By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
WARWICK – Katerina Tarbox is a woman who, when she walks among the equipment at Gold’s Gym, draws admiring stares.
Why not? She’s earned them.
At 47, she is a champion bodybuilder and last month won her pro card from the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) at the Masters Nationals in Pittsburgh.
With not an ounce of fat visible anywhere, the wife of North Kingstown automotive-sales magnate Ed Tarbox and mom of two boys, keeps to a strict diet and workout regimen.
She does a cardio exercise five to six days a week for 30-35 minutes and lifts weights four to five days. She eats six very small meals a day and says the trick to her success is “80 percent diet and 20 percent gym.”
Tarbox outlines a typical day’s menu: first is four egg whites, a half-cup of oatmeal, a teaspoon of peanut butter or flax seed and black coffee; a snack is four ounces each of chicken and yam and a handful of almonds; lunch includes four ounces of chicken, a cup of vegetables and a half-cup of brown rice; the next snack comprises four ounces each of lean protein and yams and more almonds; supper is five ounces of fish, a big salad, sliced avocados and almonds. At bedtime she has a protein shake.
Since she entered her very first competition in Seekonk, Mass., in 2001, Katerina has been unstoppable, climbing the ladder of successively more difficult challenges in a form of female body-sculpting called “Figure.”
Unlike early contests dating to the ‘60s in California’s storied “Muscle
Beach,” when women were encouraged to develop overly muscular and unnatural physiques, Tarbox says Figure is “totally different. It’s the whole package: symmetry, definition, full muscle but not muscle-bound.
“It’s hair, complexion, the way you walk and present yourself, your confidence.”
A lot of her confidence comes from her husband, a one-man cheering section who urged her to start competing in the first place and accompanies her to shows all over the country. Women compete in high heels and swimwear which is typically bikinis but can also be one-piece with strategic cut-outs. A woman in Florida custom makes all of Katerina’s costumes which are either sparkly or satiny or both.
Born Katerina Revis in Corfu, Greece, she immigrated at age 14 to North Kingstown with her parents, sister and grandmother, has always had a strong work ethic. Her father started Tony’s Pizza and, in keeping with Greek tradition, the whole family pitched in.
Katerina, who graduated from NKHS, says she worked at the restaurant from the ages of 14 to 30. She started dating Ed in 1988; they had a six-month engagement and were married in 1989.
“Ed is such a great man,” she says. “My father fell in love with him,” not caring that he isn’t Greek.
They have two sons, Nick, 27 – the child of Katerina’s first marriage whom Ed Tarbox adopted when Nick was a toddler – and 17-year-old Ed Jr., who is about to start his senior year at Rocky Hill.
With her kids grown, Katerina has channeled her energy and what she admits is a naturally competitive nature – she’s a former gymnast – into reaching the pinnacle of her sport.
Over the course of two days last month, she won the highest honor in amateur bodybuilding, receiving her pro card from the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding) in Pittsburgh. It was one of only 35 cards awarded among hundreds of competitors during the NPC (National Physique Committee) Masters Nationals held July 20-21.
It’s taken Tarbox a dozen years of unrelenting dedication to arrive at this very satisfying place.
In her initial test, in 2001, she took first place for a routine in the Fitness category which emphasized having an athletic appearance and demonstrating gymnastics, dancing and strength. Then Figure was introduced, she explains, offering the opportunity to present “body type without rhythm.”
Tarbox notes, “I started at 36; there were a lot of younger girls.”
Nonetheless, at a 2008 New England regional show held in Boston, she competed in an open class against women ages 18 and up and won first place; after a triumph in the 35-plus bracket she ultimately was named the overall winner of the competition.
Winning a national qualifying event meant Katerina could compete against the nation’s best. Soon, she and Ed were heading off to contests in Ohio, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Sacramento. She entered them all and won.
“The next step was [vying] on the national level.” After a few rounds of second and third-place finishes, this year the Masters National provided all the validation she needed with two firsts and her pro card.
After experiencing the feel of the pro stage, Katerina says next year she wants to try qualifying for the Olympia in Las Vegas, a four-day extravaganza including shows, interviews, seminars, fan events and bikini-model searches. The whole shebang culminates with the naming of Mr. and Ms. Olympia.
“I choose the ones I really like,” she says of the seven amateur contests she typically enters over the course of a year. She plans to do one or two on the pro level this year, taking 10 to 12 weeks to prepare.
Noting that she saw a 50-year-old woman competing in California last year, Tarbox says, “I’ll compete as long as I have it in my heart. I’ve accomplished what I wanted.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.