Every weight class in the show, including the women's weight classes, were filled with great competition and showmanship, but I can only tell you details from my experience as a competitor in the men's open middleweight division. Therefore, I will get right to the meat of this story regarding what I felt was one of the most intense weight classes I have ever competed in. Not to blow off any other weight classes, but this weight class consisted of eleven men and all came ready to rock! We filed on stage to an energized pre-judging crowd. After a few minutes of quarter turns in the symmetry round, the head judge asked 5 or 6 of us to step back to the curtain. To my relief, I wasn't one of them. So, here I stood with what the judges thought would be the top 5 or so. After what seemed to be about a half hour of mandatory poses (over and over again), my number was called to move to the far right of the stage. I had been standing in the middle up to that point, so my first thought was," maybe they've already decided where I'll be placed." They had us go through a few more mandatories and finally told us to step back to the curtain while the other group moved forward. They posed for about ten minutes when the head judge started shuffling bodies around again. I was the last number called and thought to myself, "here we go again." This time I was standing next to a friend and old co-worker from the grocery business, by the name of Mark Howard.
Mark started competing last year in the NPC Mr. Idaho. He has great thickness and size, especially in his legs, but managed to place 3rd in a class of four of us at that show. Obviously, that placing and experience he had gained only motivated the young bodybuilder. Leading up to this natural pro-qualifier, Howard appeared to be quite confident with some of the talking I heard he was doing. Without saying much in response, I just used my energy in the gym to make sure I would show up in peak condition for what would be my 14th show in nine years.
Two days before the show, on Thursday evening, I was going through some mandatory poses on my own and became frustrated with the way I was looking and feeling. Despite being exhausted from a long week of work and sick kids, I was weighing about 175 pounds, which is 3 pounds over from the top of the middleweight limit. So, after breaking into a good sweat, I went home to take a warm Jacuzzi bath and regroup.
On Friday morning, I woke up refreshed and ready to face the world on only eight ounces of water. That's right! Eight! My plan was to dehydrate for the remainder of the day. To look the way I wanted, I needed my abdominals and lower back to come in a lot harder. To help me relax throughout the day, I took advantage of having a Day Spa right below our training studio. After training a couple clients, I had a "salt-glow" treatment which would later help the Pro-Tan absorb into my skin a little better. Immediately following that, I pampered myself with a one hour body massage. Thank you Spa Terra Nova for helping me relax in style.
Now it was off to the polygraph test. After that was finished I headed home to begin the dyeing process with my good friend and fellow middleweight competitor, Morgan Yanz. After he was all dyed up, it was my turn to get dark by my bodybuilding manager and wife, Allison. My plan for dehydration was working. She noticed a substantial difference in my lower abdominals as well as my legs and glutes. With having such good luck so far, I continued on course through Friday evening and Saturday, only rinsing my mouth and spitting it out. To avoid any cramping, I took in a gram of potassium in the form of banana baby food and several servings of a white fish called Pollock which gave me approximately 110 mg of potassium per serving.
All right, let's get back to those final few grueling poses with this large group of bodybuilders. We were again drilled through each side triceps and chest, back double bicep with right calve back, rear lat-spread with left calve back and for the first time, a crab most muscular pose. With Mark Howard, Mark Man and myself standing next to each other, the crowd became restless while bursting with yells and cheers for their favorite Mark. We all held the most muscular pose a few seconds before finally being told to relax and, "We'll see ya tonight." That was it, the job was done. Or was it?
A couple hours later I found myself power napping to the movie "Braveheart" after eating a 10 ounce steak with a little more banana baby food. I took a hot shower to relax only to reapply another coat of Dream Tan before performing. To beef up my cheering section, we picked up our 4 year old daughter Ariel for her first show since she was a baby. I think I have her hooked. She told me later that she wanted to get on stage and "stretch" like Daddy when she gets older.
At about 9:00 the men's middleweight class finally got to strut their stuff. I used a song that I recently came across called, "I Still Believe." It had a bit of a hip hop beat that just couldn't have made it more fun to bring out a few break dance moves from the 80's. I had a great time jammin' to an extremely rockin' crowd. When the last routine was finished, all eleven of us stood anxiously backstage awaiting to hear whose names would be called for the top five. They called us out in the order of our number from the morning show and they started with Mark Man. Then, Allen Bowlden, Mark Tilden, Mark Howard and James Purtell. The DJ running the music had a surprise for everyone including the promoter who had picked certain music to be played during the pose downs. As the top hit, "Who Let the Dogs Out" started blaring, all five of us broke into our favorite poses for the crowd and judges.
When the music ended, we lined back up for the moment we all had been working our butts off for. Mark Man from Wyoming came in a ripped 5th place. this guy looked awesome at 42 years old! I was certainly impressed. Allen Bowl den took 4th and James Purtell (Mr. Utah 1995) was 3rd. Now the moment Mark Howard and I had been anticipating all day. The emcee (Lance Henning) had to make it into an even bigger rivalry by asking the crowd who they liked best. He then said, "and in second place, Mark..." and waited for what seemed like forever to announce one of our last names. Finally he said, "Howard." At last a sigh of relief after one of the toughest showdowns ever...mission #1 accomplished! Just let me say before moving on to the overall, for those of us into bodybuilding, we are sure to see a lot more of Mark Howard. So if and when you read this article, Mark, keep up the hard work. You looked awesome!
My next thoughts were that I've gone this long without water (about 50 or 60 hours now) what's one more? So after the light-heavy and heavyweight winners had been selected it was time to line us all up to decide the overall title winner and who would be going home with the coveted Pro Card. Mission # 2 put me up against Mitch Coats from the Teen division V, for the Masters, Max Souphasith as the Lightweight, Aaron Schow from the Light-heavy division and Lob Nunez for the Heavyweight. All were great competitors but I had my eye on Aaron Schow from Idaho Falls, whom I'd competed against just last year and beaten in the Mr. Idaho Natural show in Pocatello. I say that only to say this, Aaron is by far the most improved bodybuilder I've seen in a year's time. He has put on some quality size, especially in his legs. His dye looks professional and he's made vast improvements in his posing which really made him look like a confident bodybuilder. But, it's all up to the judges who are looking for the whole package in the end. The heat was definitely on up there with all six guys sweating it out like big dogs. We pounded out pose after pose for what seemed like even longer than the torture endured during pre-judging. Maybe it felt that way because it was 11:30 at night and we were all tired, hungry and dehydrated. But after yet another round of quarter turns, hitting side tricep and side chest, they looked as though they might have picked a winner from one of our exhausted physiques. The MC announced, "a split decision going to the 2001 Northwest Natural champion...Aaron Schow!" All I could think was, "finally, water!!!" I shook Aaron's hand and found my way back stage to my ice cold jug of water I'd been saving all evening.
Congratulations to Aaron. I truly hope he succeeds at the Pro-level. I'm not going to deny that I was disappointed, however. I worked my butt off all year-round and it's been a goal of mine to win a Pro-qualifier. So, I'll press on making the improvements I need to make for the next opportunity to reach that goal. My plan is to train even heavier than ever, emphasizing my upper chest and width in my back. And when September 15th rolls around, I'll be in Portland, Oregon, attempting to climb the bodybuilding ladder once again with my 172 pound frame.