Guest Contributor: Jodi Miller
IFBB Women’s Physique Pro
Co-Author of Ready, Set, Achieve!
In August of 2018, my miniature dachshund, Roxi, passed away. This sudden loss occurred just ten days before my IFBB pro physique competition. The morning she died began like any other morning during contest prep time, full of routine: kibble for her, coffee and egg whites for me, blueberries for both of us, going out to potty, and the usual mental daze, haze, and distraction that accompanies the final days of prep. My little hotdog was used to my preps. After all, I had done 14 shows in her lifetime. I did not think this day would be any different. But I turned my back for a few minutes to make a phone call, and when I looked over the couch at her, I saw her lying on the rug beside her bed. Her body, flat. Her life, gone.
I don’t know how I pulled myself together to do my show ten days later. I don’t know how I held it together for another three weeks beyond that point to do a second show, and to not only do it but do it well, getting leaner and receiving a higher placing and more positive feedback. I think it was a drive to fill myself with busyness in order to avoid emptiness. That little dog was my everything, my companion. She fed my soul. She curbed my anxiety. She made me laugh even when my depression spread over my heart, thick like peanut butter on soft bread. She gave me affection with her dog kisses and gave me purpose with her need for my existence.
As I said, the shows served as necessary distraction since the preparation pushed me out of the house with regular grocery trips and gym trips. On top of that, I was out of town for much of that September because both shows took place away from my home state of Texas. But when the shows ended and I had to come home, settle in, and begin my transition into off season, my world seemed to fall apart.
I feel that there are many things in life we cannot avoid. Obviously, death is one of them. And of course, taxes are another. But two other intangibles sneak up on us; we don’t notice them until everything seems to have fallen apart. Those two things are pressure and gravity. Something somewhere will always put pressure on our lives. As a result, something somewhere will fall. Let’s put this into the more manageable (and fun) term of food. Think about your favorite sandwich. If you are a meat eater, let’s make it a burger. Let’s imagine you’ve decided to pile it with lettuce, tomato, an onion ring, cheddar cheese, bacon, and a fried egg (over easy, just to add a bit more sloppiness to this visual). That’s some burger, huh? Well, in order to fit that monster in your mouth, you’ve got to apply pressure. Apply a small bit, and maybe just a little yolk drips down, maybe the bacon snaps in half and the juices from the meat patty pool on the plate. But what happens if you put intense pressure on the burger in an attempt to flatten it so you can take one efficient bite that includes every ingredient? The tomato probably slips out. The yolk runs everywhere. The onion escapes the breading and plops down. The meat patty might even slide so far that all you’re left with are two pieces of soggy bread and some melted cheddar. By the way, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you can imagine this scenario with a meatless burger, complete with avocado, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, and the like. Whatever your tastes are, whatever is included in your sandwich, we can all agree that when pressure is applied, something’s got to give. The deeper and more intense the pressure, the more the contents will succumb to gravity’s pull.
It’s the same thing in life. The more pressure that either we apply to ourselves or that we allow others to apply to us (like bosses, significant others, parents, friends, even strangers), the more we will lose something.
So, if we know this, can’t we be proactive about it?
At the time of Roxi’s death, not only was I juggling the demands of contest prep with my responsibilities to my clients, but I also was entering my second semester of graduate school. When my show season had ended and I returned back to my empty home, I stalled. I stopped marketing my business, stopped hustling for clients, stopped writing, stopped reading, stopped doing anything responsible or responsive. I missed a school deadline for the first time. My professor, knowing my dog had died, asked the graduate program’s director to reach out to me and make sure I was okay since I hadn’t responded to any of his emails. I didn’t even know he had emailed me because I hadn’t opened my school email for weeks.
When the director emailed me, I woke up just enough to get back on track with school, to meet the remaining deadlines and successfully finish the semester. But the rest of my life was a hot mess. I let everything else slide including my love and motivation for the gym.
The truth of the matter is that beneath the pressure of grief, something had to give. As I look back now, I can see just how full my plate was. I had the intense desire to prove naysayers wrong and demonstrate I could successfully balance contest prep with graduate school. And I did quite well with that juggling act, until the unexpected came along, like a friend walking by and smashing your sandwich.
Nine months have passed since Roxi died. During much of this year while I’ve worked through my grief, I’ve spent oodles of hours contemplating two things: 1) which little puppy out there will be the right puppy at the right time for me, and 2) do I want to compete this year. Throughout the 20 years I have competed in physique shows, I have taken a year-long break only twice. Recently, I decided to make that thrice.
I learned through my experience last year that when I don’t choose what goes, then the meat of my existence slips away. So I asked myself, “What if I choose ahead of time what to let go? What if I take control and learn to say no?” I don’t mean saying “no” in order to exhibit some sort of modern-day empowerment. I mean learning to discern what I truly need to say “no” to in order to control my current existence, to sustain my core, to keep myself whole. This requires major introspection, loads of self-awareness, and a recognition that saying “no” does not equate to failure.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself when determining what stays and what goes:
1. What gives me purpose in today’s time?
2. How does this differ from what gave me purpose in yesterday’s time?
3. If there is a significant shift, how do I feel about this and what do I think contributed to this change?
After answering these questions, you are better set up to then ask an additional question: “What am I willing to fight for and to keep ingesting when pressure sneaks up on me?” Basically, figure out what is most important for you to have in your sandwich when you take a bite out of it. This is not an easy exercise. We live in an age of excess, one in which we pile all the ingredients onto the plate and wait to figure out how to maneuver through the mess later. But then we become that mess. To avoid this, look ahead, make those tough choices, figure out your short-term goals, and examine how those benchmarks feed into your long-term goals while understanding that long-term goals can shift and change as we age and encounter major events, like the death of a loved companion or the loss of a job or a break-up or a volunteer experience.
I did in fact find a puppy. After a six-month, intensive search, my heart pitter pattered over a miniature chocolate dapple dachshund boy. That’s a mouthful! Actually, he’ll probably end up being a lot on my plate. But that’s an ingredient I am willing to keep in my sandwich of life. He’ll come home with me at the end of June, which coincides with the start of my final semester of graduate school, one in which I will be writing my thesis project. As a result, I began to seriously examine what I want to accomplish this year, what I wish to keep in my sandwich (my burger . . . I am a meat eater, after all). I began to repurpose my drive, my motivation, to re-examine where my love for the gym had scrambled off to, and to determine how to coax it back. I realized that by saying “no” to competing this year, I was saying “yes” to finding my strength again.
And that’s how loss creates gain.
Jodi Miller resides in Texas and is currently working on her MFA in Writing from Pacific University of Oregon. She holds a BA in English from The University of Texas at Austin and has a lifetime teaching certification in the state of Texas in secondary English. She is the co-author of Ready, Set, Achieve! She competed in powerlifting and set records at the state, national, and world levels for the APF and WPF. After competing in multiple divisions in the NPC since 2001, she earned her IFBB pro status in 2015 and has several top-five finishes as a pro Women’s Physique competitor. She works with competitors in all divisions on their posing and presentation. You may email her at, visit her website at , and follow her on Instagram at @jodileigh.