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The Torch is Passed

Iron Man Magazine

The seven novice heavyweights took the stage. Randy was first in line, as he had registered first, and thus was on the extreme right. The first guy in the class to catch your attention was the guy Randy had told me weighed in at 230 pounds, but you glanced away as soon as you saw he was not in shape and missing bodyparts. Not so with the Spanish competitor and Randy. They were both ripped and had very balanced physiques.

“Legs!” I shouted up to Randy, who immediately tensed his legs and found me in the second row. Very often, competitors forget to keep their legs flexed onstage, which can give the impression that they’re smooth. Now Randy’s thigh rods stood out in bold relief like thick cables. The Spanish guy, whose name was apparently Jorge (a little group of supporters were shouting encouragement in his native tongue), actually had better legs than Randy did. They weren’t as lean as Randy’s, though, and lacked deep, clear separations between the segments of the quads. From the side, Randy had a chasm dividing his quads and hams. Jorge did not. Randy also had a better V-taper, which I felt would be his ace in the hole in what otherwise could be a very close call.

“Randy, te ves fantastico (you look fantastic)!” I yelled, more to psych out Jorge than anything else. Randy’s Spanish was limited to “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

A pretty Latina glowered at me, and I secretly hoped she wouldn’t start launching churros at the back of my head. Once someone tossed a wad of gum into my hair at a bodybuilding show because the camera crew I was supervising was blocking the irate fan’s view. The head judge moved Randy from the end to the middle, right next to Jorge, to better compare them.

“Tu lo tiene (you got this)!” I added.

Part of me felt bad for being a wise-ass. I still stewed over the memory of the ’93 Mr. Natural Los Angeles, when the entire men’s medium class consisted of just me and one other guy, one of whose friends or family members kept driving me crazy by repeatedly shouting to him, “All by yourself up there!”

Being moved to the middle is always a good sign, and as Randy squared off against Jorge, I was confident that he would beat him. He hit his poses so well that I didn’t need to coach him at all. I merely gave him the thumbs-up every time he looked over at me. As soon as the head judge gave the standard, “Thank you. We’ll see you this evening,” the men filed off. I went backstage to tell Randy how well he’d done. I wouldn’t go so far as to jinx him and say he was going to win the class, because things are never over until the fat lady sings—and occasionally she sings a song you weren’t expecting. Randy had a bottle of water up in the air and was making short work of it.

“Easy there, killer,” I said. “Don’t drink too much, or you’ll smooth out. Half the quart should be fine.” He grinned, knowing in his heart that a first-place trophy would be in his hands in just a few hours.

As for the light heavies, things went just as anyone who’d been present at the weigh-ins might have predicted. It didn’t take a genius to see that one of them, Sophann, was at a different level from everyone else in the show. In the pump-up room I overheard—eavesdrop is such a strong word—that he was indeed planning on doing the Nationals, which were taking place in six weeks. Randy wasn’t quite as confident up there with the rest of the open light heavyweights, but he knew he belonged with them—a far cry from his disastrous first contest. In fact, he got the first callout in the mandatory pose comparisons along with Sophann and two other competitors, meaning he was most likely in the top four. It was tough for me to discern whether he’d be third or fourth, as it was pretty close between him and another man. The runner-up, a guy with obviously dyed platinum blond hair—his black roots were showing—simply had too much size and was in very good condition. Had it not been for the Asian Sensation coming out of the woodwork, that other guy probably would have won the whole show. By the fixed scowl on his face, he seemed to know it too. His bad attitude was embarrassing to watch. More than once he purposely shoved or elbowed Sophann while getting into a pose. He made it look as if he was just trying to make room for himself, but there was plenty of room. Blondie was just being a dick.

Randy and I didn’t even stick around to watch the heavyweights—all two of them. We were both starving and needed to get some food before we passed out. That’s why I sympathize with diabetics—I know all about low blood sugar. There was a good Mexican restaurant nearby. Since everyone else from the show was ravenous as well and there weren’t a lot of places to eat in the area, it took us more than a half hour to be seated.

When our steak and chicken fajitas and rice arrived, we practically inhaled them. Randy still had to hold his condition for the night show, so all he had was a small cup of espresso (a natural diuretic) to drink with his meal. Had he knocked back a couple giant glasses of raspberry iced tea as he really wanted to, he would have spilled over and blurred out his razor-sharp cuts.

When we were done eating, we sat there for a few minutes without saying a thing. I was thinking back to what a long, strange trip it had been, teaching Randy the Way of the Bodybuilder. The man sitting across from me was not the brash kid I’d met nearly five years before. He’d learned such values as patience, sacrifice, dedication, faith and perseverance in the face of adversity. Soon the audience would see his hand raised in triumph, but they would not see all the hard workouts, the countless meals and supplements, the achievements and the disappointments along the way that had led to that one brief moment under the spotlight.

“I know I’ve said this before, Ron, but thanks for everything,” he said, absentmindedly twisting a napkin into a little paper rope. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”

“You did the work, not me,” I replied. “I’m proud of you. Many before you said they wanted it, but none of them were willing to do what it takes to be a winner. You were, even if you were a pain in the ass about it sometimes.”

“You too,” he said. “There were times when I wanted to drop a big dumbbell on your head, believe me.”

I nodded. “I’m sure. I told you from the beginning it wasn’t going to be easy.”

“It wasn’t, either,” he said, getting up. “But I’m glad I didn’t quit.”

“Me too,” I told him, as the waitress dropped off the check. Without glancing at it, I pushed it across the table toward Randy. “I’ll get the pizza and desserts after the show,” I explained, lest he think I was running out on the bill. Hardly—I walked away at a normal pace.

Randy had to pose once only, along with the other novice heavyweight men. He’d held his condition very well, and the meal had really filled him out. I wished the promoter had left the scale around, because I bet he had gained a couple of pounds since the morning weigh-in. I was literally on the edge of my seat as the placings were announced. The emcee read Jorge’s name as being in second place, and I could barely hear the announcement of Randy in first. That’s because his mother and younger brother were to my left (my good ear), and she was screaming like a 12-year-old at a Justin Timberlake concert. Her cancer had been in remission for more than six months, and she looked 100 percent better than she had the last time I saw her.

The overall for the novice men was determined immediately afterward. Randy was compared in the quarter turns and mandatory poses with the novice lightweight winner. They were both in great condition, but the other guy had fairly undeveloped legs, and Randy was flat-out bigger and more complete. After a perfunctory 30-second posedown to a rock song while the judges tabulated the scores, Randy was declared the overall novice champion and had picked up his second trophy for the night.

A funny thing happened in the men’s light heavies—Blondie was nowhere to be seen! I never did find out why he skipped the night show, but I’m guessing he was the type who can’t bear to lose, even when it’s fair and square. Randy wound up second to Sophann, who indeed did sweep the class and the overall men’s titles with no real opposition.

When it was all over, I went backstage to congratulate Randy. He’d probably also need help hauling all that hardware out of the theater to his car. I found myself feeling even better about his win than I would have had I won myself. There was a certain satisfaction in coaching that I had never really understood until that moment. It felt really good to know that I’d been able to guide Randy along the way to this day and had played a part in bringing out his true potential.

I stepped into the chaotic pump-up room, where—now that the competition was over—the mood was noticeably lighter than it had been. I could see Randy deep in conversation with a young guy. The kid, who couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19, had been in Randy’s novice heavyweight class, but I’d hardly noticed him. It was clear he hadn’t been training very long, or at least not properly. Then it hit me. The kid went to our gym! I had seen him only a couple of times, as he trained during the evening rush hour, but now I definitely recognized him—the tribal tattoo with a sun in the middle on his left delt was unmistakable. He was peppering Randy with questions, and Randy was graciously answering them all, despite the fact that he had to be starving by now.

I made my way quietly outside, leaving Randy to his new protégé. My work here was done. Now it was Randy’s turn. The student had become the teacher, and the cycle would go on. Too bad it was already dark, because I thought it would have been really appropriate to have a sunset to walk off into.

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of Ron Harris’ “A Bodybuilder Is Born.” IM

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