Pumping Iron The Hard Way
Chad McCrary is a bodybuilder not lacking in discipline, perseverance and a will to win. Like all who engage with the iron with a view to competing on the bodybuilding stage, Chad has made the necessary sacrifices.
He trains with a level of ferocity only a seasoned competitor can appreciate, wakes early to do his fat-burning cardio, eats several nutritious meals daily, at regular intervals, and spends hours practicing his posing, all with the tunnel-visioned mentality of one who desires nothing more than to achieve the sleeve-bursting muscle size and razor sharp conditioning necessary to dominate their competition.
Unlike the majority of us, Chad, who currently works for the Federal Government as a 911 dispatcher on a military base, reaches for his bodybuilding dreams from the relative confinement of his wheelchair.
While many of us often struggle to find the motivation needed to hoist massive poundages in the squat, deadlift and standing barbell curl, Chad faces the problem of trying to build sufficient mass without the aid of these, and similar movements. If building mass without mass-building movements wasn't enough of a dilemma, Chad also is faced with the prospect of trying to lose body fat with limited cardio options.
Left with an incomplete transection of his spinal cord, the result of a burst fracture of the T-12 vertebrae following a March 2005 motocross accident, Chad has limited movement in his legs, but full use of his arms.
Prior to his accident, he had been a 200lb competitive bodybuilder of two years, and his love for lifting was such that his sights were firmly set on continuing to improve is physique, to break the 200-plus ripped weight-barrier. Following the accident he was left to work with what he had.
Fortunately his biggest assets - his heart, determination and strength of character - were unscathed. Today Chad is a nationally qualified wheelchair competitor aiming for pro status at the 2007 Wheelchair Nationals. "I was bound and determined that this (the injury) was not going to kick my @ss," he says. Indeed, Chad is one we could all learn a lesson or two from.
A Change Of Direction
Beginning his bodybuilding quest in 2000, at 160lbs and 15 percent body fat, Chad knew he had some work ahead and vowed determinedly to take his physique to a more respectable level. After three years he had bulked up to 240lbs.
A friend talked him into doing a show 12 weeks out from the competition date. Chad accepted the challenge and, over this period, took his body fat levels from 18 to 4 percent, to present to the judges at the 2003 NPC Heart of Texas a ripped 195lb physique.
He took ninth, but the determination and commitment he applied preparing for this show would, in time, stand him in good stead. Following the Heart of Texas Chad took time off to add more size to his tall frame. It was at this point he became interested in motocross.
Although still training hard, while maintaining a muscular 215lb physique, Chad's commitment to competitive bodybuilding dwindled, while his involvement in motocross intensified. On March 26 2005, while pursuing his love of motocross, Chad's life was to change dramatically.
A failed triple jump caused him to land on his back, fracturing his T-12 vertebrae and ending his motocross aspirations. Says Chad:
landing on the backside of the jump very hard.
I was paralyzed from the waist down."
After spending two weeks in LSU, during which time he lost 45lbs, Chad faced the real possibility of never walking again. "In LSU I lost so much weight and I was laid flat on my back the whole time," says Chad.
"I looked awful and felt awful and I was so depressed about my circumstances and the fact I had lost so much hard earned muscle." Chad, a devoted Christian, was also determined his injury would not ruin his life. Such was his determination to rise above what fate had inflicted, he asked his wife to purchase a set of dumbbells, and in the long month of in-house rehabilitation that was to follow, got to work re-building his physique.
With a renewed love for the iron, Chad put everything he had into what was to become a passion. "The doctor would come by on his rounds and there I would be, banging out a set of presses. He would look at me and just shake his head. During my stay at the rehab centre the physical therapist must have though I was insane, as my daily request would be to go to the gym and pump iron with my turtle shell brace on."
Six short months after his accident, Chad decided he would again compete as a bodybuilder. This time he would contest the wheelchair division of The NPC Heart of Texas. He won the event. In 2006 Chad competed in NPC run events, The Lone Star Classic, Arkansas State Classic and again at The Heart of Texas, winning all three. He now aspires to turn pro at the 2007 Nationals.
Having succeeded in one of the world's hardest sports in the face of such adversity, Chad has become an inspiration to those of us who wish to become the best we can be, and, in particular, to those who find themselves faced with life-changing injuries.
A committed Christian who considers Christ and his wife to be at the head of his support team, Chad says his main mission in life is to touch as many people as possible through his actions as a wheelchair athlete and man of God. He tells people who lack the motivation to pursue their dreams,
His approach to life and never say die attitude will ensure he continues to inspire wherever he goes. His message for us all?
"Whatever stands in the way of you obtaining your life goals, you have to push, pull, drag, or just run it the h*ll over. Adversity will affect everyone to some degree in their life, but they don't have to lay down and take it."
"What you believe," he continues, "Is directly linked to what you will achieve, so if you believe it you will most certainly achieve it. Now go and make it happen." He also has some specific advice for the bodybuilders among us: "Lift big or go home." In the following interview Chad tells his story and explains how he has overcome the odds to become a bodybuilding champion.
[ Q ] Having experienced such a life-changing event and having this event strengthen your passion for bodybuilding, suggests a special relationship with the iron. What is it about bodybuilding you love most?
The thing I like most about bodybuilding would have to be the self-discipline it teaches. It goes so much beyond the weights room. Self-discipline can be applied to any area of your life. In financial and spiritual areas, in relationships, and life in general, can a disciplined mindset be applied. It makes you a better-rounded individual.
[ Q ] You have competed as an able-bodied athlete and now in wheelchair competition. What are the main obstacles you now encounter as you prepare for a show? How do you deal with these?
The main obstacles I now encounter include not being able to do a lot of the mass-gaining lifts such as squats, deadlifts and standing barbell curls. I now do lying barbell curls on a seated row bench, in place of standard bar curls. Essentially I have to do a lot of improvising. Getting lean is also quite difficult, as I can't do any intense cardio. It pretty much has to be all diet, with some low intensity cardio.
[ Q ] What are the main differences between competing in able-bodied competition compared to wheelchair bodybuilding?
The main difference between able-bodied and wheelchair competition is that you are only judged from the waist up in the wheelchair event. But you still do mandatory poses in the pre-judging and a routine at the night show.
[ Q ] I imagine the posing round to be rather difficult for you. How do you design your posing routine? How much creative scope do you have when putting it all together?
My routines are pretty much based on how I feel at the time. I do typically like to go with high-energy songs that have hard beats. I try to make it flow with the music and do certain poses with the beats. That is pretty much it. Most of my time is spent on the mandatory poses, since that is where it is at with the judges.
[ Q ] After your accident why did you choose to continue to compete in bodybuilding? Did anything inspire you compete in the wheelchair event?
After my accident I made the choice to compete as a wheelchair athlete because I was determined this was not going to destroy me. The one thing that inspired me the most to do this was my faith in Jesus Christ. I prayed a lot about my circumstances and after meeting and talking with Melvin Anthony - he was an awesome person - it was clear what I was to do. I want to give people hope and inspiration not to ever let adversity get the best of them. I feel God is using me to send that message.
Click Image To Enlarge.
View More Pics From The 2006 Olympia Pre-Judging Here.
[ Q ] Tell me more about your meeting with Melvin Anthony. How exactly did he inspire you?
I had the chance to meet Melvin Anthony at the Arkansas State championships in Little Rock. He was guest posing for Chad Nicholls, who I also thought was a nice guy. Between pre-judging and the night show I talked to Melvin several times backstage.
He kept saying, "Man, you need to pursue that pro card, I'm telling you, you can do it." He is quite a character. He would pass me by and say: "I will see you on the pro tour." I really didn't digest it until I got back home. I e-mailed Melvin and he said he wanted to feature me in his monthly segment in Muscular Development.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Melvin Anthony At The 2006 Arnold Classic.
View More Pics From The 2006 Arnold Here.
So the next thing I know I'm in MD's November issue, which is on the newsstands now. Melvin is a very spiritual person and I want to give props to him. You are the man Melvin. That is how he inspired me.
[ Q ] The way you approach life is clearly inspiring and to be commended. Have you always possessed a winning attitude? Did your accident, in any way, change how you view life?
My attitude has always been that of an overachiever, but since my accident it made me realize we don't always have control over what happens in our lives, and you have to sometimes take what you get and make the most of it. Life is short. We should quit dwelling on what we don't have and take the time to give thanks for what we do have.
[ Q ] What were your initial thoughts upon hearing the life-changing outcome of your accident?
My initial thoughts were pretty much a conformation of my suspicion. Being a paramedic I knew I had broke my back and was pretty sure that my spinal cord was compromised due to the lack of sensation and mobility I experienced.
Initially I thought about my new wife, my career as a fire-fighter/paramedic and how this would all affect me as I lay face down in the dirt, unable to move. At that moment I started to pray to God and before they even rolled me over, I knew regardless of the outcome it would all be okay. With God on your side, how could you fail?
[ Q ] You mentioned earlier that you find it hard to do intense cardio. What exactly is the extent of your injury? What degree of movement do you have?
My injury is an incomplete, which basically means I did not totally transect my spinal cord. If a patient is an incomplete this means they usually have some use of their extremities. In my case I do have very limited movement, so I can cycle on a recumbent bike at a very low resistance setting.
My legs are very weak and lack coordination. I can walk for very short distances with the help of a cane, although this looks very lame. My typical cardio is usually first thing in the morning for about 30 minutes, on an empty stomach. Right now I am only doing this about three times a week due to the fact I am trying to gain mass.
[ Q ] Have your strength levels risen or fallen since your injury? Can you list some of your current poundages?
- Incline bench: 255 for six to eight reps.
- Flat bench: 295 for six to eight reps.
- Shoulder press: 100lb dumbbells for six to eight reps.
- Bent over rows: 125lb dumbbells for six to eight reps.
- Seated curls: 50lb dumbbells for eight to 12 reps.
- Dips with three 45lb plates for six to eight reps (assisted).
My strength has actually gone up since my injury. I don't know if that is a neurological thing or if it is just that I now focus on the upper body more. My current poundages are:
[ Q ] Those are some impressive lifts. You mentioned wanting to turn pro at next year's Wheelchair Nationals. On a personal level what is the significance of turning pro?
- 2006 Heart of Texas - NPC, 1st - Wheelchair
- 2006 Arkansas State & All-Star Fitness Pro - NPC, 1st - Wheelchair
- 2006 Lone Star Classic - NPC, 1st - Wheelchair
- 2005 Heart of Texas - NPC, 1st - Wheelchair
- 2003 Heart of Texas - NPC, 9th - Heavy Weight
On a personal level turning pro would just simply be for personal goal attainment, not financial gain or to impress anyone. My friends and family already accept who I am and it would give me great pleasure to promote wheelchair sport and send my message to everyone. I would just like to continue doing what I love. My love for the sport far exceeds my genetic potential, but I can be my personal best and that is most important to me.
Chad's Bodybuilding Achievements:
Bodybuilding Achievements (Before Accident):
[ Q ] Describe your current training routine and diet? How will these change as you next contest approaches?
My current training consists of working each upper body part twice per week. One workout features 10 to 12 repetitions for sets, and the next, six to eight. I rotate moderate and heavy days. Right now I am eating a lot of calories from very clean foods.
I would like to put on as much muscle as I can between now and March; I will have about three months to bulk and then it is back to cutting for the next three months, which will consist of cutting calories mainly from carbohydrates. Man, the thought of it sucks (laughs)!
[ Q ] To enhance your off-season mass-building program and pre-contest prep do you use any supplements? If so, which ones and how do you feel they have benefited you?
I have tried a lot of things, but the best products I have found so far are two supplements made by Vyotech Nutritionals: 17-HD and Viraloid. I would recommend these for any natural bodybuilder.
They are plant based and have absolutely no side effects. As a result of taking them my strength is crazy and I have gained 10 pounds of muscle (Between July and September), this is when dieting, which is almost unheard of. Vyotech supplements do what they claim they do.
[ Q ] What do you weight now, and what do you expect to weigh come contest time in March?
I currently weigh 185lbs and that is pretty much all upper-body as I have had significant atrophy of the legs. It is hard to say what I will weigh come contest time, but if things go as planned I hope to gain around five or so pounds of lean tissue, which will put me at about 170lbs contest weight. I was about 165 for my last show (2006 NPC Heart of Texas).
[ Q ] How big is wheelchair bodybuilding as a sport? Has it grown since you began competing?
Wheelchair bodybuilding seems to have come to a standstill lately. The numbers competing at the Nationals have actually fallen, so one of my biggest goals, with the help of people like you, is to try to get those numbers back up.
[ Q ] As a wheelchair bodybuilder, do you require additional support to prepare for a show? Do you have a good support team, and how much of your bodybuilding preparation do you do on your own?
I would have to say my biggest support team is Christ, my wife and the guys at the gym: a big holla out to Stosh, Stuart and John, who are a great source of support to me. I do most of my own contest prep, but I also consult with John Clack who is an open heavyweight competitor.
I don't believe in the so-called contest gurus. Nobody knows his or her body own body like you do. If things go wrong you can only blame yourself if you do your own prep.
[ Q ] I know from experience that having a strong support team can be very important during the contest prep period. When you are preparing for a show how do you coordinate bodybuilding with family and work commitments? Is it harder to do all of this in your position?
I don't train on days I'm on duty because it conflicts with my work commitments. This works out okay because I do get plenty of recovery time, which I have found to yield better gains. As for family it is just my wife Erin and I. She totally understands my passion for the sport as she is a marathon runner, and knows the extreme demands of training.
She did state the other day: "I don't see how you can eat like you do, six to eight times a day."
My reply was, "I don't see how you can run 26 miles without stopping when nobody is chasing you (laughs)."
[ Q ] You mentioned wanting to turn pro in 2007 as one of your main bodybuilding goals. What additional goals do you have, bodybuilding and otherwise?
My goals are to stay healthy and touch as many lives as possible. When I speak to God he tells me I have no choice. It is my job as a Christian (laughs). Seriously though, I do feel very compelled to give hope and inspiration to others, and leave the footprints of Christ everywhere I go.
I would also like to emphasise to all the readers, David, that I do not rely on any dangerous drugs to meet my bodybuilding goals. I feel bodybuilding is about building up the mind, body and spirit, not tearing it down.
|WHAT'S YOUR GOAL?|
[ Q ] I'm sure that message will be greatly received. What message would you like to give those of us who lack the motivation to chase our dreams?
I would like to tell the people that lack motivation: "If I can do it, so can you." Never let anything get in your way when reaching for your dreams. You have got to take a deep seat and a far away look, reach back and get some bro. Wow, I get fired up just talking about it David.
Anyway, what you believe is directly linked to what you will achieve, so if you believe it you will most certainly achieve it. Now go and make it happen.
[ Q ] Thank you for your insights and inspiring story Chad. All the best for your upcoming contest, I know you will do well.
Thank you David, I enjoyed this interview.