Benavidez finds competition is a way to push the limits of fitness


When Melissa Benavidez first stepped onto a stage for fitness figure competition, she didn’t know what kind of success was waiting for her.

After earning a pro card at her first show, the 1993 Belen High graduate realized a door had opened — one that showed her ways to push the limits of her physical and mental fitness, along with seemingly unlimited amounts of self-confidence.

Submitted photo: Melissa Benavidez placed eighth in her category in the Yorton Cup, her fifth fitness competition, in the Phoenix area last weekend. The Belen native said fitness competitions are about being muscular and trim and feminine all at once.

Considering fitness and confidence are already what Benavidez teaches to high school athletes, expansion by leaps and bounds was an eye-opener to her. She’s a science teacher and volunteer core-fitness trainer at Rio Rancho High, and she placed eighth in the “pro figure short” class in her fifth fitness competition, the Yorton Cup, in the Phoenix area last weekend.

“This has brought so many newfound ideas,” said Benavidez. “I love to see what else my body can do. The great thing about the competitions I do is that they aren’t really like body building. You can be muscular and trim, and still look feminine.”

In fitness figure competition, Benavidez said, entrants are judged on overall fitness — not necessarily muscle tone or definition.

The daughter of Annette and Carlos Benavidez said she had always done some type of workouts, but training for the shows was different. About three years ago, a friend helped Benavidez train for the OCD Southwest Classic, an Albuquerque show, and she entered the novice/open division.

She placed high enough to earn a pro card — a type of early success not every rookie attains so quickly.

Her volunteer work with the Rio Rancho High football team is as its core-strength training and pre- and post-game stretching routine coordinator. She is part of a huge Class 5A varsity sports program, and the Rams varsity went 6-1 in the their 2012 pre-district games, losing only to Goddard.

She said overall fitness competitions are a natural extension of what she’s already been preaching. Anyone involved with boys athletic programs, especially football, wrestling and baseball, can run across players who want to place too much emphasis on upper-body workouts.

“I hear what the guys talk about, as far as muscle groups,” said Benavidez. “Core training isn’t about having a six-pack (of abdominal muscles). It’s about new ideas and conditioning.”

One issue Benavidez could face is the more she wins and places in competition, the fewer and fewer local peers she might have. While there are many women who lift weights and/or exercise seriously, not many New Mexicans enter figure competitions.

For the Yorton Cup, only three women from the Land of Enchantment — Benavidez, Susan Bishop and Tylinn Rashan — are entered. Just as champions such as boxer Holly Holm will eventually have no local peers at their level, it seems a successful figure competitor might run out of fellow New Mexicans with whom to compare notes about national competitions.

That seems to suit Benavidez, who is all about reaching for a new level.

Benavidez said she already felt she was practicing what she preached, but now that she competes, that is even more true.

“I like to see people do what they say,” she said.

She said the support of her family, especially her daughter, Madisyn Rose, and her fiancée, Nathan Marks, has been an important component.

As a teacher, fitness advisor and an athlete, Benavidez’s drive to learn and excel could help her in competitive fitness figure competitions.

“I am constantly researching things, for myself and others,” she said. “And I love to compete.”

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