It’s a match made at the gym. Two bodybuilders who found love have been crowned “Mr” and “Miss” Universe on the same day.
Ryan Mackins, 34, and Amy Scholes-Higham, 30, flirted via texts during lockdown but their friendship soon became a strong bond. And their double success means they can now take part in world-wide competitions as professionals.
The couple had a long-distance relationship until a year ago when they bought a house together in Bolton, close to three gyms where they build muscle twice a day. And although they train separately, teacher Amy said it’s “amazing” to live with someone who “completely understands” her needs as an athlete and a partner.
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This month the couple competed in the PCA (Physical Culture Association) Universe event, in Birmingham, where they went head-to-head with some of the world’s most toned amateur bodybuilders. They both came away with the top-ranking men’s and women’s titles – meaning they can now compete as professionals at international events.
Amy said: “Living with someone who completely understands the process has been amazing, and it’s still not sunk in yet. We feel very lucky to have one another. I don’t think any other couple can say they’ve received the “pro” status or become Mr and Miss Universe on the same day – so it’s incredibly unique.
Ryan added: “It’s so amazing to have someone who gets you, and I don’t know if I could have reached the same level if she had not been there as well.”
Amy, a primary school biology teacher, from Bolton, explained that she first caught a glimpse of Ryan on Instagram profile roughly two years ago. “I was following a lot of other bodybuilders and I saw him on someone’s story, and I just thought, “Oh, I quite like the look of him,” so I followed him.
“He then messaged me, and he said, “Oh you’ve really made my morning”. It was really, really cheesy, but then we got talking. We actually spoke about music and food and lots of things that weren’t actually to do with body building, so we knew straight away that we clicked.”
Ryan, who competes in the super heavyweight category, started bodybuilding aged 17 – after feeling inspired by buff Hollywood action heroes. “It’s really cliched, but I watched Arnold Swarzernager in Terminator 2 when I was maybe five or six, and I was just a bit obsessed with muscular men. I was always obsessed with superheroes and things like that, and then I started training at 17, but I only started taking it seriously seven years ago.”
Amy said she had also been to get into peak shape by powerful action characters, as part of the motivated “strong not skinny” women’s movement. She said: “I really enjoy weightlifting. I found it really explosive, and I found that during every single session, you can challenge yourself.
“But I was also looking for a strong female look, with an “X” shape – so small waist, big legs, big shoulders, almost like a superhero, like a wonder woman sort of figure. I found training in a certain way for the aesthetics really, really motivational, and I started to love my body more than ever before. It gave me so much confidence.”
Last year, the pair moved in together, and they now spend thousands of pounds each year on gym memberships, supplements and competition equipment. They also consume vast amounts of food together – with Ryan eating more than 6000 calories a day and Amy reaching around half that when they’re bulking up.
Amy said: “To us, our lifestyle is very, very normal, but to other people, it isn’t. For example, we pretty much eat the same foods but different quantities, and every single time we have a meal, it’s weighed.
“But on top of that, bodybuilding is incredibly expensive – my bikinis alone start from about £250, and I’ll have a couple of those each season. The tans that you have to get are about £70, the make-up is about £65, the stage heels are about £70-80, and all your jewelery is about £10 a pop.”
But Ryan says the time and money that they spend on building muscle is an investment in themselves. “As we’re so passionate about what we do, a little bit of an expense here and there isn’t a problem. It’s an investment in ourselves, that’s the way we see it.”
This expenditure, along with their grueling twice-daily gym sessions, paid-off when the couple won the top titles at the PCA Universe amateur event on May 15 this year. Ryan, who was crowned “Mr Universe”, said this top accolade was a major breakthrough for him.
He said: “It’s quite hard to put into words as I’ve been competing since 2015 and done 17 shows. I won my first show in 2016 and it’s taken another six years since that point to get to that next level. It feels like I’ve got a new level of respect from my peers. I do feel different now – the way that people are interacting with me now feels different.”
Amy, who had entered her first bodybuilding event in just 2020, said she was “proud” of the incredible progress she’d made in just two years. She said: “Before I won the Miss Universe title, which is basically the world championships, I also became the Bikini North West champion as well. But to become Miss Universe and receive a “pro” card within two years of competing is really exceptional, so I’m super, super proud.”
The pair now hope to compete abroad, where they can see for cash prices and sponsorship deals. Ryan said: “There’s nothing set in stone but we want to go abroad. The ideal would be going to America for a show next April or May, with me and Amy going to compete there. But we’re very, very open to everything.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.