Hawke's Bay husband and wife Greg Bigg and Sheryl Summers have returned from the United States with golden endorsements in bodybuilding that age doesn't have to be a barrier to looking and feeling great.
Bigg and Summers, personal trainers who operate Fitness Plus Hawke's Bay from their home in Clive, won three gold medals between them as part of the eight-member New Zealand International Natural Body building team competing at the annual Natural Olympia event staged from November 10-12 in Las Vegas.
"It was a surprise," says Bigg who won his maiden gold medal in the 70-plus bodybuilding category in the couple's third entry in the event.
"You hope but you don't expect it so it was a big thrill especially on a world stage to have your name called out first."
The 70-year-old, who has been bodybuilding since 2016 when he was 63, could only manage sixth in the 60-plus classes in his previous two visits.
Summers, who won a gold in bodybuilding in 2015, emulated that feat this time and added another gold in the physique category of the women's 60-plus class.
Physique entails toning and contoured muscles through tailored symmetry while bodybuilding zeroes in on muscle size and definition. Six Kiwis returned with medals.
"Age is no barrier in any sport now," says the 63-year-old after they paid $117 each for a drug test before the Las Vegas event.
"I think any sport now you'll see a lot of older people still exercising so we like to promote [bodybuilding] which is still do-able at this age."
Bigg overcame prostate cancer with surgery in December last year on the heels of a blocked carotid artery through mini-strokes in 2016.
Summers emphasises it's easier for them as a couple because the code demands a lot of dedication in a training regime that becomes part of one's lifestyle on the platform of nutrition.
"It just helps. It's that incentive to just go out there and do it," he says. "I've got to keep myself strong and fit to just keep up with Sheryl and what better way to do that than to follow along basically."
Gardening is Bigg's hobby but the couple has profited from it immensely.
"I've had a garden for years and it's something that just works out as relaxation to get out there and grow to eat a lot of vegetables so it makes sense," he says.
Shredding fat to expose hidden muscles becomes imperative as competitions approach so it's out with the processed food and sugars.
"It's just good wholesome whole grains and we eat lots of vegetables with things like porridge, fruit and proteins as well as chicken and steak," says Summers who isn't a fan of red meat, as Bigg is.
While she doesn't envisage gracing competitive platforms in the long term she has no intentions of cutting back on training in 30 years of bodybuilding.
"I like to have the feeling of strong muscles and I enjoy the training so I wouldn't give up on that until I really have to."
Summers is battling arthritis on her fingers and toes so she believes the suppleness acquired from daily movement through exercise allows her to manage the genetic condition she was diagnosed with in her mid-40s.
An avid runner and aerobics instructor, she switched to bodybuilding when she had a stress fracture on a leg.
"So while I had plaster on my leg I was doing a lot of gym work and I got hooked on having the feeling of stronger muscles to realise it was going to help prevent future injuries."
Summers says over the years they have encouraged a boutique band of followers to enjoy the benefits and have a lot of fun at competitions on the road and abroad.
Bigg says helping Summers mentor others over the years spurred him to take the sport to the highest echelons possible before he gets too old.
The couple has discussed the merits of their shelf life on the competitive stage and have agreed another year is a realistic term to gauge their longevity.
"Who knows what the body is going to let me do," he says after they have been running their gym since 2004 following the closure of their 1 to 1 Fitness in Napier.
While mindful some people have reservations about looking the way they do at their peak before and during competition, they stress that image isn't a permanent appearance.
"As Sheryl says, the point of this is to encourage people to say, 'I'd like to give something like that a go'," he says.
"It's not necessarily with us but it's just proof, if you like, that you can achieve if you put your mind to it."
Bigg says having a few health issues doesn't mean it's the end of the world but simply that people can cope better if they are fit and strong.
"We don't thing about my health issues any more," he says. "They are just there so we just get on with it and they [health issues] are in the past."