Friday 20th of July. A peculiar day in many ways, it began with a relatively early wake-up call as I clambered into my method of transport for the day; a VW Polo. I travelled up with good friends Tim and Lucy to Manchester and we had a seamless drive, bar one moment where we very nearly wiped out by an “elderly” driver (to put it kindly), but apart from that, no dramas!
Upon arrival in the North-West, we elected to spend the next few hours shopping and grabbing a bite to eat before finally checking in to our hotel. At this point, we’re over halfway through the day and it would be easy to forget I had a show at all; I was relaxed and distracted in a good way and cruising through the day. However, check-in signalled the starting point for things to get serious, it would only be a few hours until I got my first tan before the show. After unpacking and catching 40 winks, it was time to get myself over to Middleton Arena, which is where the show was taking place, as well as playing host for the tanning squad to do their thing. As I sat in the cab, the reality of the situation was beginning to sink in and with it, nerves bubbling to the surface.
Arriving at the venue for my first tanning session was an experience I’ll never forget. I remember stepping in line, awaiting my turn and striking up conversations with other competitors, thinking “is he going to be against me? Will he beat me?” That’s my competitive streak. It’s difficult to suppress, but I managed to bury those thoughts, as I didn’t want to appear like that, instead I elected to be friendly, supportive and showcase myself in as positive a way as I could for the simple fact that we’ve all worked so hard to get here, it really becomes irrelevant where you place.
The tan itself was certainly something to go through. Six or so tents crammed into a changing room which was populated with virtually naked guys (a sock covering our modesty left nothing to the imagination), a vibrant and boisterous team of tanning girls and air swirling with the scent of biscuits that only a spray tan can bring. I thoroughly enjoyed having a good laugh with everyone, and finally seeing some colour doused on my skin was a welcome sight, plans to hit sunbeds in the lead up to the show fell well and truly by the wayside, so I was in desperate need of a good tan. With this applied, it was time to get back to my room and make final preparations.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by kind-hearted, supportive and truly incredible people. One such person is my dear friend Ollie, who travelled straight from Barcelona to Manchester to see me compete. It’s honestly something which has still left me speechless many weeks later, as I’m so grateful for this act of solidarity and companionship. Having someone who I’ve grown up with and shared countless memories with being there on one of the biggest and most important days of my life is truly special and something that I’ll never forget. Also, it was Ollie who first introduced me to lifting weights, way back in 2012, so it was extremely poignant for me that he would be here to celebrate and witness my debut on stage. True friends are hard to find but I’m incredibly lucky and it’s upon reflection that it’s truly sinking in how selfless and special this act of support was.
So, after catching up it was time for me to check in and see how things stood before my last meal and get the rundown for my eating plan throughout the next day. Upon receiving my instructions, I again felt a surge of nerves as I settled into bed. Here’s a tip for you if you’re competing; don’t forget to bring your own bedsheets/pillowcases. The poor hotel staff must have thought I’d either had a huge accident in the night or murdered someone and launched the body out of the window. Not good. As for the sleep itself, I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to bed right away, so ran through my poses, which did anything but settle my nerves! I did manage to settle down a little bit however and sleep through until about 6am. The alarm blared like a siren, I bolted out of bed and sorted myself out. Careful not to wash my tan off after brushing my teeth, I took my allocation of water with meal 1 and sat, motionless for a good ten minutes. It was now time to put months of hard work, years of preparation and countless hours of lifting all into one day, a few moments and the opportunity of a lifetime.
That’s a wrap for this part of Journey’s End; next time I’ll discuss what it was like actually stepping on stage, how things operated backstage and of course, the results. Stay tuned and thank you for reading!