I started working out in 1956, using the information from the pages of Iron Man as my guide. I had no long-range plan but to become stronger and have some visible muscle.
I have spent some time lately trying to put the pieces together from 1956 forward because I was chosen to receive the 2014 Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award. After I got over the shock of being chosen, I knew I would have to create a slide show encapsulating my life. If you have been to the event, you know that it consists of two to three minutes up on the big screens preceding the award and acceptance speech.
I began by trying to recall significant events and people, the turning points of serendipity that have shaped my odyssey. As the timeline began to fill out, I was startled first by the vividness of my recall of specific events and people but also the surreal feeling of stepping back and seeing my journey. I had never attempted to create any kind of a detailed biography before, and the process was a roller-coaster ride of emotions—the feel of a cold bar in my hands as I worked out in an unheated garage, the dampness of training in a friend’s basement. Hundreds of memories came flooding back complete with not only the details but the feelings!
One of those memories was meeting Bob Gajda at a weightlifting and bodybuilding event at the Irving Park YMCA in Chicago in 1963, which led to working out with him and Sergio Oliva at the legendary Duncan YMCA. That chance meeting led to a lifetime friendship. Why did he even talk to me as I sat beside him in the audience? He was already a rising star in Chicago bodybuilding and weightlifting, and I was Mr. Nobody. I think I know the answer, and it’s a story I could repeat in some form about almost everyone I have ever met within the world of weights.
I recently scheduled a short meeting with Arnold to discuss some contest lighting ideas. It was supposed to be 15 minutes, and that is what it took to explain my thoughts. For the next hour we talked about bodybuilding. Arnold met Gajda at the ’66 Mr. World contest in Berlin. Bob was the reigning Mr. America, and Arnold was a teenage sensation. What did Arnold remember from that meeting? “Bob was perfectly proportioned and cut to ribbons. He made a huge impact on how I perceived the perfect physique. Before Bob, I thought it was all about size, but seeing him as miniature perfection, I realized that size was not everything.”
To me, Arnold’s most insightful comment reflected how kindly he had been treated by Bob. Though his English was very limited, Arnold said, he could feel Bob’s warmth. Almost 50 years later he recalled Bob’s kindness with pleasure. That’s what life is—chance encounters that may or may not change your life but hinge on how open you are. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to “be nice.”
Note: As we were closing this issue, Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, passed away at the age of 74. We will have a tribute to this legendary bodybuilder next month.