Lisa Aukland hesitates when someone calls her a bodybuilder. She is well aware of the sport's negative image.
The fact that she recently completed her doctoral degree in pharmacy makes her even more conscious of the steroids and other drugs some bodybuilders take to bulk up. Aukland makes it a point to compete only in events that rigorously screen for drug use.
"I want a level playing field," she says, noting that the "drug-free" competitions she enters require participants to undergo drug testing and even to take polygraph tests.
"I want to know the women are doing what I'm doing," she adds, "training hard and eating right."
Aukland, 41, is a specialist in poison information and works in the Poison Control Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She became interested in weight- lifting about 15 years ago. "I got out of college and I was a little mushier than I wanted to be," she says.
So she joined a gym and started working on the weight machines with stacks of weights. "Then I moved up to free weights."
"I don't know if it's my Norwegian-German heritage," she says, laughing, "but I'm pretty strong."
She moved to Bel Air and joined a fitness center where they had an in-house bench press contest, and she thought, "I'll do that." She won it by bench-pressing 155 pounds.
The following year's contest involved pressing half your body weight as many times as possible, and she won that, too. In 1993, she entered the Maryland state bench press meet, and won that.
"I've won every power-lifting contest I've entered," says Aukland, who now bench presses 242 pounds. Her goal is to break the national women's masters record of 250 pounds.
Her real love, though, is bodybuilding. Last October, she represented the United States at the World Amateur Championships in Australia, a privilege she earned by winning a national event in New York.
"I've never felt more patriotic," she says. "I did phenomenally well for the United States. I took home a silver medal." She hopes to compete for a gold medal next year in Poland.
To keep her body in shape -- she weighs 147 pounds and wears a size 6 -- she trains four times a week with weights. She works on one body part at a time, devoting one day to legs, for example, and another day to her back. "Then you take a week off for that body part."
Her workouts last about 90 minutes, "but some of that is social time." She also does cardiovascular training -- running on a treadmill and using a stationary bike -- three times a week. Before a competition, she'll increase that cardiovascular workout to 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening every day, "to burn body fat."
Aukland eats a high-protein diet. "I eat about a gram and a half of protein per pound of body weight," she says. A typical breakfast is oatmeal with egg whites; lunch and dinner are chicken breasts with broccoli, rice, potatoes or green beans.
"I eat everything pretty plain," she explains, so it's easy to cook. Her big indulgence is pizza, but never before a contest.
Aukland says she was always athletic as a child. Her father, an Air Force officer, signed her up for whatever sport was available where they were stationed. She also rode horses, and entered barrel-racing competitions. She still enjoys animals, making time in her schedule to show her Cane Corso, a rare breed of dog in the mastiff family.
"To fit in exercise, you have to prioritize," she says, adding that "staying in shape is important." That's why she gets upset when people assume she has used steroids to get to where she is.
"A lot of people look at you, and they think of drugs. That's why I've chosen to compete only in drug-free shows."
Even with the sport's negative side, Aukland says she's proud to be a bodybuilder. "It really is a healthy way of living."