Psst! I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: Interviewing someone is a breeze, but writing an effective intro-that can be brutal!
The goal? To promote the person being profiled without coming across like a press release. A careful balance between outright fawning and stating pertinent facts is essential and requires finesse. Think of it as walking a tightrope, metaphorically speaking—while below beds of glistening knives await. One tiny slip, and you're barreling toward disaster.
Such were the black thoughts tugging at my brain as I composed this intro for talented young bodybuilder and Texas native Chris Jalali.
Too many descriptive words (like naturally gifted, massive and classically proportioned), and the rope begins swaying dangerously. Not enough, and Chris doesn't receive his due.
I must, therefore, take each step slowly. Or I could just let Mr. Jalali do the talking and spare my poor psyche further damage.
RL: Says here you've been a black belt since age 15. True?
CJ: Yeah. Loved martial arts and am still a huge fan. I admired Bruce Lee and wanted to be jacked like him, but our bone structures were completely different.
RL: Well, you got the jacked part down. Who cares about bone structure?
CJ: Exactly! [Laughs] Bodybuilding didn't come into the picture until I saw Arnold in "Pumping Iron." That guy was just immense! I immediately ran out and bought his Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. One month after earning my black belt, I gave up martial arts to become a bodybuilder.
RL: How'd Arnie's book help little Christopher Jalali?
CJ: You've heard about reading a book from cover to cover in one sitting? I almost had the entire thing memorized, and Arnold's principles worked; they were practical. I could easily apply them to my workouts.
RL: Was your biggest hurdle gaining weight or committing to a long-term goal?
CJ: Gaining weight, hands down. I'd no clue about what to eat, and I also overtrained. Typical newbie pitfalls.
RL: And the commitment side?
CJ: I've never had a problem with commitment, but my enthusiasm sometimes borders on impetuousness. With me, patience isn't a virtue. I want it all, right here, right now!
RL: You worked out at Metroflex in Arlington, home to Ronnie Coleman and a host of other pros. Hardcore or what?
CJ: Metroflex is hardcore to the bone. They don't even have an air conditioner—and this is Texas! You train and sweat and train and sweat some more. A great atmosphere for getting the job done.
RL: The year 2000 was your first contest, the Ronnie Coleman Classic—
CJ: Gee, has eight years already passed? Almost a whole decade.
RL: What do you remember most?
CJ: Posing in front of a packed house and hearing them cheer. Your routine ends, but the memories go on and on; they last a lifetime.
The days leading up to it were scary, but my confidence level stayed high. Youth and inexperience be damned, I was ready to show off what little I had. [Laughs] It was enough for third place—a shock, given the quality of muscle I saw on that stage.
RL: Third place is a decent showing.
CJ: Beginner's luck. I'd trained and dieted too long. When you're 17 and flying by the seat of your pants, those things happen. If I'd had the services of a professional trainer, my scores might've been higher.
RL: Good segue! You found Vicky Gates—and?
CJ: She helped me prep for my next show, the 2001 Ronnie.
RL: Vicky's a genuine worker of miracles, I've heard.
CJ: Is she ever! Without her guidance, I would've been so out of my league. There I was, 18, competing against guys in their 30s and making it work. I won first in the teenage and novice classes and then the overall. A tremendous feeling!
RL: What did she change?
CJ: My diet, mostly. I ate chicken, potatoes and vegetables. No cheating! And she had me doing two hours of cardio a day. I expected an improvement, but winning floored me! Having a savvy trainer in your corner is a major plus.
RL: Despite that momentum, you sat out 2002. Why?
CJ: I'd had the wind knocked out of me. Besides college and training, I was involved with a new girlfriend who didn't understand my bodybuilding lifestyle. We fought constantly. I stopped going to the gym and dropped about 20 pounds in four months.
RL: 20 pounds? Yikes!
CJ: I weighed 160 on the nose and was very skinny.
CJ: No, man, no. People would say I was still big and stuff, but I knew they were only trying to make me feel better. All the work I'd put into building a contest-level physique had disappeared. My motivation was basically shot.
RL: What turned your head around?
CJ: A cool cat named Herman Steel came to the rescue, but it was like pulling teeth! I hadn't lifted in a long time and desperately needed encouragement. He helped me rediscover my inner strength. I went forward, gained weight and eventually rethought competition.
RL: The '04 Coleman Classic.
CJ: My feelings are still mixed about that show. I topped out at second in the open middleweights, though I really think I deserved first place.
RL: Your physical changes during that period were pretty danged startling.
CJ: Everything was maturing. I noticed better muscle density, growth and proportion.
RL: Did meeting Sagi Kalev have any influence?
CJ: A lot! Sagi's an amazing person. Joe Lobell introduced us, and we hung out and trained together at Gold's Gym in Dallas. Sagi's excellent example motivated me to put the pedal to the metal. I started noticing real progress and climbed to 220, ripped!
RL: They don't make 'em more dedicated than Mr. Kalev. And talk about classic aesthetics.
CJ: He's one in a million, a superlative athlete, totally dedicated to health and fitness. Before meeting him, I ate whatever I wanted during my off-season. But not anymore.
RL: Are you a fanatic about sticking to a particular diet?
CJ: I can't describe myself as a fanatic; I try to do what's healthy for my body. In Arnold's heyday, bodybuilders incorporated milkshakes and whole eggs into their diets. It's more scientific now. You have to pay attention to details and the way you chow and work out.
RL: Chicken and protein shakes? Blech! Ever crave an occasional pizza?
CJ: Nah, I don't crave that garbage anymore. I haven't had pizza or a burger in years.
RL: What's the secret to losing weight and keeping it off?
CJ: Self-control. If you're serious, formulate a fitness plan—and not only on paper, where it's easy. All the planning in the world won't build a house. Eliminate junk, eat clean and move! People read diet books and scour the Web for nutritional information, but they already know how to lose weight: Cut calories and increase physical activity. Fitness is a long-term affair, and time will be your ally. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself.
RL: I catch the drift. You gotta want it bad enough.
CJ: It's a lifestyle choice: succeed or fail. Same for me. In competitive bodybuilding the stakes are ratcheted up, but I accept them. What's ahead keeps me chuggin'. I'm hungry for the win, not a pizza!
RL: The '04 Junior Nationals was your next career step.
CJ: And a significant one. I competed as a middleweight and snagged third. My father was proud. It meant a lot to me, seeing him happy.
RL: You were what, 175 pounds?
CJ: I was 178. I posed to "Enigma," a slow beat; I wanted a fluid movement—the graceful look of Arnold and Bob Paris.
RL: As we speak, you're a light heavyweight, correct?
CJ: I am. In this sport you can't afford to sit on your butt and stagnate. Whenever I compete, I watch the other guys and see what works for them. Then it's off to the drawing board!
RL: Aren't you afraid of ruining your aesthetics?
CJ: By gaining weight? Not at all. My tendency is to be lean, so if the scale notches another pound, I'm smiling.
RL: The '04 Nationals—a stumble?
CJ: Um, yeah. A stumble and a sore spot. Five days before the competition I weighed 190, and the middleweight cutoff was 176. Crunch time! I had to drop 14 pounds fast, which left me flat. Didn't crack the top 15, and it was my fault.
RL: Objectively speaking, should you have competed?
CJ: God always opens windows. A judge there, Ken Taylor, suggested I do the Excalibur [in Southern California], and I was like, no, no, but he kept insisting. Two weeks later I competed in the Excalibur as a light heavy and placed fourth—a big mood lifter!
RL: Is that how you handle disappointment, by learning from it?
CJ: Happiness, disappointment, doesn't matter. Any experience is worthwhile, even if your initial reaction is negative.
RL: Okay, we're up to 2005, and you're in primo condition…
RL: Scene: the '05 USA. Things are going swimmingly. Flashbulbs pop, the crowd's wild, your routine slays 'em, and suddenly…take it from here, boss.
CJ: Disaster! I became severely dehydrated—to the point of hospitalization. My organs started shutting down, and I thought, "This is it; I'm gonna die."
RL: You were that close?
CJ: Yeah, that close. It was touch and go for a while. One minute I'm fine; the next I'm hooked up to tubes and monitors.
RL: The lesson here is not to take life for granted.
CJ: Hell, I don't, not anymore.
RL: Your contest prep has changed since that calamity, I'd assume.
CJ: The Chris Jalali prior to July 2005 has ceased to exist. No trophy is worth what I went through. And it was incredibly rough on my family and friends.
RL: Let's jump to another topic. When we spoke in March 2006, you were 230, with 20-inch arms cold. Remarkable, considering the condition you'd been in.
CJ: Recovery was agonizing, but each day brought me closer to my old self. I tried not to let depression drag me down and am very thankful for the support of family, friends and fans. Their love kept me from slipping away.
RL: Did you lose much muscle in the hospital?
CJ: I dropped to 140 and looked emaciated! Awful. Ugh! My parents told me to quit bodybuilding—but I just couldn't. If I believed in myself and stayed consistent, I'd learn from this and become a better person.
Life is full of setbacks, no matter if you're a bodybuilder or an accountant. Me, I roll with the punches. Or I try to! Hold to an ideal strongly enough, and you'll fight for it like a madman.
RL: And today? Are you feeling good?
CJ: Better than ever! I'm training with renewed vigor and purpose—2007 was an awesome year. On the 21st of April, I competed in the Ronnie Coleman Classic as a light heavy. Fourth place didn't exactly thrill me, but I made up for it later at the Orange County Classic.
RL: Where you won your weight class and the overall title, right?
CJ: Winning never gets old, does it? [Pauses] Funny about the Ronnie. I don't know what happened there. Guess I just had too much on my plate. I'd lined up a block of photo shoots in California, and they were probably distracting me.
RL: Balance and proportion define the greatest bodybuilders. Are you reaching for that same ideal?
CJ: I admire marketable bodybuilders with small waists and big bodyparts, guys who are symmetrical and proportioned. They're classic, and yes, I'm after the same.
RL: You're not necessarily aiming to be a monster.
CJ: I want to be bigger but without losing my uniqueness. I've a good eye for symmetry and instinctively know when to pull back.
RL: Your video "The Real Me" wins kudos for originality. I was knocked out by its creative approach.
CJ: "The Real Me" was done over a four-year period. Joe Lobell [of MostMuscular.com] followed me around with a videocamera night and day. It was his concept, from start to finish. I just lived my life—while Joe watched!
RL: Your newest DVD is called "Chris Jalali—Determined." Determined about what?
CJ: Life. And success. It's a training chronicle of my prep for cover and photo shoots. Simple enough for any average guy to follow. If you study both DVDs, you'll see how much I've changed. There's also very cool footage from the '07 [amateur] Arnold.
RL: You spent some your childhood in Iran. That had to have caused some culture shock.
CJ: Did it ever! We have relatives there, and Dad was thinking of relocating, so I went over for a three-month visit. Bad idea! Once my three months were up, the government claimed I was an Iranian citizen. Dude, I had to stay for two long years!
RL: Wow. Two years? How old were you?
CJ: Ten. Nobody spoke any English, and, crazy as this might sound, I forgot how to speak it too. I lived as an Iranian, went to school, and America seemed like another world. At 12 I finally had a chance to come back home and grabbed it.
RL: Quite a story. Iran's hardly ever out of the headlines nowadays.
CJ: Middle Eastern culture is light-years away from us in attitude and perspective. They view Westerners as devils. We're so lucky to enjoy freedom on a daily basis. It's in short supply around the world, believe me. Count your blessings, man!
RL: Would you describe yourself as a happy guy?
CJ: Yeah, 99 percent of the time. Affecting other people in a positive manner puts a smile on my face. I also love life's little pleasures, the things most people take for granted.
RL: And let's not forget, you're also an accomplished artist.
CJ: Art is an outlet. Through painting I can express feelings and what's in my heart and soul. It's all self-taught; I haven't had any formal training. Prismacolors, acrylics, oils, watercolors, anything goes. If I'm driving along and spot a beautiful sunset, I'll put it into a painting strictly from memory. Working this way forces me to use the power of imagination, and once that opens up, boundaries vanish.
RL: Now for a question I ask every bodybuilder: Is there one glaring misconception that strangers have about you?
CJ: That I'm arrogant. Not because of my personality but because bodybuilders are bigger and can intimidate. Snap judgments hurt, and they're almost always inaccurate. In reality, I'm a humble, subdued guy.
RL: A competitive bodybuilder has to follow certain rules. Are your days regimented?
CJ: To the fullest, man. I rise early, cook my meals, go to the gym, work out, train clients, and in between, I eat. Then I do a second workout and call it a day. Not an exciting schedule for someone my age, but it suits me.
RL: You mentioned overtraining when you were starting out. Any other mistakes?
CJ: Let's see, I was eating junk, and I couldn't pace myself. Give me an hour, and I could think of a dozen more! I learned the hard way—fighting your body is futile.
RL: What exactly did you learn?
CJ: Not to discount genetics. They're important! Listen to what your body's saying. Otherwise, you'll face frustration and failure. Consistent gains are better; consistent changes will stay.
RL: In 2007 you made another change.
CJ: That's right—I got married on August 23 to a wonderful girl named Teresa. We're the parents of a handsome baby boy named Ayden.
RL: Parenthood changes everything.
CJ: It's definitely changed my view of life and the future. Becoming a daddy is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
RL: Competitively, 2008 has been hit and miss.
CJ: It started out on a high note. I did the [amateur] Arnold and got third in the light heavies. And I also won third in MD's Cyber Classic last February.
RL: I noted distinct improvements in your condition for the Arnold.
CJ: That's the best I've ever looked. The diet was tweaked, with more cardio added. I competed at 192, a good weight for me.
RL: The Junior Nationals kinda derailed you though.
CJ: Yeah, I got sixth in the light heavies, and, I dunno, it was the worst I've ever looked. My baby had just been born, they'd booked us at the wrong hotel, and nothing could be done about it. We ended up paying $700 for cab rides alone! Very frustrating. As every hour went by, I could feel myself getting flatter and flatter. Awful!
RL: What's this about your working with Hany Rambod? Mr. Pro Creator?
CJ: Yes, and I can't wait. Hany's formulated an innovative training method called FST-7. He knows his stuff, and I expect great things!
RL: And aren't you opening your own training studio?
CJ: That's a brand-new development. My dad had this building and gave me the keys and said, "Do what you want with it." I know how to train people; I've been doing it seriously for two years. So now, I'm going to start my own business, a private gym that'll encompass everything associated with fitness.
It's called Chris Jalali's Training Studio, in Mansfield, Texas. It should be open in two to three months. Anyone interested can contact me through my Web site.
Editor's note: Visit Chris Jalali's Web site, www.ChrisJalali.com. IM