Has it really only been eight years? In that time, Janet Layug has done just about everything one can possibly do in the sport of professional bikini.
Since winning the 2013 FLEX Bikini Model Search, she’s collected enough hardware to fill a small room – top 10 placings in all 16 IFBB Pro shows she competed in, including wins at the Arnold Classic Australia (2015), Arnold Classic in Columbus (2019), and of course, her crowning achievement as the 2020 Bikini Olympia Champion.
And now… she’s exiting stage right. Layug announced earlier this year that she will not be defending her Olympia title next month. But she’s not leaving the arena. The 32-year-old from Lakeland, Florida, will still be involved in the sport, just in a different capacity.
“I feel like I have so much ahead of me,” says Layug. “My personality is the type to take something on and go all the way with it. And then after reaching a goal, it’s like, ‘Okay, I want to do something else. What more can I do?’ That’s how I feel now. I always stay hungry.”
In this exclusive interview with M&F, Layug discusses why she decided to step away from competing, what her future opportunities in fitness might look like, and the possibility of a future comeback to the Olympia stage.
What were the main reasons you decided not to compete in 2021?
For a long time, I kept saying to myself, Oh, this is going to be my last year. Of course, being second place three times at the Olympia, that’s real motivation to keep going because you’re just right there. Finally, last year I was able to earn the title after many years of competing… seven years in the Olympia. Obviously, my biggest goal was to win the Olympia title. And I’m at the point in my career where I’ve evolved, I was able to accomplish all this stuff, and I feel really fulfilled from that.
I love competing, but there are so many opportunities in the fitness industry. Working with other women is a really big thing for me, as well as focusing on being able to inspire the new generation in ways that go beyond the competitive stage.
When you say you want to pursue other opportunities, would having your own show be one of those?
Yeah. Being able to give back and having my own show, being a part of other people’s journeys, and also connecting with other companies within the industry – there are so many other business opportunities and other ways to connect and engage with fans and followers. There’s so much more than just showing up and competing.
Are there any specific business opportunities you’re able to discuss at this point?
There’s some things in the works, but I’m kind of keeping that on the low right now. I’m definitely getting involved a lot with the NPC side of the industry, with seminars and teaching and guiding those athletes to be the best that they can and inspiring them any way I can. That’s really the big thing I’m doing now.
You mentioned new audiences. What specific audience do you think needs to be better served? Is there a certain demographic you have in mind?
I’ve always been a huge women’s supporter. I want to do anything I can to give back and help support other women to build their self-confidence, to show them that women can do anything, and that we’re bigger and better than just the stereotype that sometimes sticks to us. But also, I have a 12-year-old daughter, so I find myself doing projects that I can do more with her. With the younger generation, they see a lot on social media, they’re getting information quicker and faster, and a lot of them want to compete, too. It starts with that younger generation, being a mentor and someone they can look up to.
Speaking of social media, it gets overwhelming with all the fitness “influencers” – some legit, others not so much. What type of presence do you try to have on your social platforms?
A lot of times on social media, people get carried away, and it sends the wrong message, especially to the younger generation. I think it’s so important to remain authentic through your social media and what you put out to the world and the information that you’re trying to deliver to your audience. You never know who’s watching. There are people all around the world taking everything you post very seriously. I always want to make sure that I’m posting what I feel is accurate information and what I feel is authentic to myself, not trying to be something I’m not. I think that’s very important.
How much did family, specifically your daughter, play into your decision to step away from competing?
She’s seen me from the beginning and has seen me accomplish so much that I want her to see me accomplish even more than just competing. I want her to learn that it’s not like athletes in other sports. You can play in the NFL or WNBA or whatever, but does your career end once you’re not actually in the game or on the floor? No, it doesn’t. It goes beyond that. What you learn from competing on the stage – that process and journey, self-discipline, being relentless and determined – you can apply to other aspects of your life.
Your occupations over the last 10-plus years have been well-publicized: a professional bikini competitor, a fitness model, a nurse, online coaching through JanetLayugFitness.com, and of course, you were a server at Hooters prior to competing. Can the different skillsets you learned from these occupations help you going forward?
Oh my gosh, absolutely. Especially with Hooters. People think, Oh, it’s just a waitress job, but it’s more than that. When you work in the restaurant industry, you learn people, you learn social skills, you learn prioritizing, you learn customer service. And also, winning the
[Hooter’s International Swimsuit] Pageant showed me that what I was doing was inspiring other women to take on other opportunities other than just working at the restaurant. It’s bigger than that. You learn all kinds of organizational skills that carry over into everything else that I do. And with nursing, there’s obviously so many skills with that, but they all overlap. No matter what job you do, you can take those skills and apply them to any aspect of your life. It doesn’t limit you to that job. Every job has a bigger purpose than you really think.
What will your training be like in the gym now that you’re not competing? Will you back off a little or keeping going hard?
Obviously, when you train for a show there’s a very strict regimen, and it goes a little further than the average person who trains in the gym. But for me, I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s instilled in me every time I hit a workout. I’m always going hard and giving it my all and putting in the intensity. For me, I’ve always loved fitness and training. That’s a part of me, so no matter what, I’ll be always training.
Would you ever come out of retirement and compete again?
Well now, I didn’t say retire. I just said I’m stepping off the stage and stepping back from competing this year. The word “retirement” feels like you’re completely taking yourself out of the industry. I’m not too fond of that word.
So we could see you again on the Olympia stage one day?
You never know. I’ll just say that. Everyone likes a comeback, right?