Connor's Journey From Physical Devastation To Bodybuilding Domination: Experience Of A Lifetime!

My first experience in natural bodybuilding has been an experience of a lifetime. I fulfilled my goal to step on stage at 20 years old... See what I did!
Part 1 | Part 2

Article Summary:
  • I have a passion for many elements related to optimum performance.
  • I was nailing my peak as each day revealed a new level of clarity.
  • When the judge announced my name, I couldn't believe I took 1st place.
  • Somebody should tell us right at the start of our lives that we're dying, then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day... do it I say, whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows. - Michael Landon

    What a weekend! The Mid-America Pro Am in Evansville, Indiana and the Natural North America bodybuilding show in Romeoville, Illinois were experiences of a lifetime. Team Norton was all systems go with Layne, Isabel, Tommy, and many more behind us the entire day.

    I'm just glad I got a chance to witness first-hand why there is so much respect and acclaim for these guys. My first experience in natural bodybuilding has been one I will always remember. I fulfilled my goal to step on stage at 20 years old and I couldn't be more thrilled with the entire experience. Before I tell you about this weekend and my second show, I would like to rewind and take you back in time...

    My First Experience In Natural Bodybuilding Has Been One I Will Always Remember.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    My First Experience In Natural Bodybuilding
    Has Been One I Will Always Remember.

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    Back To When It Began
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    We all have had times when we felt that strong desire to make a change or go for something outside our comfort zone. Ideas, emotions, life-changing events sometimes emerge when we least expect it... and they become opportunities that must be grasped as soon as possible.

    Through the end of high school and the beginning of college I realized I had a passion for many elements related to optimum performance, especially the training and dieting aspect that takes competitors to the highest levels. In order to take advantage of this I decided to do some research on strength training, psychology, physiology, and nutritional science.

    I started out reading many journal articles while trying to make sense of the lengthy material and decided to pursue these subjects in college. I started out modeling some of the highest achievers in these different scientific fields in order to gain some new perspective on my own. I applied these principles in an effort to gain knowledge about myself.

    I Realized I Had A Passion For Many Elements Related To Optimum Performance.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Realized I Had A Passion For Many
    Elements Related To Optimum Performance.

    I tried out many of the most widely accepted methods in training and nutrition, but found out that most of them were just not optimal for me.

    Then I remembered some of the conversations I had with my mentor in Colorado when we talked extensively about making lifestyle changes and training naturally. He explained that many of his friends had opted to use drugs when they were about my age, and in almost every case he evoked from the past... left a powerful impression on me.

    The risks just seemed to too overwhelming in the long run, so my decision was made at that point. Still eager for new knowledge, I decided to take my research to a more specified region and look up natural bodybuilding just to see what it was about.

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    Finding Team Norton
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    After a lot of ground work, I came across a link featuring "knowledgeable natural bodybuilder Layne Norton." I read through a few articles. It was intriguing to read about some of his experiences as a teenager. Right then and there I realized my goal would be to compete before I turned 21.

    The next day I made my way to the gym and completed my first "true" leg day filled with all types of intensity techniques I had used in the past, but never for the sole purpose of muscle growth.

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    I now had the vision to complete my goal so I set up my own training program focusing on gaining lean mass. The first order of business before I arrived at school that fall was to purchase a gym membership so I would have a quality place to get work done.

    From that day last summer I never missed a workout, cardio session, or meal. I planned ahead on everything I did when it came to my goal and it proved to be a success.

    I Planned Ahead On Everything I Did When It Came To My Goal And It Proved To Be A Success.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Planned Ahead On Everything I Did When It
    Came To My Goal And It Proved To Be A Success.

    The gains came quick, and I was approached by a trainer and friend one day who asked me what the heck I was training for. I told him I was thinking of competing in a natural competition after a couple of years.

    He said he was impressed with my consistency in the gym and we eventually began talking each day about bodybuilding and how many of his friends and himself have tried preparing for a show in the past, but were never able to finish the preparation. He explained it just becomes too hard to stick to such a strict regimen, the cardio, training and nutrition.

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    I explained that's what I like about it. The struggle and satisfaction that would come from it would be phenomenal regardless of the outcome.

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    Searching For Shows
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    After training consistently and slowly gaining weight, I decided I would just look and see if there were any shows coming up. I didn't really have any intention to compete just yet but I wanted to do some research. I found a show in the ABA that was going to be held in Romeoville that same year.

    I decided to seek Layne out for some advice and be that objective eye for me during my preparation. He told me about a show that would be held a week before the ABA contest in Evansville, Indiana.

    I Decided I Would Just Look And See If There Were Any Shows Coming Up.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Decided I Would Just Look And See
    If There Were Any Shows Coming Up.

    It would be a pro show and one of the biggest and well-run events in natural bodybuilding and I was extremely excited about this because I knew that Evansville would be a blast as well as an excellent place to get things started.

    The night before I started my 20 week road to Evansville, I spent the night with family and friends at my favorite Irish Pub. I had their incredible burger and an Irish stew to finish the night off. I was anxious to begin my journey to the natural stage and I knew that night all the hard work would pay off in the end.

    I Was Anxious To Begin My Journey To The Natural Stage.
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    I Was Anxious To Begin My
    Journey To The Natural Stage.

    I kept my training regimen exactly the same as the previous months because it really helped me pack some mass on; therefore I knew I would be able to maintain muscle best with it as well.

    It was up to me to continue with the same work ethic that got me to where I was and it was a huge asset having someone in my corner on the same page with me... monitoring some the changes taking place.

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    Preparing For My First Show
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    Throughout the entire contest prep, we never had to adjust much and things were always moving smoothly. I was learning so much about myself through trial and error with my training... and each new day was like a step closer to realizing what I was made of physically and mentally.

    I made it a point book a hotel room at the host hotel in Evansville early and get all my materials in for both of the shows ahead of time. I also decided to start a contest prep log so others could follow along and hopefully get something out of it. The support I received was unbelievable; I soon realized how many great people are involved with the sport.

    I Was Learning So Much About Myself Through Trial And Error With My Training.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Was Learning So Much About Myself
    Through Trial And Error With My Training.

    I found it crucial to provide myself with a solid group of support at home as well as on the training forums. I became well-aware that most people wouldn't provoke a challenge like the one I had chosen to pursue in the coming weeks. Having like-minded people to bounce ideas off of from time to time made the path smoother and more enjoyable.

    I became more excited as each day passed. I didn't get a lot of sleep during the final week before the first contest as the events of the past and tumultuous year prior had planted something inside me. It was something that could only facilitate accomplishment from now on I felt. I was nailing my peak as each day revealed a new level of clarity in and out of the gym.

    I Was Nailing My Peak As Each Day Revealed A New Level Of Clarity In And Out Of The Gym.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Was Nailing My Peak As Each Day Revealed A
    New Level Of Clarity In And Out Of The Gym.

    On Thursday I made a trip to get a haircut, buy groceries, and a purchase a few items I would need for traveling. I had just finished summer classes so my focus was completely on the competition.

    I made sure to have all my food prepared for the day of the show and had it all packed in my fridge-to-go as well as towels, Dream Tan, extra t-shirts, exercise band, water bottle, two gallons of water, music, extra food, and all my information from the promoter.

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    Arriving At The Competition
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    I woke up around 6 AM Friday morning to eat breakfast and make my way down to Evansville with my parents. When we arrived at the host hotel in Evansville, the excitement began to build. There were a lot of pros walking around in the lobby, and I got a chance to chat with a few of them while my dad made sure we had our room set up.

    I had to take my polygraph test, which I passed and proceeded to the hotel gym for my quick circuit workout for the night. I had a meal in my room as my parents checked out the town and went out to dinner. I was the only one in the gym working out which was surprising, but I was able to really focus and think about what I needed to get done.

    I Was Able To Really Focus And Think About What I Needed To Get Done.
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    I Was Able To Really Focus And Think
    About What I Needed To Get Done.

    Right before I completed my final set, I received a call from Layne. We chatted a little and he said we were having a team meeting at 7 o'clock in the lobby. I was pumped to meet everyone and just relax for a while.

    The nine of us, including Layne and Isabel, were finally together in Evansville for the Mid-America Pro Am. We all sat comfortably in the lobby and discussed all sorts of topics related to training, nutrition, injuries, and future plans. We were like a small army planning a sneak attack in the lands of our enemy. Optimism and anxiety were simultaneously at an all-time high as we departed and made arrangements for the big day.

    We Were Like A Small Army Planning A Sneak Attack In The Lands Of Our Enemy.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    We Were Like A Small Army Planning A Sneak
    Attack In The Lands Of Our Enemy.

    For my first show I think I was spoiled with having everything taken care of for color as we all met in Ben and Alberto's room. Layne volunteered to apply dozens of coats of dream tan in all it seemed... and gave advice whenever asked. Isabel even bought food just to make sure everyone was covered there.

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    Contest Day
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    Things really flowed smoothly with all the support and my expectations were already exceeded at this point. The hard work everyone put in definitely showed... and I was proud to be amongst such impressive competitors. When we got through the chit chatting, it was time to head over to the awesome Victory Theatre for the competitors meeting.

    We trudged along down through the streets of Evansville and made it just in time to hear Dr. Joe relay all the important information we needed. So many thoughts were racing through my head at this point. I was lucky enough to have many veterans around who were glad to give advice or point any of us in the right direction.

    I Was Proud To Be Amongst Such Impressive Competitors.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    I Was Proud To Be Amongst
    Such Impressive Competitors.

    I sat in the back of the theatre and talked with many fellow competitors about how well-run this particular show had been. There was a genuine camaraderie between everyone. I then began to realize that in this sport the real opponent is only you. It's what everyone "knows" and it can be an empowering mindset, but it can also be forgotten so easily.

    Getting hung up on what can't be controlled... who's showing up... who looks better... who, who, who. Keeping that focus is not always easy, but so crucial I think. That's why there should really be no trash talking, because the battle is won and lost only with yourself. I went into pre-judging content because I knew I brought my best and had done everything I could.

    It went by in a flash... several rounds of mandatories and shuffling through line-ups was finished. All the preparation culminated in those seconds on-stage. It was over and the feeling was indescribably satisfying despite having no clue how it would all turn out.

    I Knew I Brought My Best And Had Done Everything I Could.
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    I Knew I Brought My Best And
    Had Done Everything I Could.

    I went out with my family to another Irish Pub after pre-judging and had a steak with sweet potato. My dad told me I clearly took at least one class but I explained how subjective the judging can be and you really never know how things will turn out. I made it back just in time for the night show meeting and had the privilege to watch some of the best pros in the world perform.

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    The Night Show
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    There wasn't a dull moment the entire day. Having the opportunity to witness some incredibly entertaining routines was a blast. The awards were given after each class completed their routines and before I knew it - my name was called along with each competitor in my class.

    I was feeling pumped after just hearing an announcement of two team members earning their class wins and pro-cards. This gave me a boost as I was called to be the first one to perform my routine. My friends, family, and fellow team members all shouted their support through out the performance.

    My Friends, Family, And Fellow Team Members All Shouted Their Support Through Out The Performance.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    My Friends, Family, And Fellow Team Members All
    Shouted Their Support Through Out The Performance.

    We were then called out in number order on stage for the awards announcements. I heard the head judge call out 7th place... then another name, then another. My heart was pounding! Pretty soon I heard 3rd place... and 2nd place... My name still had not been said.

    Did I win? Finally I heard... "In first place... Connor LaVallie!" My head dropped. Immediately I thought about it all... the months, year's past, had come down to this moment. It was nothing like I've ever experienced before. I hoisted my trophy and looked out at my friends and family. I was content and thankful, ready to continue on with the journey.

    I Hoisted My Trophy And Looked Out At My Friends And Family.
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    I Hoisted My Trophy And Looked
    Out At My Friends And Family.

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    Conclusion
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    It felt great to know that the judges felt I deserved to win, but either way I knew I did all I could and I learned a ton in the process. Luckily we were in Layne and Mike's hometown so they knew the right place to hit for pizza. We all met up there and ended the night with some awesome food and great company.

    We All Met Up And Ended The Night With Some Awesome Food And Great Company.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    We All Met Up And Ended The Night With
    Some Awesome Food And Great Company.

    I made many new friends and memories I'll never forget at my first contest. I couldn't have done it without the great people there including my family, friends, coach, and countless others who provided their constant support on the path to discovery... I'm forever grateful to you all.

    Part 1 | Part 2