Photo by Chris Bulilan

Twenty-twenty threw a curveball at the best of us, but for someone who was preparing to achieve her dream of becoming Ms. Bikini Olympia that year, despite a spreading pandemic and the life-threatening illness of a loved one? We can all agree that’s some next-level stuff to cope with. “I was going to show up doing my best, feeling my best, and looking my best—whether I had a stage to step on or not,” explains our July/August cover athlete, Janet Layug

But for this nurse and mom of two, perseverance and dedication are synonymous with who she is. Janet refused to let gym closures, lack of access, and her father’s lung cancer diagnosis stop her from realizing her dream. She did everything in her power to build the body that would take home the crown all while deploying her experience as a nurse to care for her father. Finally, after five previous Olympia attempts, she took home the top prize. "It’s hard to describe the moment you’ve been dreaming of for years. But after hearing my name called, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” says Janet. “Year after year, I put in the work—giving up was not an option. That feeling of self-accomplishment after years of hard work, perseverance, and resiliency is something that no one can take away from me,” she says. “Knowing I gave it my all, every set, every rep, every choice I made, makes this even sweeter.”


Here, Janet describes exactly where her ambitious spirit came from, and how she’s setting her sights on new goals despite the hardships. 

STRONG Fitness Mag: What does "being empowered" mean to you? 

Janet Layug: Empowerment means having confidence in all that we do, having belief in ourselves, and being courageous enough to take things on and follow through. It means that we feel we can conquer anything that comes our way. 

SFM: Can you describe why you feel driven to be a competitor? Where did that come from? 

JL: Ambition has always lived deep inside me, even as a young child. I think that when you grow up with struggles, facing adversity and not having much, it builds character. Hardship will motivate and drive anyone to achieve whatever it is they set their minds to. I have proven that I can succeed at anything I’ve taken on. Competing was a new challenge I was determined to excel at. 

SFM: What are your proudest achievements, both personally and professionally?

JL: Being the first child of five to go to college and complete my nursing degree was a huge accomplishment for me, but more than that, I did it to make my dad proud. For me, the personal achievement I’m most proud of was the moment I was giving birth to my daughter during my college years and continuing on to complete not one, but two degrees. That was the moment that propelled me forward and empowered me to do anything I wanted to in life. It led me to competing, and even after six years, I never gave up on my dream to become the Ms. Bikini Olympia champion. 

Photos by Sarah Orbanic

SFM: What are your hopes for your place in the fitness industry? 

JL: I have such a passion for fitness, and I believe that’s what has carried me and created my longevity in the industry. My hopes are to be the inspiration and motivation for people all around the world—to get my story out in hopes that I can contribute in any way to someone else’s journey towards becoming the best version of themselves. 

SFM: Can you tell us about any new fitness projects you're working on? 

JL: I’ve been working really hard on helping others transform their lives through fitness and health. [I’ve been] developing training programs specifically for their lifestyle and teaching them about nutrition, and creating diet plans specific to their needs. People are getting real results and real transformations that are boosting their self confidence—they are not only physically healthier but living happier because they feel good. Check it out on www.janetlayugfitness.com.


Another big project of mine is producing my own fitness show, Battle of The Bodies! [This will be] for anyone looking to compete with the best of the best. And even if you don’t compete but want to experience it for yourself, I promise you will leave with so much inspiration and motivation you’ll be ready to hit the gym. This event will take place July 31 in beautiful South Florida. 

Check out the event details at www.janetsbattleofthebodies.com.