As one who is wary of the validity of clichés, I often rephrase them to better express my thoughts. That which does not make me stronger is killing me. By applying this standard to situations in my life; I force myself to evaluate the cost/benefit or consequences of decisions I make. Sometimes this leads to some interesting rationalizations (e.g. how Ben & Jerry's really isn't that bad. After all, it contains milk and there's protein and ...). Anyway, on with the story.
It was December of 2000 when I saw it. One afternoon I walked into the weight room and there it was. Right on the wall next to the door where I couldn't miss it: A full-color poster advertising a natural, amateur bodybuilding contest in Benton, Illinois sanctioned by the N.A.N.B.F. Immediately my interest was piqued. Where did it come from? Who put it up? Why?
Thoughts raced through my head. I wondered if it was some kind of challenge directed at me. For some time people in the gym had been asking me if I was preparing for a competition or if I had ever considered competing. To which I always, not self-deprecatingly, asked, "Are you kidding?" and then changed the subject. But now everything had changed! You see, no one at my gym had ever competed but one or two guys, and that had been 10-to-20-years ago.
Besides me there was one, maybe two, other guys at my gym who could feasibly compete. Damn it! Now it would be unavoidable. People began asking if I was going to do the show. Although the contest was 4 1/2 months off, I made the excuse that I didn't have enough time to prepare and besides, I wasn't big enough (5-foot-8 @ 168#s @ maybe 9% BF). Yet a seed was planted.
For the next four months I watched, not unenviously, as Taco (one of the two mentioned above) prepared for the contest. This provided a little (a lot of) fertilizer.
Alea Iacta Est-the die was cast. I decided that if I could gain 10-15 pounds of muscle by the end of the year (2001) I would compete in the Super Natural Physique Classic the following spring.
A Smile Turned Upside Down
Everything was going as planned: My motivation level was supercharged, and I was working out like an animal and eating everything in sight. I was getting bigger, harder, and stronger and, in turn, my motivation was turning into DRIVE. I was doing all the right stuff and visualizing and then ... WHACK!
I never saw it coming-must have been visualizing when I should have been working. A board kicked-back out of an industrial table saw and did its best impression of Sammy Sosa's bat on my left hand.
All I could feel was pain. I couldn't wait for the boss to get me to the hospital so I could let it out. Once alone, I broke down. Not because of the intense pain emanating from my shattered fingers (although I'm sure that didn't help matters), but because I knew that my hand was going to be useless, at least for a considerable time, in the weight room. It was mid-May, and I had been training for the contest for 5 months. After the damage assessment was in the doctors said that I had broken both of the joints (PIP & DIP) and the bone in the tip of my left middle finger and "dusted" the joints and tip of the ring finger.
No activity with left hand for at least two months. TWO MONTHS?! I smiled and said, "No problem, Doc." Must have been the Morphine. Actually I had already decided that this wasn't going to slow me down - at least not much. On the way home I "lost" the work restriction slip, and returned to work for my next scheduled shift three days later. During the ride home from the hospital, I remembered seeing some sort of wrist wraps with metal hooks on them for lifting.
Long story short(er): I used a false grip with my left hand until I got the hooks; after a month or so I graduated to regular lifting straps; another month or so I was good to go even though I could wrap only three fingers around the bar. Throughout this time I NEVER lost sight of my goal and my motivation never slumped. As if the injury wasn't enough, a month later I was fired from my job of five years because of the accident, which was determined not to be my fault.
Go figure. Anyway, I had been prepared for a rainy day and decided that I would take off the rest of the summer and make lemonade. I started working out twice a day and getting lots of sleep and sunshine. I made some really great gains that summer. I went from 170#s @ 8% BF to 174#s @ 7%.
That's a net gain of about 6 pounds of muscle in about 10 weeks. Also during that time my fiancée dumped me and moved out. Ouch! Think that slowed me down ... Chugga Chugga Chugga Chugga, Toot! Toot!(See "Major Payne") Not that I didn't hate to see her go, but at this point I was letting nothing distract me. Besides, I knew she'd come back!
A Day To Remember
So let's see; so far I've been out done, broken, fired, and dumped. What's next? On Sept. 11, I started my new job and after work found out that I was going to be a daddy. What a day. Now I was adjusting to a completely different kind of work and schedule and living with a pregnant woman which is a challenge all of its own.
Actually, the pregnant part worked out pretty well because we both got to gain weight together; at least until I started my pre-contest diet in February. Do you know what it's like to go to the store in the middle of the night to get your 7-month pregnant wife (yeah, we got married) a pint of Chubby Hubby while you're on a carb-restricted diet? Empowering! (See my first article "Hardcore")
On April 22, 2002, the doctor checks my wife and tells us to go to the hospital because we're just about ready to have the baby. Great! It's 4:30 p.m., and I haven't worked out yet. Being three weeks out from the contest, my wife understood and said she would try to hold out until I got to the hospital.
That's love. Needless to say, Maya, the new addition to our family, felt it her duty to make me hardcore with her own version of sleep deprivation.
May 18, 2002: The day had finally arrived. I had begun telling people some months before that I was going to this show to win something. I didn't care what, but for all the sacrifices I had made I was going to win first place in some category. I competed in the novice and open divisions, which were segregated into height classes.
After pre-judging I was unsure as to how I fared in the novice medium class (which my buddy Taco was also competing in). One guy was completely shredded but too ectomorphic, but you never know what the judges are going to think. Then there was Taco. We came in at the same height and weight. I was bigger in the upper body, while his legs were huge. I was sure we had the rest of the field beat and that it was a toss-up between us.
Ironically, I was much more confident in my open class. Between shows I watched the video my dad shot and still was uncertain about the novice but more confident about the open.
At the evening show we performed our routines, and then my novice class queued up on stage for the awards presentation. I stood there in my best relaxed pose with my head held high as if refusing to hear my number called until the rest of the class had been recognized.
To add some suspense, when it got to the final two, Taco and me, the emcee tells the audience that he has never seen two better first-time competitors (Last year Taco got lost on the way to the show and then got a flat tire and showed up 1 hour late and did not get to compete), much less two from the same gym and that either of us deserved to win, but ..."In second place #7, Taco."
I couldn't believe: I won. I really won. First place. I haven't the words to describe how I felt at that moment, the culmination of a year and a half of determination.
Next up was the Overall for the novice division. Overall? For some reason (maybe because I had never been to a bodybuilding show), I didn't realize I would be competing against the winner of the other novice class. He had me by about three inches, but I would guess we were both about 170#s.
At this point I was somewhat ambivalent because I already had my first-place trophy; however, my competitive spirit took over and I gave everything I had in our comparison round and posedown. "And your 2002 Mr. Super Natural Physique Classic Novice Champion is ...#8, John Gray! At this point I thought "Hell yeah" because I knew I had the open class won. That's two firsts and one overall championship. As predicted I won the open class.
Upon hearing my number called I thrust my fist into the air and extended three fingers, one for each of my victories. Upon receiving my statue, I raised it with my left hand and held up one finger with my right hand and mouthed the words "one more" to my wife. I had scouted the open tall class and thought that I could beat any among them.
Here We Go Again
"Here we go again," I thought as the tall class winner and I filed onto the stage to go through my fourth round of relaxed and mandatory poses. By this point I was running on nothing but adrenaline, Flex-all 454, and all the potassium pills I could chew. I swear that as we turned around from executing a rear double biceps pose I temporarily blacked-out, and I started to feel a cramp in my left hip.
I was spent, but sure that I had done my best and that my superior symmetry, conditioning, and posing would win out over his sheer size (6-foot-2 @ 210 pounds). "And the winner is ..." not #8. Dumbfounded. How? As I turned to shake his hand and congratulate him, he looked as shocked as I did.
I was so upset and exhausted that I couldn't think straight. I was complaining and acting overly incredulous and generally feeling sorry for myself when my wife set me straight. She said she wasn't going to listen to my crybaby sh!t, and that I had won three trophies when my goal was only one, and that if I couldn't be happy with that then she was never going to support me in my bodybuilding efforts again.
At The End
That sunk in because I realized how much I needed her and she had been a big part in my success. I felt ashamed and vowed to withhold my judgment until I had seen the video and pictures. And since I am not given to complaining under normal circumstances, I shall not comment on my thoughts after watching the video several times. Let's put it this way: I would rather have taken second to Taco in my novice class. I felt like he was better than the guy who beat me. But, I'm not complaining.
I am currently preparing for another contest on August 3, 2002, in Henderson Kentucky, and believe it or not there is another chapter in my story of overcoming adversity. It's like déjà vu, all over again.