Greek-Canadian Figure Athlete |
& Owner Of Sthenos Clothing Johanna
By Kostas Marangopoulos, M.Sc., CPT.
May 15th, 2013
Johanna Stavrakaki has
been competing for just four years and in that time she has managed to
impress with her natural athletic ability and win her category in one of
the biggest Canadian competitions. She is a talented artist and owner of
Sthenos, one of the hottest fitness clothing lines in Canada and
the United States, with clothing & artwork exhibitions around the world,
including the Arnold Sports Festival.
Born to Greek parents, Johanna
stays true to her heritage and is inspired by Greek history, which
influences her amazing artwork, often depicting powerful figures and
words of strength. She will be competing at the 2013
OPA Provincial Championships
on June 1st, where she will be taking the next step towards her dream of
professional status and a chance to compete at the Arnold Classic.
All of us at Bodybuilders.gr wish her best of luck with her goals. Enjoy
KM: Hi Johanna, I want to welcome you to our interview, it’s
really great to talk to you. I want you to tell us a few things about
yourself, your background, who you are and then we’ll get to how you
started in sports and figure competitions.
Johanna: My name is Johanna Stavrakaki, I was born in Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada but my family is from Greece. I started off with a
Bachelor’s in Fine Arts Degree in New York where I studied and I played
soccer for 15 years, I was a soccer goalie, that’s where I got my sports
root I guess I would have to say.
I’ve traveled all over the world, I lived in Spain, Greece and Italy for
quite a while doing painting but soccer really was my main sport at that
time. I didn’t really know about weight training, it was more of
condition training. I really had never set foot in a gym lifting
So I started off like a skinny kind of soccer girl but I found my
passion and then I had a friend who went to these competitions and I
decided one day to go check it out. I always liked to challenge myself
and I thought to myself “Hey, you know, why don’t I try it and see how
it goes”. And I did my first show and I just fell in love with it.
That’s how my love for sports started; I always looked at the gym’s
magazines like Muscle& Fitness, but the reality of it all didn’t really
set in until I actually tried my first show and realized what these
women actually go through to get there.
KM: And your first show was in 2010?
Johanna: Yes, my first show was in 2010.
KM: And that was in the Bikini division, correct?
Johanna: Yes, it was in Bikini and fitness.
KM: It was Bikini and fitness as well?
Johanna: Well, the organization that I was in is a little bit
different, we don’t do the routines, it’s more like you wear a costume
and strut your stuff on stage and things like that. The other
organization is similar for Fitness like in the United States where you
do the routine and everything. I was doing Bikini and that was my main
thing for a while.
KM: You said that you saw one of your friends compete and that
inspired you to become a competitor yourself. Was that when you said to
yourself that you wanted to challenge yourself and try it out?
Johanna: Yes, and also I was living in Spain for a while and I
returned home and I did the soccer thing, I did the art thing, that was
what I was doing in Spain mostly. But I really wanted to learn more
about how the body works, how to change the body, about nutrition and
dieting, so I became a personal trainer. That also led me to the shows
more and made me want to learn more about how to transform and that led
me to do my first show also.
KM: So, for the 15 years that you played soccer, did you play
in a team?
Johanna: I played in a team, it was a very competitive league,
and I played in series B in Italy. So I played there for about 2 years
and then I came home.
KM: So, you started your art in Italy. Was it always your
aspiration to become an artist?
Johanna: I’ve been an artist since I was walking. I’ve always had
crayons or colors in my hands, on my face, I’ve always been an artist,
it’s always been in my blood really. My mom is an artist, I also like
cooking, I bake, and art in general is a huge part of who I am.
KM: I have to say that your art is really amazing. I was
looking at your website and the clothing lines and they are really
Johanna: Thank you!
KM: When, were you first introduced to weight training? When
you finished soccer? When you decided to compete, or before that?
Johanna: Actually my sophomore year in university, that’s when I
really wanted to start changing. In my freshman year I wasn’t in the
best shape, I didn’t really like how I was looking and I really wanted
to be thin. I was 47 pounds overweight or maybe even more.
I really wanted to just drop the weight and look better, feel
better, eat healthier and just change my life, and that’s what I decided
to do. So I kind of went on and did the weight training on my own. I
mean, I had some friends tell me what to do but I really didn’t know
exactly what I was doing.
It wasn’t until I actually started becoming a personal trainer and
getting ready for shows that I started learning all the different muscle
groups, how to make things pop, how to do all these different things and
how to make muscles grow. That’s where it all started.
At The 2012 GNC
OPA Ottawa Championships.
KM: In 2010 you competed for the first time and since then
you’ve done 7 shows?
Johanna: 7 shows, yeah.
KM: What has the competitive experience been like?
Johanna: Well, I love the experience. I love being on stage, I
love that feeling of accomplishment, where you can show all your hard
work off. I love the process, I love the training and also all the
support from friends, family and the community.
In the bodybuilding world, everyone is so close to each other and
very supportive of one another, because everyone is going through the
same thing with the training and the diet. But
it’s something I just really love and it’s not easy, for sure.
Definitely not. I mean, it’s something I’m passionate about and I want
to succeed in and everything I do. I push myself until I succeed in my
KM: Speaking of goals, what’s your most immediate competitive
Johanna: My competitive goal would be that I would like to
eventually get my IFBB pro card as a figure athlete and to be able to
compete next year in the Arnold Classic. That’s my goal.
So now I’m doing the OPA Provincial
Championships which is
combined with the IFBB Toronto Pro Super Show. I have to place in the
top 5 and then I would go on to the Nationals which is in August.
And from there, there are different avenues you can follow. I either
have to place top 5 and get my card or place top 5 and I’m allowed to do
the Arnold. Or the other thing is, I was going to do after the Nationals
is do the North Americans in the US where I can also get my pro card as
well. So I have two chances.
KM: So, the OPA is like the NPC of the United States.
Johanna: Yes, the OPA is connected with the IFBB, like the NPC is
connected to the IFBB.
KM: Getting a pro card is a big goal. I wish you all the best
Johanna: Thank you.
KM: Which athletes do you look up to
as role models?
Johanna: I would say Erin Stern is one of my biggest role models.
I just think that she has the physique I’ve always dreamed of, beautiful
lines, still so muscular but still feminine. Her presence on stage is so
elegant, which is something, I really look up to.
Also, she is not in fitness, but my mother has been a big mentor
for me as well. I’ve really looked up to her all my life and she really
kept me going. So other than athletes, my mom really.
KM: I can tell, your mom really inspires you.
Johanna: Yes, she does. She does inspire me. She is really
supportive; my entire family is generally supportive.
KM: And they motivate you as well.
Johanna: Yes. They motivate me.
KM: Because sometimes, you know,
people say to their friends and family "I want to compete, I’m going to
go through 12 or 16 weeks of really hard dieting", and they say “why do
you want to do that to yourself, eat some pastitsio or something”.
Johanna: Exactly! (laugh)
KM: Some people just don't want to be very supportive, or
they may not really understand the reasons why we go through the
training and dieting, in order to get where we aspire to be.
Johanna: That’s true. And support is extremely important
especially in this sport.
KM: There are so many highs and lows that you need people you
can rely on for emotional support.
Johanna: For sure, exactly.
KM: Do you have a trainer or
somebody that helps you with your training and contest preparation?
Johanna: I do have a trainer yes. She’s really helped me work on
my weaknesses. Her name is Elissa Molino. She is a national competitor,
figure competitor as well, and she also owns a tanning studio and she
was there at the Arnolds last year, doing tanning backstage. She has a
couple of females that she works with and she is a fantastic coach. She
is so caring and really pays attention. She is great and she is very
honest. Sometimes brutally honest, but brutal honesty is very important,
especially in what we do.
KM: I agree, because if you have somebody that's going to
sugar coat it, that's not going to play in your advantage in the end.
It's better to know the truth in order to improve.
Johanna: It’s true!
Owner, Designer &
Artist Of Sthenos Clothing
KM: Let’s get into business now. Sthenos - a powerful
Greek word. Tell me the whole story behind it.
Johanna: Sthenos started about a year and half ago. I wanted to
find a way to combine my art and my fitness together. I wanted to kind
of tell the story of all my challenges that I went through in my life,
not just in the fitness world but through school as well.
I create things that are strong and beautiful that convey very positive
messages as well. You can achieve your goals, you can do this, you are
strong, powerful, that's the kind of the message I’m trying to convey. I
didn’t see anything in the fitness industry, in the fitness clothing in
general that was like Sthenos.
There are some other things but there was nothing that had actually
personal hand painted visual art clothing, and I thought I would give
this a shot and see how people respond. While I was doing my
competitions, on the side I was also doing commission pieces for
customers and clients as well. I wanted to find a way to combine the
two. That’s how it all kind of started.
KM: So, it all started from your passion and your interest in
art and your idea to combine fitness apparel with your personal hand
painted art, right?
KM: They are all your personal designs?
Johanna: Yes, everything is my own artwork. I paint everything on
canvas, or charcoal or paper, then I photograph the finished piece and
then I would get the graphic designer to make it into a vectorized image
so that it could be used to be printed on the clothes or bled in the
clothing as well. It’s a complicated process but it comes out really
nice in the end.
KM: I don’t know much about how clothes are made, so please
tell me a bit more about the process.
Johanna: They are hand cut in stone, and everything is of my own
design. Whenthey produce it they bleed the image into the clothing, so
it’s not a rough print it’s actually like a stamped print.
At the beginning, I was doing everything, I was going and buying blank
t-shirts and blank tanks and I was doing the screen printing. But that
was not really what I wanted. I wanted to make fashion pieces. So now,
coming this fall and this winter we have 26 new pieces coming out, they
are fitness stuff but they are really fashionable, stuff you can wear,
for men and women, inside and outside of the gym. But everything is of
my own design; it’s kind of what I wanted to do.
KM: You have some great pieces there, really nice and really
unique. You don’t see things like these often. I mean there are creative
things out there but not like these. Cause Sthenos too, it's such a
powerful and inspiring word. I hope that people who see the clothing
line understand what it actually means.
Johanna: People really like the word Sthenos, it’s sounds cool,
and they go like “Oh, that’s what it means, that’s even cooler”. It took
a while to figure it out but I think it worked. It was kind of a
combination of my family and my head put together trying to figure out
KM: What motivated you to choose this particular name?
Johanna: It’s what it stands for, the strength and determination,
cause Sthenos it really encompasses what I stand for and what I’ve gone
through. It’s a very powerful word for me.
I’ve never quit on anything, I’ve always reached my goals, I always
shoot for the stars, I’m very persistent, I don’t quit, I’m strong and
that’s who I am as a person.
Designs Of The Sthenos Clothing Line.
KM: Does your creativity and designs come from Greece as well?
Do your designs reflect your Greek heritage at all?
Johanna: I would say maybe a little bit. I guess some of them are
mostly intuitive pieces that I just create from my head on the canvas,
specifically the ones in the Artistic Series, they are powerful men and
women. I was looking more on the bodybuilders and I guess I was thinking
almost Greek warriors. I have a series coming
up with a new color in the line that has a lot of fighters and warriors.
It’s the new thing, it’s in the makings, it’s going to be ready for fall
and winter for the clothing line.
My warrior series, my fighter series, I think of the Greek warriors as I
create this line. Also, my background, I also did art history and I very
much loved the Ancient Greek art. I mean, that
was something that always really inspired me, the beautiful sculptures,
how they sculpted the bodies. The big beautiful pieces where part of my
inspiration as well.
KM: What kind of Greek figures inspire you, do you want to
give me an example of a design?
Johanna: Something like a Greek God. I think of Poseidon with his
muscles and his strong look, I was looking at pictures of body builders
but I was looking at pictures of Greek Gods as well. Kind of combining
the two. I had different ways of inspiration. I would make inspiration
boards, and I would get on there a bunch of pictures that inspired me
and from that board I would create my composition. That’s what I did.
KM: I'd like to go back to your competitive career for a
moment and ask you - How difficult was the transition from bikini to
Johanna: It was actually quite difficult. I had to gain a lot of
weight in order to build what I needed to build for my physique. I
literally bulked for a year really, and it was horrible, I hated it
because no girl wants to wear sweat pants all the time and not fit in
her clothes, but man, it paid off. I mean I
didn’t have shoulders, I had tiny legs, I was very skinny, so I
basically had to build my body from scratch, really. I know that Bikini
has muscle but I mean, not the same ways Figure does. Because Figure is
all about lines and proper proportions, right? They are proportional and
in order to do that you have to build certain muscles and it’s
complicated in some sense.
KM: Wide upper body, tiny waist.
Johanna: Exactly, and it was hard for me because I never had that
body, that tiny waist. I was a soccer player, I was an athlete, I had an
athlete’s frame. I had the bikini attitude on stage but I had a figure
shape. So I switched. I mean, I loved Bikini and it was a lot of fun, I
had fun with Bikini. But Figure is so much more, to me, is more elegant
and fun. I think "elegant" suits me more as a person than Bikini. More
sophisticated and elegant, more rewarding for me.
KM: I understand. Are there a lot of differences between Bikini
and Figure training and dieting?
Johanna: I think that Bikini train as hard as Figure girls do.
Only we would have to work different, maybe we have to build a bit more
and work on different areas. I’ve noticed that I have to do a lot more
cardio as a Figure athlete than when I was as in Bikini, because I need
to be a lot leaner.
Bikini is not a lot softer but it is a little softer look. So you have
to do more cardio. I think the dieting is a little harder in Figure too.
But it’s not too much different. It was just really creating and
changing my whole body. That was the hard part. There was a lot to do
but it worked great.
The Amazing Paul Buceta.
KM: And, what would you say to all girls that are just
starting out, they look up to athletes like you and have aspirations of
competing one day? What would your advice be to them?
Johanna: I would say, do it! It’s an amazing goal, it’s fun, it
will challenge you, and it will make you learn things about your body
and yourself that you never knew. You learn so much from doing a show. I
would say there are a lot of women that do one show, to have that goal,
to look like that on stage.
Honestly the way we look on stage, we don’t look like that 24/7, you can
stay really lean and look amazing and fit but to look that way it
wouldn’t be real, in a sense.
I would say go for it, but understand it’s not easy but at the same time
it’s worth every minute of your effort, the work and the struggle. It’s
worth it. If you want to compete at a higher level just understand that
it’s going to take everything you have. You will have to make sacrifices
for many things.
In some ways, it really does takes over your life if you want to go to a
higher level. But if you are going to do your first show or just go to
the gym, I say go for it, you’ll feel incredible, you’ll feel awesome
about yourself, it’s an awesome goal. I can say personally, it’s changed
my life. I’m so happy with what I have created but it took me time. This
doesn’t happen fast. I’ve been working out on this now for a total of 6
years. With the competitions your muscle also matures. The older you get
and the more you compete, it progresses and it gets better.
KM: You said the word sacrifice. What kind have you made
Johanna: Sacrifices. I have, in the past, sacrificed
relationships sometimes. I’ve become, kind of become like a hermit
during competition training. You become less social with people. You are
focused on one thing. But also, you have to learn how to balance
everything. At first it’s difficult, but in
the end you learn. I mean, right now I’m balancing Sthenos and I’m
balancing four weeks to my show, and I still see my friends, I still try
to be as social as possible, although sometimes I just want to go to
bed. But it’s all about learning how to balance your life.
KM: You are 4 weeks out now as you said. Usually how long does
your contest preparation last?
Johanna: I will start my contest prep about 13 weeks out. I stay
pretty lean in my off season. The first time I built to become Figure, I
was not lean. But now since I’ve built the frame, I am able to maintain
that leanness in the off season, as well. I don’t have to build muscle
immensely any more. The frame work is already there. So 13 to 12 weeks
I’ll start my prep for the show.
KM: What is your training philosophy? So you have specific
workout principles that you follow?
Johanna: I love lifting heavy, and I like doing the simple
exercises, simple presses, squats, front squats, the old school kind of
training. But variation also is really important in your workout. So, I
mean, I’ll do a bit of plyometrics, conditioning training, I’ll do jump
squats with heavy weights, I’ll do burpees, pushups to a pull up, just
to get the body up and going. I think the more you challenge your body
the more change you’ll see. Your body gets used to making the same move
over and over again so to get the growth you want, you have to mix it
KM: Do you diet for the whole 13 weeks?
Johanna: Yes, I’ll diet for the whole 13 weeks but I do get cheat
meals. I had my cheat meal last week.
KM: Is your nutrition progressive i.e.
getting low carb as you get closer to the show?
Johanna: I find that low carb right now works for me the best.
When I was closer to the 13 week mark, I was eating more oats, rice and
things like that, sweet potatoes. But as I get closer, I cut them out
and I eat more vegetables, proteins and fats.
I’d have a little almond butter, lots of chickens, fish and I still eat
red meat. Bison is a big thing that I’ve been eating as well. When I
have to carb up I puff up nicely for the show. My diet is pretty good
and my calories are not that restricted. I still need them to be able to
train. I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make or coaches make
that they take away so much food away from the athletes that they are so
depleted that they can’t function.
They can’t train, and you need that energy to at least train. Then when
you go on stage and you don’t pump up at all. This has happened to me.
One of my first figure shows I was on a diet with no carbs for way to
long and I didn’t get pumped up. I was completely flat on the stage and
I looked like a skeleton. It was horrible. So after that show, I was OK,
I have to do something. I made the change and then I won my first show
in the "Figure Tall" category with the OPA in November. All my hard work
KM: How many athletes do usually compete at the OPA shows?
Johanna: There are quite a few actually. I think the Ottawa show
had 200+ competitors. It can get quite large. The provincials coming up
in June will have a lot of competitors. Bikini is a very popular
category. There are a lot of Bikini girls, I know that. In my category,
I’m Figure Tall, there were about 7 girls in November. Figure Tall is
not as big category, as is medium or short.
The Figure Tall Category Of The 2012 OPA Ottawa Championships.
KM: So, how tall are you?
Johanna: 5’ 10”. So on stage I’m about 6 feet tall, I look
KM: That's great for figure.
Johanna: It is great but it is a lot harder, especially for legs,
the taller you are the harder to build your legs. So for tall girls I
think getting proportions right takes a little more time than someone
that is a lot shorter.
KM: What does it take to, you know, for you specifically to
achieve that glamorous look on stage? Cause you know, figure is very
glamorous and majestic and pretty and all of those things. What does it
take, and do you think it’s something that you are born with or can
create it through training?
Johanna: I think you can create it. I think I had it, although a
little bit. I was born with that elegance. But for sure, when I first
started walking on heels, I walked like a farmer. I walked like a farmer
and I practiced non-stop. That is the key. You have to practice every
day and not stop.
You have to go on stage like it’s your everyday routine. It has to be
natural, it has to look good, it has to look beautiful, and it has to be
spot on. And you have to be so confident. To tell you the truth I used
to be really shy, and in general doing these shows made me more
confident in myself as well and less shy than I was. On stage people say
that I look extremely confident, that I glow. So, to practice, practice,
practice, that’s what I would tell anybody that would try to compete.
Put on your heels, walk around your kitchen, do your poses while you are
cooking, do whatever.
KM: It has to become second nature.
Johanna: It has to be natural. But on top of that, we have to go through
tanning, we have to buy expensive beautiful suits, it doesn’t have to be
expensive, but the nicer it looks, the more impression on the judges.
It’s nice to get dolled up. It’s a lot about your muscle, your shape,
proportion, the lines, but it is also about the beauty.
You have to have the right nails, the right face, look, the right hair.
I mean, they do judge these things. I’ve seen shows where the girl
looked amazing, posing was amazing, but her look was not just right. So,
they do judge on beauty
KM: And you have to pick a good color for your suit that makes
you stand out.
Johanna: Yes. Super light colors don’t do well on stage. I find
the darker colors, greens, red, dark purples, look nicer under the
lights. Nothing tan colored, that just looks like you are naked. Nothing
like gold, tan or white suit would be a bad choice because you would get
your tanner on it. I would go for darker colors.
KM: What is your favorite color for a suit?
Johanna: I like green. I have a green suit now. I’ve been using
Tamie Marie in the States, she is the one I’ve been buying my suits
from. I love her suits. You put them on right from the bag and they fit
like a glove. They have the glamorous feel you want.
KM: Let me ask you a little bit about supplements. Do you have
a favorite supplement, do you have a company that you like more? What
supplements do you use in general?
Johanna: I use a mix of supplements. I am a Magnum
Nutraceuticals sponsored athlete and they are my favorite
supplements. I really like their protein powder and their isolates! I take a
fat burner, green tea extract, CLA, a good multivitamin and vitamin C. I
also take calcium, magnesium, just the basic things really. I will take
a pre-workout as well but I just cut my pre-workouts two weeks ago out
actually. Because there is some sugar in there, and I don’t want that.
So I’ll usually have a coffee before I work out and before cardio.
KM: Do you like/drink Greek coffee?
Johanna: Yes, I do drink Greek coffee but not before the work
out. I usually drink a Starbucks espresso, something quick. The Greek
coffee has the grind in it and I don’t think it tastes good in a shot.
But I do like Greek coffee. Closer to the show, I reduce my supplements
and actually even take out my protein powders out. So my post workout
meal is something like chicken and carbs.
KM: What are your favorite cheat meals you usually do?
Johanna: I love sushi, but I love spinach pie as well. My dad
loves to make spinach pie and then buy it as well. I’ll be coming over
to their house for dinner and I’ll have my little oatmeal container and
they’ll be eating spinach pie beside me and I’ll be like “oh no, I want
it so bad”. But that’s the first think I eat when I go to Greece.
Everytime I go to Greece.
KM: How is it being in a Greek family and being raised with
all the traditional things? How do you cope with everything, especially
around the big Greek holidays like Easter?
Johanna: I’m pretty disciplined. When I diet, I have a goal set
and I stick to it. I mean, in the past, when I first started it was a
little difficult but now it’s not hard for me at all to resist.
My mom comes home with all kinds of Greek cookies and breads,
everything looks delicious but I can’t touch it. I’ve learned to be very
disciplined in my diet. It’s not that bad.
KM: I can say from experience, dieting around Greek parents is
extra hard..! Speaking of family, who would you like to thank through
Johanna: My fans, my family, all my
loved ones, my boyfriend who is supportive. I would say my coach, she’s
been huge support in everything I’ve gone through. This prep has been
quite difficult for me, it’s a whole different level of competition
coming up. It’s like you make it or you have to wait another year to do
It’s a big deal and she’s been my friend, my family, all the other
athletes, all the girls , I have so much support from some of the IFBB
girls. Gloria Faulls IFBB pro, she is so supportive to me, she is like a
big sister really. Everyone who is supportive.
KM: Excellent. Johanna, thank you very much for your time. I
want to wish you all the best in your upcoming competition and to see
you soon on the pro circuit.
Johanna: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
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Johanna and Sthenos Clothing, please visit:
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