Against her family's opposition, Zhang Ping ventures into the world of bodybuilding
IN China, bodybuilders are a curiousity. Just ask Zhang Ping, a youthful 45-year-old woman, who has been an object of curiousity for 14 years.
Although Zhang is a champion bodybuilder, few people in China are aware of her success.
"It's the career I wanted to devoted myself to," Zhang said. "I never considered giving it up."
At the time of Zhang's decision in 1988, bodybuilding was novel in China. It was only in 1984 that the first bodybuilding tournament was held in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. Further, people felt shy to watch men and women, clad only in swim suits, display their muscles on stage.
However, Zhang's mind was made up. She had fallen in love with the sport after watching a tournament on television in 1984.
As a 30-year-old novice, she had to bring a high degree of commitment to the sport. Zhang sent her son to her parents and began daily two-hour exercises. She spent three hours every day on the way to gymnasium after work.
Since Zhang had previously competed with a dash team in Shanghai, she was able to quickly adjust to the grueling exercise routine.
"I was determined to become a champion from the very beginning of my career," she said.
She didn't break her promise to herself. After six-months of exercise, Zhang won fourth place in a national match in 1988. Since 1989, Zhang has taken home gold medals from every Asian tournament she attended.
What troubled Zhang was not the monotonous exercises, but the diet.
"As you know, bodybuilding is expensive. It requires a very high protein diet," she said.
In a country where the average monthly salary was 40 yuan ($4.80) in 1988, Zhang led a "luxurious" life.
Her daily dietary requirements included two eggs, a glass of milk - provided by the government - two fish, ribs and fruit.
"In those days, I didn't have enough money for such a diet, so I had to go to the market just before closing to buy the cheapest and worst products," she said.
As a bodybuilder, Zhang is forbidden to eat salt, soybean oil and vinegar, the most popular condiments in Chinese cuisine.
"My life has become duller than that of a Buddhist monk. The dining rules are the most torturous thing," she said.
Before participating in Asian-wide matches, Zhang had never heard of taking supplement tablets to enrich nutrition. However, experience in larger arenas taught her that Western bodybuilders eat an average of 60 eggs a day, accompanied by bowels of expensive tablets.
But for Zhang, making enough money to add four more eggs to her daily regiment was a financial accomplishment. She didn't dare imagine the cost of supplement tablets, especially as such products were unavailable in the mainland at the time.
Then Zhang found a Hong Kong sponsor who recognized her potential in 1989. He provided the struggling athlete with Whcyprotein at HK$380 per box for the next three years. Zhang didn't disappoint him.
She finished tenth place in a world women's bodybuilding tournament held in Belgium in 1995, nabbing the highest spot ever for an Asian athlete.
"Asians have a natural disadvantage - smaller skeletons," Zhang said.
Another problem Zhang and other early Chinese bodybuilders faced was their complexion.
The preferred look of bodybuilders is a dark complexion. In the beginning, lacking funding for special cosmetics or tanning-beds, Zhang and her colleagues had no choice but to spend sweltering hours in the hot sun. It tortured them.
Later on, they improvised by using Chinese opera paints to darken their skin. However,the paint flaked away as they perspired during matches to their great embarrassment.
"The government didn't care about bodybuilding as much as they did diving, table-tennis or gymnastics. Even now, we have to think of many solutions to problems by ourselves," Zhang said.
In order to support her exercise regime, Zhang opened a private gymnasium in Shanghai in 1992, coaching members and exercising by herself. She continued to hold on to her first place finishes in Asian and domestic matches, while four of her apprentices became champions of various domestic and regional contests.
With all this success, Zhang can now afford 5,000 yuan ($605) a month for her diet. Although she has six meals every day, the basic ingredients remain the same - beef, fish, shrimp, eggwhites of 25 eggs, milk, honey and vegetables.
The meat can only be stewed in hot water with spring onions and ginger, never fried or served with sauce. Rice, the staple food of Chinese, has also been erased from the menu. She eats bowls of high-priced nutrition tablets at meals.
"You have to do what others can't do if you want to be number one," Zhang said.
After long years of exercise, Zhang not only boasts a youthful appearance, but also a youthful attitude. She has no intentions of retiring any time soon.
"I hope that I can participate in matches till I am 60 years old," she said.
Her body measurement:
30mins aerobic running
Barbell Curl: 50kg*12reps*6sets
Alternate Incline Dumbbell Curl:30kg*15reps*6sets
Dumbbell Preacher Curls:50kg*12reps*6sets
Overhead Cable Curl:30kg*15reps*6sets
Barbell Half Squat:210kg*6reps
Barbell Full Squat:150~170kg*12reps*6sets
Barbell Full Squat:110~130kg*12reps*8sets
Barbell Full Squat:80~90kg*12~15reps*10sets