By Autumn Cleveland
Throughout the many years that I’ve been competing, my struggle has been to put on enough muscle. The loudest voices in my memory are those of judges, other bodybuilders that I look up to, and people who focus on my flaws. Every time I neglected a meal, I heard it “Autumn, you have to get bigger.” Every time I chose not to increase the weight on the bar. “Autumn, you have to get bigger.” Every time I stopped at what shouldn’t have been my last rep. “Autumn, you HAVE to get bigger.”
Each year I thought I had tried, I realized that I didn’t try hard enough. Every time I stepped on stage, I knew I would be the smaller of my class, and that I would be going up against monsters…Girls with size and beautiful mass carved into their frames, and lean enough so see those sharp edges and veins. And I knew they would beat me. I still wasn’t big enough. I just didn’t have enough muscle. I can’t count how many times that I compared myself to these women. Every Day. Every year. I was so naïve that I didn’t see that some of them were using steroids….but the bigger problem is that I was so naïve that I didn’t understand my own lack of hard work.
There have been times that I’ve talked myself into believing that I was exhausting every method on my own. I was eating. I was lifting hard & heavy. I blamed it on my age and genetics. But I wasn’t facing the reality that I was ignoring the intelligence of my methods. I had no rhyme or reason. No structure. No plan. No consistency. In one or two years, I saw other competitors bypassing me, and getting what I wanted to have, while I stood behind in the dust, and watched. I watched them win trophies, titles and Pro cards…the very things that I dreamed of day and night. And ten years later, there I was making anything but impressive progress. As my body lacked growth, my sport was amplifying with quantity and quality. I felt like I wasn’t keeping up. One night I talked with a girl who I closely compared myself to for 7 years. She had just won Overall at a regional show. She had beautiful genetics, and she was also on Gear. And she also won. She won several times. She spoke of how strong she felt, that she felt like a beast, and her recovery was awesome. She looked amazing, and felt even better. She had what I wanted. At the end of the conversation, steroids sounded pretty nice.
I could be big enough. I could be the intimidation to other competitors. I could have ridiculous curves and development. I could be the freak. I could win. I could be the best. All I would have to do, is cross over to the other side.
Naturally, I weigh the pros and cons of both routes. The enhancement of steroids would be wonderful. They could get me where I want to go. But it would also introduce a whole new slew of problems. I would be out of my element. I would have to call on other people for help in this area. I would have to face my clients, friends, and supporters, and when they say “I want to look like you!” my heart would sink because in my mind, no matter what diet or training advice I could give them, I would know the truth. All of my dedication, commitment, and highlights of my career would get discredited, and lost in the shadows of the overpowering Dark Side. I don’t care what anyone says. It changes you. It changes how people perceive you.
Am I ready to do this? Do I have the money? Am I ready to set up a schedule and never miss a pill? Am I ready to pull from the vial with measured ticks on a syringe, and rip through the density of tissue with a needle? Am I ready to wake up every morning and obsessively look for changes? Am I ready to see my Perfect body, the one I’ve been dreaming of all of these years? Am I ready to handle the side effects and the after effects? To tell my supports and friends that I have no longer attained my goals naturally, or lie to them and pretend that I did? Am I ready to feel invincible strength? Am I ready?
Am I ready….
I’ve made a promise to myself years ago, that when in doubt, I would objectively and honestly answer this pure question: “Have I done everything that I possibly can before resorting to chemical enhancement?”
So many people have said to me “Just DO it already…you know you’ll never turn Pro naturally. It’s not that big of a deal. You can’t become what you want without them.”
Today, my answer is still “No.” I don’t believe in my heart that I have honestly done everything that I could have, as a natural athlete, to reach my goal. I keep getting bigger and stronger on my own. I am still growing and progressing, 12 years later. I have more people coming to me than ever, telling me that I have inspired them by not using drugs to enhance my physique…That I have given hope to others that are in my same position. Each year I become better, and I am placing higher in my competitions. I’m doing it. I’m slowly but surely getting what I want…not with drugs, but with harder work.
If there was one word that is associated with my Cleveland family name, it would be this one: Character. My grandfather preached it. My dad instilled it. And my entire family takes pride in it.
Who am I? What do I believe in? What are my morals? What is my integrity? These are all questions to help me pass the tests of building a tough character. Sometimes life is hard…and sometimes you just have to deal with it. You have to buckle down and overcome hardships. You have to make the decision to act on what you know is right, or what is wrong. A Cleveland takes the hard way, and endures the struggle, adding the lesson learned to their toolbox. A Cleveland doesn’t give up. A Cleveland doesn’t cheat. I don’t take the easy way. I take the more challenging route, always, because that’s where the most growth comes from. I have been taught to have a warrior like mentality when it comes to pride. And I am proud. I respect of myself for saying no to temptation, and for taking the hard road. I’m proud of myself for outgrowing my weaknesses, and not giving up. I’m proud of myself for becoming better in spite of my chall
I would like to think that I could be Ms. Figure Olympia with my own tools, but I am no longer naïve, and I know what I will need to do to gain that title. I can’t promise that one day, I will not cross over and use anabolics. If I want to become the best in the world at what I do, I will need to do whatever it takes. I actually have quite an interest in the research and chemistry of steroids, and I’m sure the effects will be very exciting. I have no problem with others making the decision to use them either. I have no less respect for someone who does. This is personal battle with myself. There will come a day when I have to decide if it’s time, but when that day comes, I will know that I can trust myself to make the correct choice….and that I can look back on this and say “I put in my work, I learned a lot, and I left nothing on the table.” At that point I feel like I will have earned the right to make that decision, but until then, it’s out of the question for me. If and when I choose to use them, I will be educated. I will be honest, and I won’t feel guilty about it. I wouldn’t be using them to cheat. If and when I resort to steroids, I will never have to lay my head down at night and wonder what I could have been without them. Hard work and character have already taught me that.
On-The-Grind Training Systems
B.S. Exercise Science (University of Louisville, 2011)
CPR/AED Certified (Red Cross)