It will be a question of redemption for big super-heavyweight, Jerome Ferguson, as he prepares for his final amateur show, the 2006 NPC Nationals, held this weekend. Failing to make the cut at this seasons USA's - a show he was slated to win - Jerome faced the unenviable prospect of maintaining his stringent pre contest diet for a further 14 weeks, if he was to achieve his aim of qualifying as a professional.
Despite this seemingly insurmountable challenge, and the added distraction of falling ill four weeks out, the big man has stuck to his diet and by all accounts looks to be a Nationals frontrunner. Jerome's combination of symmetry and size has never been questioned.
His ability to bring the complete package has been demonstrated by several close placing's, and many feel he should already have achieved pro status based on his formidable physique. However, despite a close second at the 2005 USA's, Jerome did not capitalize on the momentum created from his 2005 season and his status as one of the world's top amateurs. Instead he placed a disappointing fifth at this seasons USA's, and was thought by many to be finished in the sport.
These people clearly were not familiar with Jerome's strength of mind and unwavering belief in his ability to overcome the odds, qualities exemplified by his mindset one week out from arguably the toughest show of his life.
Indeed the pressure is on but Jerome, positive as always, is ready to do some major damage at the Jackie Gleason Theatre, Miami Beach, come November 11. In the following interview he shares his 34 week quest to become the sports newest professional.
[ Q ] Hey Jerome. How are you feeling at this point? Depleted?
Yes, very (depleted). Physically I feel great though. I have all of my meals in and my stomach feels good. So, physically the body is perfect, although energy levels are zero right now.
[ Q ] How do you feel now, compared to how you felt prior to this season's USA?
I was much better physically, three weeks out from this show than I was on the day of the USA. When Bob Cicherillo saw me he said I looked better compared to the USA's. I don't even know the percentage now, but we did take it to a whole different level. I have striated glutes now. When you have been dieting so long you can't help but look your best.
[ Q ] Striated glutes? Sounds like you are ready to go. What other improvements have you made leading up to this show?
I think I have made more of an improvement in conditioning. It is weird because I think my back has also made some improvements, because it has been a few months and Charles (Glass) is really good at what he does. But I have made some definite improvements, even though it has been a rather short time.
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[ Q ] I understand you have held you condition since your showing at the USA's. How hard has it been to maintain a high level of condition for so long?
It has been the hardest thing that I have ever had to do. I had to change my food around - it got to a point where I couldn't get my food to go down. I had to start getting my steak grounded up, then I had to go to ground turkey.
Actually Jay Cutler put me onto a special herbal bread which was so fine in texture, so I was able to make sandwiches for a couple of weeks - it had 15 grams of carbs per slice. So physically it was the hardest thing.
I wouldn't wish this one on nobody because it was tough. I was talking to Jay and he said, "Jerome, if you are going to do another show just don't come off the program, just hang in there." He said: "If you come off it is so hard to get back on."
So this year I didn't come off (laughs) and it just seemed to be so long. So I went to the Olympia and I actually got sick and I came back and was tyring to train and eat. I missed one or two days of training, but made up for that. Then all of a sudden on the following week, four weeks out, I was flat on my back from Thursday to Friday, 3:00pm.
Then I had to go to get a Z-pak antibiotic for five days and it was at that point I thought I may not be able to make it. I'm keeping it real here. I was hurting so bad I got on my knees and prayed to God to ask him if I should keep going or not.
Joe Wheatly called me and said "Jerome, Lonnie Teper has picked you to win the whole show." I was like "Shucks man." That just motivated me to keep pushing. Then another time I was thinking how tough it all was and I was on the e-mail getting all these cools e-mails from guys that have seen the Fit Show on Bodybuilding.com, and it was like, "If you can't do it for yourself, you have to do it for your fans."
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And right then my fans became my friends. It was like they were holding onto me to keep me going - very inspirational. At that moment I said to myself I would dig down deep and push through this. And I kept going and going and on the third and half week it started to come right.
I started feeling a little better physically, even though my energy was down. I was just listening to my body the whole way and now I feel better than ever. I feel better today than I have ever felt preparing for a show.
[ Q ] So the fans and the additional responsibility of having to live up to the expectation of placing high or possibly winning the Nationals pulled you though this sickness? Was there anything else that kept you going during this period?
Exactly. It was like I was so close and I knew in my heart that no one else out there could beat me but me. So it was like my competition was gone. Mike Ergas, Lionel and Omar have all gone. I beat Chris Cook in... I think in 2002. Haley has gone also.
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All my peers had gone. I thought, Jerome, this is your show dude. And I just had to dig down deep and push through and show up. I kept telling myself to show up for every meal, every cardio, every training. It was like one thing at a time. That was all I was focusing on.
[ Q ] Although you do have a great chance of taking the whole show, is there anyone that comes close, who could possibly overtake you at the Nationals?
I really don't think there is anyone. Lionel could come in condition, he could do well, but I think I have better symmetry. In the super-heavies I really don't see anybody other than myself winning. I just need to make sure I bring it in right. I'm not saying it is not good competition because all the National shows have got the top competition in the world, but at the moment I am the more complete bodybuilder.
[ Q ] So it is likely you and Lionel will pose down for the overall?
Yes, I feel that he is the only one that can come in condition and do well, but he is a heavy and I think it will be between him and me at the end for the overall.
[ Q ] Any competition from the light heavies?
Not really. I saw one of the guys, Stan McQuay, doing a photo-shoot and he looked good. But if you are doing a photo-shoot a week out from the show, what does that mean? If your energy is up to do a photo-shoot a week out from the show you shouldn't be that happy.
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[ Q ] What kind of changes did you make to your training and diet to bring you in better this time?
You know what? I did my diet myself. I did get the knowledge I needed from Tom so I figured I would just listen to my body and do my own diet. I changed all my foods, kept the protein high and manipulated the carbs up and down. Periodization.
I think basically you have to listen to your own body. I did this and got some tips from Gunter and it just worked out. I don't think I could have worked with Tom on this show because it was just mentally too hard and Tom's personality might not have worked at that point.
I had to program my brain totally for success. I read a book that I read a couple of years ago called The Power of Now and for three days I read that book from early in the morning until I went to bed. It stopped the negative activity in my brain.
My brain was asking me how could I have gone from runner up at the USA last year to fifth this year. It was going crazy, but once I got all that activity to stop by reading The Power of Now, I was able to work all that stuff out. And Tom, he is a nice guy, but he just would not have worked. And by me dieting for at least 34 weeks, when it comes down to five weeks out, I just needed a little TLC (laughs).
[ Q ] Your approach has been to go it alone for this year's Nationals?
Yes. After the USA's I decided not to use Tom because of some of the mistakes he made. I had never eaten smoked salmon, period. I was eating smoked salmon on the Friday morning before the show. If somebody were going to screw it up I would rather it be me.
I was also told to be concerned about one guy from the junior nationals, a threat. I didn't need, at that time, to be told about some other guy who could beat me. I needed a positive influence. The he sent me a message to say he wanted a payment. I couldn't afford it, as I'm an amateur. I said I would do it on my own.
[ Q ] It seems that you have been able to tap into your mental resources and empower yourself this time around.
That is so right on. To be honest with you this show changed my life. Mentally it has made me a better person, a more confident person. It has put more love in my heart and increased my love for the sport. Whoever puts heart into what they are doing, to really push through to make it happen, will be rewarded. That is what this was to me. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, and it has changed my life.
[ Q ] Why have other shows not had the same impact on your life?
I think the other ones were easier because of my genetics. With my genetics I could get in there and tweak some things to bring me in. When you have to diet for 34 weeks and have to mentally do it on my own it has to change you in some way.
Click Images To Enlarge.
Arnold & Jerome Entertaining The Crowd
At The 2006 Muscle Beach Championships!
When you try to eat your steak and potatoes and you can't make it go down. You have to work out a way to get that food down and the next thing you know you are eating leaner ground beef with some ketchup on it. Then you mash some potatoes up, then you have a nice little home cooked meal (laughs). Seriously, it was tough.
[ Q ] What will you be doing this final week to ensure you arrive in the type of condition needed to win?
I did talk to Chad Nichols and what he is going to have me do in the final week is load up. What he has done with me since Wednesday is take my carbs very low. I wasn't going to work with anyone at the very end. But since he called me and was very reasonable and nice - he knew this contest meant everything to me - I thought it was a blessing, given everything that has happened. He will take me all the way up to the show.
[ Q ] What will Chad do exactly?
He has depleted me to the max, more so than I have ever been depleted before. He will come to me on Wednesday night and he will take a look at me and we are going to start working to load me up to Friday.
[ Q ] You do sound motivated and not lacking in energy right now? What is with that?
At the moment I feel totally awesome because I know my body. I already trained today and when I got home I knew I needed to rest for at least an hour. It's weird. At this point I can't do any type of activity other than training. Can't watch a football game, and I have to listen to easy music, classical music (laughs).
[ Q ] Yet you can sit here and do a full interview no problem at all.
No problem at all baby.
[ Q ] I guess the question everyone will be asking concerns what you will do in the event you lose in the weekend. Will you compete as an amateur again?
David, that is a good question. There will be no more amateur shows for me. I have to be honest and truthful for myself: I gave the preparation for this show 110%. I gave it my all. If it somehow does not work out, I just can't do another amateur show.
There will be no more USA's and no more Nationals, no more North America. This is it. I have given it my 'everything' to pull it off, and I know I have done everything to make it happen and this is it. One roll of the dice, I am putting it all on the table right here baby.
[ Q ] And win, lose or draw you will walk away feeling like a champion.
That is exactly right. That's what I told my girl: I said, "Whatever happens at this show I will feel totally awesome because I gave it all, I gave what I didn't have." I gave it for my fans who became my friends, I gave it for the love of the sport, I dug deep and gave it all for 34 weeks on a strict diet, through all the pain and illness.
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I didn't miss training, I hung in there and gave it my all. So whatever the outcome, I'm okay with it. Of course I pray that I can win and take the whole thing and do a pro show. But if not I know I did my best and gave it everything.
[ Q ] Well all the best Jerome. As always it was a pleasure talking to you. Is there anyone in particular you would like to thank for supporting you throughout this process?
Man, first of all I would like to thank Bodybuilding.com and those guys for the Fit Show, for giving me the opportunity to make all these beautiful friends. It has opened a whole new door for me.
I would like to thank Peter McGough, Shawn Perine and Greg Merritt from Flex Magazine who believed in me and kept me in the game. Charles Glass for training me, and also me training partner Adam Kirby. I want to thank Gunter for being a good friend and pushing me and telling me I can do it, for sharing with me all of his tricks of the trade.
I also want to thank my daughter for putting up with me; I couldn't take her trick or treating because I had no energy. I want to thank my girlfriend Susan Evans for putting up with me not wanting to be talked to (laughs).
I just want to thank all of the beautiful fans, which became friends, out there that believed in me. I would also like to thank Jim Manion and John Lindsey for making the whole NPC program possible. I would like to give a big thanks to Bob Cicherillo for being there and giving me his advice, and also a thank you to you David for calling me and doing this interview.