Training for, and competing in professional bodybuilding contests is extremely difficult at the best of times. Meticulous planning, arduous training and strict eating make the final weeks before a big show survival of those strong willed and vehemently disciplined enough to grind it out. Mere mortals need not apply.
That it takes near super human strength and persistence to even enter the pro arena for one who could be considered relatively healthy makes the efforts of Don Long all the more remarkable. Diagnosed with massive kidney failure in 1999, Don, who had proven to be one of bodybuilding's top new prospects - competing toe to toe with Ronnie and Flex (no last names necessary) - was effectively forced into retirement.
After a failed kidney transplant (Don had discovered he was functioning on only one good kidney when he was stricken with kidney failure) in 2003, he was fortuitously placed on a newer, more effective method of dialysis. He began to chart his return to bodybuilding.
In 2006 Don finally made it back from the bodybuilding dead with his Atlantic City Pro showing. Since then he has trained hard and kept the faith, along the way showing others that if you dream big and work hard anything is possible.
This weekend, bodybuilding's Lance Armstrong will contest the Ironman Pro. I spoke to Don recently and asked him how he has continued to keep at it despite the odds.
[ David Robson ] What was your last contest and what changes (if any) did you make to your training and nutrition programs since this show?
[ Don Long ] My last contest was the New York Pro in May 2008. This show taught me a lot about the new body I am working with; I realized that I could not approach my contest prep in the same manner I did when I competed in the 90's. I have now had to learn how to prepare with this, new and different body. This time around I decided to keep my heavy training all year instead of switching to high reps during the contest prep period. I had to rely on more cardio to burn the fat instead of crazy high reps with supersets during my workouts. My diet still consists of half solid food and half ISS protein shakes. The only difference in my off season diet and my contest prep diet is a smaller portion of carbohydrates during contest time.
[ DR ] Returning to pro bodybuilding at the Atlantic City Pro in 2006 was, as you explained to me, a great turning point in your life, since you had overcome, to a large extent, your kidney problems and had undergone a new form of dialysis. Have there been any new changes to your treatment since then?
[ DL ] Yes, upon moving to Jacksonville, FL, I have been able to do my treatments on a more advanced and portable machine. I feel as though this machine gives me a much better cleaning since my body is responding so great to the training (much like it did in the 90's). I can also travel with this machine, so it is easier to go to all the shows now.
[ DR ] Has your training continued unabated since 2006? Or have there been further setbacks?
[ DL ] My training has been very intense and consistent since 2006. Each year I have been able to make great improvements. I credit my size and conditioning to the hard training I've been able to put in over the past three years.
[ DR ] What physical progress have you made since your return to bodybuilding in 2006?
[ DL ] Over time (since 2006) my body has regenerated back to the body of the 90's. I am proof that muscle memory exists. Through this process I have also brought up any weaknesses and put on about 15 pounds.
[ DR ] 15 pounds is an awesome gain given your circumstances and the fecat you have been training so long. How are you looking right now as you prepare for the 2009 Ironman Pro Show?
[ DL ] I feel very confident in the way I look right now (one week out). My mind is very focused and my body has responded much better to the training this time around. I weigh about 257 and can really see a resemblance of my old self!
[ DR ] All things considered, how do you expect you will do at this show? Any predictions?
[ DL ] I definitely feel that I will look much better than the last show, but until I've done well with this new body it would be hard for me to make predictions for a show.
[ DR ] I know you touched on this earlier, but I would like some more detail here, if possible. How would you describe the training and nutrition programs you have used to prepare for the 2009 Ironman?
[ DL ] My training has been very consistent and my training partner has pushed through these tough workouts. My wife, Sarah, is my training partner and we hit the gym six days a week. I practice posing every day and Sarah analyzes my body for me. As usual I have stuck by my "golden principle" of no cheating on the diet. My food is consistent and my meals are always on time.
[ DR ] What will your preparation for these last two weeks entail?
[ DL ] No major changes, just staying diligent and focused with training, posing, and eating. I will start resting three days prior to the show to help my body heal and feel recuperated for the show.
[ DR ] Sounds good. What can the fans expect to see from you when you hit the stage in just under two weeks from now?
[ DL ] The fans can expect to see a body much more improved than the one I displayed at my previous show.
[ DR ] You did the unthinkable and came back from a debilitating kidney condition to continue competing in the pro ranks. To what do you credit your ability to return to the stage?
[ DL ] I credit my burning desire to always be a warrior! I set no limitations for myself in hopes to inspire others to do the same. I want to be known as the Lance Armstrong of bodybuilding! I want to show others that they can overcome their setbacks and achieve their goals too.
[ DR ] Inspiring words indeed. What else is happening in your life right now Don?
[ DL ] While living in Kansas City, MO, I met a wonderful woman, Sarah Myers. Within a year we got engaged and moved to Jacksonville, FL. Soon after the move (August 2008) she became Sarah Long and we have been starting our life here in FL together. We are such a great team in the fitness industry and help others reach their goals everyday. Together we have a nutrition business called Long Life Nutrition.
[ DR ] And what are your competitive plans for the remainder of 2009?
[ DL ] No plans at the moment for me, but my wife Sarah will be competing in several NPC shows on the national level so my focus will be on her.
[ DR ] Many thanks for your time Don. All the very best for next weekend.
[ DL ] No problem David.
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