“Willpower” would be the word to sum up the story of TSgt Riley Marx, who achieved her goal of becoming a professional bodybuilder while working as a military working dog trainer. Marx knew early on that she wanted to join the military, but the bodybuilding plan didn’t come until she landed in Japan. Despite the lack of resources, she has been able to maintain her drive, and can now call herself a pro. Marx sat down with Stars and Stripes to discuss life as a bodybuilder in the military.
Her words are worth listening to, not only for those who struggle to stick to their fitness goals, but also those who hope to better their lives, because bodybuilding is more than just building muscle. At least, that’s what I learned through interviewing her.
What is it that keeps you bodybuilding, which seems to me to be all about tolerating pain?
“Only 1% of the population even does bodybuilding. It is so hard, people can’t do it for very long. I guess the feeling of being on the stage and being able to show everything I worked so hard for, and knowing that I did it all myself. There is no cheating. It’s just me working on my body and having that willpower. It’s all worth the sacrifice, being on the stage and winning.”
Tell us about your achievement at the Phil Heath Classic in Houston in March of 2015.
“That was my first national show in the states. And I placed second in Physique, and third in Figure in the biggest show in NPC history. I was in prep over the holidays, which is probably the hardest part as not being able to have thanksgiving dinner and Christmas Dinner. It is mentally, physically, emotionally hard to get to that low of body fat level. My husband, who is a bodybuilder too, helped me in every step of the way.”
What does it mean to be pro card holder?
“It basically means that now that I am a pro, I can compete at the pro-level, which can lead to competing at the Olympia. The Olympia is the Super Bowl of bodybuilding. That would be the end goal. Being a card holder also opens up doors to sponsorships so that I can start getting paid or start getting free clothing, supplements and (C-creative) protein.”
It’s very hard to be a card holder. You have to qualify in a national qualifier. There are people that literally work their entire life and never get a pro-card. I did it in two shows and a half a year of competing.”
What difficulties do you encounter when training on Okinawa?
“The first thing would be gym equipment. I bounce around gyms because they don’t always have the right equipment. Number two would be food or lack of access to food tailored for bodybuilders, which is probably the most important. (For a solution) we often get creative and come up with our own recipes. Another thing is sponsorship. Because I am not in the States, I don’t get the door open for as many sponsorships as I would if I was in the States. Also travelling. I have to travel 28 hours to go to a show where other people only take a two hour drive flight.”
Is there any transition between regular training and the preparation leading up to a competition?
“For the training purposes for the gym, no. I train just as hard year round. But cardio increases greatly. I would do an hour and a half of cardio a day when I am in prep. Now I am off prep, I do it three times a week. And also the dieting. Now I am gaining back weight so that I can gain more muscle in my off season before I am constantly cutting to get leaner.”
How did you get into bodybuilding?
“I played sports since I was five years old. I’ve always lifted, so I had a pretty solid base of what to work off of. Fitness has just really fascinated me. I would see the girls in the magazines that were muscular, super lean, and super in-shape. But I was never in a place that I could really focus on bodybuilding. When I got to Japan from Korea, that’s when I met my coach. She was a pro bodybuilder, and she actually lived on the island because her husband worked at Torii gym. As soon as I got here, they had a body building show on base. And I went and I was like ‘I am doing it.’ That’s it. It was the first show I have been to. And I am totally into it. So I looked her up and found her, I got hold of her, and I started prep with her and I did a show here. It was just a local military show but I loved it. So that’s when I decided I was going to do the Phil Heath and I was good at it. So I kept going.”
Why did you join the military?
“For whatever reason the military popped in my head when I was 14. I waited a year before signing up in the delayed enlistment program because my parents wanted me to do so, but I didn’t change my mind. I wanted to do it for a series of reasons. The fitness aspect is one. The traveling is also what attracted me. I wanted to get out of get out of Iowa and build my own life. I also wanted that experience to help me get into the FBI.”
Tell us about your job here in Okinawa.
“I am a military working dog trainer. I was a handler for quite a while. I have been part of the military working dog community for eight years now. I love my job. Honestly if I hadn’t had a crossover to be a dog handler when I did, I would probably gotten out now, and pursued the FBI. But because I cross-trained in the canine career field, I felt even more in love with it and the Air Force. That’s why I’m still in.”
Is there anything you learn in bodybuilding that helps on the job?
“Patience. People in general want results and they want them fast. So you are like “I have been dieting for a week. Why can’t I see it?” The body is very slow to change. And dogs are like kids. So you have to be very patient when you try to teach or train them for something. Working with the dogs has helped me be patient in bodybuilding. Being patient in bodybuilding has helped me being patient with the handlers and the dogs.”
What is your next goal as a body builder?
“My biggest goal would be to go in to my first pro-show and bring the best package I can and hopefully win.”
What tip would you give someone in the military struggling to stay fit?
“Diet. Keep your diet on point. You cannot out-train a bad diet. So, if people would just make sure that their diet’s on point - not eating bad food every day, getting the right amount of protein - then they are going to be a lot better, even if you can’t make it to the gym. Because diet is 70% of how you look. And to just make as much time as you can to go to the gym and be patient. Bodybuilding is not a sprint. It literally is a marathon and it takes time.”