Some people walk into your life unexpectedly and make things great again…This truly is one of my all-time favorite clients/friends. She definitely made things great again for me by just becoming a great friend. I’ve been holding onto doing this blog because I’ve been adjusting to life here in Europe, busy with work, and saving my best for now. Besides, another reason why I waited was because it’s NFL football season, and Gina is a HUGE Kansas City Chiefs fan. Not once in this interview did she mention that she’s a Chiefs fan, or football at all, and now you all know it firsthand from me. I wanted to drop this blog like it’s hot, so she and others will have something amazing to read before and after game time. I miss you my friend…now get over here to Germany and let’s shoot! Thank you again for trusting in me and my abilities.

On 16 July 2016, I had the honor to work with Gina. She contacted me on 16 February 2016, stated that she definitely wanted to do a shoot with me that year and that she was going to the Masters Nationals in Pittsburgh in July, and that she wanted to do her shoot a day or two after she returned from her show. At that point, we began the planning on Pinterest, and brainstormed weekly to make sure that her shoot was perfect.

One thing that stood out to me that Gina stated multiple times is that she loves variety in photographers. She highly dislikes seeing photographers that shoot the same exact things day in and day out. Basically, she likes people that can think outside the box and that aren’t, “one trick ponies”. For that reason, she hired me, and then…we bonded. The other thing is that Gina is a natural redhead and that alone is winning! We’ve done multiple shoots together, and I’m ALWAYS proud of her. Right now I’d like introduce the world to Gina Garechana. Here is our interview that we did together.

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com

Describe your life before you started training.

I can’t really remember a time BEFORE I started training. :) I started lifting weights in my high school weight room as a freshman (14 yrs old) at the directive of my tennis coach, who was also the boys baseball coach. I was playing Varsity tennis and he wanted me to get stronger between seasons so I could move into a 1st or 2nd singles role by the next year. I immediately fell in love with lifting weights and strength training. That was just the beginning. Post high school, and after college, I was still a gym rat, but honestly more of a classes / cardio queen. I was living in southern California and desperately wanted to fit in and look the part, so I did the fad diets and cardio-ed myself to death in a attempt to be “skinny” :) I did still continue to train and lift but it was secondary to my cardio regimen.

As I have grown and matured, I have learned to love my body and have realized that strength > skinny and intentional training, bodybuilding, far outweigh the frustration of the cardio wheel I used to be stuck on. I have also come to realize and understand the importance of clean eating, using food for fuel and eating with intentionality as well.

How different do you feel now compared to then?

I feel more balanced and more accepting of my body and appreciate and honor it in ways I couldn’t, or didn’t understand, when I was younger. I want to be strong and yes, of course, I want to look my best, but more than that, I want to live a long and healthy life, I want to be an inspiration and I want to be better each day than I was before.

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com
I want to be strong and yes, of course, I want to look my best, but more than that, I want to live a long and healthy life, I want to be an inspiration and I want to be better each day than I was before.

Was there is pivotal moment that motivated you to start training? If so, what was it?

The mental shift in training for me happened right after my daughter was born, in 2002 and I found myself suddenly a single mother, having come out of an abusive relationship. It was when my daughter was just a few months old, when I was living in a tiny apartment, praying that I would make enough money to keep the lights on and the formula coming, that I discovered the healing power of strength – physical strength and how it empowered me to find an inner strength I never knew I had. I had been abused and misused and, for years, made to feel like I wasn’t enough, but suddenly, face to face with myself in the mirror of an old Gold’s Gym in Kansas City, I found me. Me. Not the single mom. Not the victim of domestic abuse. Me in the mirror that I had never seen. The weights didn’t mock me – they joined me in my quest. They cheered me on as I grew stronger. And I soon discovered that in my journey to fitness, lay my ability to heal from the inside out. Here…this was something I could control. This was something no one – NO one – could take away from me. Fitness, exercise, commitment, dedication and the community around me became the therapy I couldn’t find laying on a couch somewhere rehashing my history. Here it made sense, in the grey basement weight room in an old building in North Kansas City. Here, I belonged and inspired and could grow and heal and learn and turn and do the same for others.


What do you wish you had known when you were 16?

I wish I had taken more risks and lived my life a little more. I was so careful and such a people pleaser and it took me years to begin to live my life the way I wanted, and to know the real me. I had to discover myself in my 20’s and into my 30’s and realized i missed so much life in my teens trying to be everything to everyone and fit in everyone’s box. Be YOU. Do YOU.

Do you remember your first training session? How different is your training today?

My first workouts were in the weight room at my high school. I remember thinking it was pretty awesome that I could bench press more than some of the other guys in there. I also felt pretty cool being the only girl in the weight room. 😀 I loved that “jelly” feeling I got after a session and the muscle soreness I had never experienced. I had NO idea what I was doing though - I copy-catted for many years and when I used the gym at our local rec center, I stuck to the “pin in the stack” machines because the rest of the gym was a mystery to me.

Today, the gym is my playground and I can use any equipment with total confidence. I can change up my workouts to shock my muscles, play with different supersetting or muscle group combos and can easily switch to a different movement if something that I was going to use is taken. The gym is my safe and happy place where I feel totally at home and training makes me excited. I sometimes get butterflies on the way to the gym because I’m excited to get in there and see what this session brings!

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com

What has been the most rewarding aspect of training for you? Why?

My personal discipline. You will never always be motivated, so you have to learn to be disciplined, in all aspects. Training, and show prep, have taught me extreme discipline and that is what gets me out of bed on those mornings I just want to sleep in, gets me in the kitchen for weekly food prep when everyone else is enjoying, “Sunday funday” and what keeps me going through the toughest workout. Discipline carries over into every aspect of life and I believe makes me a better wife, mom and employee.

What would a perfect Sunday involve for you?

Sundays are my favorite already. I love to wake up early when the house is asleep and make my coffee and plan my day. Usually my Sundays consist of coffee, gym, grocery shopping and food prep, but I always try and make time to spend with some friends too. Sundays to me, shape the rest of the week, so I like to spend the preparing myself and my home and my family for the week to come. But those early morning, quiet stolen moments alone in my kitchen with my coffee are my favorite.

What has continued to motivate you throughout your training? Why?

Progress! Every time I go to the gym, it’s progress. I will never reach perfection but I always want to be better so I keep going, work hard, commit and sacrifice for that never ending quest to be the best version of myself. Progress is exciting and so rewarding.

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com

What are your qualifications - why did you set out to achieve these?

I haven’t been certified by any recognized organization, but I do think my personal experience, and understanding how the body responds to clean eating, the right combination of resistance / weight training and cardio, water intake and sleep, contribute to one’s overall health and so I’m always happy to give advice and share what I know.

What have you had to overcome to get to where you are today? Did that change you in any way? If so, describe how.

I like to have the mindset of “competing every day”. Yes there have definitely been major life events that I have gone through and trials and crises to deal with, but those only serve to shape us and make us better. Really, what I have to overcome is daily.

What is the number one lesson you have learned about health and fitness through your training?

You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. How you feed your machine is the most important part, and that take a LOT of planning and preparation AND sacrifice. You have to set / make the time to make your food, measure your food and record your food, or you will never make progress.

Describe how training makes you feel.

Sometimes training is a mood booster, and sometimes it is an outlet. It can make a bad day better, a good day great, but can also be a release for fear, anger, and anxiety. Training makes me feel like I am in control of me and pushing myself past my limits (read: I haven’t found my limits yet!) makes me feel strong - not just in a physical way but with strength that comes from a lifetime of struggles and overcoming those circumstances that tried to hold you down.


Do you have a quote that you live by? If so, why this one?

It’s actually a Bible verse from the book of Joshua - “Be strong and very courageous.” Strength and courage have been my pillars for 20 years and some days you have to dig deep to find it and sometimes it comes from a Strength that is bigger than me. But strength and courage are how I try to face every day and every circumstance.

What was your reason for taking health and fitness to the level you have? Why is it so important to you?

Honestly, competing for me the first time, was a bucket list type of thing and to get people off my back that kept telling me I should. 😊 I made 100 excuses why I wouldn’t and one day I just decided, a year before I turned 40, that it was time to stop talking about it and admiring those that did it, and join them. And then once I started competing, I was hooked. I got the bug and before I knew it, clean eating and intentional training became my way of life.

What advice would you give to women wanting to get into the best shape of their life?

Trust the process - I know it sounds trite and overused, but truly there are so many times along the way, you doubt your coach, or what you see on the scale and it’s easy to give up. Trust. The. Process. Because it’s just that - a process. It’s not something that will happen overnight and, if you’re doing it right, honestly you will never reach that point where you are satisfied. And that’s when you know you have arrived. Stay hungry and be willing to work harder than you ever have and feel better than you ever have.

Setbacks aren’t the end of the world; off days don’t derail you. Compete every day.


What is the most important thing women need to remember when training? Why?

Forget what you think you know about fitness and what the world has told you your whole life. Cardio will not help you lose the weight and lifting heavy sh*t won’t make you manly. 😉 Your body NEEDS muscle to burn fat and the more of that mindless, steady rate cardio you kill yourself doing, the more your body burns up that muscle you so need to burn the fat. You will eat more than you ever have, and train with intention.

Do you enjoy training alone or with a partner? Why?

I work out alone almost entirely, but I like to have people around me when I work out, because it motivates me to work harder. My workouts change and I make them up as I go along each week and change things based on how I”m feeling and what I did last time I trained that body part. I am more comfortable working out alone, lose myself in my music and push myself.


What would you like to see change in the health and fitness industry?

Although I am a competitor, I will never compete at the risk of my health. I hate that so much of the “fitness” industry is hellbent on winning and that ever-elusive pro card, so they put their health at risk using drugs and other substances to enhance or speed up the process, or pieces of clothing or equipment to “train their waist” or otherwise. There is so much personal satisfaction and pride that comes with knowing you built your physique naturally and without enhancements. There are too many young bodybuilders who are dying too young, or doing irreversible damage to themselves. That part of the sport, I will never understand and is a big part of the reason I chose to move to a drug tested federation this year, MuscleMania.

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com

Contest history - do you have a highlight? Why?

Yes! My 3rd show, the Denver Open, was a smaller show, but I had decided to do it and then the Colorado Northern two weeks later, so I was looking at the Open as a “warm up” of sorts for the much larger Northern. I ended up winning the Master’s Overall at the Open and two weeks later, in a stacked class of women, also won the Overall Master’s at the Northern. I cried on stage when they called my name that night and will never forget how amazing it felt to have all that hard work and sacrifice recognized that way in back to back shows, at 40 years old.


[Please outline a typical day’s meals]

1st Meal - If I workout early, I have a shake right after my workout. My favorite shake is a scoop of vanilla protein powder, 8 oz of almond milk and 2 tbsp of powdered peanut butter, mixed up with some ice...YUM. And coffee of course!!

If I don’t have an early workout and have time, my breakfast will be Kodiak pancakes w PB & sugar free syrup, if I am high carb. Otherwise, it’s an egg and ½ c egg whites scrambled with spinach, ham and salsa.

2nd Meal is typically a bar and some fruit like an apple or a peach

3rd meal or lunch will be some variation of chicken, sweet potatoes and broccoli; or brown rice, ground turkey and broccoli.

I usually have greek yogurt in the afternoon and a bar of some sorts.

Dinner is usually similar to lunch, so chicken, sweet potatoes, broccoli, or asparagus; or fish and rice and a green veg.

Love to have a rice cake with PB & honey before bed.

And red wine. :)

Workout week

Monday - Cardio / Abs

Tuesday - Chest / biceps

Wednesday - Cardio / Abs / Posing

Thursday - Back / Triceps

Friday - Cardio / Abs

Saturday - Shoulders / Calves

Sunday - LEGS! / Posing

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com


Describe yourself in three words. Brave, silly, sensitive

What is your favorite food to indulge on? How often do you treat yourself? SUSHI! I don’t have it often, but when I do, I order all my favorites

What is your favorite non-cheat food? Rice cakes w PB / Honey

What is your favorite home-cooked meal? Who cooks it? My mom’s pot roast :)

What are the staples in your fridge? Egg whites, eggs, almond milk, fresh garlic, fruit and salsa

What is your favorite body part to train? Why? Legs or Back - because it makes me feel STRONG and I can always push myself to go harder

What is your least favorite body part to train? Why? Ugh triceps - I just find it so tedious

Do you prefer to train outdoors or indoors? Why?

I love to take my cardio outside when I can - I will go to the park and run the stairs and do hill sprints. Functional cardio is always better than the endless stairmill.


Describe the atmosphere in your favorite place to train – what can you see/feel/hear etc.?

Well, I hear my music, because I can’t train without my tunes :) But I do love my gym I’ve been at for over a decade, because I have really grown up in it and become an athlete. I know where everything is and there are friendly and familiar faces there.

Do you prefer cardio or weights? Why?

Oh god, weights. Cardio is a necessary evil. Sometimes when I am on the stairmill watching everyone in the weight room, I feel like I am in time out and watching all the other kids play w my toys on the playground. LOL!

Do you have a favorite book? Why this one?

Les Miserables - I’ve read it cover to cover a half dozen times. I love the passion of the characters. Name a cause you would die for, or a love you would give your life for? It’s not normal these days and I love that kind of passion.

What is your favorite feature? Why?

I love my legs because they are STRONG! I used to hate my legs because I was never “skinny” and always wanted to be. I used to hate my butt and would tie sweatshirts around my waist to hide it, but I have come to love and appreciate my butt, legs and yes, thick thighs, because they are STRONG.

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com

Name five (5) things you can't live without.

1. My daughter 2. My dogs 3. Water 4. Football 5. Quality mascara 😉

Name three (3) things most people don’t know about you.

1) I was raised super strict. I didn’t drink at all in high school or college.

2) I wanted to be a professional drummer growing up.

3) I always wished my name was Whitney.

What is on your bedside table?

A framed picture of my daughter, my Bible, kleenex, chapstick and my stuffed pig.

What is your best beauty secret? Sleep and WATER!

Who inspires you? Why? Other single moms - we are a badass, independent, fiercely loyal group!

Michael Conley of MikeCon Photography www.mikeconphoto.com

Who is your fitness and body role model? Why? Ashley Horner without a doubt. She sets a goal and goes after it and inspires others along the way to join her and be their best.

What do you have in store for the future? What do you want to improve on? Gosh, I just want to be better every day and continue to help and inspire others. I would love to go far with MuscleMania -my next show will be my second time crossing over to Physique and that is a huge new, out of my comfort zone challenge. So I just want to continue to be my very best and work hard every day.

I'm currently preparing for: MuscleMania Colorado 2019. I’ll be competing in Figure and crossing up to Physique.

Website, or Social Media? Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.