When I took to the podium at the New Jersey State Championships on Saturday night, it marked my first appearance emceeing a contest in the Garden state since 1999. That’s when Bob Bonham and the late Kenny Kassel hired me to host the Ms. Olympia.
I made my initial debut way, way back in 1991 at the Rich Gaspari Classic, which Bonham and Mike Gulla produced. This time around the names and places had changed. Dwayne McDaniel, a former NPC standout who bought the infamous Diamond Gym in Maplewood three years ago from John Kemper (who owned the facility for over 30 years), put on the show. It was held in the sublime Wilkins Theater, located on the campus of Kean College in Union.
As expected, the contest put out a slew of outstanding physiques: congrats to Overall winners Fred Stinson (Men’s Bodybuilding) and Melissa Bailey (Women’s Bodybuilding and first place, C division, Figure), Carey Cunliffe (Figure), Lori Singer (Fitness) and Rachel Lagomarsino (Bikini). Kudos also go out to Marlon Ballesteros, Masters 35+ Overall champ and the winner of the “Most Muscular Freak” award, Danny Lenzo, the Police/Fire division titlist and Teen winner Michael Wilches. Look for several of these outstanding performers to be on stage at the upcoming North American in less than two weeks/
Big Mac, aka Nationals champion Cedric McMillan, led the list of four guest posers. In addition to McMillan displaying his 6’1 ½”, 265-pound bod, Vinny Galanti, Guy Cisterino and Jeff Long also performed.
Got to see a lot of familiar faces I had lost contact with over the years, which always makes these long trips worthwhile. Bonham picked me up at the airport and, after some driving antics that caused me to lose the last three strands of hair on my noggin, he was able to get me to the hotel. Then we went to a coffee shop, right out of “The Last Picture Show”. All we needed was to have Cybil Shepherd show up.
Chatted with Bill Grant a bit at the prejudging as well, and after the contest concluded was surprised to see Dana Capobianco, a longtime NPC competitor. I first met Dana at the ’91 event, when she was an excited 19-year-old just entering the sport.
On Sunday McDaniel picked me up and took me back in time as I took an updated tour of Diamond Gym, which also opened up memory lane. At the front desk was his hard-working manager, Monika Habura. Big Mac was there; so were Stinson, Bailey and Ballesteros. Those three were doing shoots with Brian Moss, the former owner of Better Bodies in New York who has turned into a terrific lensman over the past few years. Moss was relieved when I told him I wasn’t going to be one of his subjects that day.
Even though I announced McMillan as the Overall champ at last season’s Nationals in Hollywood, Florida, I never really had a chance to talk with Ced much. Got to know him a little better in my time at the gym, and during the drive back to the airport. Yes, I picked him to win the Europa, Dallas and he finished a controversial seventh. No matter; I think this cat has the tools to be a top Olympia contender…and in the near future, not down the road several years. Mark it down.
Anyway, good job to all those involved with putting on the show. The Swami sez it will only get bigger, and better, in the years to come.