The James Patrick Photography team was recently in Las Vegas during the Olympia 2012 event when we had our first opportunity to meet and work with Texas-based fitness talent Kelsey Byers. In the middle of a high energy photo shoot we were able to hear her story in which she detailed her journey through a well-earned transformation and the achievement of some very exciting goals. I chose to do a follow up interview with Kelsey to share with you all the details of her transformation, her insights into being a sponsored talent as well as the importance of doing something you are truly passionate about.
James Patrick: Let us start by talking about your transformation story. You were in college and your weight increased to about 40 pounds more than you were in high school. What caused you to pause, reflect and make a change?
Kelsey Byers: My weight actually increased almost 50 pounds in college due to eating fast food and drinking alcohol. I was very active in sports in high school, so the fast food, alcohol and few workouts was not conducive to maintaining a healthy and fit body. I was fed up with the person I saw in the mirror. I went from a size 4 to a size 12-14 in just two years. At one point, I overheard some refer to me as a “whale” and knew I needed to change; not for that person, but for myself. I had become very uncomfortable with my body and I shopped all the time to try and find that “perfect” outfit that would hide the damage I’d done.
Once I realized that shopping wasn’t going to give me a better body, I decided to make a change and get healthy. My lifestyle change did not happen overnight, but I slowly incorporated small healthy habits that led to big changes over time. I started by going out to eat less and cooking most meals at home. I started drinking more water too, almost a gallon a day. I eased up on the cardio and started lifting weights five days a week. It took me a couple of years through trial and error, but I dropped from size 14 (176 lbs) to size 8 (140 lbs). That’s when I decided to hire a nutritionist. I did not have much energy in the gym and my midsection still wasn’t as lean as I preferred. If I had only known the value of a clean nutrition plan, the weight would have come off much more quickly.
By simply increasing my meal frequency to every three hours and eating measured portions, my body completely transformed itself in a matter of 3-4 months. I started eating 5-7 meals a day and my body used the food as fuel in the weight room. My body fat dropped from 24% size 8 to about 15% size 4, which is an athletic range. That’s when I committed to competing in my first NPC bikini competition. After competing and winning 3rd place, I started to pursue my dream of becoming a fitness model. Just when I thought life couldn’t get better, the e-mails started pouring in from others seeking healthy lifestyle changes. People had seen my photos on Facebook and wanted to know how to get started. That’s where the real fulfillment comes; in reaching out to others and helping them make small positive lifestyle changes that lead to big results.
JP: After the change you went onto do a fitness competition in 2010. What pushed you into that direction and what did you take away from the experience?
KB: When my body fat hit about 15%, my nutritionist, Kim Porterfield, encouraged me to just choose a show and go for it! I attended a local show and watched the lovely ladies on stage and I was hooked! I knew I could do it! Was I nervous? Yes; I was petrified at the thought of my glutes being compared to someone else’s on stage in a bikini! But something told me to go for it! With support and love from my husband, friends and family, I gave my 12 week training 100% and stepped on stage at 10% body fat and 132 pounds. It was a challenging but wonderful experience. I let that discipline spill over into other areas of my life and decided to go back to school and earn my Master’s degree in Business Administration. I’m currently only a few classes away from graduation. Fitness has helped me in every aspect of my life including my relationships, discipline, job, confidence, self-image, everything.
JP: You shortly after were signed by Labrada Nutrition. For those that are not familiar with endorsement deals or being a representative talent for a company; can you explain a bit about the process for signing with a company and what to look for?
KB: My story is not typical. After my first competition, I created a public fitness page (aka fan page). The purpose for creating it was to have a place to post my progress photos and fitness tips and those who were interested could follow it. My following started in increase quickly and I was contacted by several companies asking if I would promote their brand. Some of the products I honestly had never tried and I didn’t believe it was fair to promote a product I had no intention in taking. I decided to wait it out to see what other opportunities would surface.
In our (my husband and I) visits to the nutritionist, our meals were centered around “whole meals” that we cook at home. However, she did recommend the Labrada Nutrition Lean Body shakes as a meal replacement. My husband and I tried the shakes and really liked the flavors. They were perfect for those trips on-the-go. A few months later Labrada Nutrition contacted me through Facebook. They asked me to come on board as an athlete to promote their brand. Of course, I was excited considering this was the only brand I was using. How could I say no? The very next weekend they booked me for a shoot for the Labrada Nutrition product guide. Thank goodness for clean eating! I was ready for the shoot and felt really confident in front of the camera! I love working with my Labrada Team! They are such an inspirational group of people.
In order to get sponsored, I would recommend creating a following on the social networks. I would also recommend having at least one or two professional photo shoots for marketing yourself. Then, submit your resume, photos and competition history to the company of your choice. Also, keep in mind, companies don’t always look for competitors, so don’t feel like you must enter a competition. You could always contact the company and ask what they look for. Be sure to follow up, as they all receive many applicants.
JP: When we met in Las Vegas to shoot at Olympia, your recent cover with Oxygen Magazine had just come out. How did you begin to market your story to the publication and what do you feel got them to notice you?
KB: Funny thing is that I didn’t actually send them my story. My best friend, Diane Forshee, sent my photos and story in for me. She called me and said, “FYI – I sent Oxygen Magazine your story, so be prepared in case they call you.” They contacted me the following week! I am very thankful that Diane believed in my story and is such a supportive friend. My success story was featured in Oxygen in the September 2011 issue.
A few months later, I booked a shoot with Oxygen photographer, Paul Buceta, at the Arnold Classic. I told him my career goal was to shoot for Oxygen. After our shoot, he introduced me to the entire Oxygen staff. I was ecstatic! A few weeks later, they invited me to travel to Toronto to shoot for them! I’m pretty sure I cried tears of joy on half of the flight over. This was a career goal and here it was, happening right before my eyes. I still cannot believe it happened. I am overjoyed to share that I will be having my first Oxygen Magazine cover signing in The Woodlands, Texas on November 17th! It is amazing what God will do if you let Him lead your path.
JP: On set you exude nothing but confidence, positive energy and great on-camera abilities. However you’ve only been doing this for a short time. What is some advice you can give on how others can get comfortable on set like you do?
KB: Thank you for the compliment! First, work on your body. When your body is in tip top shape and you’ve achieved your goals, your confidence shines! You do all the work leading up to the shoot; then you just have to show up and smile. It also helps if you practice posing in a mirror to see how your body looks best; everyone is different. I just get in the zone and focus on the camera and my goal for the photo shoot; meaning the audience I want to appeal to. My biggest following is women; therefore, I try to gear all of my shoots towards happy, fit and approachable photos. I don’t want to go overboard in the “sexy” department.
JP: With your health and fitness achievements, you note how you achieve a lot because you set constant goals for yourself. How have you applied this practice to your modeling career?
KB: I apply the same principles. I write out yearly goals for myself with modeling. I try to start projects where I can help others versus making modeling all about me. For example, this year I have launched the Kelsey Byers Challenge, sponsored by Lean Body for Her with Labrada Nutrition. Essentially, the challenge is mine and comes with my personal meal and workout plan, but the challenge is really about helping others. The purpose is to help ladies create a healthy lifestyle and get lean before the holidays. My goal is to show them that this lifestyle is achievable for anyone who wants it. If I can do it, anyone can. The more people I can reach the better. This is my calling and passion.
JP: So you are now signed with a company as a spokesmodel and you have a magazine cover on newsstands across the country. Much harder question… what comes next?
KB: That’s a great question! My career goal was to shoot with Oxygen Magazine, so that just means I need to continue challenging myself. I have a few new goals up my sleeve for the New Year, so stay tuned!
JP: What advice can you give to other talents who are early in their careers attempting to navigate through the industry?
KB: If your goal is to get published, hire the photographers who work with the magazines and submit your photos for publication. If your goal is to compete and go pro, then pursue that angle. The two are separate businesses, so keep that in mind. I would make goals for yourself and take small steps every day to making them happen. Sometimes goals don’t happen simply because of lack of follow through. Start the goal, work the magic to make it happen and see it through! Eat clean & follow your dreams!
Special thanks to Kelsey Byers for taking part in this feature. Feel free to check out her website at www.kelseybyersfitness.com, “Like” her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fitnessmodelkelseybyers, and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kelseybyersfit