Me at 16, at this point I weighed 151 lbs to match a 6'1 frame.
I never intended to pursue bodybuilding when me and my friend Denny first entered a gym. It simply looked cool. D liked Schwarzenegger from the movies, but me, I had never even heard of bodybuilding. But we enjoyed our first weeks and decided to continue. I remember I was pushing 15 lbs on a bench press machine and lifting 10 lb dumbbells for curls. That seems odd to me now, as if it were another life, another person. But the bug continued. And when I started noticing some results I was hooked for good. I didn't know it at the time of course. I worked out at a place called the Chelsea's Gym. The owner was a nice lady in her 50's. Her husband was a veteran powerlifter, but he was rarely there. She had her degree in kinesiology and she loved running the gym. I loved going. She got me acquainted with the principles of Mentzer's HIT. I trained and trained and then trained some more, three days a week, compound movements as hard as I could. I noticed the changes, but they came slow. But what did I care, I loved what I did and I felt like I finally belonged. The beginning of a lifelong training addiction that would finally consume my career and ultimately my whole life.
Shortly after I started working out. I weighed 158 lbs in this picture and though that is a 13 and a half inch arm, it looks pretty ripped doesn't it? Notice that my biceps were only half developed because of incomplete ROM on curls.
I made the gains, but they came ever so slowly. Two years later I had just broken the 180 mark, a great accomplishment. At that point another Mark entered my life. Mark VandenBerghe was the guy that bought the gym. The previous owner was thinking of retiring and Mark came in and took over. Mark needed help and he gave me a job, helping him run the gym. Mark didn't look like much, but pretty soon I saw pics of his competitive days and I knew this was no ordinary fellow. A bit dodgy but very knowledgeable Mark showed me a different style of bodybuilding. In the old International Gym as he had renamed it, I took my first steps toward real bodybuilding. Mark was a fan of Arnold and especially Frank Zane. He respected Mentzer, but even that was a conflict of conscience. So Mark taught me about nutrition and multiple set approaches. At first I didn't notice very much gains.
I left for the States after that, as a foreign exchange student to be with my then time girlfriend in Marietta, Ohio. The start of a long and exhausting trek that took me to Ohio, Maryland, Illinois, Florida and almost got me hitched in Tennessee. While I was there I was limited to the High School and University Gyms and occasionally a YMCA for the first while, though later I would train at places like Gold's in Florida. All I had to go by were the principles Mark had taught me and what I knew from my limited experience. Training for football I met Mr.Hudson, the weight training coach at Marietta High School. He was the one that taught me the most important lesson in my life: If you aren't growing, you aren't eating enough. That changed my bodybuilding career entirely. That was the revelation that made me look deep inside and see that I could gain mass a lot easier than I had been, if only I gave myself a chance and a reason to develop. My time in the States was one of extreme ups and downs. But the day I came back, now two and a half years ago my mom picked me up and nearly startled to death when she saw my arms. I had gained a solid 23 pounds in the States, without really having noticed. I hadn't stepped on a scale in years. Upon return I immediately returned to the International gym.
Then tragedy struck. Mark had gone broke in my absence. Membership had dropped and Mark was forced to give up the business. I took that very hard. Mark assured me I had the potential to achieve and that I should look to develop my skill and potential. I've only seen him once since the gym closed that June. He drives trucks now. Even though the only other gym nearby is one that my friend Rodolfo calls "a weight room for asthmatics" and that the crowd there wasn't really supportive of my drive for success, the thought that Mark believed in me and the support of friends and family fueled my workouts that summer. During the day I worked in the restaurant, I was a bartender, at night I worked out hard. Every spare moment, I ate or slept. I was going to and would compete that winter. In the picture above you see my early form, rough, unfinished, hairy and with lots of work left to do. So on I went. And I kept on going. I had my eyes on a little competition in January of 99.
* The picture above is one of the last pics taken at the old international gym, about three days before it Closed down. This was the start of my competitive career, in 1998. That summer I weighed 205, in this pic I was 194. You can see there was a lot of work to be done still if I wanted to compete that winter.
And would you believe I made it? My arms and shoulders grew like nothing I had ever seen before. At this point my arms measured a nice 16 and a half pumped. My legs were better than anyone else's at the gym. The time that was too follow I started perfecting my physique. Brought up my rear delts because they were dwarfed by my front delts, I started focusing in back work and trained my weakest point the hardest: my chest. My progress came nicely and in the fall of 2000 I competed in the Europeans for the first time in the Heavyweight division. I finished a respectable 6th out of 13. Not bad for my first international experience.
This year I qualified again and I have my heart set on the title. Last year I weighed 218, Now I have made my mind up to compete at a fully ripped 224. My chest is still very weak, but I feel confident I have enough strong points. My shoulders still grow almost weekly and with 19-inch guns, no one in the lineup can match me in arm size. Things are looking up for me now. I never got picked on again, I get the respect I deserve. I hold a degree in Biochem and am a student in Psychology. My career goes well, and Bodybuilding is a big part of it. For the first time in my life, I'm worried about getting too big. My girlfriend thinks I am too big. We met in June, and we love each other. I really think this one could be the one, so I have my heart set on sweeping the Europeans and when I have that title , I promised her I would come down to a nice 210, maybe even 205. That's how much I love her, but first the title, then the rest of life...
Just over a month out of my competitive debut. Still carrying more water than I need, but looking good at 204 lbs. I would end up competing at 199 and finish fourth in my weight class.
Life can take a funny turn sometimes. Nobody believed I could change so much but me. But I went ahead and did it, earning respect in the process. And if I can do it, so can you. Don't believe your genes, you are not the hardgainer people would have you believe you are. If you eat properly and give your body the training it deserves you can become bigger than you ever dreamed of. I'm not special, I don't have the genes of a pro bodybuilder, I don't take steroids, I don't spend fortunes on supplements. You can do this too, don't ever let people tell you otherwise. Don't let them sell you things you don't need. Stay hungry and lift.