In every contest, there’s a story behind the story, if someone would at least try and look for it. Who doesn’t have an incredible, or at the least, compelling tale to spin. With regards to my upcoming West Coast Classic on June 26, Doug Brignole and Brian Whelan are just two of those accounts.
I’ve known Doug for 27 years; for those who read my 10-page interview with Brignole in the October, 2009 issue of IRON MAN, you’re aware of the incredible ups and downs of Doug’s life (if you never saw the piece, you can check with the magazine to see if there are any back issues available).
The former Mr. Universe retired from the game back in 1991, but nine years later returned to the stage as he won Light-heavyweight class at the Los Angeles Championships in his NPC debut. He was finally, at 40, officially hanging up the posing trunks.
Or at least he thought. Enter a pushy reporter who met Doug in May, 2009 at the Cheesecake Factory in Old Town Pasadena to conduct the interview (a city where Doug was raised, and but a block away from the original Brignole Fitness, a first-of-its-kind workout facility that folded 15 years ago). I strongly encouraged the now 49-year-old to consider two things. Start writing a blog for ironmanmagazine.com, concentrating on his love of the biomechanical aspect of training, and to getting back on stage again. He liked the first idea, wasn’t so keen on the latter.
But, I thought Brignole could show the world how great a 50-year-old can still look, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt the business aspects of his life (writer, personal trainer, television host, etc). He agreed to make the West Coast Classic his first appearance at a sanctioned show in 10 years (as a tune-up, Doug eventually decided to compete in the Memorial Day event at Muscle Beach, winning the 50 and over class).
Brignole was surprised at the excitement the news of his return brought with it. Tom Touchstone, a former NPC star, said he’s coming all the way down from Bakersfield to watch Brignole work his magic on the El Monte High School stage. Rory Leidelmeyer may be joining Tom in the audience, rooting Doug on. Perhaps Jon Aranita, too. How great would that be, the gathering of all these former standouts, in support of one of their former colleagues?
On the topic of support, can’t even guess how many fans will show up to pay tribute to Brian Whelan, who’s story is right out of the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” mold.
On October 4, 2000 Brian was training legs at his Foothill Gym in Monrovia (15 minutes east of Pasadena). Then, all hell broke lose. His right quad tore, and the left leg pushed out while at the bottom of a rep on the leg press. Suddenly, Whelan had the horrific experience of having 1,200 pounds land on him, crushing his legs to the thud of 21 breaks of every type.
“It sounded like popcorn in the microwave,” Whelan said when I revealed the story in my News and Views column in the magazine nearly a decade back. “The Fire Department said it was the worst they had ever seen.
At the hospital Emergency Room, doctors wanted to amputate his right leg; at the last minute, they decided against it. “I woke up the next day with two logs, plus 16 plates, rods, and screws in both legs. All the nerves had been severed, so I had no feeling below the knees; fluid had entered my lungs via the torn arteries and I had lost 25% of my lung capacity.”
Twelve days later Whelan was released from Methodist Hospital in Arcadia; less than a year later Brian rolled up in his wheelchair and was on stage at the Orange County Muscle Classic and Venice Beach. “I competed in both while in the wheelchair in the men’s unlimited and won the HW at Venice. What a great moment!”
Brian said he wanted to compete again, this time standing, to show people his accident was just a “bump in the road.
“You had written an article about the accident, so it seemed right that your show be the one I do standing up again. Sort of full circle.”
He won’t be the only one standing when he returns to the stage sans his wheelchair for the first time in 9 years. I imagine every fan will be out of their seat in appreciation on this man’s implausible journey. And, Brian’s wife, Jennifer, will be close by; along with several other members of Foothill Gym (202 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia), Jennifer will be on stage in posing attire as well.
Brignole and Whelan: surviving, very well thank you, the rollercoaster of life.
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