Airman places first in women’s figure competition

Photo by Staff Sgt. GRACE LEE

It had been a difficult journey up to this moment in her bodybuilding career. She was in the best shape of her life. She envisioned the routine in her head as she had practiced it for weeks. Then it was her turn to step on stage. She could barely see the crowd as the lights were shining brightly in her eyes, but the one thing that gave her strength and had gotten her to this point was the memory of her mother.

Through hard work and determination, Tech. Sgt. Jessica Keller, 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog kennel master, won first place in the National Physique Committee Tournament of Champions competition in the women’s figure category December 2015 in San Diego.

Prior to the competition, Keller had received humanitarian orders back to Luke Air Force Base from Lackland AFB, Texas, due to her mother’s declining health.

“The journey of this most recent competition prep was a lot to handle with my mother having cancer and moving back to Luke with a new job,” Keller said. “The hardest part was trying to make time for myself while making time for her. Unfortunately her cancer progressed and she passed away last October. This competition was definitely the most challenging because my mind was not set right due to the passing of my mother. I used her passing as a motivator to help me continue through the prep. For a period of time, I kind of lost myself, but I knew if she were here she would say, ‘Get back up there, and do it.’”

Although Keller looks as if she has been bodybuilding for years, it wasn’t until a deployment in 2014 that she began the sport.

“I’ve always been into fitness,” she said. “As a child I played intramural soccer and volleyball for fun then I did martial arts seriously until I was 18. I was deployed to Afghanistan when I began to prep for my first bodybuilding competition. I was going through a divorce at the time when I met my friend Fransesca Piccoli who was in the Army. She’s the one who encouraged me to compete and coached me through the entire process.”

Piccoli helped Keller place second in the women’s figure category of her first show, the Dennis James Classic NPC May 2014 in Phoenix. She competed a few months later in July and placed first in the women’s figure category in the NPC Tournament of Champions in San Diego before competing in the Luke bodybuilding competition and placing first, and winning overall.

Keller used her newfound knowledge from Piccoli to coach herself for her most recent competition.

“I’m so grateful to have had Fransesca coach me for my first three competitions and arming me with the knowledge to coach myself,” she said. “I made sure I picked her brain and asked questions so I could learn why she would adjust certain parts of my diet and more. I also learned every show is different in terms of what the diet and training is going to require of me to get the best result.”

Bodybuilding not only changed Keller’s body but opened her mind to more than just exercise.

“What I love about bodybuilding is it’s like a science project,” Keller said. “You learn how to fuel your body depending on what activity you’re trying to accomplish whether it’s performing your job, a workout at the gym, cardio or whatever the day requires you to do. I can also point out how foods affect my mood, such as how too many soy products raise my estrogen level which can alter my mood. I also found if I don’t have certain carbs around my workouts, I feel tired and worn out. The challenge of changing your body is one of the most exciting aspects about the sport.”

For one Airman, having Keller as a workout partner and girlfriend is more than he could ask.

“I don’t see her as just a bodybuilder, I see her as my partner,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Timms, 756th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons lead crew team chief. “It’s great because we have the same interests and live the fitness lifestyle. It’s a shared passion. Having the same interests in bodybuilding makes our lives easier because we are on the same team in the military and in the fitness world. Her placing first in her latest competition makes me very proud. She motivates me to do better and pushes me to keep up with her.”

For those interested in competing, the Luke Air Force Base Bryant Fitness Center is holding a bodybuilding competition Aug. 20. For more information, call the Combat PT Center at 623-856-2291.