Metro-East Living

Shiloh science professor doubles as bodybuilder

Jill McMillin is a champion bodybuilder and is a professor at SWIC

Shiloh woman talks about how important nutrition and using a trainer is to reaching fitness goals
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Shiloh woman talks about how important nutrition and using a trainer is to reaching fitness goals

There’s a science to bodybuilding, especially for Jill McMillin.

The 39-year-old Shiloh woman teaches biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville and Chamberlain College of Nursing in St. Louis. She’s also a bodybuilding competitor and advertising model.

Despite her crazy busy schedule, Jill manages to hit the gym two hours a day.

“I’ve always been self-motivated and driven, and I’ve found something I’m passionate about, which is biology and staying healthy,” she said.

Jill has been working out since high school and lifting weights since college. She is also a tennis player and runner who has competed in 5Ks and marathons.

“She’s kind of an excuse killer for people who say they don’t have enough time for something,” said her brother, Mike Smith, 44, a hospice administrator in Columbia, Mo.

Jill supplements her weight training at Fitness Zone in O’Fallon with CrossFit at CrossFit Ready to Live in O’Fallon.

“CrossFit helps me with bodybuilding,” she said. “It improves strength, balance, endurance and flexibility, and it really helps me mentally push through my workouts.”

Bodybuilding competitions focus on physical appearance. Men and women strike poses for judging on muscularity, symmetry and conditioning.

Jill is 5-foot-7 and weighs 130 pounds with long blond hair and a bright smile. She competes in the Bikini Division, which mixes athletics with modeling.

Jill earned her pro card with the International Federation of Physique Athletes in 2012 by placing first overall in the North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation Championships in St. Louis. Last summer, she placed fourth overall at the National Physique Committee Masters National Championships in Pittsburgh.

“She’s one of the best in the area, A) because of her placing and B) because she puts in the work,” said Tim Cline, 27, of O’Fallon, her bodybuilding trainer and general manager at Fitness Zone. “She’s a role model for those who want to succeed in the industry.”

Tim noted that Jill isn’t obsessed with posting photos of herself online like some bodybuilders who aren’t nearly as committed.

She’ll joke around, but when it’s her set, the mood changes. She’s completely focused. Other people let their emotions affect their workouts, but that doesn’t happen with her.

Tim Cline on Jill’s discipline

“She’ll joke around, but when it’s her set, the mood changes,” he said. “She’s completely focused. Other people let their emotions affect their workouts, but that doesn’t happen with her.”

Jill may have inherited a can-do spirit from her mother, Elaine Jones, a nurse practitioner and lawyer who reared three children on her own.

Jill enrolled at St. Louis University, eying law school before switching to science. She worked on everything from fingerprint to DNA analysis during an internship at the city’s crime lab.

“I couldn’t see myself being a lawyer,” she said. “I just didn’t think that was the lifestyle for me. I wanted to work in a job where I could help people in a different way, and I’ve always been interested in the sciences.”

I couldn’t see myself being a lawyer. I just didn’t think that was the lifestyle for me. I wanted to work in a job where I could help people in a different way, and I’ve always been interested in the sciences.

Jill McMillin on changing her career focus

Jill earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology at SLU, focusing on diabetes and other metabolic disorders for research.

“All of my studies were done with skeletal muscle tissues and cells from rats,” she said.

Jill spent three more years at Washington University School of Medicine as a post-doctoral scholar. That’s when she fell in love with teaching.

Today, students give the adjunct faculty member at SWIC high marks.

“If you look at her evaluations, they’re stellar across the board,” said Steve Holman, dean of math and sciences. “Students really enjoy her classes and the way she teaches. She brings real-life situations and scenarios into the study of anatomy and physiology. Students appreciate that, and they respect her.”

Jill offers extra credit to students who hit the gym with her, and about a dozen have taken her up on it.

Between workouts and teaching, Jill gets about five hours of sleep a night, a habit she discourages when giving advice on healthy living. But she follows a very strict diet.

“I eat the same thing every day: turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, rice, potatoes, broccoli and green beans,” she said.

Sundays are “cheat days,” when Jill treats herself to Mexican food or pizza, Dots candy and cookie-dough ice cream. She stays away from fast food, red meat and soda.

Jill was featured in early February on KMOV-TV. Video footage showed her climbing a rope to a high ceiling using only her arms.

“She may be the most physically fit woman in St. Louis,” quipped reporter Doug Vaughn.

Jill’s older sister, Rachel, also is an athlete who competes in Ironman triathlons. It amuses brother Mike that he was Jill’s protector when she was a kid.

“I’m probably stronger overall, but she’s stronger pound for pound, and I can’t move my body around like she can,” he said. “I was watching her climbing that rope (on TV), and there’s no way I could do that. I can do about three pull-ups. That’s it.”

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