Thu, Dec. 05

Verde Valley women shine at bikini competition

Local personal trainer Erika McClellan won the over 40 division and took ssecond in the novice at the bikini competition at the OCB Slayer Classic in Phoenix. Photo courtesy KFM Designs

Local personal trainer Erika McClellan won the over 40 division and took ssecond in the novice at the bikini competition at the OCB Slayer Classic in Phoenix. Photo courtesy KFM Designs

Months of training paid off for a pair of Verde Valley women, who both recovered from serious surgeries, at their first Organization of Competitive Bodies event.

Last month Erika McClellan and Xanessa Zabala competed in the bikini division of the OCB Slayer Classic in Phoenix. Erika is a personal trainer at the Cottonwood Recreation Center and Zabala is a recent Mingus Union alumna.

McClellan, 44, won the over 40 division, placed second in novice A and fourth in the open. Zabala, 21, finished in fourth in the novice B and sixth in the open B.

“I was super, super excited, it’s always been sort of a little far-fetched dream,” McClellan said. “To actually earn my pro card is kind of exciting and means that I can then go and compete in the pro shows, which obviously are a lot tougher competition as well and you actually win money, nothing crazy, but you can win like a thousand dollars, so worthwhile. A lot of it for me though is just about credibility in doing what I do as a trainer. We had a ton of fun. It was a good learning experience.”

This was McClellan’s second show, in 2012 she won the classic figure division at Ms. Fitness New Mexico, for a different governing body. This was Zabala’s debut.

However, a bout with the flu almost ended her show before it began. She was up until 1 a.m. and after months of training considered not going.


Mingus alum Xanessa Zabala finished fourth in the novice B and sixth at the open B at the OCB Slayer Classic in Phoenix. Photo courtesy Erika McClellan

“I wasn’t going to let getting sick mess up this opportunity,” Zabala said.

After she took an IV fluid she felt better and her nerves had gone away too.

“It was funny because my legs had started shaking while we were doing our poses and so the whole time while my legs were shaking I was thinking ‘I hope no one can notice,’” Zabala said. “When I told my parents and everyone that I was shaking up there they told me that it didn’t look like it at all and they had told me that it looked like I had been doing this for a long time. It was really sweet of them and they were saying ‘you didn’t even look nervous, you looked so natural up there’ and it was just a great feeling.”

Zabala started training with McClellan in November, initially just to get back into shape. She hopes to eventually compete for a living.

“I looked at her and I just knew that she had the right look,” McClellan said about when they decided to compete. “I thought ‘what the heck?’ I may as well go for it again. It felt a little far-fetched because I’ve had multiple hip surgeries and at the time I decided to go for it I was walking with a pretty severe limp. I’m supposed to have a hip replacement at some point relatively soon; I’m just putting it off. But it feels good, I mean it feels good to realize that you can still pull it off at 44 I guess (laughs).”

The road back

McClellan’s hip issues weren’t the only roadblock they had to deal with.

At Mingus Union Zabala, played volleyball, basketball, softball and track and field but she didn’t get to compete for the school in any of them her senior year. She suffered a torn ACL in each of her knees.

She said getting to compete at the OCB was “pretty incredible.”

Her freshman year she played softball, volleyball and basketball, then as a sophomore she played volleyball and basketball but tore an ACL midway through hoops season. Then her junior year she came back to play basketball and tried track and field first time ever.

Her last year she skipped volleyball out of fear of missing time in her favorite sport basketball but some spilled water in the last game of an open gym led to her tearing her other ACL.

“I already knew the feeling before and I knew exactly what it was and my heart was just shattered because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to come back,” Zabala said. “So it was very heart breaking to go through that.”

After graduating she was saving up to join her then boyfriend in college in Phoenix but sick of her routine of just work and no athletics she sought to leave earlier than planned. However her father was driving her car when it was struck and totaled by a distracted driver, pushing back her timeline.

Then her mother suggested she work out with McClellan.

Zabala said everything happens for a reason though and when she was down she discovered OCB.

“I don’t know what I would be doing if I wouldn’t have met her,” Zabala said. “I probably would have gotten worse and probably would be doing the same thing that I was doing here, just working and going home and doing this everyday routine and just not being happy.”

The competition

In the bikini division, athletes are judged on overall toned look, symmetry, fullness, balance, shape performance and stage presence.

OCB also features figure, men’s body building, men’s classic physique, men’s physique and women’s physique categories.

Their training the OCB show began with sculpting their bodies.

“We really start to look at the body as sort of a, I don’t know, a sculpture almost and so you’re trying to create as much balance as you can, so in areas that you’re weaker you’re trying to grow it more so for the girls that’s a lot in the glutes or the hamstrings,” McClellan said.

As they get closer to the show, they focus on cutting down body fat, without looking gaunt so they increase cardio and track their nutrition.

“You can’t maintain that peak physique for very long so the whole idea is you have this target date and you’re sculpting yourself to hit that target knowing that you’ve only got a day or two or three where you can really stay there,” McClellan said. “You just can’t maintain that strictness forever.”

Zabala is looking to compete again on Nov. 16 at the OCB Desert Valley Natural in Tucson.

The Camaraderie

They’re competitions but they’re not cutthroat.

Zabala said at their first ever posing practice they met a woman who was competing after losing 180 pounds and at the competition she met so many nice people.

McClellan said them competing has inspired others.

“I ended up picking several more clients who are interested in competing, even as old as 59 years old,” McClellan said. “So I’ve got as young as 21 and as old as 59 that want to do this. There was a woman on the stage at this last show that was in here 70s and she just looked incredible. There’s a lot of camaraderie, a lot of support, it’s not catty at all. It’s a really supportive, nice group of people. The folks that put on the shows are great, everyone is rooting for each other, so it has a really good feel.”

McClellan said Zabala did “extraordinary” and that she so proud of her.

“It was my favorite part,” McClellan said. “I’m just so proud of her and it just gave me chills to see her up there and not only did she change physically, but the biggest thing that I saw her grow over months and months and months was just her level of confidence and her happiness.”

McClellan’s website is She is married to local celebrity Tim McClellan.

“Oh she’s just been absolutely life changing, words can’t even describe what she’s done for me,” Zabala said, “She has done life changing for me and she’s made me see a whole different side of myself and I’m very happy physically and mentally and I’m just in a very happy state of mind and I couldn’t thank her enough for that.”

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