I started photographing and writing about physique events in 1999. By the year 2000, I was traveling across Canada covering every major event, and, in turn, getting to know the country’s top competitors.

Back then, bodybuilding and fitness were the only disciplines for women to compete in, at least within the major organizations (figure, bikini, and fitness modeling came a few years later). Of the two, fitness was more interesting for me, because it didn’t have only the posing-suit round, but the routine round as well. And when it came to that discipline, I thought one competitor stood out from the rest – Nadia Moussa from Montreal.

Part of what made Nadia special was her striking, beautiful, and distinctive look, which was obvious in the bikini round, but just as apparent in the routine round – her outfits always had color and flare that complemented her good looks, and they usually had a youthful appearance, which made her look more stylish and up-to-date than the rest of the competitors. Then there were her expertly choreographed routines, which often combined gymnastic and strength moves with breakdancing, the latter being something she was very interested in and few other competitors could do well. Combine all those things and Nadia was, in my opinion, Canada’s best fitness competitors at that time – as well as one of the greats of all time.

Others thought so too. Nadia rose to the top of the CBBF’s national ranks, and then turned heads when she competed on the IFBB’s world stage. Nadia was going places. But in 2002, when she was only 26, Nadia more or less disappeared – at least from the fitness world.

Nadia and BrianNadia with Physique Canada's current president, Brian Robitaille, at the 2002 CBBF World Qualifier. Both of them won their respective divisions and then retired from competing.

Nadia’s exit from competitive fitness disappointed me, but didn’t surprise me, because I’ve often seen competitors depart suddenly and/or unexpectedly. But I never forgot about her; in fact, when people ask me who my favorite competitors were, Nadia’s name would and still does come up, even though she last competed so long ago.

Imagine my surprise then, when I was looking through the registrations for a SAF fitness camp earlier this year and saw Nadia’s name on the list. (SAF stands for SeriousAboutFitness.com. It is a women's physique organization, which I run.) And when it came to camp day, she was the first person there. I quickly learned that while Nadia had disappeared from the world of competitive fitness, she’d never completely forgotten it – she also hadn’t quit training, since she was very obviously in shape. Attending this camp, she told me, was so that she could get familiar with the physique world again, since things have changed in the 12 years since she last set foot on the stage.

That camp was not only a big success for SAF, but for Nadia too, since it gave her the motivation to compete again. Almost immediately after it, she started e-mailing to ask me questions about competing, and once she learned that the June 14 SAF Summer Spectacular was full already (class sizes are limited), she made the decision to try her hand in the women’s muscular physique discipline (aka figure) in Physique Canada. I immediately proclaimed “Nadia’s Back!” to the world through social media outlets, then shortly after that I sat down with her for an interview to learn why she left the scene 12 years ago, what she did during her time away, and what she wants to accomplish now that she’s making a comeback at 38 years of age. Here is what Nadia said:

Doug Schneider: You were doing very well in the Canadian fitness scene, as well as rising in the ranks in the IFBB’s world championships, but you left after the 2002 season and never came back . . . until now. Were you tired of competing? Or were there other reasons you left?

Nadia Moussa: I chose to leave the competitive circuit for a variety of reasons. After the 2002 CFBB World Qualifier, I found myself questioning the amount of energy I was expending on the endeavor as a whole. Short on returns, for lack of a better term, I felt a burgeoning uncertainty in regards to the direction the fitness industry appeared to be headed that left me unsure about wanting to participate further.

I chose to abstain from competing for a second time in the IFBB Women's World Championships due to an ankle injury, and found myself with time and opportunity to explore new disciplines.

I've always fostered a very open-minded policy concerning my training interests, and armed with the same passion that led me to competitive fitness, I delved into a multitude of new methods and applications. The time spent experimenting with all these sports and activities served to expand my personal experience and abilities.

My path led me to marriage, and children. My priorities had shifted.

My husband is in the military, and the life of a military spouse is no simple task. My days were filled with other activities to take part in, my heart and mind preoccupied by the family and frequent deployments. Stationed away from extended family and friends, I found myself surrounded by those who serve and the terms commitment, dedication, resolve, and exertion had taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Nadia in 2002Nadia in 2002

DS: In the 12 years from then to now, have you weight trained consistently?

NM: Trained? Yes. Consistently? No. However, with that said, I trained differently than ever before. And the results were astounding.

DS: Did you pick up any other sports? Get into anything else competitively?

NM: Following my departure from the circuit, I developed a keen interest in the practice of Parkour, also known as Free Running. I also continued breakdancing as a hobby, as well as teaching it.

The luxury of such freedom of movement coupled with its explosive and instinctive nature appealed to me. After countless years of gymnastics training, the rigid and regimented structure of the art had left me feeling physically deficient in certain aspects of mobility. Parkour and breakdance allowed me to discover new ways of moving, adding a different functionality to my strength.

My involvement in gymnastics had also changed after having accepted the position of head coach. After my relocation to Ontario and getting my Level 1 Instructor certification, I started experimenting with CrossFit; I briefly studied Olympic weightlifting and did a certification with Kanama High Performance. I renewed my interest in physical therapy, and did an Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) certification as well as a Corrective Exercise Specialist certification. I've kept busy!

DS: When did you start thinking about competing again?

NM: I think I always wanted to return to competitive fitness. I felt as though I had yet to finish what I'd started.

When my children began attending kindergarten, I found myself able to dedicate more time and effort to my training. Although driven to compete again, I also knew that a new approach to the endeavor was needed, if it was to be enjoyable once again. In order to be able to redefine my training as more of a "complimentary activity" rather than the primary focus of my daily energy, I strove to optimize and maximize my efforts and diet.

Nadia at SAF CampNadia (left in grey jacket and white-striped sweatpants) attended SAF fitness camp in March 2014

DS: Why did you choose Physique Canada to make your comeback?

NM: I guess one of the criteria I'd imposed on myself, if I were to return to competition, was a change of scene to accompany my change of approach. I attended a SAF seminar and loved the energy, and I heard about Physique Canada's figure category, which was the closest to the fitness category. The attitude of both federations [SAF and Physique Canada]; the proximity of the events (both to each other and in relation to me), which would allow my family to attend the shows; the opportunity to experiment with new ways of performing on stage; and innovate training solutions to compliment my performance – it seemed that competing in both Physique Canada and SAF was the logical option. Also it seems to me that the promoters actually give back and care about the athletes.

And then there's you, Doug – seeing your drive and integrity towards the sport throughout these years is inspiring.

DS: You’re now 38, but the last time you competed you were 26. Do you think you can regain your original shape? Do you think you can be better?

NM: I have a better "working relationship" with my body – we're in sync. It's a relationship fostered through trial and error, forged through an endless personal battle peppered with victories and defeats. The time I have spent training amongst “men of war” has changed me. Immersed amongst this crowd and its infectious determination, I grew both as a person, and as an athlete. Adapt and overcome, become faster and stronger.

To answer the question directly, however, I must say simply: No, I can't regain my original shape. I’m better than ever – no need to downgrade!

DS: Denis Pedneault joined Physique Canada after he competed with the CBBF and IFBB for a long time, and, in turn, became quite an inspiration to drug-free competitors national-wide. But Denis never left competition for the long duration you did. Do you think that your return to competition will be an inspiration to other women who stopped competing many years ago for one reason or another, but might consider competing now?

NM:  I would surely hope so. If one key to success is consistency, time is therefore an ally, not a foe!

DS: Thanks Nadia! We look forward to seeing you on the Physique Canada stage on June 14.

Doug Schneider
SeriousAboutMuscle.com Founder and Publisher