Road to Olympia – Leah Reuben

When the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) Pro Show takes place in Hawaii on 18 November, Leah Reuben from Christchurch will be amongst the international competitors. Metropol writer Céline Gibson looks into the world of bodybuilding. 

Posing before a panel of rigorous and exacting bodybuilding judges is a far cry from
Leah Reuben’s day job as the owner/operator of a Parklands hair salon, but she has trained long and hard for this day. Her vivacious personality and warm manner give little idea as to the extraordinary focus and steely determination behind the woman.

When first competing in hairdressing competitions, Leah not only scooped up awards but went on to become spokesperson for New Zealand Hairdressing – a role which saw her fronting television cameras, mingling with MPs, and attending big hairdressing events nationwide.

This kind of exposure in public speaking and performance has stood Leah in good stead when competing, and no doubt it was this same apparent confidence in the gym which prompted someone to tell her she would do really well in the bikini category of bodybuilding. “That’s when my competitive streak showed itself, and I became really serious,” Leah says.

So serious, in fact, that she won overall in the National Association Body Builders Amateurs (NABBA) bikini nationals held in Auckland in 2020.

“Initially my plan was to use NABBA to gain more self-assurance posing onstage – because posing takes a lot of confidence,” Leah says.

Supporting Leah through her initial preparation for NABBA was Adrian Rios, who became her coach and life-partner.

“I’m fortunate having Adrian as my coach. He keeps up with the bodybuilding scene overseas and does his research. He’s tough when it comes to training but he’s kind to me,” she laughs.

Following her NABBA win, Leah won in the IFBB overall bikini category in 2021, and in 2022, won in her bikini category at the IFBB nationals. That same year, Leah won her pro card in bikini category at the IFBB, held in Wellington.

To win a pro card is considered momentous, allowing the winner to represent their country internationally. Alongside prize money, winners of international IFBB Pro Shows qualify to compete in the highly coveted Olympia competition (held in either Florida or Las Vegas), which is Leah’s ultimate goal.

Integral to competing in such events is sponsorship, and Leah and Adrian say the Hawaii trip is very much thanks to local health and disability support business LifeLinks, of which Leah’s brother, Jacob, is a client.

Craig Hutchison, CEO and owner of LifeLinks, got to know Leah through his partner, Ali, who had been training with Adrian for some years. Ali often mentioned to Adrian that Craig liked to help emerging talent through sponsorship, and before long a sponsorship plan eventuated.

“Jacob has autism, and what makes me feel even closer to LifeLinks is seeing how he has blossomed since he has been with them. I’ve seen huge changes in him – his confidence and personality has expanded so much,” Leah says.

The LifeLinks logo appears on a t-shirt range recently released by Leah and Adrian. The 1950s pop art style t-shirt depicts various bikini-type physiques. Proceeds from the t-shirt sales will help provide a bodybuilding training programme.

The t-shirts also come with a barcode, which takes the purchaser to an app of Leah’s YouTube training programme.

Alongside bikini, the other women’s bodybuilding categories in New Zealand are wellness, sports and figure.

“Though many of the younger generation’s interest is in the sculpted body, equally there are young women interested in bikini bodybuilding, because it’s a more feminine look than figure bodybuilding, for example, which is a lot more muscled,” Leah explains.

She adds that there is a lot of misinformation around bodybuilding. “Many people tend to think it’s unhealthy. I am a true believer that if you’re doing it right and you have expert coaching, that is far from the case.”
Adrian expands on this from a coach’s point of view:

“If people fail to prepare early enough, they tend to take more drastic approaches to reduce body fat, which means less energy, which, in turn, means there will be an effect on the metabolism.”

“Going through an all-fat loss in a fast way like that causes the body to rebound in an unhealthy way and people put on twice the weight. An unhealthy approach is doomed to fail.”

Good nutrition is crucial in bodybuilding and Leah knows what works for her. “Call me holistic, but I’m a true believer in wholesome, organic food. I find that everything needs to digest really well in order to work really well.
“When I research the girls that stand out in bodybuilding, they all adhere to a similar diet.”

In 2022, Leah gained her personal trainer qualification in order to help other young women interested in bodybuilding.

“I want to give knowledge to girls. It’s like the difference between being trained by a good or bad hairdresser.
“If I can pass that knowledge on – it’s going to save health problems; it’s going to make them a better athlete, and ensure we have the best people representing New Zealand.”

Closing with a message she hopes will inspire others, Leah encapsulates why she has such a passion and belief in the benefits of bikini bodybuilding for young women.

“The bikini athlete doesn’t just mean the bikini girl – the bikini athlete aesthetic is all about a toned and sculpted look that every girl might aspire to. It’s not too difficult to achieve – it’s a baseline to looking good and healthy. We believe there will be a lot of fans for the bikini look.”

Previous Post

A match made in heaven: Mike Greer Homes

Next Post

A pageant’s impact – Tessa Nicholas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *