He had massive arms, a huge chest and a winning personality, but Leroy Colbert’s bodybuilding career was cut short before he could triumph in major competitions. Fate had decreed instead that he would go on to become one of bodybuilding’s most influential judges and nutritionists’but even more important was the role he played as an inspiration to an entire generation of young physique athletes.
Colbert was born on May 9, 1933, in New York City. After completing high school, the young man began to work for Joe Weider’s organization; he was employed in the warehouse of the Union City, New Jersey, business. Bodybuilding was nowhere as popular or profitable in the early 1950s as it is now, and the future champ recalls making barely enough money to get by each week. But on the positive side he absorbed a lot of the cutting-edge experimentation that was going on at Weider’s offices. Gradually, Leroy built a fine physique with full, beautiful biceps’the first to measure 20 inches.
The young man began competing at the age of 18, when he entered the ’51 Mr. Eastern America. Colbert placed sixth. By the next year he’d won first place at the Mr. New York City contest, a great honor for a mere teenager. He wasn’t so lucky when he tried for the ’52 AAU Mr. America, a notoriously difficult contest for African-Americans to win; Colbert came in 17th, but he did win the Best Arms award.
By 1954 he was in the running to be one of bodybuilding’s greatest stars, but then something happened that would end the young man’s career. He was riding a motorcycle near Laconia, New Jersey, when he was forced to swerve out of the path of an oncoming car. His right foot was caught under the car’s bumper and nearly severed. Colbert survived, but he would never compete again.
Despite his misfortune, Colbert persevered. His picture appeared in many training articles in Weider publications, and given his experience in shipping supplements, he decided to open his own health food business. Later he moved to California, where he opened another business. No matter where he went, Colbert inspired others. One of his greatest fans at the time was Dave Draper. The Blond Bomber remembered Colbert’s arms as being ‘over 20 inches cold, with biceps like grapefruits and triceps like giant horseshoes. For arms like those, I thought, I’d train night and day forever.’ That inspiration is Colbert’s greatest legacy to the sport.