Fast forward to 1982. I'm sitting in my backyard at my new home, reading a Muscle & Fitness magazine. I'm married now, a little mellower, and my situation has transported me from New York to sunny Arizona. The article that I'm focusing on is about the upcoming U.S.A. Championships and includes two of my photos. The caption next to one of my photos reads, " John Defendis, a terror from the East, is now living in Phoenix, Arizona, and is rocketing like a meteor toward the 1982 U.S.A. Championships with mass built by means of incredible 40, 50, even 75 set-per-bodypart workouts!"
I'm excited about the flattering press but I must admit, it creates undue pressure caused from the fear of possible failure. Immediately I run into the house and phone Michalik. I express my concern. Once again I realize that I made a mistake by calling him. He barks through the telephone, " You feel pressure? You are afraid that you might fail and lose the contest? You gutless bastard! You have two choices. You can either quit bodybuilding and take up golf, or you can fly back to New York and pick up your balls where you left them and train for the show with me!"
He hesitates for a second and then asks, "Do you own a television?" I reply with a yes not knowing where this is going to lead. Then Steve asks, "Do you own a nice stereo system?" By this time I feel like a defendant on trial that is being led into a bad position through a series of questions, but I again said yes. I told Steve, "I do own a stereo but what does that have to do with winning a contest?"
At this point Steve screams into the telephone, "Sell your damn television and sell your damn stereo and do what you have to do to accomplish your goals! Anyone can own a television but only a small handful of people have the genetics to win a major bodybuilding title. Material objects don't mean shit! Now you have to make a decision. Do you want to be a champion or would you rather sit at home and watch the real champions on your nice big color TV?"
At this time I really didn't need to reply because Steve and I both knew where this was going. He had too much of an influence on me. So, we borrowed the money for the trip. Delta Flight 228 was scheduled to leave Phoenix Airport at 7:30 A.M. It would be a long flight and would not arrive at Kennedy Airport until 4:45. At least I would be able to get some rest between the time that I left Phoenix and tomorrow's workout.
As I sat in my uncomfortably narrow seat on the plane, I fearfully anticipated what would lay ahead. Fortunately, the plane arrived in New York on time. That was good. At the same time Steve was waiting for me at the terminal. That was real good. Unfortunately, his dress attire was not appropriate for the occasion. This was real bad. He sported a torn up old sweatshirt with a raggy tank top underneath and some ancient sweatpants with a giant hole in the knee area. For some strange reason, I had the feeling that this was going to be a very long day for me.
Steve didn't waste any time. His warm greeting went something like this: "Let's go. Get your ass in gear. We have to train our chest, back, and shoulders and still be able to get two more meals in today." "But, Steve," I replied, "I just got off the plane and I feel like I have major jet lag. Can we start tomorrow?" His face took on a transformation and his eyes started to bug out. So before he spoke, I reluctantly committed to my post-flight, nightmare workout. At the same time I came to the sick realization that I had wished that my flight had missed the runway altogether.
The car ride from Kennedy to the gym took approximately 45 minutes. In that time span, only four words were spoken. Steve said, "I hope you're ready." I just nodded and realized that he was on a mission. I knew that he wanted to once again prove to himself that he was indestructible and that he had the capabilities of annihilating anyone in his path. This was his M.O. Michalik had sent more people to the hospital than Hurricane Andrew and the California earthquake combined.
Upon arriving at Mr. America's Gym, I noticed that nothing had changed since I had left three years earlier. A member was still forced to sign in with a syringe-pen and the atmosphere was still hardcore. No businessmen or ladies here. Just masochistic lunatics. As I entered the front door I was pleased to see that Michalik had a full size wall mural of me doing my trademark vacuum pose. Immediately several of my old friends approached me with their arms out. They reflected on the old days and expressed their congratulations on my accomplishments and articles in all of the magazines.
For a second I almost felt important and proud. But before I began to bask in my glory, it all ended abruptly. Michalik shouted across the gym, "Hey primadonna, don't listen to their ass-kissing bullshit. Get the hell over here and let's see if you have what it takes to be a champion. From looking at your pathetic condition I'm starting to get the impression that you've been spending most of your time rearranging cactus out there in Arizona."
At this time, I knew that I was getting ready to face the greatest challenge of my life, and more than anything, I loved challenges. I figured that I would make my situation more interesting so I said to Steve, "I'm not a kid anymore, so don't think that your attitude is going to intimidate me. I came 3000 miles to show you what I am made of, and I intend to do just that. So stop wasting my time and let's get rock'n and roll'n!" Michalik looked at me in disbelief. As he finished setting up the roped-off battle zone, he sternly said, "You, my friend, are going to die."
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