When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced people across the world into solitude, the abrupt adjustment to a standard way of life led many to take up new hobbies or further explore lifelong interests. Some learned to play a musical instrument, while others crafted pastries in the kitchen.
Some way or another, many found creative methods of coping with the feelings of isolation and solitude.
Idaho National Laboratory employee Michelle Bishop was no exception to this. She saw the pandemic as an opportunity to work on something unique: herself.
This past June, the mother of three fulfilled her dream of taking to the stage and competing in a bodybuilding competition, spending eight months training and dieting in hopes of crafting the perfect physique.
Her dedication and commitment ultimately paid off when she climbed onto the stage at the Idaho Muscle Classic in Boise this past June.
But like any good story of achieving the impossible, Bishop’s journey was not without its own trials and tribulations.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Looking at her today, it’s difficult to picture Bishop without her stage physique. But before she started lifting weights, there was a time when the heaviest thing she picked up every day was a backpack for school.
The Eastern Idaho native describes her younger self as being “awkward” and “uncoordinated,” often clinging to books and schoolwork as opposed to dumbbells and sports that are synonymous with some bodybuilders’ childhoods.
“Most people that have done bodybuilding have had a background in sports,” she said. “But I never did anything related to sports. I was always stick-thin and had no muscle.”
It wasn’t until after her 30th birthday that Bishop decided to make a lifestyle change and signed up for a gym membership, an act that she describes as daunting.
“It was really intimidating,” said Bishop. “Never being around anyone else that worked out or knew anything about nutrition meant I had to self-educate a lot. Learning from the perspective of never having muscles, trying to put on muscle was really hard.”
Early on, Bishop recalls a lot of trial and error both in the gym and kitchen that led to moments of frustration. But once she began to see and feel her progress, she knew she had found a new passion.
“It was so rewarding,” she said. “I didn’t have a linear progression to get to where I am now, but once I started to see change not just physically but mentally too, it was really gratifying.”
CHANGING THE WORLD’S ENERGY FUTURE
Outside of the gym, Bishop began her career at INL shortly after she graduated from Idaho State University. The decision to pursue a career at the lab stems from watching her dad.
“Growing up, I always remembered my dad working at the lab,” Bishop said. “He would always tell my sister and I how much he loved working here. It was and still is ‘the’ place to work in the area, and so I was really excited to follow in his footsteps after I graduated.”
Coming aboard in 2005, Bishop began as a contract specialist in INL’s acquisition department. For 10 years, she helped procure goods and services that make the lab’s mission and research possible before eventually becoming an IT vendor manager in the Information Management directorate, where she works today.
In her role, Bishop supports the organization by helping coordinate the group’s work and activities, which primarily focus on providing and maintaining the technical infrastructure that makes over 5,000 employees’ work possible.
Much of her day-to-day responsibilities require a keen eye for details and a strategic approach to seeing the bigger picture, something she says helped when it came time to begin preparing for her competition.
“I’m an analytical person at heart,” she said. “I’m very detailed oriented, and that’s extremely important in my job as well as bodybuilding. It’s really a science of tracking everything you are doing every single day and being on top of everything to keep things moving, and that translates to what I do at the lab.”
PREPARING FOR COMPETITION
Up until last year, Bishop had been actively weightlifting for several years and was looking to take her hobby to the next level. She recalls that she had always admired bodybuilding for the work and dedication it takes to succeed, but it was always from an outsider’s perspective.
“In October of 2020, I was reflecting a lot on the lockdown and COVID,” she said. “I was really trying to find something that was just for me that I could focus on to bring something good into my life, and that’s where I found bodybuilding. I told myself that I was going to do this just to prove to myself that I could.”
In October of 2020, Bishop began prepping. She started by finding a coach in a trainer with experience in bodybuilding competitions named Gary Meyers, and the two started to work closely together to make her dream a reality.
They worked together to devise a game plan that entailed strength training for at least an hour six days a week coupled with an hour of cardio seven days a week. Outside of the gym, Bishop practiced a strict high-protein diet that forced her to learn to love chicken breasts, tolerate rice cakes and drink upwards of two gallons of water a day.
For several weeks, their strategy appeared to be working flawlessly. But after just two months together, tragedy struck when Meyers passed away unexpectedly, leaving Bishop without a coach and mentor.
Losing him came with a feeling of uncertainty, but Bishop was determined to push forward to honor his memory.
“Before he passed, Gary had told me the night before his last bodybuilding competition, his dad had passed away,” she said. “So, when I was able to make it to mine, I really felt that Gary would be proud of me for sticking with it. To this day, I carry all of the things I learned from him.”
After eight grueling months of dieting and training, Bishop was able to honor Meyers’ memory the following June during the Idaho Muscle Classic.
As a result of her training and commitment, Bishop placed fourth in her age group; third in the true novice division, a class reserved for first-time competitors; and third in the open class at the competition.
“Bodybuilding is months and months of preparation for just a few minutes on stage,” said Bishop. “My thought going into that day was that I already won even before I went on stage. It’s really about the discipline and challenging myself in ways I never had before. The accomplishment was getting to that day; going on stage is just the icing on the cake.”
Hobbies are fulfilling, and fulfilled people make more productive employees. Hobbies unearth hidden skills, alleviate stress, unite you with others, and improve quality of life — all things that will help you function better at work. See other stories about Idaho National Lab employees.