The Sea to Sky corridor is known as a hub of physical activity and recreation, and it’s much more diverse in that regard than many expect. Sure, we’ll always be known for skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking, but we’ve also got soccer, rugby, figure skating, kendo, hockey (on ice and on the field) and the sliding sports of luge, bobsled and skeleton.
We’ve also got a thriving community of bodybuilders.
When people think of Whistler, bodybuilding is not the first or second thing that comes to mind. Therefore, Lylas Leona wasn’t especially optimistic upon moving here in 2015 that she could keep pursuing her passion. She had eight years of competitive bodybuilding experience at the time, but that background in aesthetics—making male and female bodies look a certain way—did not prepare her well for the performance-based sports that dominate the Sea to Sky limelight.
Leona became a sommelier for a time, but people got wind of her fitness credentials in unexpected ways. Out of the woodwork, lady after lady approached her for help with small-time bodybuilding contests they were interested in.
The Burnaby native put her first three Whistler athletes on stage in 2018, three years after her own retirement. She has since established Lady Sculpt Lifestyle, a podcast and platform dedicated to helping women train their physiques and minds in a healthy, natural manner.
On Oct. 14 and 15, two of Leona’s athletes, Michelle Elliott and Rebecca Murphy-Bishop, earned some hardware at the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) Washington State Naturals. Elliott, who turned professional in 2019, won the overall bikini pro title and $1000 USD, while Murphy-Bishop earned her pro card by winning the masters, open bikini and overall bikini titles.
Both women followed up their efforts south of the border with second-place finishes at the WNBF Canada Pro Show on Oct. 28 in Calgary despite facing stiff competition. In so doing, they earned more prize money and qualified for the World Championship from Nov. 18 to 19 in Seattle.
Elliott and Murphy-Bishop (who is affectionately known as ‘Bex’) both discovered aesthetic fitness later in life, as is the case with much of Leona’s clientele. Elliott got started by way of her partner Jack Murray, an Altitude Fitness coach who thought she could benefit from joining Lady Sculpt Lifestyle. Together, Murray and Leona convinced Elliott to give it a shot.
Though an avid hiker, Elliott doesn’t ski, snowboard or mountain bike. She does have a physique well suited to bodybuilding, and five years in the sport have given her newfound purpose outside of her career at Quattro Restaurant. The results have come too: Elliott won the Canadian Championship in 2021 and finished ninth in her worlds debut that same year.
“Michelle is a breeze,” said Leona. “She's so easy to train. She just does what I say, and in the midst of that, there's definitely been empowerment. Some of my athletes prefer for me to give them a plan, and some want to learn how to create the plan for themselves. Michelle tends to be someone who just wants to follow a plan.”
Bex, meanwhile, has lived in Whistler for roughly a decade and a half and owns the Coast + Oak interior design firm. Despite her relative lack of bodybuilding experience, Bex’s dance background helps her maintain a desired stage presence, and she’s even helped Elliott in that department.
“It's just this beautiful collaboration of female athletes supporting female athletes, which makes my heart sing a little bit,” Leona gushed.
Though her sport is inherently focused on appearance, Leona’s modus operandi is to pursue good overall health inside and out. She and her clients train year-round in a balanced manner instead of engaging in heavy off-season lifting followed by harsh contest prep. They almost never use diuretics. The fact that most of her athletes menstruate throughout their competitive seasons—a rarity in women’s bodybuilding—is a point of pride for Leona.
So too, is working exclusively with the WNBF, an organization with a double-drug test policy. Everyone who competes in a WNBF event is polygraphed and must state on the record that they have been clean for 10 years. That not only involves being free of all performance-enhancing substances, but also adhering to strict regulations on stimulants, diuretics and recreational drugs.
Afterwards, professionals who reach the podium (and win money) must immediately undergo urinalysis, as do amateurs who win their pro card. They’re escorted directly into a private room at that point—do not hug your coach, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
It can be a daunting process, especially for beginners. That’s why Leona coaches her proteges on both the mental and physical side of competition. She’s also very transparent about recommending supplements so they understand clearly the difference between a branched-chain amino acid and a prohibited anabolic steroid.
Moreover, Leona appreciates the WNBF for putting its contestants first. According to her, the federation is “very low on the political scale”, enabling most athletes to have a positive experience much like she did throughout her career.
Leona began working out at 14 years of age and remembers being fascinated by the fact that one can change the shape of one’s body through intentional exercise. She drew empowerment from fitness through her at-times turbulent teen years and first discovered bodybuilding in her early 20s at a gym in her native Burnaby.
A former coworker once intimated that Leona, at 5-foot-11, was too tall to bodybuild. She stands above most in her sport, but that didn’t stop her from entering her first event in 2007. Much of Leona’s competitive career took place in Brandon, Man. before Whistler, but she says bodybuilding can be a great pursuit for older women, or those who don’t have another sport.
Indeed, most of her clientele is between 30 and 60 years of age. There are even endurance athletes who show up wanting to cross-train or look more like their own conception of a traditional athlete.
These days, Leona is the proud leader of a vibrant fitness sisterhood with members online across North America, Australia and even Romania—something she feels is crucial to balance out the individualistic nature of bodybuilding.
“It can be very difficult to form a team of women who are competing directly with each other in some cases…but the motto we have within Lady Sculpt is: ‘you can't compete with me, I want you to win too’,” Leona explained. “I really preach that your only competition is your last stage presence, your last stage body. Don't worry about what anyone else looks like.
“This once-very independent sport that could feel really lonely and very isolating has now become this community of women that hang out together outside of the gym. It gives us friendships that are like-minded and in a town like Whistler, which is very pro athlete or party-focused, it really kind of creates an in-between option.”