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A Bodybuilder is Born, Episode 31

Here’s what I want you to do, Randy. Stay off that thread because it’s only going to mess with your head. Just worry about you. It doesn’t matter if you win, take fifth or come in dead last this time, as long as you get into the best shape you can and present yourself onstage like a veteran.

Even though I’ve been electronically crucified more than once on popular Internet bodybuilding message boards, I cruise around them to see what’s going on in my little muscle world. The Net is still a wonderful tool for the rapid dissemination of information. In the old days bodybuilders had to wait for weeks, sometimes months, for the magazines to come before we could find out who’d won the latest contest, like the Mr. Olympia. Until the advent of the telegraph and the telephone all we had to deliver news were the Pony Express, the railroad and ships and barges. 

Example: When Mortimer H. Henckenfuster won the Mr. Physically Robust Gentleman in October of 1884 in Las Vegas (population at the time: four), muscle fans on the East Coast didn’t get the full contest report until the week before the 1885 edition of the show. Mortimer stood 5’11” and tipped the scales at a paltry 160 pounds, a far cry from Ronnie Coleman’s 296 at the same height. Henckenfuster used to promote a “health tonic” with questionable ingredients, such as bear urine, gorilla poop and the gunk from the corner of a lion’s eyes when it wakes up in the morning—gathered, no doubt, on his rounds as a zookeeper. Apparently, it didn’t do him much good, since he died in 1901 at the age of 38. Medicine wasn’t so advanced back then, so the cause of death was listed only as something called “melancholy spleen.” Ah, the good old days.

But back to the now and the travails of my protégé, Randy. I was cruising around my favorite message board—I’ll call it Muscle Madness—when something led me to the section on upcoming NPC events. It must have been my Spidey sense, as I haven’t so much as glanced at that area of the site in many months. The thread, as each individual topic is called, was titled “Anyone else doing the New England?” The screen name under the thread topic, indicating the starter, was FordMuscle250. Hmm. Randy sold Ford cars, he was a young muscle man, and 250 happened to be what he wishes he weighed. I was almost certain it was the little rascal, and when I opened up the thread, my suspicions were confirmed. I’ve copied and pasted it here exactly as it appeared:

“Hey, what’s up. Anybody out there doing the New Englands on May 8? What weight class? I’ll be a light heavy, and this is my first show. Post some pics up!”

Randy, of course, did not feel the need to provide a photo of his own. And I knew why. This thread was cleverly (or so he thought) disguised as good-natured camaraderie among local competitors. As if. With 15 weeks left until the show, he was already freaking out about who he might have to go up against in the open light heavies. I know what he wanted in his desperate state of mind. He was secretly hoping that every other guy he would be competing against would find his way to this thread and post photos. 

Wait, that’s not all. What he really wanted was for all of them to suck—and suck bad. He wanted to see guys with potbellies, stick legs, concave chests, lats so high they inserted just under the armpits and arms that looked as if they belonged on Urkel. Hold on, the actor Jaleel White might have had some guns underneath his nerdy clothes, so make that Horschak. (For you younger readers, in the Old Testament of TV sitcom dorks, Horshak begat Screech, and Screech begat Urkel. And if you’re too young to even know the show “Family Matters,” maybe you need to stop reading this for a minute so Mommy can offer you a warm bottle.)

Randy was so insecure and doubtful of his chances at the show that he was praying for an easy win over a field of bodybuilding misfits. But as I explained in a previous episode, that wasn’t going to happen at the New Englands. We have only one NPC show a year in the state of Massachusetts, with a population of 6 million people and 5 million Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. That’s only one of the several New England states, of course. Others include New Hampshire, Rhode Island and several more where nobody pronounces their R’s, and directions are often given in terms of landmarks (when you see the tree that looks like a giraffe, turn left and go five miles until you come to a field with an abandoned ’72 Pinto on its side). 

What I’m trying to say is that since there are so few contests for the bodybuilders in our region, the shows tend to be packed, and there’s never a shortage of talent. It wasn’t going to be easy at all for Randy, despite the improvements he’d made to his physique in the time I’d known him. Sure enough, soon a few of the other guys doing the contest started responding to the thread. I knew Randy was growing increasingly distressed, as it was obvious from some of the photos that there were some big dudes getting ready for the show. 

It was tough for me not to contact Randy, but I had to wait for him to come to me. These days we don’t get to train together more than once a week, and sometimes it’s every other week. So close to two weeks had gone by since I’d noticed his thread before we met to hit chest and shoulders. In that time almost a dozen men and four women had announced their intent to do the New England, and most had provided photos—some of how they presently looked and others from previous contests they’d done. Four and possibly five of the men were going to be in the light heavies. The fifth one wasn’t sure if he was going to make weight. All of them, however, looked—how should I put it?—like they could all potentially kick Randy’s ass all over the stage. Randy really belonged in a novice division, but the contests around these parts just don’t have them.

“I don’t know about the show,” Randy started as he warmed up on the incline barbell press. 

“You’re doing the show,” I said coldly.

“The thing is,” he said as he racked the weight, “my work is getting really busy right now. You know spring is our biggest time of the year at the dealership.”

“I saw your thread on Muscle Madness, jackass.”

“You, ah, you saw that?”

“Yep,” I replied as I slid on more weight for me. “You’re getting cold feet because you saw what you’re up against.” I did my last warmup set.

“Well, jeez, did you see that Rocky kid?” he whined. “He looks like a pro, for God’s sake. His arms must be 22 inches.”

“He said he was 5’6”, and he’s planning on weighing about 185, so I kinda doubt his arms are anywhere near that,” I said. “But they’re pretty big and have good shape.”

“And that Tom guy? What the hell? He won this show a few years ago, so why is he even doing it again? What a jerk-off!”

Randy did his set, face set in anger—not the usual aggression generated and directed at the weights. He was furious at those guys for having the audacity to enter the same weight division he was competing in, and he was already conceding defeat—although things really did appear grim. Not as grim as the chances of a long and happy marriage for Paris Hilton, but grim nonetheless. It was time to give him the advice that I never was able to follow myself. Isn’t that what mentors are for?

“You need to stop worrying about those other guys, seriously. People don’t understand that bodybuilding is really more of a mind game than it is lifting weights and eating chicken breasts and broccoli. Unless you know for sure that you’re so incredible that no other human has a chance of beating you, it’s only natural to worry about who you’re going to go up against and what they’ll look like. But that does nothing to make you look better on the day of your show. In fact, the constant stress might cause you to lose some muscle, and the worrying distracts you from what should be your real focus, getting into the best condition you can.”

“But those guys,” Randy cried. “I can’t beat them!”

“Maybe and maybe not,” I said. “I have been through this a few times myself, so I can give you some insight. Some of those people will drop out of the show. They might get scared. They might get injured, lose their job. Their cat might get sick—who knows? That’s one thing. 

“Another thing is that not everybody gets in shape. Some guy you’re biting your nails over might show up smooth as a baby’s butt, and you’ll feel like an idiot for worrying about him all that time. Others are showing themselves only from certain angles or from the waist up, so they could be hiding significant physique flaws. I’m not trying to make you think you’re going to have an easy time up there, because you won’t. It’s your first contest, and you’ll be up against guys who have been doing this a lot longer than you have. The light-heavyweight class is very tough in any show. That’s where the guys with the really nice blend of size and shape often show up. Many times the light heavy wins the overall.” 

Randy was crestfallen. I had to perk him up before he started looking for the nearest bridge to jump off of. The Tobin Bridge was only about 15 miles away, and that sucker has a long drop down.

“Here’s what I want you to do, Randy. Stay off that thread because it’s only going to mess with your head. Just worry about you. It doesn’t matter if you win, take fifth or come in dead last this time, as long as you get into the best shape you can and present yourself onstage like a veteran. We’ll work for a solid hour on your quarter turns and mandatories after this workout, and you’ll need to devote at least a half hour of posing practice every day on your own. One other thing.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Got your checkbook on you, Junior?” He gave me a strange look. Perhaps I was going to charge him for all the training and advice, making it retroactive for the past 2 1/2 years? 

“Yeah, out in my car. Why?”

“Great.” I dug around in the plastic bag I carry around the gym floor with all my wraps, straps, training log and assorted junk I need when I work out. I produced an entry form and an envelope, already addressed to the promoter of the New England and stamped.

“When we’re done today, you’re going to fill this out, we’re going to go to your car, and you’re going to write a check for your entry fee. Then I’m going to mail it. You’re doing the show.” Randy looked relieved, as if a burden had been lifted from him.

“I owe you, Ron. I had the wrong attitude about this thing.”

“Yes you did. And you do owe me—41 cents for the postage.”  IM

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