At the McLaughlin 24-Hour Fitness in Portland, Oregon, Daphne Rice places her hands on a bar and steadily inches them apart to prep for a pull-up. Taking a deep breath, she grips tightly and shakily pulls her petite, muscle-defined body off the ground until her chin touches the bar. Letting go, she drops to the floor and shakes her arms out; then she does four more reps in quick succession. “Great job, honey!” her husband, Dennis, yells from the other side of the gym between sets of pushups.
Dennis and Daphne spend hours at the gym every day prepping for competition, although they haven’t always been avid gym-goers. Portraits spanning the 30 years they were elementary school teachers reveal that their former wardrobes differ drastically from the athletic clothing they wear these days. Dennis boasted an impressive collection of polo shirts, sweater vests, and oversized glasses. For Daphne: collared shirts, turtlenecks with matching hair bows, and thick bangs. Dennis retired in 2002 at age 59 and Daphne five years later at age 52. Since retiring, they have replaced their former work attire with workout clothes and in some cases, a Speedo or bikini complemented with a spray tan. Now, 69-year-old Dennis and his 59-year-old wife, Daphne, are professional bodybuilders.
The Rices have been married for more than 30 years, and during that time, they dedicated their lives to teaching. The couple taught at Milwaukie Elementary in Milwaukie, Oregon, where they instructed fourth and fifth graders. During the final four years Dennis and Daphne taught at the school, they had neighboring classrooms that allowed them to visit throughout the day and spend lunch breaks together. After retiring, Dennis volunteered in Daphne’s classroom until she retired in 2007. “We just really enjoy each other’s company, respect each other’s work ethic and sense of humor, and like the same activities,” Daphne says.
Soon after the Rices retired, they discovered they needed a new hobby. “We had to find something else that we could just throw ourselves into,” Daphne says. “Pretty much 24 hours a day, we talk, eat, and live bodybuilding.”
Daphne and Dennis had no idea what they were getting into when they decided to start bodybuilding. Their days are now centered on preparing for competition; they work out two to three times a day, six days a week, and adhere to a strict diet. Each day begins at 4:30 a.m. with coffee and protein powder. By the time they go to bed, they’ve eaten six more carb- and protein-rich meals and have worked out at the gym for at least two hours. Their free time is now nearly as scarce as it was before their retirement.
Every meal the Rices eat is mapped out precisely, including specific times they break for meals. For breakfast, they eat oatmeal with blueberries and a side of egg whites. Lunch is a balance of high protein, carbs, and vegetables. Dinner consists of lean protein and green vegetables. “Dennis is an excellent chef and makes ‘clean food’ fun to eat,” Daphne says. They do get to indulge in a “cheat meal” twice a week. “Daphne loves her pancakes, so Wednesday nights we go to IHOP,” Dennis says, smiling at his wife. “It’s senior night!” she giggles in response. “Buy one, get one free!”
Along with bragging rights, the Rices reap the benefits of being fit, healthy, and able-bodied. They are combating the bodily degeneration that naturally comes with age, and their efforts are paying off. The Rices are more toned and in better shape than most 25 year olds. They even manage to make pull-ups and bench presses look effortless. “The payoff is a longer, higher quality of life,” Dennis says.
The focus of Daphne’s workout routine varies each day of the week, rotating between back/biceps, quadriceps, chest/triceps, hamstrings, abs, and shoulders. She also attends weekly competition posing classes and performs high-intensity interval training on the treadmill and StairMaster. She has accomplished the traditional pull-up and is now working toward a wide grip, non-assisted pull-up, in which the hands are spaced farther apart. Daphne is certain if it weren’t for her husband, she would have never gotten involved in bodybuilding. “When I met him, I was a do-nothing marshmallow. He encouraged me to become a runner and then a bodybuilder,” she says.
Dennis began bodybuilding before Daphne, but it wasn’t long before she was motivated to join him. Like teaching, competitive bodybuilding was another activity for them to do together and strengthen their bond. “The first time I saw him up on that stage, I couldn’t believe my eyes! He had recently lost 65-plus pounds and looked like a totally new man. I about burst my buttons with pride,” she says. “He looked like he was having so much fun up there; I thought I might want to try a competition, too.”
For Dennis, working out is less about mastering certain moves and more about the overall health benefits. “My goal is to slow the aging process by continuing to challenge myself. Mostly I’ve gone to higher volume training with more reps and lower weights,” he says.
The average stranger on the street would never guess the Rices are bodybuilders. When they aren’t done up in their competition outfits, Daphne and her husband certainly look more fit than the average person, but their muscles aren’t bulging out of their clothes like one might expect. “Most people probably associate bodybuilding bodies with Mr. Olympia or Arnold Schwarzenegger. But when the topic arises, we pull out our phones to show them our competition pictures. The first comment is often ‘Oh, photoshopped, right?’” she says.
Although Dennis and Daphne are still adjusting to their new way of life, they aren’t completely new to exercise. Back in their teaching days, the Rices woke early every morning to run a few miles before school. After he stopped teaching, Dennis’s weight climbed to225 pounds. “Right after we retired, we kind of slacked off for a while,” Dennis says. “I hadn’t been that heavy since I was a hard-drinking partier in college.” Today he maintains his slimmed-down physique at 170 pounds. “We’re trying not to lose the battle,” he says.
The Rices participate in two competitions a year: the Oregon Ironman Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, and Bikini Championship in Lincoln City, Oregon, as well as the National Physique Committee Seven Feathers Classic Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, and Bikini Championship in Canyonville, Oregon. “Since there are master’s classes and age groups, there’s a place for anyone who wants to work on their physique,” Daphne says.
Susan Smith and her husband, Ron, produce and promote these two bodybuilding competitions, which are the longest running in Oregon. Daphne competes in the Women’s Master’s Class for ages 35 and up, Smith says—and despite being nearly 25 years older than some of her competitors, Daphne continues to win trophies. “Older competitors are very well-respected and admired. They are motivating to the audience and younger competitors,” Smith says.
According to Smith, some of the main benefits for senior bodybuildersinclude improved muscular strength, faster metabolism, improved mental focus, and most importantly, camaraderie and encouragement from people sharing a common goal of improving their health. “There are not many sports that you can jump into past mid-life and with some hard work receive so many rewards,” she says.
Having been a librarian, Dennis is exceptionally organized, which makes him adept at planning, packing, and getting the couple to and from competitions. At the competitions, when only one of them is competing, they jokingly call the non-competitor the “drag around man,” the person in charge of keeping track of gear, food, water, and hollering the loudest in the audience. “I’m Dennis’s biggest fan, and he’s mine,” Daphne says.
When he’s not working out or competing, Dennis works as personal trainer at the same 24-Hour Fitness the couple trains at. After Dennis initially began working out, his trainer, Brandon, encouraged him to become a personal trainer himself. “I’m teaching again, which was my life for 30 years. Now, instead of improving people’s minds, I’m improving their bodies,” says Dennis, who is the oldest trainer at the McLaughlin 24-Hour Fitness by about 12 years.
The Rices aren’t the only seniors who’ve decided not to hang up their sneakers just yet. One of Dennis’s clients, 98-year-old Dario Raschio, can vouch for the importance of exercise at an old age. “The more you sit around at my age, the weaker and flabbier you get. If you don’t move, you have a tendency to move less every day, and pretty soon you’ll find yourself in a wheelchair,” he says. With Dennis’s encouragement, Raschio works out at the gym twice a week and takes his girlfriend ballroom dancing three times a week. “Dennis isn’t like some of the younger people at the gym. He’s more understanding of problems associated with my age group,” he says.
Before Daphne became a bodybuilder, she took Actonel, a drug to help fight osteoporosis—though she eventually found that regular exercise was much more effective than the drug. When she started taking Actonel, Daphne’s doctors noticed minimal bone growth, but it wasn’t until after her retirement, when she began doing regular weight-bearing activity at the gym, that they noticed a significant increase in her bone mass.Daphne was able to replace the daily pill with exercise, and she is relieved to no longer be taking Actonel. “I feel really fit and strong compared to most women my age,” she says.
Although Daphne has always been petite, she refers to her former self as “skinny-fat,” meaning she was able to stay thin, but not in a healthy way. “When I was a little girl, I would look at the scale, and when the scale went up, I would think, ‘Oh my gosh,’” she says, her eyes widening. Daphne says it took some convincing from her trainer and Dennis to quit looking at the number on the scale and start focusing on what’s really important: lean muscle mass.
In addition to improvements in her physical health, Daphne’s body confidence has come a long way. “You can bet your bottom dollar that when I was a teacher, I could never go on stage in a bikini. When I met Dennis, I didn’t even own a pair of shorts,” she laughs.Now, she flaunts her body in a purple rhinestone string bikini that shows off the sculpted muscles she’s worked so hard for. A spray tan completes her competition getup, making her muscles pop even more. The first time Daphne went on stage at a competition, she felt strangely calm and collected. Silently wondering where her jitters were, she realized that being a teacher for 30 years, she always had people’s attention on her, and she enjoyed having an audience again.