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All of us who have been bodybuilding for a number of years have said at one time or another, "man, if I knew then what I knew now." I have often wished I could go back in time and guide the younger version of myself and help him avoid the many pitfalls we all encounter along the bodybuilding journey. This is where the idea for the series "A Bodybuilder is Born" sprang from.
Randy is an amalgam of myself and many other aspiring bodybuilders I have known and helped over the years. And if you are honest, I bet you can all find something of yourself in him, too. Stay with us as we take Randy from just another gym rat wannabe to a bodybuilding champion, with all the ups and downs and twists and turns along the way.
I had seen this kid watching me around the new gym I had joined for the entire three weeks I had been a member. Unlike the other young ruffians in their late teens and early twenties, he actually seemed to have half a clue what he was doing. His form wasn't bad, he was using some respectable weights for his size, and he seemed to be training his entire body - unlike the others who were stuck in an endless loop of bench presses and curls.
His gym wear also identified him as an aspiring bodybuilder, stuff like Perfetto, Hot Skins, Crazee Wear, etc. The other guys his age all wore the "kid uniform" as I like to call it: Adidas pants and a wife beater tank top, usually with a thick gold chain to top it off. I knew from the way he was always checking out my training that he most likely knew who I was from the magazines, and was dying to pick my brain for information. Luck smiled down on him as he caught me leaving one day when I wasn't in a particular rush. Just as I was about to cross the threshold into the parking lot, he cleared his throat and spoke up.
Then He Spoke...
"Uh, you're pretty big, and I was wondering if I could ask you a couple questions." Well, apparently he didn't have a clue who I was in the microcosm of bodybuilding, but at least he admired my development. That got him enough brownie points for me to hear him out.
"What's on your mind?"
The kid hesitated, obviously nervous. "I was wondering how much you would charge to train me?" I almost laughed. What had given him the idea what I was a trainer? I had been one while younger than he back in 1989 and 1990, then again in 1999 and 2000 in California, but those days were behind me.
Dr. David Ryan
"Sorry, I don't do that anymore, I'm retired. Now I'm a full-time writer. I only go to the gym to train myself. Why don't you check out my web..."
"I don't have a lot of money, but I really want to be a bodybuilder. I want to win contests and have my pictures in the magazines, please." What part of retired had he not comprehended? I was about to get blunt on his ass and give him the clear brush-off and wish him well, until I saw the desperate sincerity in his eyes. I knew that look.
I used to see it in the mirror about twelve years ago when I would have given anything in the world to be one of the guys in the magazines like Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada, or Shawn Ray. I flashed back to my bedroom at age nineteen and twenty, literally wallpapered with posters and cut-out pages of my muscle heroes. How I used to stare endlessly at the images of massive, ripped pecs, lats, quads, biceps, triceps, and swear that one day I would own such as these. The sentimentality of it got to me. I eyed the front desk girl, who was closely following the entire conversation as she chewed her gum. And why not? She had nothing else to do. I decided to take this outside.
"Come on," I gestured to him to follow me outside while I packed my gym bag and cooler into my truck. "What's your name?"
"Randy." I stuck out my hand for him to shake.
"Ron Harris." I flipped open the cooler before stowing it away and pointed. "See that?" There was an empty shake bottle that had contained my post-workout shake, an empty quart water bottle, creatine, amino acids, and caffeine/ephedrine caps. "This is just the tip of the iceberg, Randy," I explained. "You should see my kitchen cabinets. What you do in the gym is just a tiny part of becoming a bodybuilder. If you really want to do this, it has to become your lifestyle."
"I know, I know all that already." He didn't sound too sure, and I knew he wasn't.
"I don't think you do, not yet. This is not something that will happen in a week, a month, or a year. Becoming an elite bodybuilder takes years. How old are you, Randy?"
"I've been training since you were four years old, and I didn't really get a handle on all of this until maybe seven years ago. You're asking me to help you avoid all the years of mistakes and confusion that I had to go through, do you realize that?"
"Uh, I guess."
"Listen. Ever hear of Steve Michalek and John DeFendis?" Randy shrugged. "Steve was a Mr. America back when I was a baby. John came to his gym one day and told him he wanted to be Mr. America too. Steve took him out to a lake in Long Island and held his head under the water for a while." Randy's eyes went wide.
"What'd he do that for?"
"He told young John that when you want to be Mr. America as much as you wanted to breathe again, you'd be ready." Now Randy was eyeing me with suspicion, wondering whether my smile was one of good will or evil intent. "Don't worry, I'm not planning on trying to drown you. I want you to understand that this is a huge commitment you're about to undertake. There will be times when you want to slack, times when you want to quit, and most people do. Those chosen few who stay the course through it all are the ones who come out on top."
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"I wanted to know if you think I have the
genetics... " I waved my hand for him to stop.
"Genetics are important, but I have known a lot of guys with gifted genetics who were too lazy or lacked the drive to do what it takes to be a champion. Think I have good genetics?" He nodded, unsure if this was the right response.
"Ha! Not at all. I have known a thousand guys over the years who were able to build size and strength much easier than me, but you know what? Very few of them are still bodybuilding now. They were weak in the two places you need the most power if you're going to last." I pointed at my head, "here," and to my heart "and here." A light was dawning on Randy's face. I could see he got it.
"I understand. Um, do you charge by the hour or..."
"I charge a hundred bucks an hour for consultations, but I'm not going to ask you for that. I want you to promise me that you'll do everything I say, and that you will not quit. I've wasted my time before on guys that were all gung-ho for a month or two and then drifted away. None of them ever did anything in bodybuilding. Do you promise you're not going to let me down?"
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"I do," he replied.
"Can you be here at nine tomorrow morning?" Randy smiled for the first time.
"Okay, make sure you get a good breakfast at least an hour and a half before that, because you're going to train harder than you ever have before. And I'm not talking about a bowl of Froot Loops, either."
"Right, I know."
"Alright then, I'll see you at nine."
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Today, A Bodybuilder Was Born
With that I got in and drove away. I wondered if Randy had any idea what he was getting himself into. The journey he was about to start was a long one, full of both triumph and disappointment, elation and misery. The life of a bodybuilder is like no other life a man lives, and it is only understood by those who live it. At the same time, I was proud to once again have the opportunity to mold another young life and pass on what the years and many wiser men had given to me. Today, a bodybuilder had been born. Now it was going to be my job to raise him.