Atlantic City 1987: The lights were bright and everywhere I looked I saw people gambling. Black Jack, Poker, Slot Machines, Craps and Roulette. I was never much of a gambler myself. That's probably why I trained so hard every year but never showed up for the big day. I wanted to win the USA or the Nationals and turn pro but I couldn't handle the risk of standing onstage with anything but the overall title and trophy.
No, the stakes were too high and I would rather not risk failure. It was easier to watch the others and excuse myself with promises of future victories. I remember that day like it was yesterday. My good friend Alex paid for my plane fare and ticket to the Nationals in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Perhaps he thought that it would inspire me to compete again and go after my dream of becoming a pro. After all, it was almost five years since I hit my trademark vacuum pose in front of a crowd.
What made the day interesting was the fact that I was drinking beer with my sidekick, Walter. Walter couldn't believe that I was drinking and reveled in the thought that he was corrupting me. John DeFendis drinking beer? I never drank beer. The closest I came to alcohol was a Shirley Temple or Virgin Pina Colada. But this day was different. I was drinking to escape the truth and the truth was that I was slowly watching my dreams disappear. Another year was passing by and another Champion was about to be handed the trophy that I thought I deserved.
I was the fox in Aesops fable "The Fox and the Sour Grapes." You see the fox wanted the grapes so bad and he kept jumping to pull them off of the vine. His attempts were futile and finally he fell to the ground, exhausted and grapeless. Knowing that he was never going to savor the sweet taste of the grapes he became vindictive and negative. As he lay on the ground he looked up and said, "Who wants those rotten, sour grapes anyway!"
As I sat in the second row with Alex and Walter I criticized the competitors onstage with my slurred speech. I kept saying, "Look at these guys onstage...they ain't got nothin. They probably mortgaged their houses and sold their cars just to pay for their food, supplements and airfare. Most of them are going to go home with empty dreams and empty pockets!"
I downed another beer and kept saying that I would never make that mistake again. As I drowned myself in inner sorrow I tried to convince myself that I was totally content being a wannabe. Who needed this? Why would I want to subject myself to the rigors of contest training just to win a title? Even better yet...Why would I want to gamble and take a chance of losing in front of thousands of spectators? It was so much easier sitting there with my Budweiser in hand while laughing at the competitors. Or was I really laughing at myself for not following through on my goals and realizing my dreams?
The next day I awoke with a feeling of nausea and uneasiness. I was told that this was a hangover from my beer escapade, but I knew better. I knew it was much more serious than that. I knew what I had to do and I realized that I would not be able to live with myself until I followed through and won the USA.
No mistakes, No miscalculations and No Regrets!
Even though the contest was to be held in Las Vegas I refused to gamble...
Knowing that I must be at my best and minimize any chances of defeat.
Pulling My Head Out Of My Ass
I knew the drill well. Wake up at 5:00 am, cook all six meals, slam down some black coffee that resembled mud with a half of a cantaloupe and an Animal Pak. Then it was off to war. Every workout was a grueling testimonial of the effort that it would take to win the USA and solidify my dream. After all, it was 1988 and overtraining didn't exist. It was the era of Intensity or Insanity workouts with 40, 50 and 60 set routines.
A typical leg workout consisted of a nonstop cycle of 400 pound Squats, 1200 pound leg presses and a leg extension machine that looked like it had its last day from the burden of countless repetitions with the pin buried at the bottom of the stack! Then there was stiff legged deadlifts, leg curls and seated leg curls for a hundred reps each followed by a 20 minute stretch of lunges around the outside of the mall with a hundred pounds on our backs. (The gym was connected to a shopping mall.)
Why were all the shoppers staring as we fell countless times and then regrouped and continued our trek? Did they feel sorry for me?
If so, I never understood why because I was living my dream...I was having the time of my life because I knew where I was going. I didn't need anybody feeling sorry for me because I was on top of the world. Nobody was going to beat me because I made sure that I was going way beyond all limits that my competitors would have set for themselves. I lived and died in that gym every workout and every day!
There is no greater feeling on earth than the feeling that you have when you know that you have done everything humanly possible to achieve your goal and live your dream!
That is what life is all about…
Being the best at everything you choose to do and not settling for second place.
Las Vegas is the gambling capitol of the world…
I loved Las Vegas on that hot, dry summer night in July of 1988…
But I never had time to gamble. I just went in and did my thing and got out.
You know...I never was a gambler.
Check Out My Main Page, Click Here!