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Although this sport is relatively new to Japan, bodybuilding is experiencing a growing popularity — even among young women. This popularity is due, in part, to the presence of competitors like Fiona Millines.

“Most people think that bodybuilding is a macho thing,” says the Osaka-based JET. “But, through my bodybuilding activities, I am showing people that it’s OK for women to have muscle, and that they can be feminine, too.”

Millines had been athletic throughout her school career, being ranked as a top track-and-field competitor in her native state of Florida. As part of her physical conditioning program, she regularly worked out in the school gym and often received compliments for her perfect body proportions and muscle build. Bodybuilding — and bodybuilding competitions — were the natural next step.

“I saw it as a way to have a set goal for physical training,” says the 30-year-old American. “All my life I had been in the gym weightlifting as a way to optimize my physical performance. But the only competition experience I had, until then, was lifting weights with the guys in the gym.

“Most of the time I won!”

Millines’ first experience in body-building competitions began in her last year at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Under the school’s sponsorship, she won first place in her weight class and runnerup overall. The following year she won the overall championships. With the confidence gained from these experiences, she began to enjoy being in the bodybuilding world spotlight.

But Millines’ interests as a student were not all athletic. She majored in Spanish and worked part-time as a Spanish and music tutor at a local high school. After graduation, she took a job working as a technical translator at a trading company, then, a year later, started work at a small-town junior high school in southwestern Florida.

“While working as a translator, I kept remembering how happy I was tutoring children,” Millines recalls. “The joy I felt when the students suddenly understood our lesson inspired me to go back to school and get my teaching certificate.”

As her new job involved teaching English to children of itinerant Mexican farm laborers, the experience not only groomed her teaching skills, it taught her how to work effectively in a multicultural learning environment.

During her two years of teaching, Millines began a master’s degree program, but in order to get more multicultural teaching experience, she also applied to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. After being accepted, she was assigned to teach in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, a city near Osaka.

Through all these experiences, however, Millines never forgot her love for bodybuilding.

“Soon after I arrived in Japan I told the teachers at my school that I was looking for a gym where I could train,” says Millines. “Then, a few weeks later, the turning point in my bodybuilding career began when I met Arthur Sadler.”

Sadler was working security at a nightclub in Osaka, where Millines met him. An ex-Marine from Texas with over 10 years of bodybuilding experience, he was known in the Osaka area as a top-class trainer.

“At first he didn’t think I was serious about bodybuilding,” recalls Millines. “But once I showed him I was willing to give my blood, sweat and tears to the sport, he was willing to take me on.”

Under Sadler’s discipline, Millines started intensive training for local bodybuilding events. The training was brutal, and the competition was nerve-racking at first.

“It wasn’t stage fright,” Millines explains. “The format for contests in Japan is very different. Many things are not clear, such as where to stand and when to leave the stage. It was through friendship with several of the Japanese competitors that I began to feel at home in the Japanese bodybuilding scene.”

Now more comfortable, she is steadily working her way to the top, placing fourth in the 1999 Miss Osaka bodybuilding competition and runner-up in last year’s meet.

Asked about her future plans, Millines said she’d like to stay another year after finishing the JET program in order to compete. “But someday,” she says, “I’d like to go back to America and get my Ph. D. That is my long-term dream.”

Till then, she has her heart set on taking the title of Miss Osaka 2002.