WHERE DID IT BEGIN FOR YOU?
Think back to the first inspirations you’d had to make you want to lift weights, body build, or compete in sports. What are your earliest memories? It could have been seeing Arnold on Wide World of Sports as he went from a huge muscular phenomenon to an absolute freak as the muscles flexed and his body became statuesque. It could have been your father or brother or neighbor or seeing professional athletes up close at your first real sporting event.
It could have been the “Feats of Strength” freak at the carnival sideshow, or a movie clip from one of the “Beach Blanket” movies. It could have even been Jack Lalane with his chair “breathing in, breathing out…” as he brought fitness to the living rooms of women all over the country in the ’60’s.
WHERE IT BEGAN FOR ME
There are two distinct things that stand out from my memory that helped to shape my life as a bodybuilder.
I must have been 5 or 6 years old. A guy from down the street, Wally, who came around infrequently, came walking from the end of the block in skinny, rolled up jeans, white Converse tennis shoes, and a white t-shirt that fit him like paint. He was smart, articulate, and kind with a joking demeanor. His shoulders hid the sun, his arms contoured and veiny, lean as a hunting dog, stuck from his shirtsleeves like deli salamis. His black Elvis “waterfall” hung over one eye and it took all of us to get the courage to ask him our request. The reputation was that he could lift a car off the ground by the bumper.
“do, do, do…uh, can you, uh, maybe uh, lift a car up, uh…someone said you could…once”
Jumping around him like sparrows, we waited for his response. A ’60-something Buick Electra with fins as wide as his shoulders sat in the street.
“Will that do?” he nodded in its direction.
We squealed and clapped like we were getting ice cream. He stepped off the curb, set his feet firm and feigned straining like an actor in a Hercules movie. In whispers and a hush we dropped our jaws, awestruck, as the frame rose, the leaf springs stretched and the wheels came up as if it were a wagon instead of 2500lb. automobile. We were speechless. He dropped it in a thud as it shuddered back to resting, while we squealed inaudible fragments of unrecognized speech. He wiped his hands on his jeans, smiled amusingly as if it were routine, flashed a bigger grin and walked away as if we’d only broken his stride on his way to greater things.
Five of us squirmed and wriggled the bumper in unison grunts, not budging more than a rock out of the wheels. We laughed and backslapped and wiped our brows like we’d seen cowboys do after a day on the range. I tried secretly, daily, for a week following the feat to see if I could work up the strength, as if will alone would carry me, to help me somehow miraculously lift it. But it never budged. One guy, by himself, lifted the thing off the ground. He was an immediate hero, an enigma to us kids in Red Ball Jets. I can still see his traps flex and his back stretched wide, the shoulders and triceps tighten and the biceps contract.
What impressed me more than anything in that moment was his humility. He didn’t ask for money, or a favor, or anything of us. He didn’t brag or debate, he did it our of the sheer joy of knowing that he could. He did it as if it were part of his daily walk, “…say hi to Mr. Brown,…lift a car off the ground…wink at Sandy on her porch…”
THE SECOND TIME INSPIRED
The second instance was an epiphany of sorts I’d gotten from going to church. I sat a few pews behind “George” who was 7 or 8 years older than me, a whole lifetime at my young age. I purposely looked for him every week. He would lean on the pew in front of him and the definition in his triceps would jump out from under his shirt sleeves. I swore one day to have arms like that, cuts like that, lean muscles that flexed when I moved; a bulging slab of definition that snuck from my shirt cuffs because it couldn’t be contained.
I didn’t know the muscles names but I knew that being a rail of a kid with zits bigger than my arms was not the way I wanted to go through life. The way the girls sidled closer to him, the audience he’d attracted, the turning heads, stealing smiles and coy glances; the powerful charisma he gave off and the attention he received made me decide he was the kind of guy I wanted to be. He was not cocky about it, just confident, polite, nice; a guy you’d want to be friends with, if he’d let you.
MY TURN TO INSPIRE
Little instances like that multiplied and compounded my fascination. I began reading muscle mags, asking older kids about weightlifting, asking why they did certain movements, trying things through feeling how they worked, climbing ropes, doing pushups, eventually pushing to do more in gym class and on teams rather than getting away with doing the least possible. I began at 14 and never stopped learning, sharing, growing, training, giving, believing, receiving. And my arms are awesome, naturally!
By doing more, paying attention and educating myself, unafraid to ask questions or seek challenges with my own body, the fascination became passion and the passion became vocation. The gym became my office and bodybuilding became as much an aspect of my being as the clothes I wear. I gave to it and it gave back in equal measure.
I’ve been blessed by the lives I’ve touched playing this weight game. It has opened many doors and led me on great adventures. I feel good knowing that over the years I’ve not only shared friendships and raised families with my peers, but more importantly, worked out and trained with every one of them at one time or another, giving this simple thing I have to share, with those I care about and love.