Thirty-something trophies – reminders of decades of passion and perseverance – litter the walls at Dina Burley’s fitness studio in Biddeford, but she’s never felt more excited before an event than she does now.  

Dina Burley, middle, accepts her first-place reward in the Bikini Division at the 2009 Miss Jones Beach competition. Ten years later, the Biddeford resident is preparing for her final show on May 11 at Biddeford Middle School. (Courtesy photo)

On May 11, many of the best bodybuilders in the area will make their way to Biddeford Middle School for the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness Physique America’s Mr. & Ms. Maine Championship and Northeast Open, where two athletes will earn a spot to represent the United States in international competition. 

“I’ve been training my whole life for this,” Burley said. “It was like the universe said, ‘Come on, Dina.’ It’s going to be so meaningful. This is the biggest show I’ve ever done in my life.”

An offer he couldn’t refuse

Rod Legendre had no intention of a return to the bodybuilding scene when his phone rang about a year ago with an offer to promote an upcoming amateur event. But, when Wayne DeMilia, one of the biggest names in the industry was on the other line, the Saco resident figured he’d listen.  

“(DeMilia) is kind of like the Godfather,” Legendre said. “It would be like Arnold Schwarzenegger calling you and asking you to help out with this new organization … I just couldn’t say, ‘no.’”

DeMilia, who is known as one of the best promoters in the history of bodybuilding, is overseeing the IFBB’s way into America as an amateur competition in the form of “IFBB Physique America,” the federation’s only United States affiliate. The IFBB, founded in 1946 by Ben and Joe Weider, is the fourth largest sports federation in the world with a presence in 196 nations, and it’s also recognized by more than 90 Olympic committees.

IFBB Physique America, said Legendre, is to the IFBB what Double-A baseball is to the Majors or what the American Hockey League is to the NHL.

“This is the real amateur to the pro league,” he said. “Within five years, I truly believe it will be the premier amateur (bodybuilding) organization in America.”

May’s competition at the Biddeford Middle School Performing Arts Center, located at 25 Tiger Drive, is the organization’s first event in Maine. Several have been held in Connecticut and one in Miami, said Legendre, but it was important to him that he brought IFBB Physique America back home.

“A lot of the great past champions and bodybuilders, believe it or not, have resided in the Saco-Biddeford area,” he said. “We’ve had some great past winners. This is history in the making … and that’s pretty neat.”

A girl from Biddeford

Burley wakes up around 4 a.m. each morning, eats a calculated meal and then heads to the gym for the first of several workout sessions with a focus on cardio and heavy weight training. A few rounds of calisthenics and she’s ready for her day job of helping “woman who are at war with their bodies” at her studio at Impact Fitness.

She feels she’s still at her peak, even at 50 years old, which says a lot about the confidence of the self-proclaimed perfectionist who’s won every division in the same show before.

“I’ve reached another level of my conditioning – I’m not stressed, (I’m) enjoying it,” Burley said. “You have to know that you are your own trophy, and, if you are the best you’ve ever been today, tomorrow will be even better.”

Many people, Burley said, are lost when they start working toward self-improvement, which can place them in a frustrating position. Mail-ordered meals and quick-fix surgeries won’t help in the long term, she said, and the wrong diet and improper workouts can do more harm than good.

People also shouldn’t be afraid of food. One of Burley’s meals – she eats every two-and-a-half hours – consists of a bowl of oatmeal, a cup of Greek yogurt, a half-cup of cottage cheese and a half-cup of egg whites.

She tracks her intake on an app called “MyFitnessPal” that lets users scan the barcode on the food’s packaging and provides immediate ratios.  

Burley doesn’t take supplements, she’s never had surgery and it’s been an empowering adventure.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said. “ I’m just a girl from Biddeford.”

Cleaning up the game

When Burley heard that IFBB Physique America planned to host a show in Biddeford, she figured she’d help in some way, but she didn’t plan on competing.

She placed second in the Figure Division in 2016, and, as far as she was concerned, that put a bow on her competitive career that started at 21.

That was until she discovered two athletes will get a chance to compete internationally – a dream Burley hasn’t fulfilled – and that IFBB Physique America wasn’t turning a blind eye to performance-enhancing drug use that has left a black eye on the sport of bodybuilding.

Dina Burley, left, flexes for the camera after winning second place in the Bodybuilding Division at the 2009 Miss Jones Beach. Burley has won more than 30 trophies during her career, but she’s more excited for the upcoming show in Biddeford on May 11 than she’s been for any other competition.

“The drug use got so wild,” Burley said. “The (IFBB) is trying to bring integrity back, make it more marketable, more mainstream. That’s all the things that I love … I would not be here doing this show if this was not drug tested and a natural show. I’ve done extremely well in an organization that’s notorious for drug use. I’ve qualified for Nationals in every category, but I can never win my Pro Card. I can never beat them because of the drug use. But this is a fair play.” 

Legendre thinks cracking down on drug use will have a positive impact on the future of the organization and the young athletes who watch a clean show can think to themselves, “this is something I can attain.”

They expect the 25 or so competitors who are already registered for Mr. & Ms. Maine Championship and Northeast Open on May 11 will double in size next year, and the goal of Legendre and co-promoter Phil Billinsky, a retired school teacher and local gym owner, is to make the event an affordable and enjoyable experience for attendees.

Runtime is expected to last between three and four hours, Legendre said, and a DJ will provide some musical entertainment. Athletes can register until the day of competition, and more information can be found online at www.maineandnortheast.fitness.

Demilia will be in attendance. So too will local legends, such as Skip Robinson, Ed Flanders and Marty Joyce, who will be honored during the event. It’s all a part of “building from the ground floor,” remembering history and recognizing the pioneers along the way.  

The IFBB will also honor Andy Copeland, Burley’s deceased husband who was the youngest Mr. Maine at the age of 20 in 1986. If Burley wins either the Physique or Figure divisions, she becomes the oldest Ms. Maine in history.

“It’s profound. It’s literally been magical,” she said. “Everyone is so supportive … I’m not going there to just show up. This is kind of like my last hurrah.”

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