Taylor Hollohan currently lives in the small town of Clarenville, Newfoundland, and Labrador but her ambitions and determination in the world of professional fitness are giant. This past July, Hollohan, a Certified Personal trainer and Sports Nutrition Coach competed in her first-ever show for the Canadian Physique Alliance (CPA) and took home gold in Bikini True Novice, Bikini C, and Overall Bikini in the natural division. This November, she will compete in the 2021 Natural Canada Pro Qualifier in an effort to earn the prestigious IFBB professional status. The event attracts the best athletes in the sport of bodybuilding from all across Canada. The busy 23-year-old was kind enough to speak to us in between workout sessions, training clients and taking care of her pets (a cat and dog) about her love for fitness, her ‘never give up’ mindset, and shutting down the critics
Jason: Thank you so much for doing this with us, Taylor! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. You and I met in journalism school back in 2016 but for readers can you tell us a bit about where you’re from and how the path to fitness began?
Taylor Hollohan: I’m from Toronto, Ontario where I played hockey since I was four years old. I moved to Newfoundland and Labrador when I was 16, where I continued to play with the men’s league here in Clarenville, but I fell out of love with it. I was very active all my life and started going to the gym but would stop as everyone does. You get into it and then you fall out of it, however, when I moved back to Clarenville after college, I got addicted to it and discovered it was good for my mental health. Then I became a personal trainer a year and a half ago, so I started training others to help them also feel good. One day, somebody at the gym told me he thought I had the potential to compete in a fitness competition. I looked into it and fell in love with the idea.
Jason: How would you describe your purpose in wanting to compete? Many of us have dreams and passions, but never manifest them, but you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do this?
Taylor Hollohan: When I started working with my coach to lean down for the summer, I filmed a video of myself in my bedroom and in it, I said ‘I’m doing this for no one else. I want to see if I can do it and I remember that video so well. It’s rewarding to put in all that work and on show day, see that you look better than you ever have. You feel so good, you have all this makeup on and everything’s glamorous, and this sense of being proud of yourself floods over you. And I did it on my own. I played hockey and volleyball all my life, but those were team sports. This was all me and that was so rewarding.
Jason: What kind of prep goes into training for an event and how many times weekdays do you train?
Taylor Hollohan: It’s very intense training. A typical show prep takes about 16 weeks. It could be 20 weeks but 16 weeks. I started prepping on March 30, which was a little later than some others. I know some girls who started training in January. You follow an intense nutrition plan and you do an hour of cardio every single day. You do it fasted which means you eat in the morning and then you go to the gym and train. I train five times a week, Monday, Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, train Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Then you check in with your coach, send them progress photos, and have them take your weight. You can’t go off the plan, which consists of oatmeal or oats, chicken, rice, and a lot of water.
Jason: You remarked how fitness played a role in your mental health and I’m wondering when you’re complying with such a stringent diet and exercise plan, how is your mental health affected?
Taylor Hollohan: It can be extremely challenging. Everyone will say it’s primarily a mental sport. Many people can’t do it because of the mental toll it takes. Especially for females as you’re not eating the same and you’re losing weight fast so hormones become out of place. I think the hardest part is after a show because you’re so small and you get used to seeing yourself in the mirror so tiny and lean and muscular. After a show, you’re supposed to gain your weight back slowly and build muscle so you have to eat more. I began seeing a therapist, a couple of weeks out to prepare myself and talk about this journey because I felt talking about it was important. However, I have to say I’m able to handle it very well. I didn’t expect to but I am. It can be challenging and it’s a very lonely sport. So many people don’t understand it.
Jason: This was your first competition, so how welcomed were you by other competitors?
Taylor Hollohan: It’s an outstanding sport because the other people who are doing it know what you’re going through. Everyone who competes, we’re all cheering each other on. It’s a welcoming sport. It was nerve-wracking to begin, but I met a girl through Instagram who was also competing and we talked every single day through prep. We didn’t even meet each other until show day. We talked every day and I can say she’s one of my best friends at this point and I’m thankful I had her because we could lean on each other during the hard days. And there were days where both of us were like, ‘can’t do it. It’s draining. It’s hard, I’m hungry,’ but we pushed each other through it. There were three other competitors locally, so going to the gym and seeing them train as well was helpful too. We all pushed each other, and we understood what each one of us was going through. Often people on the outside, see it as an unhealthy sport, but the people who are taking part and who are competing, get it and it’s nice to have that.
Jason: How difficult was balancing such a vigorous training program with the demands of life, such as career and family?
Taylor Hollohan: Balancing training, work, family life. When competing, you have to be a little selfish. You can’t go out with friends because you can’t eat anything, you can’t drink alcohol, you need to go to bed at a certain time because you’re getting up super early to do cardio. You’re up, you’re exhausted by 3 pm every day. You’re cranky because you’re not eating properly. But my number one thing throughout prep was the support from my significant other., Kyle. I wouldn’t have competed unless he was on board. Support is number one and if you don’t have that support, it’s going to be hard. I know people who don’t have any support, so if he wasn’t on board. I don’t think I would have done it. But luckily he was. When it comes to the competing aspect, it was about keeping a balance. I still had to go to work and be a dog and cat, Mom. Family members are having babies so there’s always a lot going on. Three weeks out before the show, one of my family members passed away and I was dealing with that. Every week there was something happening, but I had to balance it all while training intensely. It’s hard to find a balance but you do and you find your priorities.
Jason: What are some misconceptions people have regarding fitness competitions?
Taylor Hollohan: The biggest one is people think we don’t eat. They’ll say we must starve ourselves. We actually eat six meals a day and people don’t understand that. You’re just in a calorie deficit so you’re burning more calories than you’re eating so you’re going to lose weight. You’re just eating the right things to look that way. One other thing which people don’t understand is some people sexualize the sport which is frustrating as well. Some people see it as girls in a bikini on stage. It’s not a sexual thing, it’s a fitness thing. We wear those bikinis so we can show off the muscles that we’ve worked hard for. We get called “skinny” which is not the right word. “Lean” is the right word. I had terrible comments said to me through prep that frustrated me. I had someone message me and say, I looked “gross” and I should “eat a burger and hot dog.”
Jason: How do you block those comments and types of criticisms out?
Taylor Hollohan: With that comment, I began to question things. I got scared and nervous. I didn’t like what people were saying because at the same time you’re hearing those things, you look in the mirror and see yourself getting smaller and you ask yourself, ‘do I look gross? Am I doing this Right?’ You question a lot. But I have the best coach, Dave Miller, out there so I could lean on him. I told him straight up the comments I was getting and he was very supportive. Having an excellent coach to lean on is important through it all, and I lucked out with mine. Listening to your coaches through it all is key and they know what they’re talking about.
Jason: What do judges look for in competitors?
Taylor Hollohan: All judges look for something different. There are distinct divisions, there’s bikini and figure, and there’s physique and there’s wellness. Wellness is a newer division coming up. In each division, judges are looking for something different. Bikini differs from physique where physique girls are huge and muscular whereas bikini is more about lean muscle. After your shows, you can pay for a critique from the judges, feedback on your routine so you can learn what you did wrong, or something you need to work on. Or maybe you did everything right, which is not common at all. I wanted to see what their thoughts were and it could be hard to take critiques but I think I’ll handle it well.
Jason: I’d like to ask about your support system, your coach, your partner, and of course, your mother, who I understand was apprehensive for you but turned out to be a major cheerleader.
Taylor Hollohan: I could tear up thinking about how awesome she (my mother, Sheila) was. When I first told her my plans, she was concerned, so I explained them the best I could. As I went further, she became more open and told me she was going to be there on show day, no matter what. When they called my name for the overall winner, she jumped in the air. She had the video of her holding the camera and the camera went flying. She was a tremendous supporter and my boyfriend, Kyle, was so supportive. My dad didn’t talk about it much, but when I came home with the gold medals and the trophy, he took so many photos.
Jason: Where do you go next?
Taylor Hollohan: I am going to compete in regionals for a stage presence and then I’m going to Nationals, which is a week later on November 27, which is an all Canada qualifier. Anyone who placed in the top three in their division gets qualified to go to Nationals. I could take a while off, build some more muscle and then go next year, but I want to just keep going. I’m young and I’m going to want to have kids soon so I feel this is my opportunity and I should take it now because a year from now, I can be anywhere else. That’s why I competed and decided that I want to do the Toronto competition. It’s where I’m from. I left a hockey player and I’m going back as a bikini competitor.