championships shows and became even more excited to pursue a Pro Card.

FG: How did you get involved in the fitness industry in the first place?
BS: When I would train at the gym, people would sometimes ask me if I competed.  I was only 122 lbs and a size 2-4 (not what I envisioned as a bodybuilder!) so I had no idea what they were talking about, but then I found out about the Figure division and could see that it might be a fit for my body type.  I am a modest person and have struggled with body dysmorphia, and my "size", my whole life so I thought it might be a good opportunity for me to work through those issues and enter into a sport that actually celebrated my physique type.  As a child and teenager my mom would always say that I should be a bodybuilder, but I always wanted to be a ballet dancer.  Apparently, mothers often do know best!

FG: What do you enjoy most about competing and/or modeling?
BS: I love learning something new about myself and my capabilities every time I prep for a show.  It always takes me to a new level!

FG: Which do you feel is your greatest strength while training: cardio or weight-training?
BS: Weight training is my biggest strength and has added the most value to my life.  I am an avid outdoor enthusiast and also participate in many other sports, so weight training is essential to keeping me active and involved in what I love to do.

FG: What is the hardest thing you have had to deal with when it comes to the fitness industry?
BS: There was a lot of confusing and contradictory nutrition and workout information coming at me when I started, and it took me some time to figure out that there are many ways to accomplish a similar result, but I needed to find out what was best for my body and my long term well-being, while also fitting it all into my demanding schedule.

FG: What division do you compete in, and what’s the best thing in your opinion about competing in that division?
BS: While I can put on muscle easier than most, I prefer to stay smaller and stay in the Figure division.  I have fairly advanced osteoarthritis and find that I have less pain when I am lighter on my joints. I will not be moving to the Physique division as some would like me to do.  I also like that I can be totally natural and be in a sport that is suited to my muscular body type while staying very feminine.

An early photo of Brittani from 2009
Photographer: Duane Harper

FG: You were a top rising star back in 2009, when you took the Emerald Cup by storm, doing very well in both bodybuilding and figure (as pointed out years ago on our own site: While to many, a pro card seemed like a foregone conclusion, you disappeared altogether. Do you mind sharing with us what made you decide to step away from the stage for a while, and what made you decide to come back now?
BS: Well, first of all, I really appreciate your support and encouragement. Thank you so much for such a wonderful article!  I actually started training immediately after the Emerald Cup for the USA Nationals and believed I could get my Pro Card with a few changes and a bit leaner physique.  I hired a coach from Dr. Berardi's team at Precision Nutrition, Krista Schaus, to take me to the next level with a deep dive into my body type, hormones, etc.  It was an intense 6 months of training and dieting with body fat tests every two weeks (12 pt caliper and hydrostatic) to see how I reacted to different diets and work outs.  However, during this time, I was in the middle of a difficult divorce and custody battle.  Additionally, in the fall of 2009, we found out my dad had Stage 3 Prostrate cancer with very few treatment options available that could save his life.  My parents were at my house almost every weekend to get tests in Portland, and between taking care of myself, my two young kids, and them, I was pretty overwhelmed.  Then, just 2 weeks before Nationals, one of my nieces had a psychotic break induced by a traumatic incident that year.  My parents needed my sister and I at the hospital to help understand all the medical jargon, but my niece needed us also.  Subsequently, my sister went to be with my parents, and I went to be with my niece.  I decided that my family needed me more than getting a Pro Card, and I stopped my prep less than 2 weeks from the show.  I knew I was making the right choice and have no regrets.  I still had a lot to deal with in my divorce, and eventually I won the custody battle, settled everything and moved to Camas, Washington, in 2011.  I never stopped training, but I also needed to focus on adapting to being a single mom, managing my career, and the travel that comes with it.  My company and my kids are very supportive of me competing again, and I have a great routine and wonderful support system established now.  Everything fell into place last year for me to be able to start prepping for a show.  My protocols are VERY different than most competitors since I am completely natural and deal with a few hereditary health issues.  They have been big hurdles for me - but not road blocks!

(Editors's Note: What a journey this woman has been through! God has truly blessed her in so many ways.)

FG: Is an IFBB Pro card still in the plans for you in 2016?
BS: I just found out that I have to have surgery this year and will need 6-8 weeks to recover so I don't think that it will be possible this year.

FG: With the rise of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Periscope, Instagram, etc,), how important do you feel it is for people in the fitness industry to participate in it?
BS: I believe that if you need to make your living in the fitness industry, it's very important for you to maximize your presence and image with social media.  Your audience is probably Millennials so you should learn how to target that demographic.  I work in a completely different industry, and we use social media more and more every year.  I do not have the goal to be famous or get attention to validate my self-worth.  However, I have come to recognize that my journey, lifestyle, and success provide a lot of inspiration to others.  I have a lot of people contact me and ask me questions about how I stay fit and healthy while doing so much with my kids as a single mom and managing a successful career.  There is a big opportunity for me to teach and help other business professionals, and that is how I'd like to give back to others.  Given my current demanding schedule, I will only be coaching a handful of clients at any given time.

Fountain of youth, ladies and gentlemen!
Photographer: Tracy Coggin

FG: Who (living or dead) do you look up to for inspiration, whether they are part of the fitness industry or not?
BS: I am blessed to have an incredible inner passion for life and am a lifelong learner.  I read and listen to books and podcasts constantly.  Therefore, my inspiration comes from a variety of business professionals and sources.  I have not had many lifestyle role models in my life and not one individual person has "the life" that I want to live.  I am very intentional in my choices, and how I live, and have found that my greatest inspiration comes from myself and staying active.  I don't try to emulate anyone else's body or style.  Instead, I focus on being the best I can be. When I'm feeling a bit down, or discouraged by my own issues, three people come to mind that inspire me: one is this guy with an obvious severe muscular disease barely able to walk into the gym, another is a lady that has to have her service dog with her on the gym floor because she has seizures, and lastly is a veteran who lost his legs and comes in to work out in his wheel chair. Those people face adversity beyond my own, and if they can show up in spite of the challenges they live with every day, so can I.  So can everyone!!

FG: I know everyone wants to be the first "them" (as it should be), but is there any competitor (past or present) that you look at and say, "Okay...that's the look I'm aiming for"?
BS: The few famous competitors that I am familiar with have elements of their presentation that I respect and admire, but my life and body type are so different that I do not compare myself to them or aim to look like anyone else.  To be perfectly honest, I could not name more than a handful of competitors in this industry.  My time is limited, and I hone in on what I need to learn and know (posing, diet, workouts), and I hire the best coaches around to work with me to be my best.  I chose Michelle Herzog to help me with my competition prep and all that it entails (diet, workout plans, optimal brain and hormone function, stage refinement, etc.) because she is incredibly knowledgeable and shares the same fierce values about being natural and finding natural solutions to issues versus taking short cuts that could lead to long term problems.  I chose Andre Scott with Posing Perfection as my posing coach because I think he is one of the best in the Northwest.  Lastly, I chose Sekona Taufa to help me with a few sessions of training to help me work my lower body without causing inflammation and stress to my back and knees - where my arthritis is the most advanced. He is a Natural Pro Bodybuilder that is my same age and has had some similar injuries and understands how to modify exercises to minimize pain and further injury.  He is also an incredible mentor and supporter to me and many others in our area.

FG: If you weren’t part of the fitness industry, what would you be doing now?
BS: My family and career will always be my priorities, but I am working on incorporating more fitness and health awareness into my industry.  This will always be a part of my life because I passionately believe in health and wellness.  If I am not competing, you can rest assured that I am working behind the scenes on my health and helping others attain their optimal selves.

FG: What (if anything) would you change about the fitness industry as a whole (NOT just about the division you compete in)?
BS: This may not be a popular response, but I'll be honest.  I am sometimes ashamed of the fitness industry and how others promote themselves.  The first show that I ever watched was in 2014 (I had only competed but never been a spectator), and I was shocked by the bikini competition.  My girlfriend, who is also a business professional, was with me and was considering competing in this division.  Our jaws literally dropped, and we said there was no way she could do those poses and have her pictures on the internet. It looked like strip club recruiting, not a fitness competition.  I wish that it were more classy and respectful because those women work hard and are beautiful, but the "T&A" shaking and bent over posing is not something I enjoy seeing, nor does it best show off all of that hard work while maintaining the respect women crave and deserve.
Lastly, I try not judge others for the choices they make to take "supplements" that help them gain muscle or lean down, but my hope is that they think about the long term effects on their bodies and quality of life.  After all, this is "body building", not "body destruction".

(Editor's Note: I can't say AMEN enough for this response!!!!!)

FG: After your competition days are completed, how do you plan on give back to the fitness industry?
BS: I am working on a transition to being a Corporate Trainer - meaning I will teach management classes and incorporate nutrition and fitness into my teaching.  At Gallo, we have also started teaching the Corporate Athlete, and I'd like to write a book and speak to audiences about staying healthy while working in demanding careers and traveling.  We have a lot of challenges that most people never have to deal with, and I have over 20 years of experience with constant travel in my job and many tips and tricks to share with others.  I'd love to make the world a healthier, better place!

FG: Bottom line, what is YOUR ultimate goal in the fitness industry, the one thing you feel that you HAVE to do before you call it a career?
BS: I have to get my Pro Card!  I also want to be a positive, life changing educator for as many people as possible.

FG: Any closing words for your fans and supporters?
BS: We all have unique journeys that will be full of trials, tribulations, injuries, and issues.  Know your values and the reasons why it's important to stay fit and healthy.  Stay strong to those values. Motivation comes from working hard every day.  The harder you work and the more consistent you are, the stronger your motivation becomes.  I love to hear success stories and help others, so feel free to contact me!

Her return at the 2016 NPC Vancouver National Championships. The best is yet to come!
Photo credit: NPC News Online

FG: Again, thank you so much for doing this interview with us! For those that want to keep up on your future competitions and other plans, how can fans contact you? (Facebook fan page, Twitter, Instagram, email, website, blog, other social media outlets, etc.) Also, if there's anything you want to plug in, you are more than welcome to do so.
BS: Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my journey!  You can find me in any of these places:
Instagram:  Brittani.Simpson
Facebook:  Brittani Simpson (Athlete): 

We wish Brittani all the happiness and success in the world as she continues on her journey to becoming an IFBB Pro and making a difference in the lives of others! FYI, she plans on making some big updates to her website and Facebook in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to our social media links as we will keep you all informed.