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A Bodybuilder is Born Episode 42

Christmas had come and gone. For Christmas Eve we had the traditional dinner at my sister-in-law’s house. Traditional, that is, if you were raised in Puerto Rico, as most of her husband’s family was. The house was packed wall to wall—no doubt exceeding local fire codes—and the stereo blasting salsa and merengue music at ear-splitting levels was accompanied by a makeshift band playing bongos, a trumpet, a cowbell and an odd instrument that involved scraping a ridged piece of wood. The decibels were roughly equivalent to a jet taking off. We left at 1 a.m., and the party was still going strong, as the alcohol hadn’t run out. At one point I had actually touched my cheek to make sure blood wasn’t trickling out of my eardrum from the ungodly din. So much for silent night, holy night.

Christmas had been a great day for my kids. My daughter got an iPod Nano, which would enable her to more effectively ignore us when we told her to clean her room or do her homework. My son got a bunch of toys, the king of them all being RoboRaptor, a remote-control robot dinosaur. He was ecstatic for about 10 minutes, until he started whining that he needed a second RoboRaptor to do battle with this one. How could we have been so inconsiderate?

Now we were in the weird in-between week, after Christmas but before New Year’s. Unfortunately for my wife, her birthday fell smack dab in the middle of it. She was used to family members being too financially devastated from buying gifts for the 200 assorted children—Latin families tend to be large—to get her anything. I’d at least bought her a very nice white-gold necklace this year.

It was the day before New Year’s Eve. Janet and I still weren’t sure where we were going the next night. Randy and his latest girlfriend were headed to a club about an hour south of us in Rhode Island called Therapy. It opened at 10 p.m. and didn’t close until 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. I was a bit wary of staying out that late. I’d probably need therapy just to get back on track with real life. At 36 years old I was a bit past my partying prime. By 3 a.m., no matter how hopping the club might be, I’d be craving a warm bed to crawl into after a warm mug of protein shake and cookies.

Where we went on New Year’s Eve wasn’t important. What was important was that the year was coming to an end, and fast. It was time to look back on the year that had passed and see which goals had been met and which had not. That could apply not only to bodybuilding but to career and personal relationships as well. Randy and I had been training together a bit more lately, as it was a time of year almost nobody was buying new cars—unless we’re talking Hot Wheels. I didn’t want to get into his work situation or relationships, but if we were talking about bodybuilding—that’s where I could poke my nose into his business.

We’d both been doing well on our winter bulking plan. Since Thanksgiving Randy’s weight had climbed from 212 to 217. Having a protein bar as a dessert with each meal had helped, along with training hard and heavy consistently. That gave him about 30 grams of protein and 300 extra calories, which all added up.

I was now up to 229 in the morning and 232 by evening. Funny how that works, isn’t it? If I could just not go to the bathroom for a few days, maybe I could hit 250—assuming I didn’t die first from the toxic backup. Randy wanted to reach 225 by the first day of spring, and my new goal was 235—morning weight, after a visit or two to the porcelain throne. That was one goal for the coming year. Now it was time to sketch out the remainder.

“Randy, I have a plan for you,” I began.

“Uh-oh,” he warily replied.

“Relax. It’s nothing that involves torture or staying celibate for any length of time.”

“Same thing,” he stated. 

“There’s a contest in September that has a novice class, with two weight divisions, over and under 175. You would be over.”

“I would hope so.”

You’re going to win the class, or at least do your damnedest to win it. But winning isn’t as important as showing a very noticeable improvement from the New Englands. I want you weighing in at no less than 192 onstage, with a much better chest, arms and calves.”

Now, 192 at 5’11” is not a mass monster in modern bodybuilding by any stretch of the imagination. Ronnie Coleman won the Olympia in ’04 at the same height and 296 pounds, though there’s a rumor that genetic testing has confirmed he is not human but in fact an entirely new species, Ronnie Sapiens Giganticus. Even without comparing himself to Ronnie, however, Randy wasn’t too impressed with the goal I had set for him.

“That’s it? Just eight pounds heavier than last year?” Apparently he thought I was setting the mark too low.

“Eight pounds of pure muscle in the right places make a big difference in a physique, junior,” I informed him. “I like to use the old analogy Mike Mentzer made famous. He used to say to imagine what that amount, in this case eight pounds, would look like if it was raw steak piled on a table in front of you. That’s when you get a better appreciation for just how much muscle it really represents.”

“Huh,” Randy said, his eyebrows knit in concentration as he no doubt envisioned slabs of meat. “So, once I get to 225, do I start dieting or what?”

Sort of,” I explained. “You should hit that weight by about April. That’s when I want you to very gradually start cleaning up your diet. You’ll still be eating plenty of food, just not as much worthless crap like those muffins from Dunkin’ Donuts you seem to be addicted to.”

“They’re good,” he noted.

“I’m sure they are. Anyway, I believe you can actually keep gaining muscle until about 12 weeks out, when we’ll start limiting your carbs. So when I say 192, I really think you could very well be a few pounds more than that. But by aiming for the lower number, we underpromise and overdeliver.”

“Cool. So I win the show—then what?”

“The show is in late September. Once it’s over, you rest up and eat what you want for a week, and then you start packing the muscle on all over again because your body will be ready to grow after the long diet. When we talk at this time again next year, I expect you to be about 230 pounds in the same condition you are now.”

“Wow, so you have my whole year planned out for me.”

“That’s right. Now if only I could figure out what I was going to do tomorrow night.”

Randy thought a moment, then had it.

“They’re having something at the planetarium with a laser show, then champagne and cheese at midnight. That’s about your speed, right?” He burst out laughing at his own lame joke. The sad thing is, I was thinking about how I could do that and be in bed by one.

“Okay, but if you’re not back from that club by noon the next day, I may have you declared legally dead.”

“You really aren’t going?” he asked.

“Kid, I pass the torch to you. Just make sure you get home with some brain cells left. You’ve got a big year ahead of you.”  IM

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