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Mother of three excelling in bodybuilding competitions

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Other parents looked on in bewilderment, and her daughter watched in horror, as Dede Gaetz ran up and down the steps of the National Hockey Center.

But she wasn't being chased.

Rather, Gaetz thought the stair climb would quell the antsy feelings she was experiencing while attending her daughter Lucy's hockey practice.

Her workout was interrupted when 7-year-old Lucy, on the ice, began banging her glove against the protective glass.

"She told me to stop it and to just sit down like the other moms," said Gaetz, of St. Cloud. "I guess I was embarrassing her. I am the geek mom from hell."

Her daughter's admonition may have stopped her, but not much else does. Gaetz, 43, is a bodybuilder. Her husband, Peter, says he's proud of his wife, the mother of three.

On Oct. 26, Gaetz won two shows in the North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation 2002 USA Championships in Kansas City, Kan. She won the sub-masters (35 to 44 years of age) division and the open division, competing against 26 other sculpted, and mostly younger, women from across the country.

"I could have given birth to some of the women I competed against," said Gaetz, who works as the human resources director for the city of St. Cloud. "It felt pretty darn good to finally win the big one."

No girls allowed

As a student at North St. Paul High School, Gaetz competed in track and field, tennis and gymnastics. She aspired to pump iron, but was denied access to the weight room.

"They wouldn't let girls in the weight room then," Gaetz said. "We had to take home ec and sewing."

However, Gaetz lacked a penchant for the needle and thread.

"Every once in a while we'd sneak in the weight room," she said. "My [track and field] coach would fish us out."

Gaetz attended St. Cloud State University after high school. In 1984 she was mesmerized by a newspaper photo of a female bodybuilder. So she started lifting at the Body Shop Gym in St. Cloud, which is now Campus Gym & Fitness.

Once she chiseled her own physique, Gaetz entered and placed in several bodybuilding competitions.

"I wanted to look like that woman I saw in the photo," she said. "The [competitions] presented a challenge. It meant something to me to have a goal and a target."

One goal she reached in 1987: She received a master's degree in business administration.

Unfortunately, she didn't set foot in a gym from 1988 to 1995. The reason wasn't archaic school policies: It was maternal responsibilities that kept her from lifting.

Her son Howie Lambert was born in 1988, during an earlier marriage. Lucy, her daughter with current husband Peter, was born in 1995. They all live in St. Cloud with 13-year-old Runyon, Peter's son from an earlier marriage.

Couch potato

"I lived the high life," she said of her eight-year layoff from the gym. "I was just lying on the couch and eating chips. I loved that life."

But she didn't love her weight -- nearly 200 pounds after Lucy was born. So she kissed the high life goodbye.

In less than a year, she was back competing in bodybuilding. She had dropped 70 pounds in 10 months.

She has bench pressed 275 pounds and leg pressed 1,190 pounds.

"She enjoys working out and she enjoys the progress that she sees," Peter Gaetz said. "I'm very impressed with her. It certainly takes a lot of effort, but Dede is quite a lady."

Gaetz stands 5 feet 5 and weighs 145 pounds. To train for big-time events she engages in self-sacrifice that would impress the most devout Lent observer.

Twelve weeks before a show, she stops eating dairy products.

Eight weeks before a show she stops eating fruit (too many simple carbohydrates, she says).

Six weeks before a show she stops eating wheat.

"Dede is an incredibly dedicated natural bodybuilder," said Jan Rowlett, a female bodybuilder from Kansas and a World Natural Bodybuilding Federation pro. "I think Dede is a fine example of what a female natural bodybuilder needs to be as far as the dedication and the hard work."

Gaetz begins tanning for 30 minutes a day twice a week within six weeks of a show. She tans and swelters daily in a sauna for the week before a show.

Yet her calorie intake never dips below 1,200 calories per day.

"I miss it when I'm not training for a show," she said. "I love doing it."

NANFA shows are drug-tested, and Gaetz and other competitors have to pass a test before they can take the stage. They must also take a polygraph test.

The scrutiny didn't trouble Gaetz as much as seeing her competition at the Kansas City show.

"I looked at my husband and asked him why we were here," she said. "I felt like the little hick from Minnesota. There was no way I thought I had a chance to win."

But she won both shows. In her hotel room that night, Gaetz celebrated by quaffing diet Pepsi and gorging on "three pounds of M&Ms."

She won a trophy, four swords, a medal and a leather jacket.

The recent success has prompted Gaetz to consider moving up to the professional level.

"I didn't think I had any business competing in the pros until I won the national amateur competition," Gaetz said. "But I'd like to try to compete on that level."

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