Can Oakdale bodybuilder make Ms. Olympia?

If Shannon Courtney wins again, she'll get shot at pinnacle of her sport

jcortez@modbee.comAugust 3, 2013 

If you happen to have Shannon Courtney's phone number, don't bother calling her today. She's busy.


Courtney will be working in the kitchen for hours, preparing all her meals for the six days she'll be in Florida competing at the 2013 Tampa Pro bodybuilding championships. And if pre-cooking your meals doesn't sound all that difficult to you, consider that the 5-foot-2, 138-pound, Oakdale resident eats six to seven times each day.

"I can out-eat my husband," says Courtney, whose husband, Mike Courtney (5-10, 220), also is a competitive bodybuilder. "Food is everything in bodybuilding. People don't realize how scientific it is."

Courtney won the light heavyweight title — and was second in the overall standings — at the National Physique Committee's USA Bodybuilding Championships July 26-27 in Las Vegas. With the victory, she earned her IFBB pro card — you have to earn your professional status in bodybuilding.

Should she win the overall crown in Tampa, where, at 22, she'll be the youngest competitor on stage, she'd qualify for the Ms. Olympia contest, the sport's pinnacle.

Bodybuilding historian Steve Wennerstrom, writing for, put it this way: "Pre-contest prognosticators felt strongly (Courtney) had what it took to win this contest — and not just her class, but the overall title as well. ... A large portion of those in the audience assumed that (she) was an odds-on-favorite to take home the overall USA title.

"But the judging panel saw it differently. They went with (heavyweight winner) Margie Martin who was methodical in her approach to getting her muscular qualities shown to their best advantage. It must have been close."

What's even more impressive about Courtney's showing is that three and a half years ago, she was a long-distance runner, and now she's on the threshold of bodybuilding's biggest stage.

"I ran cross country and track at Oakdale High and MJC, but I started having a lot of injuries," says Courtney, a native of Tracy. "I was running over 70 miles per week.

"My boyfriend, now my husband, was getting ready for a show and kept telling me that I should enter."

She did, placing 12th in the Figure competition at the 2011 Fresno Classic. (Unlike the days of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sport has evolved to include Fitness, Figure, Physique and Bikini divisions, which are not so heavily focused on mass and well-toned muscle.)

Following a difficult pregnancy where she went from 125 to 210 pounds, she entered the Modesto Classic, and then the Governor's Cup in Sacramento.

"I came into that show in the best condition of my life and I heard the same things," says Courtney, who finished 11th among 14 contestants. "I had way too much muscle, I was way too lean and my legs were too big."

She decided to try bodybuilding.

Courtney entered the 2012 NPC Contra Costa bodybuilding championships and not only did she win the light heavyweight division, she took first overall. That sent her to the NPC nationals, where she placed third among light heavyweights.

"I resisted getting into bodybuilding because of the whole stereotype," says Courtney. "People always assume that female bodybuilders are on steroids, and most are. And because they are, they've destroyed themselves and don't look like women anymore. That's not me.

"Of course, people look at me and say, 'Oh, my gosh, she's on steroids.' ... I'm trying to make a point and I want to keep my look as feminine as possible."

Still, she knows not everyone's vision of femininity includes muscles.

"I was in the store and this little boy looked at me and thought I was some kind of superhero because of muscles," says Courtney. "His mother saw him and pushed him away ... like I was going to hurt him or something."

Besides burgeoning bodybuilding careers, the Courtneys are both certified personal trainers and contest-prep coaches, while she has developed her own training videos (available at

But she's rarely asked about any of that.

"People always want to know how much I can bench press," says Courtney, who uses weights to make her muscles grow into an aesthetically pleasing shape, unlike powerlifters, who use weights to get stronger. For the record, she doesn't often test her one-rep max, but she can bench press 225 pounds eight times, squat 315 pounds 15 times, and deadlift 415 pounds 20 times.

But don't try this at home. Courtney is a trained professional ... and she's got the IFBB card to prove it.

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