When Alexa Floria heard her name called as the winner of the "Figure" category at the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) North American championships in August, she didn't believe it.
The 21-year-old Wilsonville woman had entered the contest thinking that she would probably earn her "pro card," which would allow her to compete in future professional events That would have been more than enough for Floria, and winning the contest never crossed her mind.
"I had to look down at my number to make sure it was me, even though they said my name and my number," Floria said. "It was super cool — I definitely bawled my eyes out on stage, and had makeup all over my face for all the pictures."
The win was a new high point in a journey that began about two-and-a-half years ago, when Floria — who grew up as a three-sport athlete — barely knew anything about the sport of bodybuilding.
"I was a pretty heavy little girl," she said. "I moved to Hawaii for college and when I decided to move back home, I really didn't want my boyfriend to see me all big. ... I changed my whole diet, stopped eating pizza and burgers every day and being lazy, and went to the gym for like two hours a day."
Soon, Floria's friend, who competed at bodybuilding contests, suggested that she give it a try.
"I was like, 'Oh, no, that's stupid,'" she said. "Then I gave it a couple of months and I was like, 'I really want to do this.'"
She hired a coach in January 2016 and would go on to compete in her first national competition later that year. It proved to be a trying experience, but one that served her well when she returned to the stage this summer.
"I totally bombed it, I even tripped on stage and everything was horrible," Floria said. "I pretty much took a year off and built and built and built. I worked my little butt off and I guess it worked."
Indeed, the training and preparation process for national competitions is not for the faint of heart. Floria hired a new coach, Dan Simpson, in 2017 and attributes her recent success to his hard-driving program.
"It's a lot — it's seven days a week. I was supposed to take a rest day, but I don't do that," Floria said. "(There is) a lot of hard dieting — carbs slowly get taken away until you eat virtually nothing except, like, bird food. And then you enter what's called 'peak week,' which is a week before the show, and that is pretty much where you are priming your body to look its best at the end of the week."
After a period of intense dieting, bodybuilders pack the carbohydrates back in during the final days leading up to a competition.
"The Tuesday before the show, like five days before, I start eating again and building back up," Floria said. "So you look like a dead person that week, but then you slowly get food and your muscles fill back up and you start to look human again, and that's when you look your best."
At the 2017 competition, Floria enjoyed a sense of comfort and confidence that she'd lacked in her first show.
"(At the first show) I was so overwhelmed — I was so scared backstage, I was freaking out," she said. "And this time I was calm, cool, collected, confident — all of the good Cs."
Though she is now a professional coming off of her first major win in the sport, Floria is taking pains to stay humble — particularly after noticing the demeanor of some of her fellow competitors.
"I didn't expect everybody to be so into themselves," Floria said. "I get that it's a conceited sport, but oh my gosh, people in this industry are so all about themselves, and I hope I'm never like that."
Floria said Portland's ever-growing bodybuilding community provides constant support, and it's also easier to keep a level head when she never expected to be here in the first place.
"If you would have told me this is where I would be two-and-a-half years ago, I would have laughed so hard," Floria said. "Because I never saw myself being a professional bodybuilder. I always wanted to be a pro athlete as a kid, but I thought it would be in soccer or snowboarding, or something I did as a kid. Never this."
It's been a whirlwind journey, but Floria is just getting started. She's excited for her professional debut, and hopes to travel as far as Australia or Germany for upcoming international competitions.
"I can't wait," she said. "But I know I have to take a solid time off to build and give my body a break."