A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
My name is Theresa Ivancik, and I am a professional female bodybuilder with the IFBB Pro league, fitness model, and entrepreneur. I am part owner of Harlan’s Elite Fitness and Harlan’s Elite Customs. I am also a certified personal trainer of Harlan’s Personal Training as well as an online coach.
All this didn’t happen overnight.
This journey all started with one simple question…
What do you want to be when you grow up? A question everyone is asked at least once in their lifetime. Some people can answer right away while others find their passion, as it will lead you to your purpose!!
I struggled with this question for many years as I was uncertain, confused, and had no direction as to what I wanted to do or who I wanted to become.
Everything changed the second I got my hands on an Oxygen Fitness Magazine back in 2001. I instantly became inspired by the way these girls looked. I thought to myself, one day that will be me. I was instantly impassioned with health and fitness and set a goal to compete in my first bodybuilding competition. I had a vision of becoming a professional athlete and possibly having the honor to step on the Olympia Stage! No one understood my sense of direction, but I was determined to do it anyway.
My next question was, how do I achieve this?
This is when I first met my fiancé, Jeff Harlan.
While I was working at a local fitness center, I was told to go see him if I really wanted to pursue competing… So, I made an appointment to meet with him. We discussed my diet, and I showed him what I wanted to look like from a picture in that Oxygen magazine. He told me I needed to chill on the cardio, and that I needed to eat way more food! Well, with me being a cardio freak and suffering from bulimia, I thought he was crazy. So, I left, and didn’t continue consulting with him as I decided to do things on my own.
In 2006, I started weight training on my own in my parent’s basement for my first competition. I researched diet, exercise, and bodybuilding competitions through the internet and magazines. I developed my own diet and training routine and, even though I was still battling the disease, I continued to obsessively train and do cardio for more than four hours a day. I was determined to make this happen. I entered my first figure competition in 2007. I placed first at my first show, but still didn't look the way I really wanted to look! It was now seven years later when I ran into trainer Jeff Harlan again, and I told him I was ready to do it! He began to train me, and, over time, we developed a personal relationship.
I figured getting a coach would be a good way for me to teach myself that food is fuel and to take control of the eating disorder the right way. After 7 long years, I finally accomplished this and beat the bulimia. My goals were now becoming very clear. I had a vision of three major things I wanted to accomplish in life:
- Become a personal trainer
- Own my own gym
- Be a professional athlete with the IFBB pro league.
So, question number three was, how I am going to do this?
Jeff and I began training together in January 2008 at a local gym (the gym where I used to work). May 2008 was my first real big show with a much stricter diet and much more intense training with Jeff Harlan! This show was held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh! Once my feet hit that stage, I was completing hooked on perfecting my craft and becoming a better athlete every single day!
Shortly after the show, Jeff asked, if I would like to come work for him as a personal trainer! Of course, I said yes; how could this evening be happening. One of the goals I had set out to achieve just came true. I studied and received my certification as a personal trainer and began training clients with him. We worked together creating and building a name for ourselves under Harlan’s Personal Training.
In January 2010, I decided to make a switch to women’s bodybuilding. This different style of training and nutrition was extremely addicting. I entered my first bodybuilding show in Pittsburgh at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in May 2010. I also took my 83-year-old grandpa, Pete Ivancik, with me to compete for his first time in the Mr. Pittsburgh masters over 80 class. It was so rewarding to see his face light up when he won the title and held up the huge trophy along with his Most Inspirational plaque. That day changed his life forever. It brought out a different aspect of his personality, something I had never seen before! We both got to share that stage together for our first bodybuilding competition, an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life! He then continued to pump and weight train until he passed away at age 91. I continue to be motivated and inspired by his example.
In 2011, not long after I started working with Jeff, we were asked to take over Alexanders Athletic Club, the fitness center we were personal training from! Of course, we said yes, and changed the name to Harlan’s Elite Fitness. I could not believe that another goal of mine had come true! After two years, the building was sold, and we moved closer to our hometown of Butler, PA. In 2014, we opened Butler’s first Harlan’s Elite Fitness. We have been in business for 10 years and are now looking to expand the gym to a larger location.
In a short period of time, I conquered two of the goals I set out to achieve. I only had one goal remaining, and that was to turn pro, which finally happened in 2016 at Nationals! All the goals I set out to achieve are now accomplished and my dreams are fulfilled! So, I sat back and reflected on where I came from, who I was becoming, and how much I have accomplished. Someone that was so uncertain of what direction to go in life was doing the impossible! So again, another question? What now?
Well, at this pace I said to myself, pick a bigger mountain to climb. I decided I wanted to win a pro show and make it to the Olympia!! (Which is the Super Bowl for bodybuilding!) After turning pro in 2016 I did my pro debut in 2017, landing me a second-place spot and a special invite to the Rising Phoenix World Championships – It was my first year as a pro, and I was going to the world championships. In 2019, I won my first pro show along with receiving best poser award. This night came with something special as well, a marriage proposal on stage from Jeff Harlan! Of course, I said yes!!! Winning this show landed me another spot at the Rising Phoenix World Championships, where I placed 6th in the world. In 2020, I won my second pro show, along with another best poser award, and the Olympia qualification, where only the best in the world can compete. This show is the highest show you can go in the bodybuilding industry.
For the second time now, I have achieved the goals I have set out to reach! Winning not only one but two pro shows and finally Olympia qualified!
There we have it; the next two goals were achieved once again!!
In 2021 I was told by judges to drop down a division into women’s physique. I was up for the challenge. With my body type I could go both ways in the sport either woman’s physique or female bodybuilding. I figured why not give it a try. I never miss an opportunity to try something different! I ended up placing 7th out of 20 girls, but didn’t feel at home, and still felt too big for that division. So, we made the decision to go back to female bodybuilding in 2022! At this point we had to set some goals again. You guessed it, win a pro show, and return to the Olympia. Well, it didn’t take long at all, my first pro show of the season I won the Indy Pro, qualifying me for the 2022 Olympia! We are back!
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would come this far in the sport. I have been competing now for 15 years!
Throughout my career, I have competed in a total of 28 bodybuilding competitions and lots of guest appearances. I had a lot of amazing opportunities along the way while meeting some incredible people.
I was honored to guest speak at my 10-year class reunion
Featured role in Mikes hard lemonade commercial
Guest speaker at Butler County Community College about breaking the norms and teaching students to follow their dreams and let nothing get in the way
Guest poser and speaker at amateur NPC Shows
Featured in the first season of a reality tv show called Buff Dynasty with Wings of Strength
Featured in a music video
Featured in a book called Underneath We Are Women – Showing how women come in all different shapes, sizes, conditions, and stories. This was a huge eye opener for me! By far one of the most rewarding experiences ever.
Featured in several podcast and YouTube training videos
Front page and two pages spread of Peoples Magazine and Best Magazine in South Africa and the UK.
Most recent projects I am working on is a film with beyond bodybuilding – a documentary about women’s bodybuilding! Stay tuned for this release date, along with this incredible opportunity to be featured on the cover of the July 2022 issue of Amazon Magazine! Forever grateful for all these opportunities.
My next Journey begins now, with a new goal: to be best in the world one day!!!! I have learned to not follow my dreams but to chase them! Bodybuilding has changed my life in so many ways; from the people I have met, to the places I have been. I am here to motivate, inspire, and help others reach their full potential. Over the years, I have learned so much and continue to learn every day. Never take anything for granted and never stop believing in yourself and all that you are capable of. Tomorrow is not promised. I am forever thankful for all the love and support from my entire family, friends, and fans, and I will continue to help inspire others all around the world.
Everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to teach, and wisdom to share… Life is a beautiful masterpiece bound together by your experience. Open up and share your story, become an inspiration to others. You can make a difference because you matter. You were created with purpose. Live your life with intention, go out there and make a difference by being the difference.
A vision is the art of seeing the invisible! Believing in yourself is the first secret to success!