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Mark Perry: Living the Dream

Life can certainly throw you some curves. Everything seems fine. You’re training, making progress, getting stronger and feeling healthy. Life is good. Then—Bam! A medical exam, and the news burns like a hot branding iron. Test results say that you have a life-threatening illness and little time left. It seems like a nightmare. What do you do?

What Mark Perry did was turn to his family and his community—and those heroes carried him back from the brink, back to health and back to the gym. It’s a story worthy of your time.

DY: I’ve always seen bodybuilding as a test. That is, you pit yourself against an obstacle, the weight, and you come out stronger and better. Either you’re going to push through the obstacle and crush it, or it’s going to stomp you. You’ve faced some pretty significant obstacles with your health.

MP: I have polycystic kidney disease. It’s pretty much an untreatable hereditary disease. Cysts form on the kidneys and rupture, leaving scar tissue and lessening the function of the kidneys. Eventually you have to either do dialysis or get a kidney transplant. Usually the disease progresses slowly. A lot of people don’t even have symptoms until they’re well into their 60s.

DY: Was there a family history of the disease?

MP: Everyone on my dad’s side of the family suffered from the disease and died because of it. It’s affected family members as young as 13. I watched my sister die at 37 and my dad die at 47 battling the disease. Almost every relative on my dad’s side of the family died from polycystic kidney disease at a young age.

DY: How did you find out you had it?

MP: I began bodybuilding in the mid-’90s. When I went in for a routine checkup, my creatinine level came back high. Since there was a family history of kidney disease, they did an ultrasound. The cysts were covering both of my kidneys. I saw the same specialist who’d treated my dad and my sister. He recommended I stop lifting heavy weight, cut my protein and increase my carbs and said if I changed my diet to less protein, my kidneys would last maybe another six years—and if I didn’t, it might be five years. So in my mind, it didn’t make sense to eat like a bird and give up the one thing I love—bodybuilding.

DY: What did you do?

MP: I researched it and found evidence stating the opposite of what the kidney specialist had told me. Natural healing remedies suggested the disease would progress faster with higher carbs, as it’s a type of fungus that thrives on carbs. The evidence encouraged eating more protein and fewer carbs. I had yet to have any symptoms. As a bodybuilder I ate healthy and worked out, and that made me feel good. I opted to go with the natural homeopathic approach and continued bodybuilding. I got regular checkups every six months. I didn’t feel bad or develop any symptoms.

DY: You continued training and competing?

MP: When I did the North Americans in 2007, I had 28 percent kidney function left. I met with the specialist to make sure I’d be able to compete. I placed third in the USA that year, then won my class at the North Americans and got second overall. I missed my pro card by a hair. It wasn’t until mid-2008, as I was preparing for the Nationals, more than 13 years after seeing the specialist for the first time, that I began to have symptoms. The specialist thought it would be okay to compete and then undergo a kidney transplant around the first of the year.

DY: So you competed?

MP: I started feeling too sick to compete. I was losing kidney function very rapidly. I needed to get a transplant scheduled as quickly as possible. Instead of competing in the Nationals, I had a transplant that same weekend. I checked in and gowned up for my transplant: The blood work showed my creatinine level was at 10.6. The normal level is 1.0. The doctors couldn’t believe I’d never had dialysis. Usually by the time people reach a creatinine count of 5.0, they’re on dialysis and very sick. The doctors said it was my large amount of muscle mass, my healthy lifestyle and my will to not quit and not be sick that kept me going without dialysis. I refused to be sick.

DY: So the positive effects of training, attitude and lifestyle were key factors. Did you have to go on a list to get a kidney?

MP: You actually have to have kidney function of less than 20 percent before you’re even eligible to get on a list for a transplant, and it can take three or more years before you get a new kidney. My family passed the word throughout the family that I needed a donor. Seven family members were told, and seven went to see if they could be the donor.

DY: Three-plus years is a long time when a life-threatening disease is involved. I imagine a lot of people don’t survive the wait.

MP: By then most people are too sick to even undergo a transplant. I was very fortunate that I had seven willing donors. They all stepped up. They included my sister Rebecca Hadley, my brother-in-law Tim Hadley, my nephew Carl Gibson, my niece Amanda Ketchum, my nephew Isaiah Hadley, my niece Heidi Soto and my wife, Amanda. I am grateful beyond words to each and every one of them. Family members in my bloodline were eliminated one by one due to the family history of kidney issues.

DY: So donor prospects were looking pretty grim.

MP: They were. Heidi is my niece by marriage and out of the bloodline. I was running out of time. My entire family was sitting on eggshells along with me; waiting, hoping and praying. Then we got the word—she passed!

DY: It sounds very brave of Heidi to donate a kidney for you.

MP: It was an incredible moment. Heidi has two young children. To talk to Heidi, she just took it all in stride and acts like it was no big deal. I know the day of the surgery she was very scared, but she was very brave and went through with it. Heidi saved my life, no question. She herself is young, just 25 years old at the time of the surgery. To be that young and step up when someone in the family was in need, a relative by marriage especially—that really says something.

DY: Do you have to take special precautions in your training and in your diet?

MP: My physician recommends that I keep the protein around 160 grams per day, and it’s very important that I drink lots of liquids to prevent dehydration. I’m happy to say a year postsurgery the amount of medication I take is very low. Just three pills in the morning and three at night, and I don’t have any side effects.

DY: Talk about how your experience has made you respond to life’s challenges.

MP: I am grateful beyond words to Heidi and everyone in my family who tested and offered to donate a kidney to me. It’s hard to find the words to thank someone for saving your life. I owe the quality of life I have to Heidi for being my donor, and to my wife, Amanda, our twin daughters Samantha and Alexandria, our daughter Kayla and our son Joey.

DY: You have a great support system. Has any of this made you a better bodybuilder?

MP: All of it has made me a better person as well as a better bodybuilder. Bodybuilding has been a major part of everything I do. I own a fitness facility and am lucky I get to do what I love every day. I was able to compete again this year. I did the Nationals in Florida. I didn’t place as well as I would have liked, and my new kidney works so well I didn’t know how to prep this time. Thank God it works so well. Next competition I’ll know—and hopefully be back bigger and stronger and win that pro card.

DY: Tell us about the mind-set it takes to keep going in the face of all these challenges. Where does the resolve come from?

MP: Well, I can focus on training and running my business now that I’m healthy. Before it was a constant battle wondering how long my health would hold up. Now it’s all about living life to the fullest. It’s all a big relief to put that demon to rest.

DY: What keeps you focused on improving from workout to workout?

MP: To me that’s what bodybuilding is all about—making improvements, taking away weakness and making it a strong point. Staying consistent with your training and diet and not forgetting to enjoy life along the way.

DY: What’s your strategy for getting into your best shape for the upcoming competitions?

MP: First and foremost to stay healthy and to be in better condition. I have plans to get away from my business, starting with going to the Arnold Classic. The Arnold is very inspiring. In addition, I want to go to L.A. and train for a few weeks so I can really amp myself up and get completely focused on eating, training and getting into the best shape of my life. I like to train at Gold’s, Venice; the energy there is amazing. Of course, I love eating at the Firehouse. In addition, my strategy this year is to spend 12 weeks getting hard instead of six weeks getting in shape and six weeks getting hard. That will come by staying in better condition all year.

DY: Tell us about your gym.

MP: It’s called Total Fitness. We have 60,000 square feet, 55 aerobics classes, 35 employees, an indoor water park with two slides, water spouts, water cannons and a tiki bar. We rent it out for birthday parties and family events. We also have a full regulation basketball court that we rent out to three area high schools for games.

There’s a women-only workout area, child care, saunas, a members’ cardio area and of course a full weight room with two sets of dumbbells going up to 130s. It’s equipped for hardcore workouts as well.

DY: That’s no small operation. It sounds like a real community center.

MP: It’s not small, and our members and our community make the place. I was the contractor. While I was building the gym, I had to complete the build-out of my prior facility to prepare it for our tenant there—Goodwill. I’ve built eight or nine houses from the ground up. I also coach my son Joey’s baseball and football teams, which we sponsor.

DY: What training and nutrition keys have you found that enhance your results?

MP: In my opinion consistency is the key. One day or one week of dieting and training isn’t going to do it. You must eat the right foods and take the right supplements at the right time, week after week and month after month. I’m now incorporating Muscle-Link products into my program. With consistency I’m certain I’m going to display new muscle mass and conditioning. So far I’ve been seeing great results.

DY: Since it’s still early in the year, how about a look at a day of eating and supplements for your muscle-building phase.

MP: I eat six meals a day—nine if you consider that some are supplement-only meals. I eat every three hours and have a shake before I train and a shake immediately after.

Morning (upon waking)
1 cup coffee
GH Stak
2 capsules Red Dragon

Breakfast (meal 1)
6 egg whites, 2 yolks
1 cup oats
1 scoop Pro-Fusion protein

Midmorning (meal 2)
8 to 10 ounces chicken
1 cup rice
1 cup veggies

Preworkout (meal 3)
1 scoop Ribose Size
1 scoop Pro-Fusion
5 grams L-glutamine
2 capsules Red Dragon
4 capsules Cort-Bloc

During workout
Glutamine, Gatorade and water

2 scoops RecoverX
1 scoop Pro-Fusion
1 scoop Ribose Size
Life Pack

Lunch (meal 4)
10 ounces lean red meat
Baked or sweet potato

Midafternoon (meal 5)
8 ounces chicken or fish
1 cup rice

Dinner (meal 6)
8 ounces lean meat
1 cup oats

Before bed
1 scoop Pro-Fusion
GH Stak

DY: Okay, let’s get into training. How do you organize your training week?

MP: Right now in the off-season I do a five-day split:

Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Quads, hamstrings
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Delts, calves
Day 5: Back
Day 6: Biceps, triceps
Day 7: Off

I do a little bit of abs and hyperextensions at the end of each training session.

DY: Can you provide a week of your size-gaining workouts, bodypart by bodypart, including sets and reps?

MP: Keep in mind that this is one week, and I change things often. This is the workout I went through last week:

Day 1: Chest
Incline barbell presses warmup 1-2 x 12-15, 3 x 8-12
Hammer presses 3 x 8-12
Low-incline dumbbell presses 3 x 8-12
Pec-deck flyes 3 x 8-12
Cable crossovers 1-2 x 12-15

Day 2: Quads, Hamstrings
Leg extensions warmup 2 x 15-20, 4 x 8-12
Hack squats 4 x 8-10
Smith-machine squats 4 x 8-10
Walking dumbbelllunges 4 x 20 paces
Lying leg curls 4 x 10-15
Standing leg curls 4 x 10-15
Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 15

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Delts, Calves
Lateral raises 4 x 8-15
Smith-machine presses 4 x 8-12
Dumbbell front raises 3 x 8-12
Upright rows 2 x 8-12
Rear-delt flyes 3 x 10-15
Shrugs 4 x 8-10
Seated calf raises 4 x 12-20
Calf sled 4 x 12-20

Day 5: Back
Lat pulldowns 4 x 8-15
T-bar rows 4 x 8-15
One-arm dumbbell rows 3-4 x 8-12
Low rows 3 x 8-12
Deadlifts 4 x 8-12

Day 6: Biceps and Triceps
EZ-curl-bar curls 4 x 10-15 (or four sets of 21s)
Alternate dumbbell curls 4 x 10-15
or four sets of down-the-rack starting at 50, going down to 5 in five-pound increments
One-arm dumbbell or cable concentration curls 2-3 x max pump
EZ-curl-bar pushdowns warmup 1-2 x 12, 4 x 10-20
Rope extensions 4 x 10-15
    Dumbbell kickbacks 3 x 10-15
    Bench dips 3 x 10-15

Day 7: Off

DY: What do you think trainees need to keep making progress in their training?

MP: Variety is good to keep muscles responding. I stay consistent with three to four sets. I try to change my workout up a little each week—either the order or slight changes from standard reps to supersets.

DY: Do you like straight sets or have you found supersets, tri-sets and even giant-set circuits to have value?

MP: I incorporate them all into my training. My big thing is not to do the same workout that I did the week before. I change it up every time to keep the body guessing to promote growth.

DY: When people come to you for help, assuming they’re generally healthy and fairly experienced in the gym, what’s the first thing you seek to correct that may be keeping them from getting results?

MP: The first thing is almost always nutrition—the combination of food and supplements and when to eat and take what.

DY: How do you stay in reasonable shape in the off-season, when you’re training for size?

MP: I normally hit the treadmill for 20 minutes each morning before breakfast. It helps keep my blood pressure down and makes me feel healthy.

DY: Do you have a training partner?

MP: I have several friends who are also training partners. Because of the business I have to be flexible, so it really just depends on who’s available that day to train with me.

DY: Well, I’ll drink a protein shake with you to toast your getting your pro status in the near future.

MP: Sounds good. All of these questions have made me hungry!

Editor’s note: To contact Mark for guest posing or help with contest preparation, visit his Web site, You can learn more about Muscle-Link products at IM

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