The Wolf Road and a Female’s Journey: Coach Holly Norberg


By Diana Panoutsos

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of five features about female student-athletes and alums of Niles West highlighting their journeys as female athletes.

You may often see her in the weight room easily bench pressing and squatting impressive amounts, but many not know that coach Holly Norberg once competed in a body building competition.

For those that don’t know, bodybuilding is a competition where after months of working yourself into your top physique, you present different muscles to a group of judges for them to assess and judge you on. This sport requires a lot of self-determination and work to be able to build yourself up to your peak.

“It was a team effort with my coach and me to prepare for this competition, but it was mostly self-driven because no one was telling me that I had to do it. I was the one that had to get up every day and go do it, but it definitely helped to have my coach tell me you have to get back to it and knowing that someone has your back,” Norberg said.

When many think about female bodybuilding, they think of the stereotypes that go along with it. Many are under the impression that only boys are able to excel at these competitions, and that when women compete in such events, they aren’t fitting a so-called “normal” misconception of what women should act and look like. But for Norberg, body building gave her a positive image of herself and it allowed her to be pushed to the extreme.

“Competing in these competitions taught me a lot about myself and how body image works. You see those people in bodybuilding magazines and you think, wow you look so good, but really you are in your most unhealthy state when you look like that. Being able to maintain that look year round, you wouldn’t be able to do it healthily. It was a cool goal to obtain for a short amount of time but then you have to realize that body acceptance and being healthy is a lot more important than the aesthetics of it,” Norberg said.

After completing a few marathons, Norberg was in search of a new challenge for herself until she was introduced to bodybuilding by Niles West coach Fernando Perez. Entering the competition completely changed her life from her eating habits to her training efforts to even her social life, but even so, she says she does not regret any of it.

“A lot of people laughed when I first told them I was going to compete in a bodybuilding competition. It definitely affected my social life because usually going out to eat was a common social outing with my friends but I wasn’t able to do those things because I had such a specific diet, so my social interactions had to change a lot. But even so, I don’t regret any of it. I think it opened my eyes and gave me a new respect for the sport that I didn’t have before. The actual community of it was very welcoming and very kind. It was really refreshing,” Norberg said.

With a six month training time, Norberg placed 4th at her first body building competition. Norberg describes the feeling after she finished competing and how she felt when she realized that she couldn’t stay in that shape forever because of how much it affects your health, mood, and relationships.

“I was not fun to be around during that time. When you drop your body fat by that much, your hormones go crazy. I was hard to deal with and quick to anger, but people understood that and were very helpful about it,” Norberg said. “A lot of bodybuilders, when they come off of it, they have almost like a depression because they reach this peak of physical appearance and then it goes away. It was a struggle for me too. It was such a goal of mine to get to that point and then having to realize that that look is not obtainable forever was a challenge. I had to rewire my focus on my health and body acceptance, such as telling myself that fats are healthy and having to rework my relationship with food.”

Perez believed that Norberg needed a change of pace and recommended for her to try body building to change things up with her workouts and take a break from swimming and running. Perez was a big part in getting Norberg ready for competition and pushing her to her breaking point.

“The biggest portion of helping her with training was the nutrition. We had to sit down and talk about how clean you really had to eat. She realized that the body building world is not an easy world to dive into. It is tough because it is so repetitive but also very meticulous. It came easy for her because her personality is like that; she is very focused on the details of things, which is why I thought this would be a good idea for her,” Perez said.

Norberg sets a positive example for her athletes every day by showing them that hard work pays off in the long run.

“Coach Norberg always makes us work hard because she sees the potential in us and the rest of our team. She pushes us beyond our limits by making us go the extra mile whenever we work out. When she first started coaching me, I could tell she was going to improve my work ethic, and it ultimately helped me improve my game in water polo,” sophomore Lizzie Bechtle said.