Brittany Campbell wraps up a set of barbell curls and leans against a bench press to catch her breath.
It is a Wednesday, and in about 24 hours, Campbell will board a plan for Las Vegas to compete in the Olympia — the pinnacle of bodybuilding — in just her first season as a professional bodybuilder.
Campbell went on to finish 16th, yet 25 days earlier — in her mind — Campbell was done.
Only four shows into a five-show season, Campbell — normally a beaming picture of optimism and willpower — was ready to wrap up her first professional season after a disappointing finish in the Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championships in San Antonio.
Today, however, Campbell is no longer at the psychological mercy of a subjective judge.
“Once you’re able to achieve a physique you’re happy with,” Campbell says, “it frees you from your emotional attachment to the placing. And it frees you to just train the way you train and make you compete for the love of it.
“You can detach yourself from the subjective side of it.”
Were it not for that change of heart, and a conversation with two of her biggest influences, Campbell may never have competed in her first Olympia as she did Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas.
Rise to the top
The month of August, the same month that Campbell qualified for her first Olympia, actually marked two years since Campbell began her bodybuilding journey when a gym mate referred her to coach Terrance Williams.
In just six weeks, Campbell was ready to compete in her first show, the Phantom Warrior Classic in Killeen, in which she received a perfect score.
Her mother, Aurora Patterson — who has been at all 10 of her shows — barely recognized her daughter on stage.
“When she got up on the stage and I saw her I was like, ‘Oh my Lord, that’s my baby,’” Patterson said with a laugh. “It was just wild because you know how you always wonder what your kid’s going to do, what your kid’s going to grow up to be, what are their dreams?
“I could’ve never picked that one.”
Campbell, in fact, didn’t experience anything but gold until her fourth show at the NPC National Bodybuilding Championships 10 months later in Chicago.
Campbell got her first taste of subjectivity at that show, where she not only lost but failed to qualify for a pro card, because judges “didn’t want her looking like a professional at an amateur show,” Williams said.
But Campbell rebounded at her next show, the Team Universe in New Jersey, winning the Class E physique division to become a professional bodybuilder less than a year after her first show.
Professional ups and downs
Campbell actually entered 2015 leading the field in qualification points for the Olympia following her first two shows as a professional.
But after a fourth-place finish in her first pro show and a second-place finish in her second, Campbell finished 10th in her next professional show in March.
Campbell didn’t mind the disappointing finishes, at least at the time, but Patterson felt for her daughter.
“She doesn’t go to the movies, she doesn’t watch TV,” Patterson said. “It’s gym, home, gym, home. Her circle is very small because she doesn’t have time for the things that everybody else has time for — spending time with friends, going out and eating, going to the movies.
“She’s missing out on so much for this. And it hurts me when I know she works so hard, and then she gets up there and her name isn’t called.”
Campbell finished eighth at the Dallas Europa in June and said she was disappointed with her place but happy with her physique.
But when she finished 13th at the Wings of Strength in August, Campbell — the same athlete who Williams called special specifically because of her willpower — decided she was done for the year.
“That probably was the hardest blow of my career,” Campbell said. “I was ready to wrap up the season.”
The drive to finish
In the hallway of the host hotel in San Antonio, Campbell took the advice of Patterson and let it go.
After crying numerous times on behalf of her daughter, Patterson told Campbell that she needed to cry and let go of the emotions that were telling her to cut her season short.
And Campbell did. In the hallway. In front of confused bystanders.
“People walked by, they saw it,” Campbell said, “but I did have to do that.”
Campbell also remembered the words of Williams, who reminded her that “we finish what we start,” and Patterson, who told her finishing the season wasn’t about her.
It was a familiar lesson, one that her pastor, Chad Rowe, and his wife, Marla — who Campbell trained personally for a period — had imparted on her before.
“It’s not about you,” Campbell said. “It’s about the other people (God) can reach through you.
“So I had to stop being selfish in that moment when I didn’t get the placing I wanted, so I wanted to hang up that plan that we put in place.”
Campbell walked back in her room and told Williams that she wanted to finish her season.
A week later, she placed fifth at the Atlantic City Europa, after which, she celebrated her season at Applebee’s.
Later, Campbell was eating peanut M&M’s in her hotel room when fellow IFBB pro La’Drissa Bonivel posted to her Facebook page.
“Congrats (you’re) going to the O!!,” Bonivel posted along with the official list of Olympia qualifiers that had her name on it.
“By doing (the Atlantic City Europa),” Williams said, “the awesomeness came out of it just by finishing — not necessarily crossing the line first but finishing.
“And then when you finish you win.”
The pride of her community
On Wednesday, with Campbell two days away from stepping on the Olympia stage that many bodybuilders only dream of reaching, Campbell admitted the reality still had yet to hit her.
But before she even stepped on that stage Friday, Campbell had already made her friends, family and community proud because of her journey.
“When I was competing, that was a dream of mine to go to the Olympia,” Williams said with a smile. “Well, I’m going, I’m just going on the other side.”
But Campbell hasn’t only impressed with her bodybuilding journey, she has also impacted others with her spiritual journey, even speaking at her church, Destiny World Outreach Center, at a conference that Patterson and her grandmother attended.
“I told her she’s going to be our poster child,” Chad Rowe said. “It’s always good to see fruit — is what I call it — evidence that this works when people apply themselves, not just in the natural, but she had to apply herself spiritually because she wanted to quit. And people in the Bible that wanted to quit that didn’t quit they got great rewards.”
And no matter what her finish was Saturday, as far as Campbell and her friends and family were concerned, for once, she had nothing to lose when she stepped on the stage.
“Top 29 females in the world?” Patterson said two days before the show. “She’s already a winner now.”