Carol Semple never associated herself with anything other than an athlete.
Growing up in gymnastics, Semple always had a knack for picking up a sport and excelling at it.
Even after a car accident derailed her budding gymnastics career, the athlete in Semple refused to go away. Following the accident, Semple transitioned into the world of fitness competitions. Fitness combines the muscle-building aspects of bodybuilding with choreographed routines that feature dance, gymnastics and other movements.
From the start, it was a natural fit.
Semple, who’s credited for inventing the “Semple push-up” (legs are wrapped over your shoulders), won her very first competition she entered – the 1991 NFSB Ms. Fitness Colorado – and routinely placed in the top two each time she stepped on stage.
In 1997, Semple was on top of the fitness industry, having achieved top honors at the sport’s two biggest shows – the Fitness International and Fitness Olympia.
Before long though, Semple’s world would be far-removed from the competitive stage.
A herniated disc, suffered during her remarkable 1997 campaign, ultimately forced Semple to go under the knife in 1999 to have the injury repaired.
With the injury bringing her career to a screeching halt, Semple felt the ripple effects shortly thereafter. She lost a contract with a supplement company and a potential deal to be the first fitness athlete signed under Joe Weider.
And, although she began promoting fitness and figure shows – the Carol Semple Fitness & Figure Classic just held its 9th annual show on Dec. 1 – during this time, the pain of losing her career, coupled with the fact that she was unable to train for a long period of time following her back surgery, sent Semple into a depression.
“That was rock-bottom for me,” Semple said. “I had to try and recreate myself and rediscover who Carol Semple was. It was a big growing experience for me.”
And so, Semple set out on that journey to find out just who she was. She slowly began to re-enter the gym. Once there, she gained a new appreciation of what it meant to be deconditioned.
“I didn’t grasp it before,” Semple said. “I always expected people to keep up with me and to stop making excuses. But, after my back injury, I realized that there are limiting factors people face and that you have to be sensitive to that.
“I was very humbled when I returned to the gym, but it was one of the best things for me because I learned so much from it.”
In time, Semple whipped herself back into shape and soon began giving her gift of knowledge to others. Semple, who majored in exercise science and nutrition at Metropolitan State University (she’s three classes from a degree), began training clients.
A lot of clients.
“I train athletes that are looking to compete in bodybuilding, fitness or figure,” Semple said. “And I also train people that are just looking for a good, tough workout. But, just because you’re not training for a competition doesn’t mean that the training is going to be easy. I work everyone the same and that’s hard.”
One of Semple’s clients, Mary Cencich, has benefited immensely from the partnership.
“About a year ago I began training for my first figure competition,” said Cencich, a Littleton resident who trains at Club USA. “I came in dead last. One day I was at Club USA with a friend, Ginny May, who was getting ready for a bodybuilding show. Carol was there watching her pose and Ginny introduced us. I told her I was looking to compete in a show that was four weeks away, and asked her if she’d help train me.
“She agreed and I wound up finishing second.”
Cencich competed seven more times under Semple’s guidance, with the highlight being a third-place finish out of 300 competitors at a national show in Las Vegas in July.
Cencich said that Semple’s biggest strength is her personal knowledge and understanding of what it takes to step on stage.
“She’s so knowledgeable about diet and nutrition,” Cencich said. “I really had no clue what it meant to get ready for a show and it showed the first time I competed. Once I started working with Carol, everything changed. She taught me so much about what to eat and when to eat it.
“Factor that in with her training methods and it made all the difference. She knows what the judges are going to be looking for and she knows how to get your body ready so that you’ll look and perform your best on stage.”
Semple, who was typically a favorite amongst judges, admits that the best person doesn’t always win in a subjective sport such as fitness, figure or bodybuilding.
“You just might not have the package the judges are looking for that day,” Semple said. “That doesn’t mean that you weren’t in the best shape you could be. It just means that they were looking for something different.”
Case in point, the 1995 Fitness Olympia.
Semple contends that at that show, she looked her best in terms of physique, and performed her cleanest routine.
The result? Fifth place. The worst placing of her career.
“I was mad,” Semple admits. “But, you learn to get past the anger after a while. In this sport, you have to understand that the judging isn’t always going to go your way. I tell my clients that all the time. I tell them as long as you gave your all in training and came into the show in the best-possible shape, then you’ve already won.
“You might not have won according to the judges, but you won because you got yourself into the best shape possible.”
While her competitive days may be a thing of the past, Semple sees herself being heavily involved in the fitness industry for a long time to come.
In fact, she’s already cooking up ideas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Carol Semple Fitness & Figure Classic.
“I’d like to move the show to June,” Semple said. “Maybe co-promote the show with Shawn Ray (a former professional bodybuilder who has promoted a professional bodybuilding show in the state for two years. The show also features powerlifting competitions and mixed martial arts demonstrations). I’d like to see us maybe providing seminars and offering different avenues of competitions, like inviting local cheerleading squads to compete.
“Anything that promotes health and fitness is something that I’m passionate about. That’s what I want my show to be a representation of.”