Sarah Dunlap Interview

The Blockhead (TBH) Interviews IFBB Pro Sarah Dunlap

“Ugh. What a fucking asshole! “ Uttered straight out of the mouth of 2002 NPC Nationals Female Bodybuilding Champ and IFBB Pro Sarah Dunlap as she entered my car on that busy corner near her loft in the heart of downtown Chicago. Apparently as she stood on the corner patiently waiting for me to scoop her up to conduct this whole thing a couple of local wise asses drove by with a “Hey, nice hair DUDE” comment directed towards her.
“Aren’t you used to that by now, Sarah?” I curiously asked her. “Yea well, I just hate insecure people” she said as she flared up a Marlboro Light en route to a nearby gym. Sarah is 2 weeks out from the 2007 Jan Tana Classic. A very special show to her as it falls on her 27th birthday.  During our brief but very intense workout we talked a little shop and a little about her show. It was at a this local Italian restaurant on the west side of Chicago’s LOOP where I got to pick her brain and get her insight about life, bodybuilding and her thoughts on the industry and a little bit of everything else in between.

TBH: Sarah D. How the hell are ya and where the hell have you been?

SD: Hi, Block. I’m fine. I’m tired. I’m 2 weeks out of the Jan Tana and I’ve so been busting my ass getting ready for this. It falls on my birthday so this show is extra special for me.

TBH: Well let me be the first to wish you a pre-happy birthday. 27, right? How do you feel going into this show? You make the improvements you wanted to make?

SD: Yep, 27. Since it’s on my birthday I have this extra confidence going in as if it’s like my lucky charm going in. At the same time I have some butterflies because I am so anxious and I so have to qualify for ‘O’. I’ve been training harder than ever and putting the pressure on myself. I think I work better under pressure or if I feel that there’s a gun to my head. It being the Jan Tana and one of my favorite shows to do and the fact that I must qualify for the Ms. Olympia just keeps me pushing forward for this. My game plan for this one was to keep my waist as tight as possible and my taper wide. My conditioning as improved tremendously since the 2006 Europa which…I kind of want to forget because I was so off and I knew it.

TBH: What’s so special about the Jana Tana outside the fact that it’s your birthday? Can you tell my why you were off at the 2006 Europa?

SD: Jan Tana is such a sweetheart, I love her to death. Her whole crew is so supportive and everything is organized and you get treated like a real athlete. We get this guy R.J. to work with the girls, to work with us and do our makeup. He’s so awesome. We’re supplied massage people to massage us if need be, we get airbrush service for our color. Just everything about it. It’s great! I love that show. At the Europa in 06’ I had so much going on in my life and so many distractions. I didn’t give it 100% and I know that. Then on top of that the show was so bad for me. Everything about it. Oh God, I get there and everyone who I depended on to help me with the last minute touches like color, meals and even a ride from the airport just totally bailed on me last minute. I was all alone out there and had no help. Nobody wanted to help me. Even in the hotel I had to apply my color so here I am in front of a mirror putting my color on without any idea who’s going to help me put it on my back or the back of my legs. Most girls have a whole entourage or like this whole team of people who travel with them to shows and take care of every single little thing for them so all they have to do is wait to go on stage. I never have anyone with me. I travel to all of my shows alone. That show was…forget it I don’t even want to think about it.

TBH: Why do you travel to the shows alone? Do you have anyone you can rely on? Why are you such a loner?

SD: I don’t mean to be! I don’t know. I just kind of don’t depend on anybody. In my experience people tend to let other people down. It’s sad.

TBH: I feel that. How the hell did you get into this whole scene? This whole fucked up industry.

SD: I was introduced to the whole industry when I was 19. I was working the front desk at a Gold’s Gym in Pittsburgh and I never even lifted a weight in my life but everybody was always asking me if I was getting ready for a show and I was always like “Noooo” so people kept telling me how I should consider getting on stage. I decided to but it wasn’t bodybuilding at first. It was fitness. I have a gymnastics background so it was natural for me.

TBH: What show was that? What finally made you switch to bodybuilding from fitness?

SD: The 1999 Teen Collegiate and Masters Nationals. It was after that I found myself going into the weight room and I would just mimic what I saw other people doing. I had no structure or any rhyme or reason to what I was doing in there but responded so well to it I found myself going out to buy a whole new wardrobe shortly after because none of my clothes fit. Everything got small on me.

TBH: Almost sounds like you were pre-disposed genetically for all of this. So then you decided to compete in bodybuilding?

SD: Oh yea. I remember my whole childhood being able to count all the muscle in my legs. I used to go “Look, mommy…1, 2, 3…4!” (pointing to her quads/hamstrings) I always had a perfect 6 pack even throughout highschool and I never lifted a weight or did a crunch. Lots of people don’t know this but in 2000 I actually competed at the Arnold Classic as a submission grappler. I was at that show just walking around the expo just so amazed at the muscular men and women everywhere. I thought they were all so beautiful. I wanted to look like them. I think muscles on people are so pretty. I find it so amazing that you can make your body look any way you want it to look like it’s some big piece of clay. You can just sculpt it and shape it and make it look beautiful. I just fell in love with it.

TBH: Submission grappling, huh? Interesting. You’re a jack of all trades, Sarah. So what brought you to mean streets of the Windy City from Pittsburgh?

SD:  I came here to compete in the 2002 JrNationals and just fell in love with the city. I love Chicago. The architecture, the skyline, everything. It has beaches like L.A., has culture and diversity like N.Y.C. and a nightlife like Las Vegas. It has everything here. Everybody I have ever met from Chicago loves their city and never want to leave it and if they do they eventually come back.

TBH: Yea I know. I always contend that God Himself hangs out in Chicago and is a White Sox fan. I wish he was a BlackHawks fan but that’s another story. So just like that you up and left?

SD: Just like that! I came here with $400 in my purse and 1 suitcase. I right away found an apartment but that’s all I was able to afford was just GETTING it. I had no furniture and slept on the floor for who knows how long. I had no clue how I was going to support myself and no idea how I was even going to eat.

TBH: That’s detrimental as a bodybuilder. I bet it was a mindfuck.  What did you do? How did you support yourself?

SD: I did what I had to. I worked security, bounced at nightclubs. Worked at a gym as a trainer. Whatever I had to. After I went PRO I took 2 years away from the scene to get my life in order so I would be able to focus on being the best PRO I could be. At one point when I first got here I was so broke and I knew I still needed to keep training. I didn’t have a car so what I would do is I would scan every newspaper and local publications looking for those coupons of FREE workout passes or day passes to whatever gym was advertising. I would clip them and I used a map to figure out how to get to these gyms since I didn’t have a computer at the time. I’d get on the train, take multiple buses if I had to and go to these gyms and workout for a day.

TBH: That’s dedication. I remember doing things like that when I first got into this and didn’t have a car. So the adjustment wasn’t an easy thing for you, huh?

SD: No. No way. There was so many set backs and whatever could go wrong just made sure it went wrong. What’s that called…Murphy’s Law? This one time my purse got stolen at this bar I was in. It was middle of winter. All my money, my phone my keys to my apartment EVERYTHING was stolen. I literally had to stand outside a bus stop and bum money off strangers to get on a bus to go to this gym I worked and use their phone to quickly cancel my credit cards. I even on a whim called my cell phone hoping somebody could be honest and the person who answered says to me “I feel really sorry for you because you will never see your phone and little Prada purse again!” I couldn’t believe it.

TBH: Yea, life in the Big City for you. So before I feel an urge to listen to some country music and order a beer let’s get back to bodybuilding. So how do you feel about the rumors of the standards for female bodybuilding with the placings and rewards supposedly going to the more FEMININE or more Everson-esque physiques  as seen in the 80’s when female bodybuilding was in it’s pinnacle selling out venues and actually getting positive press. What’s your stance?

SD: That’s fine. The more the better, right? I think lots of girls over time got kind of turned off by what is seen now on stage. Not many girls want to look like us so they all do FIGURE which is more or less a beauty pagent but if more pretty faces want to come over to compete and hang with us then let them. They just better be able to face reality.

TBH: Realtiy as in what it takes to compete at the highest level? Elaborate on that for me will you?

SD: The drugs are never going to go away. Never. They can talk all they want about how we’ll get penalized or marked down but whatever, it’s all talk now but at the end of the day the biggest and most ripped girl will win. Then the next show her competitors will push it a little bit more and then the next show her competitors will push it and we’ll be right back to where we are again.

TBH: That’s just human nature. Humans by nature are very competitive animals. So how rampant is the drug use among higher level competing female bodybuilders? Among the men it’s pure unadulterated chemical warefare. The same is almost said among the women even in FIGURE or FITNESS but especially bodybuilding, obviously. Would you say maybe 75% of the girls use drugs?

SD: Yea, maybe more. I’d say like 100% use. If I am wrong then I sincerely apologize if any one girl who reads this gets offended but based on what I know and see I’d say all of them to one extent or another.

TBH: Give me a rough draft of what some of these girls are using now a days. Break it down for us.

SD: I don’t know for sure but probably a little bit of growth. A little bit of winstrol, anavar. Maybe even Deca. Clen, of course but usually the straight anabolics. I know of some of the more adventurous girls who toy with androgens from time to time but I won’t name names.

TBH: I respect that. How about insulin? I’ve spoken to a national level girl who told me insulin is common now. Have you ever used it?

SD: Oh, hell no! I don’t mess with that shit. Insulin makes your body so ugly and people could get real hurt using it if they aren’t careful. I would never. No way. I wouldn’t be surprised though if some girls do.

TBH: Nothing suprises me in this industry. Is the extreme look of some of these girls the culprit of what keeps female bodybuilders getting positive press in the magazines or even supplement contracts?

SD: I’d suspect that. I think it’s coming though. I think female bodybuilding is going to be big again soon and we’ll finally be rewarded and get the respect we deserve. We bust our asses just as hard as the men but everything comes down to money and revenue. The limelight is on FIGURE now because the NPC and IFBB knows that it’s a cash cow. Every girl now wants to be a figure competitor. The promoters and sponsors of the shows know that for every 1 figure competitor there will be 4-5 ticket buyers in attendance. With us female bodybuilders it’s usually just our husbands or boyfriends and of course, our hardcore following.

TBH: You mean the schmoes?

SD: I’d rather say they are ‘appreciators” “Supporters” of female bodybuilding.

TBH: Well, I call them schmoes. Since the money is scarce in female bodybuilding and the lifestyle to compete at your level makes it difficult to hold a 9-5. Is hustling down schmoes the usual bread and butter of income for you ladies?

SD: Hahaha…I knew this one was coming. You’re a trip, Block. For some girls. Lots of us have husbands or boyfriends who may take care of us or some have regular day jobs but to say that letting an appreciator ‘sponsor’ you doesn’t happen wouldn’t be true. Just like with the men. Most of the men have the same type of ‘sponsor’ if they aren’t placing in the top 5 of most shows.

TBH: So is that a source of income for you?

SD: I make my living my Personal Training. In-Home mostly. I’ve done web cam before for various sites but it’s all so professional and organized. Just simple flexing. I’m always fully clothed unless you consider a tank top or sports bra racy. Otherwise I make my money by In Home Personal training which has been going very well. I have a handful of higher end clients I meet up with during the week at $100 and hour so I’m comfortable right now. I also have been as of late doing some pre-contest coaching. I have lots of theories and ideas on how to come into your show looking your best. I have a knack, I think for getting people in shape. The last girl I worked with e-mailed me asking for my help as she was 4 weeks out of her show. Bodybuilding. So I tweaked her diet for her and her physique changed dramatically it was crazy. She ended up winning the overall at a state show and qualified for nationals. I was so proud of her.

TBH: Interesting. What do you charge for contest preparation? May I ask?
SD: It all depends. I have different rates depending on how long they will prep, if I have to Personally Train them, travel to see them to make assessments, help them with their posing, color all the little odds and ends. My rates are reasonable. All it takes is an e-mail to me and I’ll talk with them. (

TBH: Good. Good way to give back and get paid to do what you love to do. So where do you see yourself in let’s say 5 years from now? Married with a kitchen full of rug rats and a bun in the oven?

SD: Honestly all I can really say is that in 5 years I just want to be HAPPY first and foremost. I don’t really think about the whole marriage thing or having kids right now because there is still so much I want to do with myself first so my attitude is like if it happens then GREAT if not then I won’t beat myself up over it. In 5 years hopefully I will have done everything I wanted to do on the competitive side of being an IFBB Pro and by then maybe I’ll chase my dreams of being the next female Arnold hahahaha. I want to get into acting maybe be a back up dancer for like some major pop superstar and go on tour. Just take over the world and be a superstar! Hahaha, hey, it’s good to have dreams and ambition, right?

TBH: Dreams and Ambition is what keeps us moving in the right direction, Sarah. No doubt! So do you have any regrets? With life? Your career?

SD: No. I don’t. Everything I have done with myself up to this point good or bad have been my decisions and my choices. I believe you should just live your life and if you make a mistake then so what? Keep living and make 2 more. You live and you learn. Life to me is one big lesson. You learn and you move on. If I gave a shit about what others thought of me it would be this big giant waste of energy I don’t have. It just isn’t worth it.

TBH: Well said. Let’s keep on truckin, here. Tell us something that we don’t know about you. What’s something about Sarah Dunlap that most people don’t know up to this point?

SD: Let’s see…I have something. I always wanted to be a ‘Fly Girl’ from that show ‘In Living Color’. Do you remember that show?

TBH: Does the pope shit in the woods, Sarah? Of course I do. JLo and actress Rosie Perez were ‘Fly Girls’.

SD: You’re such an ass! Yea, exactly. I love dancing. It’s like my other passion next to bodybuilding and pretty much my favorite thing to do. I always wanted to pursue dancing and see where it would take me. I think I’m still going to. I also love art. I love to draw and sketch. I even like to paint. Canvas, body painting. I have such an eye for beauty. There is so much beauty all around us if you just know how to look at things. I think the human body is the most beautiful of all things. I’m also very much into culture and learning about different customs and traditions people follow. It’s all so beautiful to me because everybody is so different. Diversity is what makes things unique and is what spices up life. If we were all the same the world would be so boring. I try to keep myself balanced now and not get so caught up in the whole bodybuilding world because bodybuilding can consume you if you let it. I won’t let it anymore because bodybuilding is just a part of who I am it isn’t everything that I am. Life is too short to live in a bubble of bodybuilding.

TBH: Spoken like lady. Now let’s jump back to your show in 2 weeks. Tell me how you’re training for it. What’s your recipe for success?

SD: Well, I’m just kind of going back and doing what I did to bring in my best presentations which I think was the 2005 Charolette Pro and the 2002 Nationals. I went back to not making any excuses and get my ass on the treadmill every morning for cardio. I hit the weights pretty much every day. Usually 1 bodypart a day. I may even go back in the evenings for another round of cardio if I feel I need to.

TBH: What kind of cardio? How much exactly and how do you break it up upon time. 60 minutes in the morning? Another 60 at night? What time do you hit the weights? Give me more details on your training.

SD: Treadmill in the morning as soon as I wake up because I have an empty take so I’ll know I’m mobilizing fat for fuel instead of whatever I just ate. 45-60 minutes usually. I sometimes use the step mill. That thing is so hard but it works so well. I’ll go train a bodypart in the mid afternoon or after I got at least 2 meals in me and some rest. I try to train to failure and always push myself. I keep my sets in the 3-4 range and my reps like 10-15. It’s always a goal to try to beat my last workout by either weight, reps or both. That’s how you make constant improvements. My night-time cardio is usually for only 30 minutes. I keep it moderate then. Just a slight incline on the treadmill with maybe a 3.0 speed.

TBH: Does your OFFSEASON training differ from your pre-contest style of training? If so how?

SD: Yea, I train less actually. Usually 4-5 days a week. 1 maybe 2 bodyparts a day. I lower my reps and sets and go for weight. I try to build muscle then because I have more food in me. Calories are energy so when I am at my strongest I take advantage of it. My cardio is still in my routine, though but just maybe 2-3 days a week just to keep bodyfat levels in check. I won’t deprive myself , you know?

TBH: I do. So touch up a little for me about how you approach your dieting when prepping for a show and in the offseason.

SD: Offseason I eat like 75% like a contest bodybuilder and 25% like a normal person. Or a non bodybuilding person. I’ll have more red meat and more carbs obviously. I keep my fat relatively low but I won’t deprive myself from a treat here and there. I love to eat. It’s one of the pleasure in life most people take for granted. I don’t think you’re living if you spend all year eating just one way because you are so worried about your abs. Live a little, geez. I couldn’t live like that. Like I said though, as a professional I try to remind myself that my body is how I make my living and is what I do. Pre-Contest I basically eat lots of white meats like chicken, fish and turkey. Red meat from time to time if I feel I need to fill out a little. My carbs are lowered and cycled depending different factors and my healthy fats are increased a little to keep me from turning into a mindless zombie. Vegetables with most of my meals. Lots of Crystal Lite and Diet Coke.

TBH: How about supplements? Over the Counter I mean. Most professional bodybuilders never use supplements despite what the print magazines try to jam down our throats. Do you use them and if so what kinds? What labels?

SD: No, I use them. I like to use Gaspari’s SuperPump250. I used that today. It has creatine in it, arginine and a little caffeine. I love it pre-workout. Umm..I use BSN’s Syntha 6 protein powder. Their strawberry is so good. I drink a shake usually at bedtime. I also like Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Whey. Rocky Road is awesome. Oh, I also love Lipo6. I use 2 of those white capsules before my morning cardio. I won’t even do cardio without it. It works so well and it gives me pretty abs. Have you ever used Lipo6?

TBH: Yea, I like Lipo6. For sure. Cool, Sarah. How about a little name and WORD association? I drop a name and you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. A fun way to close off every interview. You ready?

SD: Oh, God…yea shoot.

TBH: Jim Manion.
SD: Pittsburgh.
TBH: Irish Kyle.
SD: Specimen.
TBH: Jay Cutler.
SD: Huge.
TBH: Ronnie Coleman.
SD: Dumb but cool.
TBH: Branch Warren.
SD: Such a hardcore cutie. Yummy!
TBH: Bob Chick.
SD: Funny. Laid back guy.
TBH: King Kamali.
SD: Should have never left Bethany.
TBH: Bethany Howlett.
SD: Was cooler when she was a bodybuilder. She changed.
TBH: Ya, think? Muscular Development Magazine.
SD: I’m a fan.
SD: Gossip Central.

TBH: Ms Dunlap it’s been a slice. Thank you so very much for your time. You’ve been splendid company.
SD: Thanks, Block. I had so much fun. Let’s hit shoulder this week together.

TBH: It’s on!


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