A Bodybuilder's Reflection
"Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that, whatever you do doesn't' matter."
Like Arnold, in my eyes a great way to perceive a man is to take a step back, breathe, take a long look in the mirror, and just imagine. As this long stare takes place ask yourself this one question, "Can I accomplish anything I put my mind to," or is it just a tongue-tied statement that is used to make someone feel more preferable? At some juncture during our lively escapades I believe that everybody has a turning point. Whether it be a book we want to write, a medical career we want to pursue, or even wanting to become a pro bodybuilder. All of these aspirations have one common ancestor of self-pity that grants our minds the right to falter and shatter these dreams.
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At Some Juncture During Our Lively Escapades I
Believe That Everybody Has A Turning Point.
What I am voicing out is break free of this cliche, take a look in that mirror once again, dig deep and unleash your potential because you thirst for it. In my life I have always yearned for a challenge whether it was passing a test or even joining the fire department. The single thing that still remains prominent for me is to become a pro bodybuilder. Many have said that I would never be able to get on stage because I was too skinny and scrawny, including pro bodybuilders themselves. Although I have not yet turned pro, listening to negativity like this surely would make anybody want to stand down. If I had listened I would have missed out on what has been one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life, winning the 2009 NPC Steve Stone Metropolitan Championships Open Bantamweight Division as a lifetime natural.
When I first started bodybuilding I didn't know how to perceive myself as this muscular guy because I assumed that I would never be able to build muscle onto my frame. I attended my first term of high school and like most I was scared, unpopular, had no sense of style, and on top of that was very underweight. I stood 5 foot tall and weighed in at 95 lbs! I was immersed in a world where everything and everyone was bigger than me, so to be quite honest it was very intimidating. Since I had been playing basketball in leagues for many years I was really looking forward to gym class to uplift my confidence, but one class transcended them all. As I peered closer at my program card right where my gym class should have been, I saw something called weight training.
Now at this point I was pretty stupefied, I knew the cards were not being dealt in my favor. I felt even more down since I wanted to be in an element where I felt at home but little did I know that walking into weight training class would change my life forever. Standing there an intriguing feeling came over me, it was the kind that brought out a new side I never thought existed. The rugged dungeon that stood before me was cold, dim and all that echoed was the clanking of steel followed by groans. I knew where I wanted to be at this point, and it wasn't in a basketball gym, at least for now anyway.
Walking into the gym firstly I went over to my teacher to sign into the class. He said to me "First day kid, well get ready we will begin in a few minutes. Now go change in the lockers." As I proceeded to change my clothes on the walls I saw crusted paint, and only free weights like barbells and dumbbells all set up around me. It was a very small basement reminiscent of Pumping Iron so there were no real machines and only a few things used to lift and so on. The unique thing was that in order to be in good standing with this course, I had to accomplish tasks that my instructor gave me in a certain amount of time.
The goal given to me was to complete four workouts within 45 minutes and if help was needed there were others there to assist you. I quickly became acclimated to this regimen followed by a sensation that made me feel on top of the world, the pump. I would do pull-ups, barbell bench press, deadlifts, and squats each day until I couldn't do anymore reps. I was surrounded by many good powerlifters and a good friend of mine, Joe, who showed me how to get accustomed to proper form and technique. The camaraderie grew with all of the bigger guys in the gym and the influence they had on me helped compel me into lifting heavier each day. They would yell at me for each rep I mustered out of my body and I would do the same for them. I started to like the feeling of being larger than life but always remained persistent on accomplishing my duty there and gained respect amongst my peers.
As the days went on I thought it was a figment of my imagination but as I proceed to squat and struggled for a bit I heard a loud cry, "C'mon mighty mouse, lets go!" The next thing I knew I blasted through the next repetition with ease. When the semester came to a close that nickname stayed with me for it wouldn't be the last time it graced my ears.
My first year of school was now closed and I became thrilled to have a newfound confidence in myself. I was 14yrs old and still felt as if I had some unfinished business. My love for basketball never outgrew my psyche and I was determined to be foremost at this. I wanted to play competitively in a new league so I put my lifting on hold for a while. During basketball practice I quickly realized that it wasn't that far off from weight training but similar in a new context. Instead of squatting I had countless stretches and sprints, instead of deadlifts I had countless toe touches, crunches, suicides and even tossing around a medicine ball for good measure. Practicing for basketball taught me proper technique and poise with a willingness to be persistent no matter how pessimistic the circumstance. My desire and passion never faltered.
Being accustomed to implementing this new approach I was able to build a great core and my cardiovascular system never felt stronger. An inclination for wanting to understand my body grew and I wouldn't be satisfied until my thirst for this knowledge was quenched. During my epiphany I knew I needed to experiment with many different variables. I took the initiative by lifting at home when my sessions in school and practice were over. I only had a 10lb dumbbell so I began doing concentration curls with this everyday. I also used my bodyweight to do dips on my dresser and pushups on the floor. I would do diamond pushups, knuckle pushups and even one arm pushups as my strength grew. For the next few years I was feeling wonderful and positive.
One morning I recall looking in the mirror after an early session of running when my depression kicked in. I was 17 now and my basketball days were numbered. I had left on a low note when my team had come one game away from the championship in which we lost. When I was around my teammates I felt alive but when I had gotten home it was a different story. At this time in my life I can't say why but I felt like I had some kind of amnesia. Everything that had made me electrified about working out and powerlifting seemed to have vanished completely. It was a strange feeling but now that I look back I realize that basketball had consumed me to the point where I had just forgotten about everything else around me. I peered closer into my reflection only hearing people's thoughts of negativity. I kept hearing friends and outsiders all telling me that I would never grow over and over again. It would consume me at times because subconsciously I knew there was nobody I could relate to.
To be honest I was a geek that always knew he could achieve so much more. After staring at myself for what felt like hours I came back to reality and decided to do something about it. I became so frustrated with words of discouragement that I ran into my room and curled my 10 lb dumbbell until I couldn't lift my arm anymore. I kept thinking about what I was capable of and it immediately brought me back to weight training class, where my true passion lied. This time there wasn't any unfinished business to tend to and I was more than ready to bring myself into a more positive light. At this point in I had no intensions on bodybuilding but little did I know that the sport would choose me instead.
After gaining my determination I stumbled across a local gym in my neighborhood and thought; "Hey why not try this place out." Maybe it was a sign from above but I could swear the complex that stood right in front of my eyes was exactly the same type of gym I had for weight training, a very small place with just enough to get going, nothing too flashy but very simplistic.
The first days in my new gym I was even more intimidated taking a note to the many bodybuilders and powerlifters inside. In an attempt to become adapted and more confident I used to go to the gym in a tank top all of the time to expose how small I was. Now let me tell you out of all the things I have done in my life, playing in huge playoff games, hitting a game wining shot, winning team MVP, playing in a game with everything on the line, running 5k races with firefighters, all called for huge attendances. Wearing my tank top to the gym everyday I felt like every person from all of those events that took place were spectators in one room observing my every move! It may have been embarrassing to many, but for me it was motivation and boy did it work in my favor. Even being smaller than everybody else had no effect on me because I was determined to be better day after day.
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Even Being Smaller Than Everybody Else Had No Effect
On Me Because I Was Determined To Be Better.
Many days in particular I would often head over to bigger guys in the gym to ask all sorts of questions. Things about what a particular workout did to that body part and how it felt, to even asking advice on what I should do to bring up a certain area. My workouts in the gym kept on getting better from this and soon enough it started to take over my life. From the time I was 17 to the time I turned 20 all I had done was read article after article, routine after routine, and ask question after question. How can I get bigger, how can I bring up a lagging body part, and how did this workout make me feel were some of the questions I pondered and wrote down. I sought out answers in books, online forums, and even professors in school. In a sense I was addicted to learning because I wasn't satisfied going to the gym to just get a workout in, I knew I wanted more.
Being a membership holder for 7 months now, I became friends with a lot of the people there. One bodybuilder and a good friend of mine, Mario, was one of them and I remember one night he came over to me with a perplexed look on his face. I had been training with him for a while now and he was among the many I had related questions to about working out. He came over to me after a set of preacher bench curls and said; " John when you first walked into the gym I remember seeing you in a tank top saying to myself who is this kid? I thought you were one of those guys that came in to just lift weights and impress girls but there was something else about the intensity you brought and weight you lifted. I said no, that kid works hard, and so I helped you out. It's like you're some kind of mighty mouse." I started laughing and told him "Thanks dude, I appreciate that," as we moved on to the next set of curls. I never told him why I laughed so hard that day but just hearing this from a great training partner I was very humbled that he even gave me the time of day.
My accomplishments thus far surpassed even my own thoughts, I had been making the gains I needed and kept researching new ways to improve. I tried it all from high sugar days, low sodium days, high carbohydrates, and high protein diets. Slowly but surely I developed a system for myself and over time I began to understand my body. By the time I was 19 I basically had lost all of my good friends since none could ever understand why I never wanted to go out on certain nights or couldn't hang out a lot of the time. I realize now that the selfish ones were the people that didn't support me for the passion I shared in the bodybuilding lifestyle. I remember walking to the gym on Friday nights depressed, or walking in snowstorms or even blizzards just to do something that made me feel positive. As soon as I stepped foot in the gym it made me feel alive again, I was there to work, make progress, and accomplish every little goal I set for myself whether it was to gain an inch all over my body, or bring up my squat.
One clear summer night I decided to do some heavy squatting with a friend and powerlifter Al. He had the idea to do some box squats, so being that I had never done them before, I was all for it. I remember doing so many sets I couldn't walk for a week as we proceeded to squat until mid morning. Workouts like this really made me see what I was capable of doing and as the phrase goes "You never know until you try."
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Slowly But Surely I Developed A System For Myself
And Over Time I Began To Understand My Body.
At 19 years old I stood 5'5" and weighed in at 140 lbs, when a great powerlifting champion and a great friend of mine Ali Dayek asked me why I had never competed before. I looked at him and said; "Compete? What do you mean?" After being enlightened I quickly rushed home and began researching competitions in my area. All the shows that came up were non-tested shows and my hopes became cynical. I preferred the more natural look to bodybuilding and to be honest I was scared of performance enhancing drugs. After looking up many articles I came across pictures of a man named Layne Norton. It was the first time I had seen such a sculpted physique on a natural bodybuilder in which I have still looked up to till this very day. I was ecstatic to know that natural bodybuilding did exist! Natural Pro bodybuilders like Layne Norton, Dr. Joe Klemczewski , or Anthony Monetti Jr. to name a few, really made me realize that achieving a great physique took hard work, dedication, and such a mental focus which gave a message that anything can be made possible.
I was so excited after this that I had chose to enter the NPC Metropolitan Bodybuilding Championships in April of 2007. I knew that this show wasn't going to be drug tested and many until this day have speculated why I would choose to do such a thing being that I was indeed at a disadvantage. I reply by saying it was something I needed to do for myself before I could move on. After these years I still stand by my decision. In the gym later that year my intensity grew for the sport and my passion drove me to new heights I never thought I was capable of achieving. Through the rough times of dieting and posing all the way up to the finals, in which I had placed second in the bantamweights, I knew I could basically tackle any obstacle that came my way.
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In The Gym Later That Year My Intensity Grew For The Sport
And My Passion Drove Me To New Heights.
Coming home from the show the next day I entered the gym ready to begin training again for my next competition. Even though that night a thunderous applause was given I knew I wasn't satisfied. Although my friends credited me as being a champion in their eyes, I knew that in order to be great I couldn't place second again. Later that year up until my next showing at the 2008 NPC Metropolitan championships I was disappointed in a third place seeding in the open bantamweights. I wasn't disappointed that I came in third believe me it was well deserved, I was more upset at the fact that my efforts of dieting and training that year were abominable. 2008 probably wasn't a year in which I should have competed because bodybuilding was far from my concerns. In fact I deemed it to be the toughest year of my entire life. I had lost a close dear relative whom I have admired all of my life and was in part responsible for the man I have become today. I learned a lot from his kind heart and passion for doing what made him happy. I was also living with my girlfriend at the time for a year and was prepared for an engagement to follow but it all ended very abruptly.
I have shared my hardships with you readers for one reason and one reason only, to understand, dig deep, and unleash something inside you never knew existed because overcoming adversity sheds light to even the darkest of tunnels. I was at my lowest of low, hadn't been inside the gym in more than three months still trying to gather up the pieces of my inner being. One morning I woke up and recalled that day I stood in front of the mirror as a young teenager, because I had found myself back in it with the same thoughts of self pity. This wasn't the projected image I had hoped of myself and I really dug deep into my soul searching for some type of answer.
At that instant I knew one thing was on my mind and that was to overcome my demons, I wanted to win my class at open bantamweights. So for once do yourself a favor take a look in that mirror again, take a deep breath and ask yourself one question, "Do you want it or don't you", will you rise to the top of adversity or will you just be another "cliche" like I spoke of earlier? For me all I know is that I was determined to gain my title and the rest is history. My road to a professional stage has already begun. Succeeding is a moral test that only you can make possible. Uncover your true self and show me what you're made of. See you in the spotlight.
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