You would wonder how a country known for its calorie dense meals of Borscht with sour cream, and pirogues smothered in every fat-filled sin imaginable, could yield such a striking physical specimen as IFBB Figure star and fitness model
Zhanna Rotar. But life in the Ukraine is much different than some may imagine. Yes, there is an abundance of very tasty ethnic food but people there live very active lives with a much cleaner sense of the environment and greater concern for what they put into their bodies than we do here in the impatient land of fast food and hormone enhanced beef.
"I didn't know the word 'organic' until I came to America because in the Ukraine everything is organic," Rotar admits. "There are no hormones or pesticides.
Chicken is smaller and is more yellow but it tastes much better. Fruit may not look as good but it smells and tastes very good. In the grocery stores here everything looks so good, but when I would bite into it I would say 'where is the flavor?'"
That respect for nature and her own body as well as her Eastern European work ethic has been the key to her success on stage. While Zhanna has certainly made America a much prettier and better place to be, the first people to greet her here didn't make her feel so welcome. "I came here and people (her classmates in school) made fun of the way I was dressed." A statement like that conjures up stereotypical images of her showing up in class all rosy cheeked and frocked in a brilliant colored dress adorned with gaudy ribbons and ruffles as if celebrating the harvest with dancing and hearty knee slapping laughter. But no, the youth of America were appalled by something far less ostentatious. "I wore makeup, high heels and mini skirts because that was what was appropriate in the Ukraine when you are 16 years old." While quickly checking the price of flights to the Ukraine, one is left to ponder the minds of our youth and the future of this great land.
At first, America was a very cold hard place for her. In 1996, at 16 years old, Zhanna couldn't speak a word of English and was surrounded by people that didn't speak any language she understood. She attended school to finish what in America would be considered the sophomore year of her high school education. "In the Ukraine school is just called school. You go to the same place from age 7 to 17 and its just called school. There I only had one more year to go but when I came to America I had to go 2 more years."
The first 6 months here it was almost impossible to learn anything because of the language barrier. "I couldn't understand anything. I just walked into class everyday and looked at the teacher moving his mouth. Especially in history class, that was really difficult."
After school each day Zhanna would go home and study English with her mother, but the effect on her grades was inevitable. Most people in that situation would fail everything. If you can't read, write, or understand the language you are supposed to learn subjects in then failing seems inevitable, but failing was something Zhanna had never done. She was still able to manage a C average which for anyone else would be an unbelievable achievement but for Zhanna, C wasn't good enough. "I was really upset with my grades and I was getting very depressed. I would go to nearby McDonalds and sedate myself with food. I gained quite a lot of weight. I gained about 20 lbs in my first 6 months at 16 years old. I came from a background of gymnastics and dance and had a really active childhood and for me to gain that much weight was difficult. I was depressed." But she didn't give up.
Within 6 months of arriving in America, Zhanna had mastered English to go along with her other languages of Ukrainian, Russian, and Portuguese. A guidance counselor at school went to bat for her and convinced her teachers to let her re-write the exams she had written when she didn't understand English. She was a straight A student again and rather than finishing her senior year in high school she took an accelerated program and went into college a year sooner, eventually earning her bachelors degree in Political Science with a minor in
Unhappy because she had gained all that McWeight, she joined Golds Gym in downtown Seattle, hired a personal trainer, and the Zhanna we know today began taking shape. At 18 years old she saw a picture of Monica Brant in a magazine and said, "whatever she is doing I want to do this." Two years later she entered her
first figure contest, the 2000 Emerald Cup in Bellevue, Washington and finished 9th in her class. By 2004 she was at the National level and in 2005 she finally earned her IFBB pro card at the NPC Figure Nationals. She made her
pro debut at the 2006 Arnold Classic Figure International where she was far more conditioned than the rest of the field. "I was thinking, I am going to the Arnold. It was a great honor. Every time that thought would come into my head I would run a block or do something." Since then she has learned more about the subtleties of contest preparation and that more is not always better.
Filling a swimsuit is not the only thing she does well. When she was 18 years old she became certified as a personal trainer, worked hard and eventually earned a position with Golds Gym corporate as a trouble shooter for their weaker performing locations. She caught the eye of a Golds Gym owner in Rancho Santa Margarita, California and was offered a job as operations manager. Since taking the position, Zhanna has substantially exceeded all the sales goals set for her and has been offered part ownership of the business.
She works 12 hours a day, seven days a week and still finds the time and energy to be a competitive figure pro and fitness model. It's not because its easy, very little in her life has been easy. It's because she has a positive attitude, and the work ethic to drive forward until she reaches the goals she sets for herself. That's how she lives her life.
ROTAR'S GLUTE WORKOUT
"My favorite body part to train is
glutes, surprise, surprise," she says, laughing "I train glutes with my hamstrings two times a week, this is my routine. I do not rest between any of these sets."