With nearly two decades of successful competing behind her, Mindi O’Brien has moved on to new adventures.
“I try to be respectful toward both my husband and my son’s feelings regarding any images that are presented in print and on social media,” she says. But having known Chris for many years and knowing how respectful he is with the people he works with, and with the OK from her family, she agreed. “I know this shoot was all about feeling empowered, and not being ashamed of my body, no matter what age, shape, size, etc. Although this was
something that definitely was going to take me out of my comfort zone, I wanted to embrace it.”
Being photographed naked is enough to make even the most confident women among us nervous; baring it all puts you in a vulnerable state, after all, and Mindi admits to struggling with vulnerability. “I am guarded and I like to be in control of situations. I like to feel that I am always secure and I used to think that being vulnerable gets in the way of that,” she confesses. “But what I’ve learned in my 40-plus years of life, and mostly in the last few years, is that everyone is struggling. I have struggled every day and I always thought I was the only one suffering. When I have chosen to open up about my internal thoughts and feelings, I have heard about other people’s struggles too. They are facing things in their lives and I have no idea until I open up about what I’m facing. Then I get to support them, as they support me.”
In chatting with Mindi, you wouldn’t think she’s a woman who doubts herself. This is the woman who after a very successful career competing, chose to retire from the sport in 2016. “I sat down with a very good friend and mentor in June of that year and we discussed when it was time for an athlete to retire; that guidance gave me incredible closure to know that despite my potential retirement, I would never be truly removed from the sport,” she says. “Not a lot of athletes get to go out the way I did—on the biggest stage in the industry, on my own terms. I wasn’t retiring because of injuries or age, but simply because I felt like I had truly accomplished everything I set out to do in this amazing sport. It has been an honor getting to compete alongside some of the greats! I’ve been given opportunities and experiences others can only dream of,” says Mindi. “I believe I have nothing left to prove, and now I get to reinvest my time into helping raise the next crop of athletes.” Today, nearly three years later, she has no regrets about her decision to retire. “I think making the decision myself to retire and not being forced into retirement due to age, injury, or other circumstances has made my transition less of a struggle. I was mentally and emotionally ready,” says the St. Catharine’s, Ont., native.
“My journey of being an athlete has taught me to take risks, to challenge myself, and to stretch my limits.”
“From the sport of fitness, I learned determination, discipline, commitment, sacrifice, mental toughness, confidence, and a positive mental attitude.”
“Not a lot of athletes get to go out the way I did — on the biggest stage in the industry, on my own terms.”
Plus, as anyone who has competed knows well, it comes at a cost. “High-performance athletes typically make a lot of sacrifices for their sport in all areas including family, education, finances, and sometimes even their bodies,” she says. Mindi says now not having to juggle the strict routine, intense training, a busy competition schedule, and dealing with the pressure of competing means that she has time to try new things, like CWF Canada wrestling events, stunt training, and promoting the GNC Live Well/Allmax Mindi O Show with the Canadian Physique Alliance, in addition to traveling and spending more time with family and friends.
What she has taken away from her years of competing, though, is how it’s helped shape her as a person. “My journey of being an athlete has taught me to take risks, to challenge myself, and to stretch my limits. It has allowed me to challenge my body, mind, and spirit and to develop awareness, self-confidence, cooperation, and sensitivity to myself and others.” Fitness is also how she met the love of her life, her husband Dennis, 21 years ago. “We met at a local gym in St. Catharines. I was a trainer and I also ran the daycare. Dennis was brought to the club to be the troubleshooter. He was firing and hiring staff. When I was called into his office, I was terrified that he was going to fire me. I was a young, single mom at the time and desperately needed the job!” she shares with a laugh. But the meeting turned into chatting about bodybuilding and training, and Mindi found herself intrigued with his knowledge (Dennis had coached many athletes in addition to being a national-level bodybuilding champion). Needless to say, Mindi did not lose her job at the gym, and the two started working out together. Eventually, Dennis agreed to train her, which lead to dating and then marriage.
As for life after competing? Mindi now coaches women of all ages and from all walks of life.
“It’s interesting and comforting to be able to share our experiences as we begin the aging process,” she says. From metabolism slowing down to the body storing fat in places she’d never had issues with before, not to mention hormonal changes and vision weakening, Mindi says she’s learning to accept the change and to embrace the aging process. While those inevitable physical changes are happening, it’s having a good sense of self that keeps her grounded. “Over the last few years I have taken the pressure off myself and stopped trying to please everyone around me; the only person that I need to please is myself,” she says. “I am working on me and the things that I can control, including being mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually fit and keeping a positive outlook on life.”
Photos by Chris V. Linton Follow (@chrisvlinton)