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Interview with IFBB Pro Bikini Competitor, Pharmaceutical Consultant, & Mom – Diana Harbort

Diana Harbort

Diana Harbort is a Midwestern girl! She was born in a small town in North Dakota and grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A daughter of an energetic, friendly, independent mother and grew up believing she could do anything she set her mind to. She wasn’t particularly athletic as a child, but was frequently on the honor roll at school. She received her Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and was recruited into a prestigious management development program at Abbott Laboratories (a large multi-national healthcare and pharmaceutical company with headquarters just north of Chicago) upon graduation. Had 10 jobs in 10 years at Abbott and learned the importance of setting aggressive goals, having persistence and dedication in the face of a challenge, and being mentored and mentoring others. While working full-time at Abbott, she earned her MBA at Kellogg, a Top 3 MBA program in the nation. During these years, she learned the power of efficiency, organization, delayed gratification, and grit. Soon thereafter, she was recruited by Medicis, a small pharmaceutical company in the dermatology space, to join their management team. This turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime! Over the next 15 years, she worked 50+ hours a week, traveled extensively, became a strong professional female amongst boardrooms of mostly men, had two energetic kids, mastered multi-tasking and stress management, made a substantial impact on the success of the company, honed her strategic thinking skills, became confident with complex decision-making and further enhanced her negotiation and relationship skills, got divorced after 17 yrs of marriage, and earned her IFBB Pro card at the age of 45. In Dec 2012, after Medicis was acquired, she retired from her professional executive career at the age of 47. Now she is happily raising teenagers, weight training, doing community service activities, learning to dance, practicing hot yoga, checking items off her bucket list, and consulting in the pharmaceutical space.

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Devoted a few decades of your life concentrating on working 50 hours a week, raising your children, and it wasn’t until you were 41 that you wanted to concentrate more on a fitness lifestyle. Can you tell us more about your transformation journey and what and/or who inspired your decision to go into fitness modeling and compete?

DH: After I turned 40, I examined my life and realized that it was terribly out of balance. I had spent nearly two decades working 50 hours/week (and the last decade simultaneously raising two energetic kids) and had defined myself by my career with little focus on taking care of myself. I decided to spend more time and energy on my health and happiness. I started by attending group fitness classes at a local gym 3 nights a week. Within 6 months, my tall, thin, skinny-fat physique showed noticeable changes, going from 25% body fat to 17%. Soon curious co-workers were asking me what sort of exercise program I was doing. Shortly thereafter, two women in different parts of my life suggested I consider doing an upcoming NPC local figure competition. I thought they were crazy at first. I had never even SEEN a bodybuilding show. Then a voice inside of me said, “Why not? You can do this! It’s healthy to step outside of your comfort zone (in this case, in 5 inch clear heels). It keeps you ALIVE!” With 8 weeks to the show and with the enthusiasm of a child with a new toy, I decided to embrace the challenge, step onto the gym floor, and tackle the intimidating free weights and machines. I also became educated in proper nutrition and learned the importance of eating enough protein. As I prepared for the show, I determined that success for me would be walking with pride and grace in those 5 inch Lucite heels and looking like I belonged there in the line-up.

I brought home a 5th place trophy and that was the start of an incredible journey. Though, what I really won that day was a wonderful sense of accomplishment, self-esteem, and confirmation that:

(1) Smart girls with no athletic background can be beautiful and fit, too
(2) When you stretch
your boundaries, earth shattering growth can occur
(3) It’s never too late to change your lifestyle, priorities, and health

To me, it’s not just about the external benefits of being in shape., it’s about being healthy, vibrant, and self-confident inside! Honestly, I feel deep within my soul that I can do anything I set my mind to. 4 years later, a few months shy of my 46th birthday, I become one of the oldest IFBB Pro Bikini competitors in the world!

In retrospect, the same skills that contributed importantly to my career success led me to success in competing: Education, goal setting, dedication, persistence, sheer grit, and time management.

When you first started out, were there any major obstacles or setbacks you had to overcome?

DH: Having tall, skinny genes, the biggest challenge was ensuring that I ate enough protein. That was simple to overcome with an organized eating plan and appropriate food preparation. Honestly, most people struggle with fitting a work out regimen into their busy lives. However, the decades of my career experience taught me to become a master in time management and efficiency, so that was not an issue for me. To this day, I handle my emails on my iPad while I’m doing cardio on the treadmill most mornings.

Diana HarborDuring your process of competing, you transferred over to Bikini competitions from Figure competitions. Why the switch? How has your experience been in Bikini compared to Figure?

DH: As my physique developed, I learned much about my natural genetics, my health, and what look I liked best on me. As I watched the judges in figure often gravitating to the more muscular girls, I realized that I was pleased with my physique and really did not want to put more size on. In addition, the leaner my body became, the older and more drawn my face looked because of the lack of fat. This phenomenon, often called runner’s face, is unmistakable back stage at competitions, especially among the Figure girls and bodybuilders. So in November 2011, I decided to try Bikini (which requires less muscle, a little higher body fat, and a whole lot more sass on stage than in Figure).

In 2012, you received your Pro Card at the NPC Team Universe and are now known as one of the oldest IFBB Pro Bikini competitors on record in the world! Congratulations! How does it feel to have that title and compete with other Pro females who are 15-25 years your junior?

DH: It’s amazing to be on stage with other Pro females regardless of their age. They are some of the most beautiful girls in the world and they’ve all worked incredibly hard to be on that stage. As one of the Pros with perhaps the most ummmm life experience, I enjoy competing for what it makes of me along the way (stronger, both physically and mentally, radiant, multi-dimensional, and even more comfortable in my own beauty and sexuality). I believe that doing something you are passionate about makes one glow from the inside out! For me now, it’s less about trophies and more about the joy and the challenge of pushing myself to be the best me, regardless of age or what the judges might decide. Interestingly, in 2014, the IFBB has started to include a Pro Bikini class for Masters 40+ in a few shows this year. It’s great to see the organization continue to empower women of all ages to be their best self. I look forward to doing some of those shows this year and to meeting more fabulous 40+ women. I like to think that we don’t turn in our sexy card when we turn 40!

Where do you get your motivation from to stay consistent and continue to strive in your careers and fitness lifestyle?

DH: Honestly, I’m a type A, organized, dedicated, goal-oriented, energetic girl at heart and have been that way since childhood. That being said, I am very intentional about what is important to me in life, and where I spend my time and energy. Next to my cherished loved ones, health, personal growth, and happiness are near the top of my list. That means that I design my life to ensure that I have organized my calendar to get my training time in, my food prep done, and my new experiences scheduled (dance, yoga, Tony Robbins seminars, international mission trips, etc). I feel that time is a great measuring device of what is important to us. Where we spend our time and energy is a good indicator of what we truly value in life.

“I believe that doing something you are passionate about makes one glow from the inside out!” 

With living a healthy and fit lifestyle, do you avoid anything completely in your diet?

DH: I love healthy whole foods. I typically eat 5 small meals each day. I eat egg whites and steel cut oatmeal with berries for breakfast, a couple of hard boiled eggs for a snack, and then eat chicken or fish with 2 sides of veggies or a big salad for each of lunch and dinner. A few things I absolutely love: healthy sushi, apples slices and peanut butter, egg white omelettes. Unless I am a few weeks from a show, I eat a wonderful cheat meal of my choice over the weekend. Each Sunday, whether I am on season or off season, I prepare most of my food for the week and pack it in small containers, which are ready for me to grab and go. It’s funny to see my 12 year old daughter pack her lunch with my chicken and veggies! I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

What does your training routine consist of? (Please include a few details – training split, sets/reps, exercises, types of cardio, etc.) How has your experience been with training and competing as a middle-aged athlete?

DH: I weight train and do 20 minutes of cardio 5 days per week. Also, weekly I do a deep athletic stretch class, hot yoga, a dance class, and a deep tissue massage. Here is what my split usually looks like:

Sunday – Rest
Monday – Cardio, hams and glutes
Tuesday – Cardio, back, bis, and abs, deep tissue massage
Wednesday – Cardio, quads, deep athletic stretch class
Thursday – Cardio, shoulders, tris, and abs, dance class
Friday – Cardio, glutes
Saturday – Hot yoga

While it is true, abs are made in the kitchen, glutes are absolutely made in the gym!

My favorite glute builders are barbell or smith machine hip thrusts, 45 degree hyper-extensions (with the focus on glutes, not back), stiff legged dead lifts, and cable kick backs while on all fours from a bench. One of my favorite forms of cardio is walking on an incline on the treadmill wearing a 20 lb weighted vest.

As a middle-aged athlete, I look at the aging process with humor, peace, and gratitude, not with frustration and insecurity. I love my years of life experience and the perspective this brings to competing, training, and healthy living. To be honest, whether I was competing or not, I would be training and eating the same.

On a more practical basis, I find that I feel my best when I get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, get regular massages, and stretch to keep my muscles long. I also like to keep my weight within 5-10 pounds of stage weight all year. This way my skin and collagen stay nice and tight, and the lean out process is an easy gradual process. I believe that fitness, functional health, and proper nutrition are truly the fountain of youth! I have more energy and vitality than most 20 year olds I know!

In addition to your diet and training, do you believe in supplements? If so, which kinds do you use and what results have these given you?

DH: I have a protein shake every morning and sometimes before bed if my body is craving it. My new favorite is IsaLean Pro made by Isagenix. I commonly add some powdered fiber and glutamine to my shakes to help with digestion and recovery. Whey protein helps me get in enough protein each day, which is crucial for me to maintain and grow muscle. However, I still eat the majority of my protein instead of drinking it! Additionally, I take multi-vitamins, probiotics, and powdered greens. I use a single 200 mg caffeine pill as a pre-workout.

diana darbort

As a fit mom, do you motivate your children to live a fitness and active lifestyle as you do? What do your children think of you as a fitness competitor?

DH: We just live a healthy lifestyle. The refrigerator is always filled with great whole foods that we all truly prefer. Both my kids are very active, each playing multiple sports. Also, we sometimes do small fun runs (5K or 10K) together for enjoyment. Our next one is the Pat Tillman 4.2 mile run on April 26th. We support each other in each of our athletic endeavors, whether that be a baseball tournament, a basketball game, a volley ball game, or a fitness show!

As a competitor in a subjective visual sport, I’ve always been careful about how my daughter perceives it. I try to talk about being strong and healthy, not beautiful and lean. I use examples, like being able to run a race together or learn how to surf at age 46. I also spend a fair amount of time talking about challenging my mind, having a successful rewarding career in the business world, being a good friend to others, and helping others who are less fortunate in this world.

We had the opportunity to work together in creating amazing photographs. How would you describe your overall experience with Natalie Minh Photography?

DH: Natalie is relaxed and comfortable when shooting. She gets to know her subjects and captures their true essence. She also works amazingly fast and I love the way she gets the most out of each session.

Were there any key factors you came out with during our time working together? (In regards to life, fitness, photography, etc.)

DH: I like her point of view on business, life, fitness, and the world at large. She uniquely understands fitness photography from so many different angles – talent, media, business owner, etc.

What advice would you give someone around your age who wants to transition their life towards a more healthy and fit lifestyle, but don’t know where to start?

DH: I’d start by saying that small changes make a huge difference, so they understand that a healthy life is attainable and not so darn difficult. Also, I’d share with them my view that a healthy fit lifestyle is a journey and a process for the long term – not a quick fix to lose a few pounds or get in shape for an event. I’d begin by advocating they eat a protein and complex carb breakfast, which is satisfying and does wonders to improve energy. I’d encourage them to start moving for 60 minutes just 3x a week, so they feel more vibrant and energetic. Running or weight lifting is not for everyone, so I’d ask them to find an activity that they enjoy to follow through consistently. Finally, I’d encourage them to read a few articles on nutrition and to discover a healthy food plan that appeals to them.

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What are your future plans and goals? Do you have any competitions coming up?

DH: It’s going to be a busy summer! I’m planning to do a few shows, including the Patriot’s Pro on July 5th and the Pittsburg Masters Pro on August 28th. The kids and I are also going on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic in July. We spent almost 2 weeks in Kenya last summer and it was a life changing experience for us all. Finally, I’m looking forward to doing one of my bucket list items this summer by attending Anthony Robbins Life and Wealth Mastery for 8 days in Fiji. I’m a huge Tony Robbins fan and I LOVE his work!

Any shout outs?

DH:  Ernie Villegas and Rusty Jeffers (IFBB Pro) have each been amazing trainers and friends to me throughout the years. I love them like brothers and I truly enjoy the time we spend together! Gregory Levi, a truly gifted massage therapist who knows my body like no other. He is also a peaceful soul who teaches me to just BE. My kids, Ben and Anna, who make me laugh every day, remind me of what is truly important in life, and why I want to be fit and healthy for the long term.

Lastly, where can we find you on the Internet?

DH: On Facebook and by email at harbortd@yahoo.com.

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