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Mind over muscle: Mahuka inspires with bodybuilding success

Pepperlyn Mahuka (center) poses for a photo with daughter Kaili Homalon and husband Allen Mahuka during the NPC Championships last November. Jade Noelani Hezekia photo

By pursuing her passions in the world of bodybuilding, Pepperlyn Mahuka hopes to encourage anyone of any age to follow their dreams and be “the best version of themselves.”

The Haiku resident became Maui’s first-ever Bikini Pro in the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) after winning the masters 50-55 division at the Teen Universe and Fitness Championships in South Carolina last fall.

Mahuka also placed in the top five in the 40-and-over division, and is researching more shows to compete in amid the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I didn’t want my age to be a determining factor of what I couldn’t do,” Mahuka said earlier this month. “I wanted to prove that no matter what your age, no matter what you do, you can do whatever you set your mind to, and I wanted to inspire women my age to know that you can do it. Don’t let your age get in your way.”

IFBB competitions are also tougher for women because “we have so much detail to consider and think about,” Mahuka said, including the competition clothing, jewelry, hair, makeup, nails, training, dieting and posing, in which women are judged on glutes, shoulders and waist size in the bikini division.

“It does take hard work and determination, you have to be determined and you have to decide in your mind that you’re going to be determined,” she said. “Just keep your eye on the goal and trust the process because a lot of times with dieting and exercising, you’re not seeing the scale move or you’re not seeing the results, you just have to trust the process and keep being consistent.”

Mark Valencia, National Physique Committee Hawaii district chairman and NPC lead Hawaii judge, confirmed that Mahuka is “definitely the first Bikini Pro from Maui.”

“For her to get to that point is really impressive,” said Valencia, also an IFBB Pro judge. “It is especially when you look at the number of athletes that compete nationwide, it’s comparatively a small number of people who actually make it through that process.”

Valencia has judged every show in Hawaii since 2004, noting the number of amateur or qualifying events that athletes must advance through in order to compete at a national championship.

It’s also not common for women in that age group to compete in such a rigorous sport, he said.

“The bikini division is one of the larger divisions in the bodybuilding sport, but we’re only looking at a handful of women who can put themselves through the diet, training and the posing– this division is part bodybuilding, it’s part beauty contest, part stage presence, and so there’s a lot of components that go into it,” he said. “You have to put all those pieces together, and they’re very little women and men who can actually put themselves through that process, especially as you get older.”

The pandemic allowed Mahuka, a 25-year Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant, to dedicate more time to training and prepping while temporarily not working at the airlines.

“I feel very accomplished, I feel like what I set out to do, I went out and I did it,” she said. “I keep telling people, the strongest muscle I have learned in the body is your mind. Your mind has to know you can do it, your mind has to know it can achieve it beforehand and everything else follows.

“You have to believe and so that belief that I could do it, you know, even when I was tired and sometimes, I would cry, I would set my emotions aside and tell myself to get back up there.”

Ice cream and candy is what she missed the most during her 16 weeks of commitment to contest prep, which consisted of dieting and eating the same variety of foods, lifting weights, doing cardio and practicing poses in the mornings and evenings while wearing high heels.

“It is all a challenge to be honest,” she said. “Timing is really important with not only your food but your day– you have to have your clothes ready in the morning and get your breakfast started, especially if you live in Haiku and you have to go train down in Kahului.

“So just constantly being prepared with food and the timing of your food, and as you get closer to the competition, the cardio increases, your food decreases, you get less carbs,” she added. “The protein usually stays the same because you want the muscle mass, especially when the carbs start dropping, then with carb depletion, you start getting tired more and more.”

But through the long hours of training, Mahuka stayed committed to her dream. The member of King’s Cathedral in Kahului thanked “Jesus Christ my Lord who gave me the strength.”

Surrounding yourself with “like-minded people who have the same goals” is another tip to consider when striving for particular goals, she said.

“I would imagine myself on that stage in front of an audience being judged and up against competitors,” she said. “I got to make sure I win this, you know, I kept setting my mind on winning, I wanted to win and everything I did and everything I ate, every cardio (session) I put in, I knew I had to do it in order to win, and so I just kept my eye on the prize.”

Fitness, health and modeling was Mahuka’s passion from a young age, beginning with a beauty school at 5 years old and lifting weights by 15.

She did her first designer bodybuilding competition in 2001, finishing in the top 10, but took many years off afterward to raise her four children.

“I always had a calling to go back. I knew I wanted to hit the stage again one day and I always used to say ‘one day, one day,’ “ she said. “As I’m getting older, you know, I told myself I needed to do this.”

To get back in the groove of competing on stage, she took steps to become a certified NPC Hawaii judge and then in 2017, Mahuka started training for a bodybuilding show in Sacramento, where she took first place.

Then in 2020, she decided she wanted to “go all the way” by competing in as many national shows as possible, even during the pandemic.

Mahuka placed second at the Teen Collegiate & Masters National Championships in Florida in October. The following month, she competed at the Teen Universe and Fitness Championships in South Carolina, winning her height category and claiming her Bikini Pro card in the masters over-50 division.

All of the individual height winners compete for the overall title, which she claimed as well.

Her now husband, Allen Mahuka of Oahu, earned his IFBB Pro card in the men’s physique division the next day, and the couple got married a few days later in Santa Monica, Calif.

“So that was a whirlwind of a week,” Pepperlyn Mahuka said with a laugh. “I was totally on cloud nine, but I was exhausted.”

Having a training partner who ate the same diet was helpful, she added. Allen Mahuka also “got me in the gym, kept me on my toes, made sure I got my training in.”

Pepperlyn Mahuka is now a Bikini Lab Hawaii-sponsored athlete looking into her next competition at the Legion Sports Fest in Reno, Nev., set for late October.

“Even though I feel accomplished, there’s more I want to do, I want to get out there and win a pro show,” she said. “I want to continue this sport for as long as I can.”

Additionally, she is studying to earn a National Academy of Sports Medicine trainer certification while her husband seeks his International Sports Sciences Association personal training certification.

“My goal is to help people become the best version of themselves, to be healthy,” she said. “I think I found that I not only inspire women my age, but younger women as well. They were like ‘wow if she could do it, then I could do it,’ and even some men as well.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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