Shelly Paton is getting back onstage. And why not? She’s only 53.
“I took the year off in 2018 in order to focus on my personal training and prep coach business,” said the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness professional Shelly Paton. “But now I’m getting excited to get back into competition. This time I likely won’t enter the fitness competition. Instead, I’m preparing for either the figure or bikini divisions of the competition.
“Both figure and bikini have Masters’ divisions. Fitness doesn’t. It’s an Open competition. The last fitness show I did, in Vancouver in 2017, I had a great show and finished fifth, but the winner was just 19. It’s getting hard to compete in the Open Division, especially now. In recent years, I’ve competed against girls who had actual Olympic medals in gymnastics.
“Most of the competitions now, in fitness, are made up of girls who come from gymnastics or cheerleading,” Paton added with a laugh. “I don’t think I need the stress of a fitness routine anymore.”
So in September of 2019, Paton will get back on stage in an IFBB Show (either in Masters Figure or Masters Bikini) in Pittsburgh, Pa. After experiencing what she called, “a great summer,” with her husband of 25 years, Bruce Paton, Shelly has decided to get back into the gym at a serious level and prepare for another professional competition.
For the uninitiated, Paton explains the IFBB competitions this way: “In fitness, the judges look for strength, flexibility, stamina, some gymnastics and the entertainment value of your performance. Figure and Bikini are somewhat like bodybuilding but unlike the muscular development that is required for bodybuilding, it’s about your overall aesthetic. The health of your skin, hair make up and presentation matter just as much as your physique. For bodybuilding, I describe it this way, ‘You can never be too muscular or too lean,’ to be a success. And now, the organizers have worked in a level of competition called physique. It’s kind of between figure and bodybuilding.”
For Paton, the road to professional fitness, figure, bikini and bodybuilding competitions is a road less travelled. She had no gymnastics prowess and didn’t even start competing until she was in her late 20s.
“It was about 1992 or 1993,” she recalled. “Bruce and I had just become engaged and I was teaching fitness classes at Assiniboine Athletic Club and Arizona Fitness and a few other gyms, when a young woman named Denise Conan, a bodybuilder at the time, inspired me to start training for a bodybuilding show. I remember, it was a small show at the University of Manitoba and there were two divisions: Bodybuilding for women and bodybuilding for men.
“Then, six years later, in 1999, they brought fitness here. My inspiration was a woman named Kary Odiatu (who has written the books Fit for the Love of It with her husband Dr. Uche Odiatu; the Miracle of Health; and Competing with Class, A Guide to Women’s Fitness), who said I should get training and try a fitness competition.”
Paton, however, was a dancer who had competed at the Baton World Championship. She had no fitness or gymnastics experience, but at 34, it’s never too late to start.
“So I decided to do it,” she said with a wide smile. “I went and took an adult gymnastics class and did my first fitness show at age 34. I haven’t really stopped.”
Paton started training with the highly-regarded bodybuilder and trainer Darren Mehling and his wife Christina at Freak Fitness. It not only propelled Paton to a spot in the 2012 Fitness World Championships in Bialystock, Poland, but also got her an IFBB professional card in 2013 and entrance to the eight professional shows she’s done in the last four years.
These days, Paton, whose husband Bruce is the Box Lacrosse Referee-in-Chief for the Canadian Lacrosse Association, still teaches fitness, runs boot camps and is not only a personal trainer, but also a Contest Prep Coach for Freak Fitness, getting other athletes prepared for fitness, figure, bikini and bodybuilding shows.
And being 53 obviously doesn’t matter. After all, Darren Mehling calls her, “My ageless Wonder Woman.”
“I might not be that ageless,” she laughed. “I took the year off in 2018 because I’ve done two shows a year every year since 2009. But I needed the time off and now I’m excited to get back into it. I’m ready to get back to training hard again and to get back on stage.”
Photos by Scott Taylor and courtesy the IFBB