Dana Shemesh, an Israeli female bodybuilder, finished in the top 10 of her category at the Olympia Masters contest this past weekend held in Cluj Napoca, Romania.
“It’s a huge honor to have represented Israel” said the 48-year-old Shemesh, who is the first Israeli woman to have competed at the prestigious IFBB PRO (International Fitness and Bodybuilding Federation), considered the foremost governing body in the sport.
In 2020, Shemesh announced her retirement from competitive bodybuilding. She later rescinded that decision to participate in the Olympia Masters this year.
What is the Olympia Masters and why was it created?
The Olympia Masters was created for veterans of the sport who are past their prime, so they could continue competing in the sport. Shemesh competed in the Bodybuilding category - considered to have the physically biggest contestants.
She said that the Masters initially announced that competitors had to be above 45, but later changed it to those above 40.
“Younger athletes always have an advantage,” she said.
For Shemesh, it all began when she was in her late 20s, while she was working as a graphic designer in Tel Aviv and her friend took her to see a bodybuilding contest.
Little did she know that show would change her life – she was so taken up by what she saw and from there, things happened quickly. She realized that this was the sport for her and decided to make bodybuilding her lifestyle.
At age 29, she quit smoking and started running and lifting weights for the first time in her life while changing her career to become a personal trainer.
“Everyone said that I was crazy, but I never listened to them. Instead, I followed my heart and did what made me happy.”
Shemesh competed for the first time at age 35 and won first place at a competition in Israel. She noted that even if she hadn’t won, her first competition was still a very defining moment that would encourage her to be consistent and endure.
During IDF service at age 18, she still had an “average” build and although she had played volleyball and other sports prior, she was not accustomed to heavy lifting.
Flash forward in time, ever since that first contest, she competed in several more, and even took the first-place trophy in a few. But until the Olympia Masters event, Shemesh thought she had hung up her weights professionally, before ultimately deciding to make a comeback.
Many athletes in Romania had their coaches and trainers present. Shemesh, however, revealed that she meticulously plans her diet, schedule and training routine without any external assistance.
“I have to motivate and coach myself and I did this on my own” she said.
Some of Shemesh’s family members had come from Israel to give her support.
“Most often in the news we [Israelis] are not made to look good,” she quipped. However, she hopes that her victory will put her home country in a more positive light in terms of media coverage.
An estimated close to 400,000 Romanian Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Shemesh’s mother’s family lost members at the hands of the Nazis in Poland and in 1941 her father witnessed the Farhud in the Kingdom of Iraq - an antisemitic pogrom inspired by the Holocaust.
“The Jewish people are still strong and cannot be broken,” Shemesh said.
The previous Olympia Masters was held in 2012, but came back after a 11-year hiatus and was held in Romania for the first time.
“It was the biggest dream come true in my bodybuilding career,” exclaimed Shemesh. “I am happy and grateful to IFBB Pro League and Wings of Strength for bringing back Olympia Masters and inviting me to compete on the biggest stage in the bodybuilding world.”