Murray, Lenda 1962—
Lenda Murray 1962—
World class bodybuilder
The Ms. Olympia title—the pinnacle of women’s bodybuilding—has belonged to Lenda Murray since 1990. A six-time Ms. Olympia winner starting in 1990, Murray is the undisputed champion of the demanding sport of women’s professional bodybuilding. Her successful run as Ms. Olympia is the result of relentless training, natural talent, and a winning personality—all essentials in such a subjective competition as bodybuilding. “Murray is Olympia, the goddess of the bodybuilding world and a rock-hard, in-the-flesh assault on conventional assumptions about beauty, strength, and femininity…,” noted Nick Ravo in the Chicago Tribune. “In competition, when she’s down to 7 percent body fat and wearing a bikini, her enormous, overly defined thighs, more than anything else, perhaps, make her look like Wonder Woman.”
Murray never expected to become famous in the high-profile world of professional bodybuilding. She began working out in 1984 with the goal of reducing her hips and toning her figure. At the suggestion of some bodybuilders at her gym she began sculpting her muscles in the classic fashion of modern bodybuilders, and she won the very first professional competition she entered, the 1990 Ms. Olympia contest. Murray explained in Jet magazine that while she must prepare “150 percent” for competitions because she is black, her genetic background has helped her to achieve the spectacular musculature for which she is famous. “I see a lot of girlfriends walking around Detroit with my body,” the Motor City native said. “Well-developed thighs and gluts (gluteus maximus) and well-shaped calves, that’s why they say ’baby got back.’” She added: “The best thing about being Ms. Olympia is that I’m the best in the world, and that I’m black.”
The second oldest of six daughters born to Darcelious and Louvelle Murray, Lenda Murray grew up in Detroit. She was an active and athletic youngster who especially enjoyed cheerleading and track-and-field events. Murray attended Henry Ford High School and Western Michigan University, where she performed as a cheerleader and ran in track meets. She majored in political science, intending to become a lawyer. After graduating from college, however, she won a position as a cheerleader for the Michigan Panthers, a team with the United States Football League. She worked with the Panthers for two years and then was invited to try out for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders—the best-known cheering squad in the world. She auditioned for the group and made the next-to-last cut before she decided she might need to slenderize her thighs a bit.
Murray recalled in USA Today: “Like many women, I looked at all those models in magazines and wanted to look like them. I spent a whole year trying to look like Cindy Crawford. But it would have killed me to try to diet
At a Glance…
Born c. 1962 in Detroit, Ml; daughter of Darcelious and Louvelle Murray. Education: Western Michigan University, B.A.
Professional cheerleader, personal fitness trainer, and computer company worker, c. 1982–89; professional bodybuilder, 1989—. Winner of Ms. Olympia competition, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994.
Addresses: c/o International Federation of Body Builders, 2875 Bates Rd., Montreal, PQ, Canada H3S 1B7.
and work myself down to that.” Murray was not overweight, but she was not svelte like a waif model, either. She discovered that the more she exercised, the larger her thighs became. In 1984 she joined a Detroit-area health club called the Power House Gym, and there she met some male bodybuilders who correctly identified her as a “natural” for the sport. “That was a real turning point,” she explained in the Detroit Free Press. “I thought weight training was interesting, but I didn’t imagine being a bodybuilder. I think it was meant for me to walk into that room.”
Murray’s decision to pursue bodybuilding puzzled her conventional parents, who were somewhat alarmed by the changes to their daughter’s physique. “My parents didn’t understand it at first,” the athlete remembered in the Detroit Free Press. “But when I started having some success they realized it was a good thing for me because I’m always busy…. They respect all the dedication it takes.”
While exploring her potential as a bodybuilder, Murray worked in the Detroit area as a personal fitness trainer and in the human resources department of a computer company. In 1989 she decided to go professional in bodybuilding, and she entered her first Ms. Olympia event in 1990. The most important and most highly publicized yearly event in the sport, the Ms. Olympia competition has been called “the Super Bowl of women’s bodybuilding.” Over its first ten years of existence, the competition was dominated by one woman—six-time Ms. Olympia titleholder Cory Everson, who won her first competition after only two months of training. Everson retired in 1989, having become world famous and quite wealthy. Murray stepped in to take her place.
In the early days of women’s professional bodybuilding, drug use was unregulated and competitors used anabolic steroids at will. By 1990, however, the Montreal-based International Federation of Body Builders had implemented drug testing prior to all sanctioned events. This suited Murray fine, because she did not use steroids. Her spectacular muscles were sculpted by disciplined weight training and a diet that can best be described as gastronomic torture. “The diet’s the toughest part for me,” Murray admitted in the Detroit Free Press. “I remember thinking in August when I started, ’I’ll still be eating this when there’s snow on the ground.’”
In order to prepare for the yearly Ms. Olympia title, Murray would work out regularly for two to four hours a day and eat high-protein, low fat meals six times a day. Three months prior to the competition, she would begin eight-hour-a-day workouts, six days a week, with a diet that became progressively more protein-based as the weeks passed. A typical day’s menu might include five rations of skinless turkey breast or fish with rice or a plain baked potato. The potatoes and rice would be eliminated four weeks before the competition. All-day workouts would focus one day on the upper body and one day on the lower, alternating through six days.
The results of these draconian training measures were the kind of high-definition muscles, streaked with stark veins, that have come to typify world class bodybuilders. Murray noted in the Detroit Free Press that the restricted diet and constant exercise “brings you to an incredibly low body fat content and brings up the definition in the muscles.” An average woman might have a 25 percent fat content in her body. At competition time Murray has seven percent or less of her 155-pound weight as fat.
Judging a bodybuilding competition is a highly subjective matter. While judges definitely look for symmetry and muscle dimension, they also—sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately—factor in such intangibles as beauty, personality, and charisma. For Murray the personality part of the equation came easily, and each subsequent Ms. Olympia title has carried her more into the limelight. Where once she fretted that her makeup was not right and that photographers could not capture her properly because they used the wrong lighting, today she is a confident, poised spokesperson for her sport and herself. “Now I’m invited to compete and pose all over the world—Guam, Japan, Russia, Italy, Spain,” she told USA Today. “I don’t think people realize how popular this sport is all over the world.”
In addition to her frequent trips abroad, Murray also spends time in Los Angeles, filming segments of Muscle Magazine for ESPN, producing workout videos and promoting a personal line of workout clothing, and scouting the possibility of appearing in feature films. In terms of movies, she has yet to find a part she likes. “A lot of times the roles they want to give bodybuilders aren’t the best,” she complained in the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t want to just look into the camera and growl.”
Murray’s immediate goal is to win seven consecutive Ms. Olympia crowns, thereby breaking Everson’s record. She is confident that she can do it—by 1995 she had won five straight and seemed in top form. While she can still draw comments from strangers about her unusually muscular frame, she perceives a change in American attitudes toward well-muscled women. “There’s definitely a craze, a lot of people starting to realize what weight training does for the physique,” she said in the Chicago Tribune. Noting that many heroines in futuristic movies are sporting hard muscles, she claimed that the ideal of feminine beauty is in the process of changing. “In the future,” she added, “I see a very muscular woman being able to walk into a restaurant and people not thinking that’s something that’s totally weird.”
The Ms. Olympia crown comes with a $35,000 prize. That is only a fraction of the money Murray makes doing personal appearances, product endorsements, and other high-profile projects. Since 1992 it is estimated that she has earned about $300,000 per year—enough to make even a solid month of nothing but skinless white meat palatable. Initially shocked at the success she has had in professional bodybuilding, Murray is now accustomed to the publicity and the notoriety. She has set about dispelling myths about her sport—including the notion that women bodybuilders can’t conceive a child, that they quickly become fat when they quit competing, and that they are more susceptible to heart attacks.
Murray explained in Jet, “The bottom line is that people have their ideal of what a woman should be.” At first they didn’t want us to be attorneys and didn’t want us to be doctors. Now they don’t want to see us with muscle. Women have to determine how they will be perceived.” She concluded: “I made a decision that I want to be a body builder. I can look in the mirror, and I like my body. I’m doing what I want to do.”
Dobbins, Bill, The Women: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders, Artisan, 1994.
Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1992, p. 6; January 3, 1993, p. 12; November 17, 1994, p. 5.
Detroit Free Press, December 7, 1990, p. 2C; November 5, 1992, p. 2H; December 3, 1992, p. 12G.
Essence, May 1994, p. 62.
Jet, February 22, 1993, p. 46–49.
USA Today, September 9, 1994, p. 2C.
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