Meet the Pro: Dianna Dahlgren

Inside the bikini competitor's passion and relentless pursuit of perfection

June 13, 2012
Photography by: Chris Fortuna
Meet the Pro: Dianna Dahlgren

Born in Fallbrook, CA, Dianna Dahlgren grew up on a ranch in Temecula Valley. Not only did she have her own horses to ride, but an hour away in any direction was the desert for dirt biking and offroading, the mountains for hiking, snowboarding, and skiing, and the ocean for just soaking up some rays on the beach. In other words, it was a slice of heaven for this self-described tomboy.

Nature and Nurture

Because her sister was riding horses and “doing her own thing,” and her mother was working a lot, this blond bundle of energy spent most of her time with her brother and dad doing guy things. If they went to the desert, she rode her own dirt bike or drove her own dune buggy. Along with hanging with her dad and brother, she competed in gymnastics from ages 4 through 14 at a gymnastics academy and has a showcase full of ribbons and trophies to prove it. (Some of the credit for her amazing athleticism has to go to her parents. Her dad has been a bodybuilder for years, and her mom was a competitive arm wrestler—yes, you heard it right. “She is very shoulder and arm heavy, she’s very built,” Dahlgren says.)

And one more thing—she was a straight A student. “I have ADD (attention deficit disorder), so my parents wanted to make sure I had enough to do…I was always a rebel, was very independent, broke all the rules, and did what I wanted to do.”

A Shooting Star

Dahlgren’s meteoric rise from her first amateur show in 2009 to the pro level in less than three months is the stuff of legend. Prior to her first competition at the age of 19, she already had managed to acquire a modeling agent and was doing quite well for herself. “I started competing because I had a very athletic build,”

Dahlgren explains. “Another model I worked with said she was going to do a bikini competition, and I found out later she won. So I thought I would give it a try to see what happened.”

What happened was nothing short of astonishing, if not unprecedented. For her first competition, she entered the NPC’s Los Angeles show in July 2009 (not exactly small potatoes), and won her class. She then went out for the USA the next weekend, which is the biggest national pro qualifier, and placed 4th. On a roll, she entered the Team Universe that September—where she won her class and received her pro card.

The Roller Coaster Ride

When she debuted in her first pro show in 2010, Dahlgren says she had a “bunch of problems,” mainly because she was burning the proverbial candle at both ends with her modeling career and some family problems. She placed 7th in the Muscle Contest Pro Bikini Championships, bounced back with a 1st in the Europa Battle of Champions, and then took 9th at the Bikini Olympia. “I just couldn’t get in shape for that one.

My immune system was really down,” she remembers.

Last year proved to be even more challenging, as she was awarded the title and responsibilities of “Miss Supercross,” touring the country as the sport’s representative. “I was gone every single weekend from the first weekend in January through the first weekend in May. I had so little time for myself.” She still took a respectable 4th in the Europa Super Show and a 1st in the Phoenix Pro Bikini, and she redeemed herself by leaping to 3rd in the 2011 Bikini Olympia. “I was ecstatic,” Dahlgren exclaims. “I jumped from 9th the prior year to 3rd. I was so excited. I had worked so hard and changed my diet and training. It paid off.”

What Dahlgren calls “my weak immune system” reared its ugly head in November as she was preparing for the Miami Pro Show the next month. “I get colds very easily, so it’s really hard for me to prep for a show once I get a cold.” During a Thanksgiving visit by her family, including her young niece and nephew, she caught a really bad cold, which led to a severe intestinal infection. Sadly, she had to drop out of the competition. During the interview for this story, she said she still hadn’t fully recovered.

Driven to Win

When asked the secret to her success, Dahlgren answers without a moment of hesitation: “It’s all about your drive. Are you willing to put everything on hold for a competition? It’s not like a Hawaiian Tropic competition in a local bar. You are on a daily schedule and regimen. For me, I barely work while I’m preparing for a show. I personally am OCD while I’m in prep mode, and if I place lower than expected, I nitpick at anything and everything I did. I’m such a perfectionist.”

Whether she’s ADD or OCD or anything else, Dahlgren makes it clear she likes winning. Her goal for 2012 is to win the Bikini Olympia, and her ultimate dream for her career is “to win the Arnold and the Olympia in the same year.” As to whether she gets validation from winning, she spoke candidly:

“I think that’s everyone’s goal when they head for the Olympia. They want to win it. Now that I’m in a position to win it, I feel I have a pretty good chance next year. I’m going to be working hard, of course. All I can do is pray, hope for the best, and work my ass off.”

So what’s the downside to the glitz and glam of competition? “Like any of the girls, I’ve struggled with eating problems. It’s extremely difficult consuming only 1,100 calories per day and eating the same stuff every single day for every month. It wears and tears at your body. Girls tell me, ‘I want to compete,’ ‘I want to do what you do,’ and I ask them, ‘Are you sure?’ This is fun; don’t get me wrong. I love getting dressed up. I love the photo shoots. But it’s also really hard to stay on track.”

Because of her intense gymnastics background, it raises the question whether she would ever consider fitness competitions. “I like the way the physiques look in the bikini contests. I’m a petite lean person and don’t want to be a muscular lean person. I’m genetically predisposed to building muscle. I have washboard abs and big quads, so honestly, I like to keep my training to a minimum.”

She admits that a competitor friend of hers, Adela Garcia, “is always trying to get me into fitness because of my gymnastics background. She keeps telling me I should get into fitness, but I don’t want to get so big.” However, it would not be all that surprising if Dahlgren decides to “give it a try and see what happens” like she did for bikini competitions.

What’s a Girl to Do?

What is Dahlgren’s favorite escape from the rigorous schedule of competition prep? Cabo? Paris? Nope. It’s shopping. “I work under pressure, and my mind just won’t shut off. Shopping makes the time pass by. It’s so hard when you’re competing. You get so wrapped up in when you have to eat next, at 2:30, 5:00, 7:30, 10:00. Sometimes my body is so hungry that I’ll eat a meal at noon but my next meal isn’t until 2:30. But 1 o’clock rolls around, and I’m so hungry. I find that going somewhere to shop burns a lot of time so I don’t have to think about how I need to eat again.”

Au Naturel

So does Dahlgren ever just let her hair down, go without makeup, opt not to comb her hair, and wear funky clothes? Cracking up, she says, “Of course,” and promises to send a picture of herself the way she looks right out of the shower. However, wrapped in a towel, with her hair in a clip, she still looks competition ready. Like so many things for her, looking great apparently just comes naturally.