By: Tina Goinarov
I am one of a handful of people who has been fortunate enough to be close friends with well known Canadian IFBB Pro Mboya Edwards. We have been friends for over 10 years and I have been through the ups and downs of the sport of bodybuilding with him. Pretty much the good, the bad and the ugly as some would say. But what is it about this sport and in particular being a Canadian Pro, that Mboya finds challenging? To really understand, I got to sit down with the Pro and talk about anything and everything where bodybuilding, competition, sponsorship and the lot are concerned.
When Mboya was growing up, he was always fascinated by the exaggerated physiques of comic book superheroes. He really got hooked on bodybuilding when he saw Flex Wheeler on the cover of a major magazine. Mboya was always the athletic type but it was not until his early 20s that the start of an unbelievable career in bodybuilding would begin.
Mboya has been competing in bodybuilding since 1996, where his introduction to the stage happened on a bet. While training at the local gym, Mboya was challenged to get ready, compete and place first for $150. Now, he only had about 4 weeks to prep and never one to turn down a challenge where his strength and physique were concerned, Mboya shook on it and to the shock of a few, did it and won. That May in Mississauga Ontario, Mboya won the lightweight class and continued a streak of top placements (1st or 2nd) through the levels. He is also credited with an astounding achievement of winning 5 times at the Canadian Championships. That was the first taste and the only one needed to have Mboya dedicate his life to the sport.
Mboya has an unparallel combination of an ectomorph/mesomorph body shape blend (small bone structure, with massive muscle size) which conveys the sought after physique of balance muscle symmetry from any angle, in any pose. Each muscle is perfectly symmetrically shaped, tying the next with grace and magnificence. He sports an incredible V-taper with a tremendous difference between the width of his back and tiny waist. Even more spectacular is his massive flared thighs.
Mboya has worked hard over the years to perfect his form from year to year. Looking at each show as a step to building and achieving the look that will set him a part from the rest. Now as most athletes know, there is not a lot of money to be made in this sport, especially as a Canadian athlete, and a Pro at that. This is a sport where many of the athletes are putting in thousands of their own money to support themselves. Every show registration, right down to the tan is coming out of their pockets. Most of the athletes work full time jobs to help pay for their passion, but even that job alone may not be enough. Mboya works full time as an employee of the T.D.S.B, and also as a trainer in the hours that he himself is not training, working or prepping for the sport. Being dedicated is an understatement. You have to fully encompass the sport in order to do well and survive.
Many would think that in 2008, when Mboya earned his IFBB Pro card status that the money and sponsorships would come rolling in. Not the case. There were photo shoots, magazine interviews and the common post show exclusives that come with such an accomplishment. But there is still the reality that because of the industry not being that main stream or recognized, there are not many outlets where athletes can turn to for financial support.
Why is that? Companies struggle to make a name in this sport, competition from American brands, not a huge crowd following to bring in the money to spend at the events, promoters hoping to sell out venues to make a profit and not lose or break even - the list can go on. It is a circle effect where each situation builds on the other and so on.
As Mboya competed in the Pro arena, he pretty much had to start from the bottom again. In Canada he was a known Canadian bodybuilder, but in the States, some knew of him, but he had to earn his way to the stage and placings. The first few shows, Mboya was able to make impressions on the crowds, competitors and judges, but not enough to place in the top three. Placing there would provide a cash prize that would be decent to put towards show expenses. Over the last 4 years, Mboya has become more recognized in the Pro circle and the hope was that this year with Toronto being host to a Pro event, Mboya might be able to get the acknowledgement he deserves.
Having taken on the role of Mboya's PR rep and manager this year to assist in the task of promoting him and looking for as many ways to get his name out in the magazines and websites, I can say honestly, it is hard. Yes, I was successful in booking him for shoots, interviews and writing articles for various media on him, but some of my work had to be voluntary and I even had to pay out of my pocket for items to get done for the company I would be promoting Mboya to. So not only do the athletes have a hard time, but if there are any supports to the athlete, they take on the financial risks as well. Post Toronto, Mboya now having qualified for Mr. Olympia, with a historical stage debut, there were still no mad rushes of sponsors. I spent weeks making contact with anyone and everyone and for most if not all, the budget was done for the year. I had even looked at outside of the sport sources and even to myself to sponsor him to at least not have him worry about paying for the trip to Las Vegas for the show.
Mboya recognizes the sacrifices that his friends who are helping him are making, "without them, a lot of this would not be possible." This sport almost needs a whole team behind the athlete to make one thing happen. Mboya is working on some film projects, and our friend Mike Bernofsky, is putting in a lot of unpaid time, that if he was not our friend, the film might not be at the stage of production it is at. Same with my role, because Mboya is such a close and important friend to me, I am working out of sheer support and belief in his dream. Many bodybuilders do not have that - a team to help and work for and with them. Mboya noted that "some bodybuilders wait for an opportunity to fall into their lap, and others eventually give up".
This is frustrating to Edwards, because "you work so hard to make a name for yourself out there in the industry and even if you are good or the best, success does not always happen in terms of sponsorship." Through my position as his PR rep, I have even seen and heard from companies here in Canada acknowledging that sponsorship money is hard to find and the higher you are on the competition scale, you want to make sure that the amount is appropriate. Many can just offer product instead.
But why is it so hard for these athletes to get recognition for their hard work? Is it just the bodybuilders? Here in Canada, we have seen time and time again, our athletes making huge sacrifices to compete and represent our country. The Canadian Olympic athletes struggle for sponsorship supports and that is a mainstream, world wide event. Is it any wonder why our bodybuilders are forgotten?
Mboya feels that maybe the reason why bodybuilders are not as marketable is due to the perceptions that many have of them - muscle heads, gym jocks, drug users, full of ego and maybe not really educated. This tends to be false for many - many are well educated and have jobs, and are also pretty normal individuals who just happen to love a sport where their body is the equipment. Hopefully in time, sponsorship companies will see the benefit of supporting the well known Pro bodybuilders in our country and realize that if they provided the financial backing to expose the talent, the crowds and extra earnings would follow.
As with any sport, the reason one gets into it is not for the sheer focus of making millions. It is for the passion and love of the sport. Bodybuilders live the sport year round and they have to in order to fully immerse themselves into the mindset of what it takes to be a competitor on the inside and out. Mboya, as far as I am concerned is one of those dedicated athletes - he lives the sport in everything he does, and it is with this discipline, dedication and love of the sport that he carries into his job with his students, personal training and success on stage.
***Mr. Olympia is September 15-18 2011, in Las Vegas. Mboya Edwards will be making his historical debut as the first Canadian to qualify in the 202 lbs weight class. My hope, that he gets the recognition and success he deserves (and I will contact the companies to assist in that).***
Next article will be an informal look at this years, 2011 Mr.Olympia. Another must read.