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Unexpected Pleasures

Lonnie Teper’s NPC Junior California Bodybuilding and Figure Championships is grassroots bodybuilding at its best. It’s the kind of contest where the audience appreciates every competitor and is as much a part of the event as the contestants. The Junior Cal and Joe Wheatley’s Muscle Beach events are, as Peter McGough of Weider Publications said to me at the beach, “what real bodybuilding is all about.” The events are “happy,” and the contestants are intense, but the competitors and the audience are sharing a love affair with bodybuilding and what it can do for everyone. The competitors are there to share the results of their labor, and it’s fun for all involved.

Because it’s supported by the superstars of our sport, the contest is also very special. I sat next to IFBB pro Silvio Samuel, and he was an enthusiastic fan of everyone onstage. When Lonnie asked him to come onstage and hit a few shots, he was joined by giant IFBB pro Quincy Taylor for some impromptu posing. The audience went wild. Remember, the two pros were in the audience not as guest posers but as fans and supporters of friends and contestants—only in Southern California.

As I entered the theater lobby, I stopped to talk with Jay Cutler and I was reminded what a class act he is. While I respect Jay as the current Mr. Olympia, what I admire most is how he wears the crown. While we spoke, many fans came by to say hello, get an autograph or just stare. Jay gave each of them his complete attention—take a picture, sure. Jay’s megawatt smile flashed over and over. His character is front and center; he genuinely cares for his fans, and they can feel it.

Later that night Jay was the guest poser, and he gave the fans more than they expected. This wasn’t a “hit a few poses and walk off” personal appearance; this was jumping off the stage after posing and going into the audience and up and down the aisles posing and taking pictures with anyone who wanted one. It was bedlam, and it went on for 10 minutes till he bounded back to the stage and Lonnie handed him the microphone. What followed was a short speech that really underlined Jay’s character. He, of course, thanked the fans for their support, but he then went on to talk about the contestants and about his own experience as a beginning bodybuilder and the courage it takes to, as he said, “stand onstage in your underwear.” He asked for a special round of applause for all of the contestants. I believe Jay comes back year after year to Lonnie’s contest not only out of friendship but also because it’s a touchstone to his own start in bodybuilding.

Lonnie thanked me for coming to his event, but I really need to thank him for the pleasure of the experience. How about this celebrity support for an event—eight-time Ms. Olympia Lenda Murray, Flex Wheeler, Cathy LeFrancois, two-time Figure Olympia winner Jenny Lynn and IFBB fitness star Tanji Johnson.

The Junior Cal wasn’t just a bodybuilding contest; it was a reaffirmation of why bodybuilding has been an important part of my life for 50-plus years. (For more on the NPC Junior Cal, see News & Views, which begins on page 228 of the September issue of Iron Man.) IM

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