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Former Detroit Lakes grad excels at 'natural' bodybuilding

Dawn Forbes flexes her muscles.

Once Dawn Forbes learned to embrace her body, she took it to another level and was rewarded for her efforts.

Growing up with a muscular build, Forbes, who graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 1983 and now lives in Arden Hills, did a lot of running -- she competed in at least 15 marathons. But since she was never small with all that muscle, in college, she developed anorexia and was hospitalized for a period of time.

"As I've gone through the journey of my life and tried to accept who I am, I thought, 'One day I'm going to get into bodybuilding,'" she said.

In October, in only her third competition, she won the Ms. USA Natural Female Bodybuilder of the Year title in Chicago.

About 15 months ago, Forbes, whose maiden name is Shafer, found a trainer with expertise in natural bodybuilding -- absolutely no steroids or drug enhancements of any sort are involved -- and started working toward her goal.

She meets with her trainer once a week, works out four days a week at her home and three days a week with her husband. With three children, ages 16, 6 and 3, she doesn't want her training to interfere with her time with them, so she gets up at 4:30 a.m. to work out, and when it gets closer to competition, she does another workout at 8 p.m., after the younger kids have gone to bed.

"Every day, there is an hour of lifting, and then I do half an hour of cardio," she said. "When it gets closer to the competition, about eight weeks out, you start a very intense diet."

The intense diet consists of more protein and less carbohydrates. Two days she loads with carbs and then depletes her body the next five days, then loads up again. The cardio steps up during that time period, too.

Two weeks before the competition, she was doing lots of cardio and lifting, with very little food intake.

"That piece I worried about at first because coming from a background of having an eating disorder, you had to be pretty much recovered not to fall back into that whole mindset again."

She said that going into the training to start with, she knew the food part was challenging and what was expected.

During the competitions, contestants are divided into categories according to age, height and a class of open, where everyone comes together and competes.

Once on stage, contestants are required to know 16 different poses, and judges shout out a pose, and it is held for a couple minutes. That's the morning portion. In the evening, there is a performance where contestants are required to have a one-minute routine set to music that shows off their muscles.

The judging of the night portion only comes into play if the morning competition is very close. Otherwise, that portion is more for the audience.

To get to the national competition, Forbes first had to participate in a pro-qualifying competition, which she did in Bloomington. The top two finishers moved on; she was No. 2.

Then a week before her USA competition, Forbes competed in Elk River, simply to "get all the jitters out."

She won that one, too, although it wasn't a pro-qualifying competition.

"I think I was pretty shocked," she said of her win in Chicago. "I hadn't been in the sport very long."

Now an International Federation Professional Athlete in natural bodybuilding, Forbes will compete once more. If she wins, she'll move on to a world competition.

"I'm going to do a pro competition in May -- they brought the first pro competition to the state of Minnesota in 2010 -- and then from there, I think I might be done. I have children, a family and other things."

Also, she said long-term, she doesn't feel the rigorous diet is good for a body.

"It is what I thought it would be. I set a goal and I wanted to be a pro bodybuilder, and I wanted to do one competition and move on," she said. "So, I think I've been very fortunate.

"It is what I thought though. But now it's time to get out -- after May," she added with a laugh.

Forbes speaks at schools about eating disorders, trying to tell females not to give into the pressures of too-thin models.

"It was fun to embrace it finally, since I hated it as a child," she said of her muscular build.