Anglo expat muscles her way to Miss Israel Fitness title

Alana Shipp, a housewife and former New Yorker, turned to the gym to lose weight and fight boredom. What she found was a bodybuilding title.

It has been quite a year for Alana Shipp.

Nine months ago, the 30-year-old transplanted American was, by her own definition, a bored Jerusalem housewife. The Barbados-born former U.S. Marine was spending her days tending to two small children while her husband worked for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.

She joined a local fitness club in a bid to shed some weight off of her five-foot-two-inch, 72-kilo (160 lb) frame, a move that would literally reshape her life.

Working out, she caught the eye of Meny Elbaz, a local trainer and bodybuilder.

“We saw that Alana had great potential to become a competitor,” said Elbaz, a French-born former Chabadnik and winner of last year’s Mr. Israel body-building competition. “She was strong in body and mind.”

These days, Elbaz trains Shipp at his newly-opened Sky Gym, a boutique workout facility in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood.

The pair started working together last October, with Shipp training three times a week for one hour. In addition to guiding her through her workouts, Elbaz also altered Shipp’s diet, and in one month she lost five kilos (11 lb). Three months later, she had dropped another 8 kilos (18 lb). By February, Shipp was 15 kilos (33 lb) lighter and weighing in at 57 kilos (156 lb). It was time to ramp things up.

In March, Shipp began working out five days a week, and in April, wanting to feel even more burn, she upped it to six days a week. Each daily workout averages a staggering three hours.

By May, she had a newly-chiseled body and a new wealth of confidence. She took the stage of the Miss Israel Fitness competition in Raanana and did her trainer proud, earning first prize and the title of Miss Israel Fitness.

Her win, however, is only the first set in a much longer-term goal. Shipp is now hoping to take her brawn global, training for an international body-building competition in Hamburg, Germany this November.

“I never thought that I would, in any way, compete in a body-building competition or anything fitness related,” Shipp told Haaretz during a workout this week. “I didn’t have a plan when I got to Israel. Actually I was a little bored, and I just wanted to lose some weight.”

But then again, Shipp also never expected to be in Israel. She says she was surprised and concerned when her husband was assigned to the Holy Land, but she soon warmed up to the idea. “It wasn’t until I came to visit that I really fell in love with the place and decided in a couple of days that I was going back to quit my job and pack up the house and move here,” she says.

Shipp has now been in Israel for nearly four years. She grew up in New York City and spent eight years in the U.S. Marines as a non-commissioned officer, working as a logistics procurement manager in Okinawa, Japan; Camp Pendleton, California; and in New Orleans. Before arriving in Israel, Shipp worked as a procurement manager for Coca-Cola in Dallas.

With so many hours spent in the gym, Shipp credits her husband for picking up the familial slack. While she is busy training, he helps out with the kids and buys the groceries so, she says with a smile, “I won’t have to look at the food.”

Today, Shipp’s weight stands at 58.5 kilos (129 lb). She says she doesn’t count calories, choosing instead to focus on balancing carbohydrate and protein intake. Shipp hasn’t yet decided which country she will be representing when she heads to Germany this November. But she does know that as the date draws closer, she will step up the intensity of her workouts.

Those who know Shipp say her success is a testament to mind over matter. “The biggest change I could see in Alana was not only the physical change but the psychological change,” said Lia Elbaz, Meny Elbaz’s Moscow-born wife. Lia knows what she is talking about: Last year she took second place at the NAC-Israel Miss Bikini competition. “It requires a lot of hard work and discipline, and Alana has it in her.”

Shipp says she will remain in Israel as long as her husband – a logistics manager – does. In the interim, she is taking in as much of Israel as she can.

“As an outsider, coming here, I am really able to appreciate it,” said Shipp. “A lot of times, maybe if you’ve grown up here you don’t see the value of the country. I try to take in as much as I can about the country because I don’t know how long I’ll be here and I don’t want to leave and say, ‘oh I should have done this and I should have done that.'”