For many hardcore bodybuilders, the name John Hnatyschak should be a familiar one. When I first started training in 1984, John was the first professional bodybuilder I ever met. As I trained at Billy's Gym in Bayonne, I watched John train for the NPC Nationals and IFBB World Championships.
John was truly an inspiration for when I thought about competing. I remember thinking, as a cocky 17-year old kid, "I could do that one day." In the cold winter of 1984 is when my assault on bodybuilding began. I was the annoying skinny teenager that pestered everyone about training techniques and diet. John and the guys that he trained with would bust my chops about me becoming a bodybuilder in the magazines one day. Back then, neither John nor I would ever imagine that we would eventually become training partners.
In 1998, my wife and I moved to Mahwah and we became neighbors with John. John worked as a Mahwah police officer. We also got a new neighbor, Tommy Potenza. At the 1992 Mr. New Jersey, I first met Tommy Potenza, a fellow middleweight competitor. In a short time, the three of us would start seeing each other at Healthstar Fitness Center, a nearby gym.
John had a successful professional bodybuilding career. He traveled the world, and saw places that most people only get to see in pictures. He was a top five finisher in every pro show that he competed in, except the Mr. Olympia, where he made the top ten. In 1989, John competed in his last IFBB pro show, the Night of the Champions, where he placed 4th, with Gary Strydom winning the whole show.
In 1999 and 2000, Tommy and I began to talk John into coming out of retirement. Tommy was coming off of a class win at the New York Metropolitan Championships, an overall win at the Mr. New Jersey, and a class win at the Junior USA. I was coming off back-to-back third place finishes in the light heavyweight class at the NPC Nationals.
As time went on, John started building back the championship physique that he was known for in the 1980s. Early in January 2001, the three of us went to lunch at East Tokyo, our favorite sushi restaurant, where John announced to us that he would compete in the 2001 Masters Olympia in Lynchburg, Virginia. His main concern, basically, was for us to be there for him. Tommy and I couldn't wait to get in the gym and help him in his quest for the Masters Olympia.
The First Steps
We started training at Bodyquest Gym in Blauvelt, New York, which was only 15 minutes from all of our homes. John started his contest diet at twenty weeks out. The first five weeks were basically cleaning the diet up, and making sure that he was getting enough protein. At fifteen weeks out, he started to take in six meals a day, all consisting of 50 grams of protein each, and 400 grams of carbohydrates spread out over the six meals.
At this point John thought that he could keep going the way that he was going, but we kept encouraging him to diet harder. He had to forget what physique he used to have, and now he needed a physique for the new millennium.
In the '80s, when bodybuilders would train for a show, cardio was taboo. It was unheard of to do cardio to burn fat. At about this point, John was doing 30 minutes of cardio daily, and at the ten week mark, he stared to manipulate his carbohydrate intake. One day he would take in 300 grams of carbs, and the next day he would take in 250 grams. He would lower this amount by 50 grams a day over a five day period, and then increase it by 50 grams over another five day period.
Getting Rid Of The "Flaps"
John's main concern the whole time was what he called his "flaps": he had skin hanging on his lower back and glutes. But with rotating his carbs the way he did, and doing about 1 hour of cardio daily (which is what he worked up to), he had the best Christmas tree and striated glutes at the 2001 Masters Olympia.
At four weeks out, John and I would meet either at the gym before training or at my house, and we would go over posing for at least an hour each day. There were a couple of awesome things about seeing John train for the Masters Olympia. First, I got a chance to train with my idol, the guy who inspired me to train so many years ago. Second, with all the work that he put into his training, John did it eagerly and willingly. It was kind of like from the movie Rocky, where I was Micky, pushing him and yelling at him, "Come on, give me another set, another rep!" It was a role that I had never played before.
At times, when we would drive to the gym and he would question his condition and his concerns about getting in shape, I was more nervous than he was, hoping that I would know the answers to the questions that he was asking me. I mean, come on, this is the guy that I looked up to and idolized. Now here he was, relying on me for help. The best thing I could've done was to tell him the truth the whole way through, which is exactly what I did. If he didn't look good, I told him the truth, but explained it to him in a positive way.
Addition To The Team
At about ten weeks out, Scott Vignola became part of our team. It was really cool. Every day we would call each other, setting a time when we could all meet at the gym. We would go eat after training, and talk about who might be in the Masters. Our training became very competitive, we would push each other harder with each set.
With John being on the diet and Scott and I eating more calories and having more energy (and a little more body fat), we became the energizers, the motivating force. We were basically a pain in the ass to John. We weren't going to take the long trip to Virginia to see John just stand on stage in "decent" shape. We knew it was going to be very hard to beat Vince Taylor, so we wanted to make sure John was the best that he could be.
As we approached the contest, our close friends started getting very excited because John was actually starting to look like an IFBB pro again. Scott's brother Todd had shirts made up for the twenty-two friends that flew to Virginia to support John. It read "Shack Attack."
I wasn't able to be there during prejudging as I was guest posing at the Southern States. Tommy called and gave me a play-by-play as the Masters Olympia was unfolding. The next day, I flew to Virginia to catch up with everyone for the night show. With Vince Taylor winning the show, and a huge Don Youngblood taking second, John placed a very respectable third, ahead of Robby Robinson.
All in all, this is one part of my bodybuilding career that I'll never forget. With the passage of time, our roles have changed drastically since we were all working in Bayonne, but in the end, our competitive natures stayed intact. Whether yesterday or today, we still push each other to be our best.