The opportunity to turn a hobby into a career isn't something that happens everyday.
But for Marshall's Jen Louwagie, her hobby could turn into a new career in just over four weeks.
Louwagie, a mother of three, will be competing in her first national physique competition at the National Physique Committee Junior USA Bodybuilding Championship on May 19 in Charleston, S.C.
Marshall’s Jen Louwagie, performing a light workout at Anytime Fitness in Marshall, will compete in the National Physique Committee Junior USA?Bodybuilding Championship on May 19 in South?Carolina.
While it may not seem like an obvious progression, the 1999 Southwest Minnesota State University graduate has a long history of physical fitness.
"I majored in physical education and I was always lifting weights with high school track, and I think that's where I got interested," Louwagie said. "Right after college, I was a personal trainer and an aerobics instructor, because as a kid during the winter season, I didn't do a winter sport. I did aerobics video tapes.
"I think as a kid I liked fitness. As a personal trainer at the Wellness Center and at the Y, I was always into physical education and health."
Louwagie rekindled her love of fitness when she attended Jen Hendershott's Phat Camp in 2005, but it was a trip to the Joe Weider's Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend in Las Vegas in 2010 that set a new idea in motion.
"The big thing was my husband and I took a 10-year wedding anniversary trip down to Vegas to see the Olympia because we had always wanted to do that," Louwagie said. "Everyone asked me if I competed."
In her first contest in June 2011, Louwagie took second in the Master's division and third in her open class.
Her and her husband Bill took another trip to the Olympia in Las Vegas, where she would meet her eventual trainer.
"We met (Eric DiLauro) through some people we me the first year we went to the Olympia," Louwagie said. "He was helping me with different poses, this and that, and said, 'Give me a ring.'"
Eventually, Louwagie won the 2011 Christine Bongiovanni North Star Figure Master's Overall title and first in Figure D class.
The win at the North Star pushed Louwagie closer to getting serious about competing, and a trip to California in January to work with DiLauro put it over the top.
"My husband, he really liked Eric. He said, 'We should just do this.' I had the support and we went out to California for a week in January and worked out at Gold's Gym the whole week in Venice," Louwagie said. "I trained with (DiLauro), got a good routine and good diet."
Between competitions, Louwagie learned about a new class that was going to be introduced called physique, which she felt suited her better. Her new trainer agreed.
"It was eight weeks before a show here in Minnesota. He was going to help me in figure," Louwagie said. "His wife takes pictures and they figured, with the way I pose, that I should do physique.
"I was very nervous about this. That's why we figured we should do a local show so I could get qualified for nationals to do physique."
The move paid off for Louwagie, who took the women's physique overall title at the Gopher State Classic on March 31, which also qualified her for the NPC Junior Bodybuilding Championships in four weeks.
"It's my first opportunity to do a junior nationals show," Louwagie said. "We are excited and figure we might as well give it a try. You just have to practice and see what comes."
And practice she has. The differences between figure and physique are different enough that Louwagie had to make some changes to her workout routine.
"I changed some of my training to target tone where my physique may be weak. I hammered into certain areas to make it more symmetrical," Louwagie said. "We focused on what I needed to bring up. We didn't do as much with my arms as my arms are pretty dominate. I do quite a bit of weight training, which I love."
The Junior USA competition could be where Louwagie finds out if her love of fitness could turn into a professional career.
"If I turn pro, which my trainer says I'm going to this year, I could earn money at a show, I could do professional shows," Louwagie said. "Basically, it will get me out there even though I'm just becoming a national level competitor. It would hopefully get me out there, get magazines, get some attention, some sponsors.
"To me, it would kind of fulfill a part of a dream to get to do what I love for fun and maybe earn some money doing it. But it's more being recognized for the hard work."