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A Bodybuilder is Born – Episode 50: Making the Most of What You’re Given

Back-to-school shopping sure has changed since I was a lad. My 12-year-old daughter is about to start the seventh grade. On an average of twice a week since classes ended last spring, my wife has accompanied her to the mall to comb through the racks at Abercrombie Kids, Pac Sunwear and Limited Too, as well as numerous shoe stores and accessories shops, in an endless search for not just the perfect outfit but roughly 50 perfect outfits.

You would think, from the amount of money being spent and the time invested, that she was entering Beverly Hills middle school and that I was some sort of corporate tycoon or rock star. Unfortunately, my darling little girl’s developing mind has been warped by shows like MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16,” in which spoiled-brat princesses alternately whine, brag and shriek as they prepare for sweet-16 parties on the scale of royal weddings, complete with formal wear, bands that play current top-40 hits, male models jumping out of cakes and dancing around in thongs and luxury automobiles that the little snot will probably total in a drunk-driving accident later that evening. Half of them don’t even have driver’s licenses yet. All of this is financed by wealthy dads who are almost certainly tough S.O.B.s in the business world but at home are simpering wussies whose daughters have them wrapped tightly around their fingers.

I exaggerate a bit about my daughter’s wardrobe budget, but this much is true. If she attended a nice private school with a name like The Wadsworth-Uppity Academy for Splendid Young Ladies and wore a school uniform rather than the latest fashions, we’d be spending about the same amount of money. In contrast, I remember my back-to-school shopping at her age, because it all happened the night before seventh grade began.

My mom gave me 20 bucks and bus fare to the mall, where I was able to get a pair of gray corduroy pants at the Gap and an Ozzy Osbourne shirt featuring the cover of his “Diary of a Madman” album. This was back when Ozzy was an antiestablishment figure known for biting the heads off live bats, not for being a shuffling, mumbling father of two spoiled-brat kids who flout his authority and generally make him look like a brain-addled fool on national television. Coincidentally, that show is on MTV too. See a pattern here?

Luckily for my young musclehead protégé Randy, he was still single and childless and was not spending money on anyone’s wardrobe other than his own. That left him free to wallow in his own imagined misery. He was six weeks out from his contest and at the point where many competitors have their big moment of doubt. Generally feeling sorry for themselves, they cry out to the heavens with pained questions such as:

“Is it even possible for me to get in shape for this contest in time?”

“Why did I get myself into this, and what if I back out now?”

And, of course, my favorite:

“Will my wife leave me if my gas gets any worse, and could it be the broccoli? And could stuffing charcoal up my wazoo help keep some of the foul stench from escaping into the atmosphere around me?”

Randy wasn’t worried about getting in shape. He had done it before and was right on schedule now to do it again. Cutting down his starchy carbs and replacing them with healthful fats from raw nuts and salmon was helping him keep up his energy. Pudding made from protein powder and sugar-free hard candy were enabling him to satiate his sweet tooth, so this particular diet involved a minimal amount of suffering.

Human nature dictates, however, that we always find something to complain about. I ought to know, as I earned the gold medal for the 100-meter bitching-and-moaning event back at the Seoul Olympics. (I don’t like to brag, but the top Belarus guy wasn’t easy to beat.) And no, I did not use steroids to win that.

“My genetics just suck!” Randy bleated as he stood “relaxed,” going through his posing for about 15 minutes, as he did at the conclusion of each workout. I had heard this one before—not only from Randy but from countless other bodybuilders, including myself. I knew what to counter it with too.

“Compared to whom? Let me guess, Ronnie Coleman! That’s about as realistic as comparing any other bike racer to Lance Armstrong, a man who probably came out of the womb on a 10-speed and took off for the nearest hill.”

“Yeah, but look at this,” he flexed a quad. It was good, but it still had a long way to go before people were going to start asking him for leg-training tips.

“Why don’t I have legs like yours? Your legs were a lot bigger than mine when you were my age; I’ve seen the pictures.”

“I don’t know—why hasn’t my waist been as small as yours since I was about 13 years old and weighed 90 pounds? We’re all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Look at me and my wife, for instance.

“My shoulders have always been good—big and round. Never had trouble building them. My arms, on the other hand, have always been a struggle and continue to be. Then you have Janet. Her arms have grown steadily no matter what she did for them. She has peaks like little Mount Everests on her damn biceps, but her shoulders are tough to build, as stubborn as arms are for me. When they say opposites attract, this must be what they mean. Either that, or she’s superhot and the celebrity I resemble most is Shrek.” That got a chuckle out of Randy.

“It just doesn’t seem fair that there are some guys in bodybuilding with awesome genetics, guys who look like they should be in the magazines even when they are just doing local shows.”

“I know, but that’s like saying it’s not fair that some guys in the NBA are so tall, or some tennis stars have such great hand-eye coordination. At least in bodybuilding, at the local and regional level, before you start running into an army of genetic mutants, you can do pretty well with less-than-perfect genetics. You do it by working harder and smarter and doing the best with what you have. You work on your weak points and bring them up to the best of your ability. You train and diet and do your cardio and never miss quality meals or supplements so you show up looking the best you can—and in great condition. That way you can beat the guys that were too lazy to work some bodypart they didn’t feel like, or who cheated on their diets and blew off early-morning cardio sessions. I have managed to beat a lot of them.”

“But, Ron, haven’t you still taken second place to a lot of freaks?”

“Bastard! I knew you were going to bring that shit up. It’s true. I have been runner-up more times than any other bodybuilder in history. But I tell you what, I have beaten some guys I had no business beating, guys who had more genetic gifts in their little finger than I had in my whole body. And it’s because I worked harder—and smarter—than they did. I did a lot more with what I was given than they did, and beating them despite my many genetic shortcomings was as sweet a victory as winning the whole show.”

Randy checked himself out again and didn’t seem quite as upset. He hit a crab shot, a most-muscular pose in which his wide shoulders and big traps gave him the illusion of being much bigger than he really was.

“Not so horrible, I guess. Not Ronnie Coleman, but not so bad.”

“Not at all, Randy. I don’t need to tell you what your strong and weak points are. You already know. You can’t change your genetics, but you can do the absolute most with what you have. That will make you a success story, regardless of what contests you do or don’t win. I have a certain amount of respect in the sport because a lot of people know how far I have come over the years. Meanwhile, others with far superior genetics have quit, fizzled out or just faded away because they weren’t willing to work hard enough to compete against those with great genetics who were willing. They’re long gone and forgotten, while I’m still here hitting it hard and still making small-but-gradual improvements every year.”

Randy clearly felt better now. He’d have more bumpy moments over the next six weeks—that’s the nature of preparing for a bodybuilding contest. You have your good days, when you feel on top of the world, and your bad days, when you feel like chucking it all in and bingeing out on pizza and beer.

I didn’t envy Randy, but at least his money was his own and not being sucked into a black hole of preteen fashion, where clothing styles go out almost as fast as they come in.

“How’s your personal-training business going lately?” I asked him.

“Pretty good, I guess,” Randy replied. “About six regular clients and a few who are more occasional.”

I clapped him on the back. “I’ll have to start referring more people to you.”

“Gee thanks, Ron, that’s awful nice of you.”

“Not exactly. I need you to make big money because I might need a loan, a big loan, in less than four years. You see, my daughter will be turning 16.…”

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding: Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at IM

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