Tamara Johnson sat attentively in her high school auditorium with her friend Joanna Fox Saturday evening, but what they were watching was different from anything else they had seen at Potomac Falls High.
Johnson's father, Marshall, was one of 26 competitors gathered in Sterling for the first all-natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Classic, sponsored by the National Physique Club. The event featured some of the best-built bodies in the mid-Atlantic region, with contestants from North Carolina to New York.
Competitors strutted their stuff for judges, who evaluated the bodybuilders on symmetry, definition, size and stage presence.
The elder Johnson entered the event -- his first competition -- after meeting personal trainers Mary and Curt Shorts, who put the show together, while working out at World Gym in Sterling.
"When I got up there, I was nervous, believe me," Johnson said of his first appearance on stage during the novice competition. "You can beat some people on technique alone, but the muscle has to be there."
When Johnson came out on stage, about 15 family members and friends let out a huge cheer. Johnson strutted around the stage, flexing every muscle for the judges to see. When the event was over, Johnson came away with a victory in the middle weight class of the novice competition. He also finished second in the open competition, which features some weightlifters with many years of competitive experience.
"It's like you're doing something, and all of a sudden you say to yourself, `Hey, I'm pretty good at this,' " said Johnson, who said he has been bodybuilding seriously for four years. "I'm psyched. But you're a winner regardless, because you start the summer in great shape."
Johnson's daughter was the loudest of his cheering section, but she said she probably wouldn't get into bodybuilding.
"Unless I was coming with my dad, I probably wouldn't even be at this show," said Johnson, 14, who is an athlete herself. She plays volleyball and basketball for Potomac Falls and said she wants to run track next year. "I don't particularly care for how big some of the women get. . . . I don't think I could do this."
Johnson said the fact the show was "natural" was a big draw for him. In the bodybuilding world, a natural show means competitors are not allowed to use anabolic steroids or other illegal bodybuilding drugs. Contestants had to pass a polygraph test that asked if they had used such drugs in the past year.
Curt Shorts, 34, has been bodybuilding for nine years and was a guest poser in the show. His wife, Mary, began seriously training after marrying Curt, and the couple has been training together ever since. But even though they don't compete directly against each other, they still have a friendly rivalry.
"Sometime if we're competing against each other, we can get a little on edge," Curt Shorts said with a smile. "We can get on each other a little too much sometimes."
The preparation for a bodybuilding and fitness show is extensive. Bodybuilders watch their diets carefully, especially when a show is approaching, Shorts said. Shorts, who works as a shipping coordinator during the day, usually eats a bowl of apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast; six egg-whites, a bowl of broccoli and some sweet potatoes for lunch; and a light dinner.
He also supplements his diet with the controversial muscle-builder creatine, which he said nearly every bodybuilder uses. Shorts, who is 5 feet 9, weighs 220 pounds, thanks in large part to creatine.
"The news says it doesn't work, but anybody who uses it knows it does," Shorts said. "What happens is that people abuse everything. I usually take a little less than the recommended dose."
Shorts also uses a tanning bed twice a week leading up to a competition to define his muscles better. Other competitors used a brush to paint on self-tanners in the prep room before they went on stage.
Three-hour marathon workouts are not necessary to reach peak levels. Shorts said he limits his workouts to an hour a day, but isolates muscle groups on different days.
Shorts said the size of the muscle is only one part of the judging scale.
"You have to be cocky up there," Shorts said. "If you have your head down, it's a sign of a lack of confidence, and the judges pick up on that."
Competitors in the event came from all different places and backgrounds. One competitor was Jennifer Stewart, a 27-year-old seventh-grade teacher from Richmond who found out about the event on the Internet.
"I don't view this as a beauty pageant," Stewart said. "I spend eight hours a week just choreographing my routine."
Mary Shorts said she hoped the event would debunk some of the myths about bodybuilders.
"Everybody views bodybuilders as freaky people, and they're not like that," Shorts said. "We have CPAs, professors, engineers . . . basically everybody."
CAPTION: Marshall Johnson flexes for the judges, who awarded him first place in middle weight class of novice competition.
CAPTION: Bodybuilders get in last-minute workouts before going on stage at first all-natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Classic at Potomac Falls High School on Saturday. A natural show means competitors are not allowed to use anabolic steroids or other illegal bodybuilding drugs. The event drew 26 competitors from North Carolina to New York.