Howard has given me a gift by renewing for five years. So I’m going to return the favor. In today’s Jewish Journal we have an exclusive interview with Erin Stern, Ms. Olympia. Maybe she’s a long lost relative. Or maybe not. She is certainly Howard-esque: bright, disciplined, ambitious. Here’s how she went from dejected highjumper to the top of her sport:
A Junior All-American at the University of Florida, Stern had been competing in events like the pentathlon and heptathlon since high school. Her high-jump numbers were good enough that she set her sights on the Beijing Olympics. All that stood between her and the team trials were a few short centimeters. She kicked her training into overdrive, and her numbers improved, but she was falling just shy of what she needed.
“I’m a little short for a high-jumper,” says the statuesque 5-foot-8 Stern, chuckling. “I gave it my all, but I couldn’t make the last three centimeters.”
Dejected, Stern was forced to give up on Olympic high jumping.
“I was extremely bummed,” she said.
By rights, Stern’s athletic journey should have ended there, three centimeters short of glory. She had a promising career in real estate to fall back on, and her college years were over. It was time for a transition. But she’d been a track star for so long that it felt weird to have no focus, no goal to reach for. That’s when a friend suggested she try competing in Figure competitions.
Stern grew up in a family of athletes. “My father played football at C.W. Post and Adelphi University, and my mother would run three miles a day,” she says.
She started riding horses in competitions at a young age and later developed a passion for running, just like her mother, which led her to her track career.
Stern was raised in a Jewish household. She attended religious school and had her bat mitzvah during Passover.
“I’ll never forget having to read the long haftarah,” she said. “ I had to do the service all in Hebrew. My sister was lucky — by the time her bat mitzvah rolled around, we’d joined the Reform temple, and she got to do a lot of the prayers in English.”
Erin Stern’s Fitness Tips
Starting your own journey toward becoming a fitter Jew isn’t as hard as training for a contest like the Olympia. 2010 Figure Olympia champ Erin Stern offers a few simple changes you can make to get yourself on the road to a healthier life today.
“The No. 1 rule is don’t make excuses. People always make excuses for why it’s too hard to work out or take time to be healthier. I suggest making appointments for fitness, just like you would for a business meeting or a lunch with a friend. Make an appointment to walk or lift some weights. That way, there’s no excuse not to have the time.”
“Another thing I like to follow is the 90/10 rule — eat well 90 percent of the time so you can enjoy yourself the other 10 percent. Don’t deny yourself that nice cheat meal on Saturday night; eat right the rest of the week and you can have it with no guilt.”
“Eat five meals a day. You should have breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus two snacks in between. Snacking is really important in terms of controlling your insulin spikes. If you have two healthy snacks in between meals — almonds, an apple, string cheese, Greek yogurt or veggies — you won’t get to the point where you’re so hungry you overeat.”
“Work out with a friend; it makes you accountable. You’re less likely to skip that after-work trip to the gym if you know your friend is there waiting for you and counting on you.”
“Pick a class that fits you — there are so many on the market these days, from yoga to spinning to pole dancing to Krav Maga. There’s a class out there for every fitness level and every taste, so find one that speaks to you.”
“If you’re training for a contest, or just want to keep track of your weight loss, take progress pictures. You see your body every day, so it’s hard to notice changes. If you take a picture in the same outfit, in the same spot, once every week, you’ll be able to notice the changes you’re making much easier.”
Stern’s last piece of advice for people looking to live healthier: “Start now. Don’t wait for the new year. Set your goals, print them out, hang them on your wall, and make a plan to get fitter and healthier today.”
Her parents stressed both Judaism and athletics as important pursuits.
“Everything is connected,” Stern said. “It’s important for us to take care of ourselves physically, spiritually and mentally.”