I started lifting weights at the age of 14, and entered my first bodybuilding contest at the age of 16. That first contest was 38 years ago. This past weekend I competed in the 2014 NABBA World Championship, in the Over 50 division. I’m 54 years old now.
In between the ages of 16 and 54, I’ve competed 20 times – with some wins and some losses. The wins include Teenage Mr. California and Teenage Mr. America, the Overall Mr. California, the Overall Northwestern Mr. America, and division wins in Mr. America and Mr. Universe.
Sometimes I’d compete in consecutive years, and other times I’d take breaks between contests of two years, five years, or ten years. Of course, I was always training – even when I had no formal plan to compete. Working out – bodybuilding – has been a way of life for me virtually my entire life.
I’ve always considered bodybuilding a unique and fascinating combination of sport, art-form, hobby, recreation, science, business and community. Ever since I first began at the age of 14, I’ve analyzed the mechanics of resistance exercise – aka “biomechanics”. I’ve written a number of articles about what constitutes mechanically good exercise, what fails to qualify as that, and why – and I have just completed writing a 17 chapter academic book on the subject (due to be published by the end of this year).
Throughout my nearly 40 years in the sport, I’ve had the privilege to meet or become friends with Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Frank Zane, Lee Labrada, Jim Morris, Boyer Coe, Chris Dickerson, Samir Bannout, Joe Weider, Jack La Lanne, Lee Haney, Robby Robinson, Tom Platz, Tony Pearson, Bill Grant, Dave Draper, Shigeru Sugita, Ric Drasin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dave Dupre, Andreas Cahling, Dennis Tinerino, Albert Beckles, Shawn Ray, Kent Kuehn, Manny Perry, Franco Columbu, Mike Dayton, Bert Goodrich, Gary Strydom, Rachel McLish, Lenda Murray, Michael O’Hearn, Victor Martinez, John Balik, Bob Gruskin, Lou Ferrigno, Ed Corney, Sergio Oliva, Kalman Skalak, Ken Waller, Mike Quinn, Carlos Rodriguez, Ed Giuliani, Don Ross, Richard Baldwin, Jeff King, Clint Beyerle, Dave Johns, Phil Heathe, Jay Cutler, Richard Baldwin, John Terilli and numerous other wonderful members of the bodybuilding community. Name dropping? Yes. But also a representation of the opportunities afforded to me by a lifelong dedication to the sport.
I’ve traveled to Japan, Brazil, Chile, England, Southern Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Mexico – for bodybuilding competitions or exhibitions, in addition to a number of places in the United States (Florida, Arizona, Texas, Michigan, etc.). Further, I’ve competed or exhibited a number of times throughout California (Long Beach, San Diego, Fresno, Culver City, etc.).
I’ve competed in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), the NBA (Natural Bodybuilding Association), WABBA (World Amateur Bodybuilding Association), the NPC (National Physique Committee), and NABBA (National Amateur Bodybuilding Association). I’ve competed in the Teen Division, the Open Division, the Over 40 Division, and the Over 50 Division.
In terms of genetics, I’ve had some advantages and some disadvantages. As an ectomorph, I’ve never had the ability to gain much muscle mass, and have frequently been compared to Frank Zane, in terms of structure. However, I’ve been blessed with a fast metabolism, a decent bone structure (in terms of hip width / shoulder width ratio, arm and leg length, etc.), good muscle shape and separation, and good skin tone. From a sensory standpoint, I’ve had the ability to “feel”, and therefore to identify, which muscles are working during specific exercises – and that has allowed me to understand biomechanics better. So, my genetics have been both good and bad, for bodybuilding – I’ve done the best I can with it, in any case.
Above all else, I have always had a tremendous passion for bodybuilding and the eagerness to pursue it no matter how much effort and sacrifice it required. “The body as art” was my original spark, and continues today. Greek statues, drawings by Frank Frazetta, sculptures by Leonardo Da Vinci, early photos of John Grimek and Steve Reeves, and the amazingly beautiful physiques of Frank Zane, Francis Benfatto, Samir Bannout, Bob Paris, Lee Labrada, Shawn Ray, etc., have always captivated and inspired me.
I feel lucky to have found something – early in my life – about which I can feel so much enthusiasm. So many others struggle to find their passion – something which motivates them to such a degree, that it’s the first thing they think about upon waking in the morning, and the last thing which they think about before falling asleep. Something that – to a great degree – defines them, and gives them purpose. Bodybuilding does that for me.
I don’t do it for the trophy, although I’ve won my share. I do it for the discipline – for the striving. I do it because it’s challenging, and so few others dare to be challenged. I do it for the reward of seeing the body become human sculpture. I do it for the thrill of the excitement of being in the arena, and not on the sidelines. I do it because – as Theodore Roosevelt said – “…the credit belongs to the man whose face is marred by dust and sweat; who strives valiantly and dares greatly; so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” I’d rather strive and fail, then to not make the attempt.
In a sense, a trophy is arbitrary because it doesn’t accurately represent the accomplishment. A trophy given without the deserving physique is a farce, of course. But even a trophy given fairly, is somewhat meaningless because it “only” represents how one compared with other participants at a particular event. It cannot reflect how exceptional the physique really was. Photographic record of physique excellence, or of dramatic improvement, is a reward that accurately reflects the achievement.
Physique competition motivates us, and makes us a reach for greater heights than we otherwise might, but it’s naive to think that bodybuilding is only about winning a trophy. We do it for the love of the game – for the strategizing and the chance to rise to a respectable level of development – for the chance to see old friends and make new ones, and to be part of the legacy of the sport.
It’s about reaching to be one’s absolute best. It is not about the accumulation of trophies. Nor is it even about the comparison of one physique to another. Many of the great champs of yesterday would “lose” in today’s competitions, even if they competed at their previous best….especially considering today’s trend toward mass. Yet, their physiques were “masterpieces” of form, and are timeless. They are legendary.
If I could do physique presentation / competition forever – with a reasonable degree of respectability – I would. I know that’s not possible. However, as I was able to prove with this latest competition, my expiration date has not arrived yet. I’m still achieving respectable results – actually improving in some areas – and enjoying it.
I’d like to compete at least one more time, ideally speaking. This would require that I be able to devote the required time, of course. It obviously also requires good health and freedom from injury. Finally – for me, anyway – it requires an improved strategy that promises to result in a better outcome. I generally dislike showing “more of the same”. The greatest motivation for me, is the belief that I have something more to prove…..a new training method to test. If all these requirements can be met, I’ll shoot for 2016. That would be my 40th year anniversary of physique competition – a nice milestone.
In any case, I’m extremely grateful for having had such an exciting run so far. Sure, I’ve had my share of ups and downs (who hasn’t?), and God knows how much effort and sacrifice I’ve poured into this game. But it’s been more than worth it for me. I’d like to thank all those who have expressed support of my efforts, and faith in me personally. And I’d like to encourage anyone thinking about beginning a career in bodybuilding, to go for it. It’s more competitive today than ever, of course. But it’s a wonderfully interesting and rewarding game, and it’s been a beautiful part of my life for nearly four decades.
Note: Lance Kincaid (photographer) shot the first photo here (in 1976) as well as the final photo (2014). Amazing, but true.