One of a series of stories of conversations with ex-cadets from Royal Military College, as they reflect on their time at the college, their sporting endeavours and what they've been up to since graduation.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Interested in sports and fitness since her high school days and her years at Royal Military College, Lucy Cerantola got into the personal training business when she moved to Oakville, Ont., six years ago. She was just looking for some fun ways to train and to train others, when she heard of a group in Burlington that was doing interesting things, so she decided to pay them a visit.
“They were doing these great workouts for legs and I wanted to see if they could kill me on it,” she recalled.
What evolved, Cerantola says, “I didn’t see coming.”
She recalls the day vividly. “We got talking and they said, ‘You know, if you were interested in competing, you could do that,’ and I thought, ‘Compete in what?’”
At 40 years of age, Cerantola, the former Lucy Rourke, thought her competition days were done. When it was suggested that she might be successful as a competitive body builder, she was taken aback. “I’m, like, ‘I don’t think I could do body building at my age.’”
Turns out, she could.
When she finally said yes, in the fall of 2009, she qualified through the Ontario Physique Association championship to the national competition, and she’s competed at that level ever since. In 2012 she was the top woman overall at the Canadian physique championships, in what is known as natural division—where competitors are drug tested to the Olympic doping-control standard.
“It’s a whole other world that I never knew existed,” she said. “When I first learned about this, the idea of going to the world championships and represent the country was something I’d like to do.”
Last year she got to do just that. She finished second in Canada, to earn an invitation to the ISBB world championships last October in Montreal, an event where 34 countries were represented. Cerantola finished fifth in her division. “Top five?” she said. “I’ll take that.”
In high school, Cerantola tried almost every sport there was, and she played volleyball at RMC for four years and on CISM teams after that, so though competing wasn’t new to her, she found doing so on a stage was imposing at the start—“I was shaking like a leaf and I was afraid (the judges) were going to be able to see it,” she says of her first competition—but she quickly adapted. Now, she says, “I really enjoy competition days.
“I was really surprised. It was a very different thing for me.”
Something else that Cerantola found different was her perception of bodybuilding. “It’s a very extreme sport that I totally underestimated,” she said. “I thought it was all gym work, and it is a lot of gym work … but it really is all about the food.
“I guess I always knew that. I know with me, I could train, train, train and nothing would be happening and you’d wonder why, and I knew the other part of the equation was the nutrition side. You couldn’t stray. You really had to stay on track with every single meal you had during the day, the level of water you take in … and how your body chemistry works.”
Eager to share this knowledge with the people she was training, Cerantola, who spent nine years in the Forces and most of her post-military career in the aviation field, approached solving that equation like, well, the mechanical engineer she is.
“Your body’s a machine and you have to figure out how things are going to work best to get the result you want,” she explained. “I was watching changes happen every week. Two months later I was a different looking person, with a different shape than I had before, and it’s very interesting.
“As an engineer, I was having a great time trying to analyze everything.”
Born in Toronto and raised in Winnipeg, Cerantola was bound for the University of Toronto on the ROTP program out of high school.
“I wanted to be an engineer; I discovered that in Grade 12,” she said. “I was looking for scholarships, applying at various places. I don’t have a big military background in the family but I had some people mention it, and it was my guidance counsellor who said there were some options with the ROTP program.
“I loved aircraft. I did want to be a pilot but I knew when I was 13 and I had glasses given to me that was done. My father said if you’re thinking about the air force, somebody knew the colonel at the air force base, so I called him and did an interview for the school paper. He said you can travel the world; you can do all sorts of interesting things; we have all sorts of different aircraft. We take care of our people. It just sounded like something I would like to do. Leaving home and moving into a career, it sounded like a good fit.”
Cerantola had been on the standby list for RMC but at the end of her basic training she was offered admission to the college, where she arrived in the fall of 1986. Graduating in the spring of 1990, she embarked on a military career that took her to Greenwood, N.S. as a maintenance engineer, then to CFB Borden as a flight leader for technical training and then to Winnipeg, as executive assistant to the chief of staff support and then as part of 435 Squadron. From there, it was off to Ottawa in the aircraft engineering office, from where she retired as a captain.
For five years, Cerantola worked for Air Canada, not in an engineering capacity, but in technical leadership and quality management roles. In 2004 she joined Bell Helicopter in Mirabel, Que., as an integrated product team leader. “That was really rewarding,” she said, “in that I was able to start diving further into engineering, in a detailed level, which I hadn’t had much of a chance to do after I left the college. You would use it here and there, depending on the job you had, but that particular job was the one that let me get into engineering drawings and all that good stuff.”
Cerantola was part of a design team that was in charge of light helicopter change programs. “As we had issues or improvements requested by the field, we would examine them and see what we could do and how they could be implemented.
“It was really neat. It was nice to fix issues that people had been complaining about and it was nice to bring improvements forward that made the helicopter more appealing for people.”
Cerantola’s husband, Franco, also an engineer in the aviation field—and a former intercollegiate player at Laval whose volleyball path crossed Lucy’s while they were both on military teams—had a good opportunity in Ontario, so the family moved to the GTA. That’s when Lucy’s interest in fitness came to the surface, and as she lined herself up for a career in project management, she began to train aspiring athletes.
“I really did love the technical world, and I didn’t want to leave it, but at the same time I felt like I wasn’t either taking care of myself, because it seemed to absorb all of my time with family and full-time work,” she said. “It was nice to go for that. I like working with athletes, I like working with people that really wanted to make changes. I’ve been meeting a lot of neat people with it, but recently, in the last year and a half, I did want to make sure I went back into the aviation world, because I did miss it.”
She now works for UTAS Landing Systems in Burlington, in the repair and overhaul division, while continuing her personal training with LC Performance Fitness.
The fitness bug took hold in high school, Cerantola recalled, and when she got to RMC, it quickly became apparent that it was a part of her life she did not want to compromise. “I knew that I needed to get away once in a while,” she said, “and if I made a varsity team I would get some weekends. I was fortunate enough to make the volleyball team in my first year. Four days a week was practice, and with the workload of engineering, I needed a release. I needed somewhere to go to have my stress managed.”
RMC was part of the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Association at the time, and the volleyball team struggled. “It was demoralizing, to a degree, when you go into York University and have an interesting three sets of volleyball. Then again, it was really awesome to play against those girls. It forced me to understand how hard you had to work if you really wanted to do something well.”
Cerantola was the sports and recreation officer at the college in her fourth year there, and with that kind of affinity for fitness and athletics, perhaps it should be no surprise they remain important to her.
“It’s part of my life and I find that if I don’t do a workout or feel like I’m doing some type of physical activity during the day, I don’t have as good a day, or I don’t deal with stress as well as I would have if had I gone ahead and done 45 minutes or an hour training.”
Even as that extends to the extreme end of the spectrum where bodybuilding resides. That’s because she competes, she says, not so much for the trophies, but for the physiological feedback that training for competition provides. “I needed a certain level of confidence with the nutrition side so I could better help my clients,” she said.
“That’s what drove me to stick to things, so I could see, almost scientifically, what was happening to me. Whatever was happening, if it was moving in the right direction, I was happy, and whatever would happen during the competition was a bonus.
“Each time I decided to compete I had to have that attitude, because it’s the kind of sport, if you rely totally on your results, I would be an unhappy person. I wanted to do something that was going to bring me something and teach me something … things that I knew would come in very handy with my kids. If they decided to go into competitive sports, I’d be better prepared to help them.”
With son Eric, 14, involved in competitive hockey and daughter Maya, 12, engaged in rep volleyball, that has come to pass. How many mothers get approached by a 12-year-old, who says, ‘OK, mom, I want to eat better, I want to start getting some muscle’?
“The first couple of years were hard, because I was changing how I was eating but my family didn’t necessarily want to change what they were eating,” she said, “so there was work to be done on the home front with that, but over time (we did it).”
One wonders, with all that nutritional expertise at her disposal, when was the last time Cerantola had a hamburger? Expecting a lecture that would make a cattle rancher blush, the inquisitor discovers instead that a burger evidently is a fitting celebration for being among the top five female bodybuilders in the world.
“Since it was in Montreal, where I already knew all the restaurants,” Cerantola said, “I had one right after that competition.”