RIVERVIEW — Arnold Schwarzenegger once called her "the sexiest grandmudda in da world."
She organized and competed in some of the first female bodybuilding competitions in
A glowing image of Doris Barrilleaux
This is why Doris Barrilleaux is recognized as the "First Lady" of women's bodybuilding. Her shelf of trophies includes several lifetime achievement awards. She's writing an autobiography in her home office on the Alafia River near Tampa, Florida.
Tim Gardner, a
This is one of Doris Barrilleaux's favorite photos by Russ Warner
In the 1980s, Barrilleaux co-wrote books such as "Forever Fit" and "Inside Weight Training for Women." When drugs began to take over bodybuilding -- even female bodybuilding -- she wrote a chapter on women for a book called "Death in the Locker Room: Steroids and Sports."
Her scrapbooks include cover photos for Muscle Mag International, Strength & Health, and Muscular Development. Also Playgirl and a French bodybuilding magazine called Pleine Forme. Pleine Forme? "Durn if I know," Barrilleaux says. "I don't speak French."
Then there's the spring 1984 issue of Body Talk, a magazine she published -- once -- during the boom years of bodybuilding. She photographed three competitors the day after an international show in
When Barrilleaux wasn't covering big shows, she was appearing on TV programs such as "Real People", "20/20", "What My Line", "I've Got A Secret", "To Tell The Truth", and "Sports World." She saved her travel schedules and appearances from those years. Here's a sample from 1981: Montreal ,
She was often the only female judge at early competitions. She remembers a Lebanese bodybuilder confronting her after she gave him a disappointing score: "You stay in you kitchen."
Doris guest posing in New Orleans with 2 of her granddaughters in 1980
Mother of five
Doris-Jean Barrilleaux spent years in the kitchen before she got into bodybuilding. She was born in 1931 and raised in
She'd always admired a muscular physique -- Tarzan, remember? -- so she started weight training. She and her husband had a picture taken of themselves posing, their arms flexed in a double-biceps pose. She sent it in to Strength & Health, where it was rejected.
Doris Barrilleaux's ground breaking book "FOREVER FIT"
"When I think of what happened to women's bodybuilding," she says, "that's pretty funny." When her family moved to
76 year old Doris Barrilleaux exercising to stay forever young
Soon, there were female bodybuilding competitions all over the country.
Sports Illustrated covered the trend in a 1980 feature called "Miss What?" The story commented on Barrilleaux's 48-year-old physique and quoted her on the new world of competition. "I never understood why they had bodybuilding competitions for men and not for women," she said. "I believe there can be a happy medium between women with extreme definition and the body-beautiful type."
In 1980, a woman named Rachel McLish won the first Ms. Olympia title. Barrilleaux had her moment of glory, too, thanks to the promoters of the show. "When Joe and Ben Weider invited me on stage in recognition of what I had done," she says, "that was great." A few years ago, Barrilleaux had rotator cuff surgery, but that hasn't slowed her down. She just finished painting the exterior of her house. Did it herself, of course.
Next to be painted is the barn that holds many of her old trophies and magazines. She hasn't lifted weights in a while, she says, but she still has an old bench, leg press and pulley machine. The seats are covered in a leopard print.
This photo of Doris is from a 1978 competition in Canton, Ohio
Barrilleaux once had an old-fashioned dark room in her house, these days she's up to speed with the latest technology. Her home computer features dual monitors, printers and scanners.
One of her neighbors was an old physics professor. His nickname for her was "Tachyon," because she's always moving. Barrilleaux still goes to
Part of the year, she spends in Franklin,
For Barrilleaux, 76 is a number, not an age. She likes to quote Satchel Paige, the timeless pitcher from the Negro Leagues, about longevity and state of mind. "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?" she says. "I can't believe I'm that old."
An inspirational collage of Doris Barrilleaux through the decades
Georgia Fudge, Deborah Diana, and Carla Dnlap flex for BODY TALK