by Susan Mikula Campbell
She's due to become a grandmother in September. On June 5, she competed in her first pro bodybuilding show.
Sue Manera is obviously not your everyday granny.
This month, the Wheatfield native is starting summer boot camps to share her expertise and help local teens and adults kick their couch potato muscles back into shape.
The eight-week, circuit-type class will alternate cardio conditioning with strength exercise stations. Manera is teaming up with Project Future, at 2720 Niagara Falls Blvd., in Wheatfield to offer the classes.
Boot camp for men and women of all ages and fitness levels will be at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays or at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, starting the week of June 21.
"My goal is to help people get healthy," Manera said, explaining the program not only helps people lose weight, burn off body fat, gain strength and condition. It also relieves stress.
Teen boot camp will be at 1 p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 23.
"They're home playing video games, texting each other and being driven around by their parents," she said, adding that it's no wonder that so many kids today have an obesity problem. "I want to teach kids about the benefits of exercise and strengthening their muscles."
Carol Eames, 47, of Pendleton, is a fan of boot camp. She started private weight training with Manera about six months ago and has been doing boot camp workouts for three months. In addition to the physical improvements in her body, she's seen an increase in stamina and energy.
"I love it. I do it almost every day," she said. "You get a total mental cleansing along with improving your physical abilities."
Eames is hoping to someday be in shape to follow Manera into competition.
Being a competition bodybuilder isn't easy.
Manera, a 1974 Niagara-Wheatfield graduate, earned a degree in business and accounting from the University at Buffalo in 1978. She's been doing some weight training off and on for years, fitting it in around raising three children and working full time. About seven years ago, her kids were growing up and moving out and she realized she'd put on a little weight, so started spending more time in the gym.
"I dropped body fat like crazy. It was like a whole different human being's body," she said. "I loved the changes."
After she started packing on muscle, she was approached by a trainer asking if she was interested in competition. Now, she's competed in about a dozen shows and turned pro last fall.
The first show was nerve-wracking, but it doesn't bother her any more, she said. A panel of judges scrutinizes every muscle as the competitors, wearing special two-piece posing suits that are custom-designed for their bodies, go through a series of poses to showcase different body parts.
Competitors seek to get rid of all body fat, so the judges can see each muscle and vein. Manera starts a very-low-to-no-carb, high-protein and veggie diet three months before a show.
After a show, she allows herself one whole week to celebrate from her personal list of forbidden foods - pizza, hot fudge, hot dogs, double cheeseburger, chicken wings - then goes back to a regular healthy diet. She also allows a little self-indulgence on birthdays and holidays.
Otherwise, she said, "I only buy the foods I'm allowed to eat. It's all I have in my house."
She also usually spends about two hours a day doing weight training and cardio workouts.
"It's grueling, grueling training to be a bodybuilder," she said. "Sometimes, the dieting part is harder than the physical training."
Manera said her children attend her shows and are very supportive, although her daughter was a bit hesitant about the situation before actually attending a competition.
"She just couldn't picture her mother being up on a stage in a skimpy little posing suit. She thought it was like I was trying to be sexy," Manera said. "That's not my intent. It's a sport. We're athletes. It takes a lot of mental and physical focus and dedication."
Manera, now a North Tonawanda resident, worked as an accountant and comptroller for 20 years until two years ago when she lost her job to downsizing.
"I decided I didn't want to go back to corporate America and be sitting at a desk all day," she said.
These days, she works as a personal trainer, usually working out of her home.
Boot camp participants don't have to worry about their age or how flabby their body is. She adjusts the workout to fit the person. She doesn't expect everyone to be a bodybuilder.
Those who would never consider taking that step can simply sit their better toned and healthier bodies in the audience and watch this October when Manera competes in her next World Natural Bodybuilding Federation show in Buffalo.
For more information on Manera's summer boot camps, call 523-0973 or e-mail [email protected]