Behind the Scenes: The IFBB Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championship

Scottsdale, AZ —  I’m not a writer.  I’m an amateur strength/physique athlete, businessman and fan of bodybuilding, but this isn’t about me.  It’s my observations from the 2017 IFBB Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championship and the time I spent hanging with the newly crowned World Champion in women’s bodybuilding Helle Trevino.   Helle is an IFBB professional bodybuilder from Denmark who now trains and coaches at the famous Gold’s Gym, the “Mecca” of bodybuilding in Venice, California.  She has competed in Ms. Olympia and it’s successor Rising Phoenix six times, placing in the top five on four occasions.  She has placed in the top two, twice in the last three years.  Last month, she won the world championship.

The scene was the Wings of Strength party after the show at the bar at Talking Stick Resort and Casino.  It was hosted by Jake Wood, the kind benefactor and owner of Wings of Strength who helped rescue the sport of women’s bodybuilding after it was cast out of the Olympia several years ago, along with his consigliere and right-hand man Brian Bello who runs the show, making it look easy without breaking a sweat.

It was well past 1:00 a.m. and the night was winding down.  People were trickling out of the party.  Romanian Wonder Women and IFBB pros Alina Popa and Oana Hreapca congratulated Helle and left the bar area along with 8x Ms. Olympia Lenda Murray, a real class act and inspiring lady if you ever get the chance to meet her.  The bartenders had closed shop and were long gone along with everyone else.  But there were two people still there… Helle Trevino, the newly crowned queen of women’s bodybuilding (tiara still in full bling spectacularly on her head and a multi-colored discus champion’s medal around her neck) and a nice gentleman I’ll call the Last Fan.

The Last Fan is a special needs person with aluminum crutches, who came from South Carolina to Arizona to support Helle and the other athletes.  This probably wasn’t an easy trip for him.  I noticed the Last Fan early in the evening.  He was near the bar most of the night, not so much mingling with people or the athletes, perhaps a combination of him being shy and his mobility hampered due to disability.  Sadly, I think he was invisible to many people there.  But not to Helle.  On the biggest and most important night of her professional bodybuilding career and close to 2:00 am after everyone had left and gone to bed, Helle stayed late to talk with him.  He wished her well and congratulated her.  She was gracious, kind and listening intently.  Helle saw him while others did not.  For the Last Fan, I think connecting with Helle was one of life’s moments that was a special one.  On her night, she was the last one to leave the party.  And she shared this night with the Last Fan and anyone who wanted to be part of it.

Although I had recently met Helle and haven’t known her for so long, I found the new champ to be very gracious and a humble warrior.  She told me, “I care a great deal about the fans. He (the Last Fan) was a darling. Just as they appreciate me, I appreciate that they take the trip and spend their hard earned money to see me and the other ladies compete. I’m grateful for that. It’s the fans who make the sport blossom. We need each other…,” so said the champ, but what Helle did on her night was unusual.  I wondered why she would stay this late into the wee hours talking with a fan after competing on stage all day with the top bodybuilders in the world, when she had a photo shoot bright and early the next morning (actually now, the same morning)?  But I didn’t ask because I already knew.  That’s just who she is and how she rolls.

Bodybuilding is a sport that can be very self-centered and about the individual.  But Helle is real and cares about people. She wants them to share in her achievements.  Her relationship with the fans goes above and beyond.  In many ways, her genuineness reminds me of Dwayne Johnson – The Rock, or DJ to his fans and friends, and you know exactly what I mean if you follow his social media.  DJ and Helle make everyone a part of their success and bring people up.  When I talked with folks who know her well over the weekend, including her peers and IFBB pros; her squad from the Mecca in Venice (her ebullient and proud friend Alex and the sweet beauty Denise among others); and bodybuilding fans in the showroom at Talking Stick, all were genuinely, unreservedly happy for Helle. There were no, “Yes…., but(s)…”  People were overwhelmingly joyful because they felt they were a part of it. This happens because Helle brings everyone up and makes them a part of it.

The new champ deserved to win because she brought the best muscled and conditioned physique to the show.  She will be an awesome role model to represent the sport of women’s bodybuilding not only for her physique but because of who she is.  Helle is a beauty inside and out, but she’ll be remembered because of her kindness, joie de vivre and love for people including the Last Fan.  To Helle, we’re all Last Fans. This was her day but she made us feel like the stars of the show. Not everyone does that. This is real greatness and what inspires people.   It’s what makes Helle Trevino a true world champion.   Of course we all can’t win titles in bodybuilding, like Arnold, Lenda and Helle, but we can all choose to be better people and the world champions of our lives and other people’s lives.  We all can be more empathetic, kind, and inclusive to the people we know and the people we don’t.  We can all bring people up.  We can all make the choice, to be like Helle.

T.J. Kessler is a strength/physique athlete and executive search consultant based in Arizona.