Donna Poggio: The Fun Of Fitness

Like many other women who compete today, I happened to see the ESPN Fitness America Pageant Series on television and decided to research what it would take for me to become involved in these competitions. Since I had a background in competitive gymnastics and dance I thought this would be perfect for me to try and get involved.


At the age of 26 I competed in my first Fitness America Pageant Regional in New Haven, Connecticut in August of 1996 and became immediately addicted to the sport. At that time the sport of fitness was relatively new which meant there weren't a lot of people who knew what it was and very few resources for help. For my first three competitive seasons I made all of my own suits, choreographed my own routines, edited my own music, and did my own diet and workouts. I had to learn everything the hard way on my own.

After my first show in August I then tried a Ms. Fitness contest in October 1996 where I competed and met fellow competitor Dawn Butterfield. After this contest I tried another type of fitness show in Connecticut. I continued to participate in as many contests as I could, just to get more experience and I tried to keep up with other competitors who were also competing in many shows. Between 1996 and 1998 I competed in 14 shows and progressed slowly. I knew if I wanted to be successful in the industry I was going to have to find some people to help me. I needed better music, professional costumes, a choreographer, and most importantly someone to help with what seemed to be my failing diets.

The 1999 season proved to be the turning point in my fitness career and personal life. In that year I was introduced to Caron Hospedeles who is a suit maker, and she is amazing - and was a huge help. I also received a phone call from a new Fitness America Pageant promoter in Connecticut named Brian Cannone. I couldn't compete in Brian's Fitness Atlantic Pageant event due to my teaching gymnastics and coaching schedule. Brian asked me to judge the event since he also had a separate panel of fitness judges, unlike the other events I had competed in myself that only had bodybuilders to judge the fitness competitions. I was excited and loved the opportunity to be a judge at his contest and I still judge his contest to date.

Since I had success locally in the fitness events I decided to compete a different organization's national level events. When I got to this one national contest I noticed that the women in this contest were much bigger and leaner than I had competed with in the regional contests. These competitors were also very serious about winning and obtaining Pro cards. I found these contests were not about having fun but strictly about winning. What did I have to do to become competitive at this level and did I really want to go to such extremes?

I thought I had to look more like a bodybuilder and come in more muscular and defined. With a new diet that was strict and flawless and I came into the contest very lean and ripped, with more muscle than I ever had. I was eating tons of chicken breast, vegetables, little amounts of sweet potato, and drinking lots of water. People thought I was getting ready for a bodybuilding event and in a way there was no difference between what I was doing and bodybuilding preparations. I placed third and I would have received my Pro card if it were not for me faltering on my routine. For some reason, I seemed to think that getting a Pro card would bring me some kind of fame and fortune. I think I fell into my own trap and was very disillusioned by it all. Still thinking this was what I really wanted I quit teaching gymnastics and I took a full-time job working for Prolab Nutrition and there I saw that being a Pro wasn't what I thought it was. I thought Pro status meant that you recieved more opportunities in the industry and were paid to compete, but I was finding out that's not the case at all. There I was a 1993 graduate of with a Masters in Physical Education and Exercise Science trying to become a Professional Fitness athlete and I was determined to do just that. During this time was I decided to meet with Cathy Savage to assist me with a routine and Todd Ganci to professionally edit my music. I now felt everything was inplace with Caron's suits, Cathy's choreography, Todd's music and a new diet along with my determination I couldn't lose. Boy was I wrong.

When I got to this contest for some reason this other organization now placed me in the medium height class even though I was under the measurement for that class and "always competed" in their short division. I was now being compared to women with 5'-4" musculature and had no chance since I'm under 5'-2". I knew just minutes into the event that I had no chance of even placing and I also overheard someone mention backstage that they had fixed the height classes so that certain women would win the contest. That was all I needed to hear, I never wanted to compete again.

After that contest Brian had talked me into going to California to give Fitness America Pageant ESPN Nationals a try. He had talked so highly of the organization and the people involved in running the Pageant and how much fun the competitors have. I knew the original reason I had decided to participate in my first fitness show was because of how I saw Fitness America Pageant on television and it looked fun. But, somehow over the years I had lost sight of my main focus of enjoyment and had become consumed by the negativity. I was convinced that I would try this contest and it may be the last fitness competition of my fitness career.

When I got to California I was immediately greeted with a full four-day schedule of events. In between eating mounds of rice and drinking water to get rid of my extreme dieting look, I participated in a photo-shoot, on-camera interviews for ESPN, the ESPN Series, an opening number for the televised show, and the ESPN National competition. This was quite a change from the stock bodybuilding show format of other organizations and the closest thing to feeling like a movie star that I have ever been part of.

Another difference was that the other competitors were so friendly, helpful, and sincerely complimentary that I almost didn't know how to receive them. I was so busy having fun I had no time to be nervous or realize how much success I was having. I managed to win my ESPN Series which gave me the confidence boost I had needed for such a long time and I tied for 11th to Carolyn Evans out of 100 women. And I wasn't so bad after all, maybe I had been competing in the wrong type of contests through the years and maybe this wouldn't be my last competition after all. I had one of the best experiences of my life at the Fitness America Pageant and it made me realize why I had decided to compete in this sport in the first place.

Now at age 33, I look forward to the future and the role fitness will continue to play in my everyday life, even after my competitive days have ended. After taking 2001 off from competition to finally establish a physical education teaching position at a Jr High School, I will be returning to the competitive arena at the 2002 Fitness America Pageant ESPN Nationals as my hobby and happier than ever. This will be my 25th show of my fitness career!

I could not possibly finish my story without thanking those people who have supported and sacrificed with me on my journey through my fitness career. To Caron Hospedales for always making the perfect suits, and allowing me to always make them different. To Todd Ganci, for his quality of music editing, and putting up with me being picky. To Cathy Savage for just being the most awesome person I have ever met and a great choreographer! It is an honor to work with Cathy and I thank her for her constant encouragement. To my family for always being supportive in everything I have done, specifically my Mom. And to Brian whom I never would have met if it weren't for the Fitness America Pageant and his restoring my faith in the sport and more importantly in myself.

Contest Placings:

8/96 - 4th place Fitness America CT Regional (New Haven)
10/96 - 12th place Ms. Fitness MA Regional
11/96 - 1st place NPC CT Regional (New Haven)
4/97 - 6th place Fitness America CT Regional (New Haven)
6/97 - 6th place Fitness America CT Regional (Hartford)
7/97 - 4th place Fitness America MA Regional
8/97 - 12th place NPC Women's Extravaganza (New Jersey)
11/97 - 4th place NPC CT Regional (New Haven)
6/98 - 3rd place Fitness America CT Regional (Hartford)
7/98 - 3rd place NPC Blue Thunder Classic (New Jersey)
8/98 - 1st place NPC Muscle Beach Classic (New Jersey)
10/98 - 6th place NPC Women's Extravaganza (New Jersey)
11/98 - 1st place NPC CT Regional (New Haven)
6/99 - 2nd place Fitness America CT Regional (Hartford)
6/99 - 1st place short class NPC Bev Francis (NYC)
8/99 - 6th place short class NPC Team Universe (NYC)
10/99 - 2nd place NPC Women's Extravaganza (New Jersey)
10/99 - 9th place short class NPC Nationals (FL)
8/00 - 3rd place short class NPC Team Universe (NYC)
11/00 - 10th place medium class NPC Nationals (NYC)
11/00 - 11th place tie Fitness America ESPN Nationals (CA)
11/00 - 1st place Fitness America ESPN Series (CA)
7/02 - 1st place Yankee Classic FAP MA Regional






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  • 2013 Fitness Atlantic DVD
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