Roots

Roots

Growing Since '83

Dedication

This is not a passing fancy. Or a hobby. This is who we are. And it is the commitment of a lifetime.

Vision

We walk a road less traveled. And on this journey, only we can truly see our destination.

HUMILITY

The iron is unforgiving in its ability to keep us humble. The only man we seek to be better than, is the person we were yesterday.

CONSISTENCY

Since the first Animal Pak rolled off a Jersey assembly line in 1983, the mission has been the same... Put in the work. Every day.

History of Animal

Your Journey

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4:27am... Why Am I Here?

Why am I not in bed, like everyone else, dead to the world? Why do I do this, live with the constant pain, the suffering, the sacrifice? Why? Because I can. Because pain tells me I’m awake. Reminds me I’m alive. Who am I? I am the wrecker of steel. I am the crusher of mediocrity. I am the face of destiny. I am Animal...

It starts here. But this is just one journey among many... There is no end. There never is. I begin tomorrow. Eighteen weeks in this dark hole. 126 days of pain. 3024 hours of hunger and desire. I’m already counting the minutes, the seconds. When it’s over, I’ll step up out into the light. I will shine...

Until then, you'll live in the shadow, in the darkness, in a place few will ever see... Where ugliness becomes beautiful. This place, this darkness... There’s no better place to be. This is where the real work gets done. So if you’re with me, get that time card and punch in, cuz it’s gonna be a long, sweet ride. Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Listen... Hear that silence? Tomorrow, it’s gonna rock ‘n roll. So let’s get the show on the road. Let’s throw some iron into the fire...

4:29am... Stand Up. Be Counted.

"It's out there, brothers... Has been as long as you or I or anyone can remember. It thrives in the dark, dank corners of shithole gyms everywhere. Listen... Can you hear it? It's the call. Those fortunate enough to have heard it, who've made the journey, know the road is long. The way is covered with mud, rock, and shit. To all those who've come before me, I tell you this... I too have heard and I am ready. I am ready to toil in anonymity under the merciless weight, under the scrutiny of my own unforgiving gaze. I am ready for this undertaking and when I am done, I will no longer be among the nameless, the faceless. It's my time... I will stand up and be counted."

4:41am... In The Game.

"How do you know you're ready? Let me tell you something... You don't. As I'm lying here in the dark, alone in the gym and thinking about the next 18 weeks, I know this... You won't find answers anywhere. It's not written in any book. There's no guide. Nobody's gonna tell you it's time. Only one person will know... You. You just got to want it bad enough. Maybe one day you'll wake up and you'll know today's the day and you start your own journey. Just remember this... Making the decision to venture into the unknown, into uncharted territory--that's the hard part. You get over that, and your future will open up. Destiny will be within your grasp. That doesn't mean things will get any easier. Fuck no, they won't. But just getting to the edge, being able to look over--that's why I'm here. Listen, you can't wait until you think you're ready. I got news for you--you'll never be ready. You'll never be big enough. You'll never be lean enough. Your lagging parts will never catch up quick enough. So if you waited for that time when you thought you might be ready, you'd never step up. And if you don't step up, you're not in the game. I'm in the game. I'm gonna look and see what's on the other side..."

5:11am... The Last Workout.

"In a couple hours, the sun will be up and the world will start buzzing. But for now, it's still dark outside and fucking cold. The gym is still empty, silent. I'm alone. I've got another set to do. I grip the bar, feel the cold iron in my hands. It's familiar, yet strange. How many times have I been under this weight, looked up, and tried to push the weight through the ceiling? I couldn't begin to count. But every time I feel the steel, I tell myself it's the first time--and the last. Never take anything for granted. Not a single rep. Not a single meal. That's what has kept me from getting stuck in a rut. What'll keep me fucking going for the next 18 weeks? It's a date circled in red. Soon, when I'm done here, I'll punch out and head on home. Is bodybuilding a job? Fuck yeah. The toughest in the world. And the gym is my office. When I get home, I'm not done for the day. Far from it. Shit, bodybuilding is a job, but it's much more than that. Bodybuilding... This is my life...

So I take a deep breath... I look up and brace myself for what comes next."

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This Is My Life.

Everyone's day starts the same. Wake, take a leak, get dressed. The pants go on one leg at a time.

I’m not like everyone. I don’t live like they live. I don’t eat what they eat. No donuts. No coffee with cream & two sugars. No morning papers. It’s 6:52am & I’m on my second meal. While everyone else is hitting the snooze, I’m hitting my stride.

No coffee breaks... No weekends... No sick days.

What do I do? I’m a bodybuilder & yeah, it’s a job. Only the day doesn’t start at 9 & it won’t end at 5. It starts from the time I open my eyes to the time I shut them. It’s not a 5 day work week. I live it 24/7... This is a job. This is my life.

Your morning commute is driven in your mind. The route never changes.

The toughest part is sticking to the path, enduring the crushing routine. My drive won’t change & each day that passes will bring me closer to my destination, the one I’ve circled in red & taped to the cabinet. There is no rest. I’ve got miles to go.

This Is My Alarm

That piece of paper taped to my cabinet? It’s a call to action, a declaration of war. I put it there to remind me of the date every single fucking day… It’s also my personal alarm clock. Every morning, as I’m making my eggs, taking my Animal Pak, prepping my meals—it goes off, like a hammer to my brain. My alarm doesn’t have a snooze. It never lets up. It cuts me no slack. Some days, I see it and it gets me jacked. Yeah, I’m gonna do this. This is my destiny. Other days I think, “What the fuck am I doing? I look like shit.” Either way, I can’t escape it. Every time I see that piece of paper, it stares back at me, calls me out, challenges me. So I just keep grinding forward. Listen, this is how things work. If you want to get something done, you gotta set a goal. Then, write it down—put it in a place you can’t hide from. Every day, look at it and ask yourself, am I farther along than I was yesterday? Am I moving forward? Cuz if you’re not, why did you even set a goal to begin with? My goal is up there, circled in permanent red ink. Every day it greets me, my own personal fucking alarm clock. If I listen closely, I swear I can hear it ticking. Tick… Tick… Tick… Ticking down from 126. Can’t you hear it? It’s fucking thunderous. And it’s winding its way down to 0.

This Is My Place

My place? It's a small, dark shithole. A place where it'd be tough bringing my folks, let alone my girl. Still, I've got three rooms and a roof over my head. It's not much, but it gets the job done. Here in this room, it's just this stool, a large mirror, the boombox I've had since I was in middle school, and some lights I rigged up. This is supposed to be the living room, but shit, I call it my “posing” room. For inspiration, I've got a couple of posters of bodybuilding greats from the past, to build me up. And a large mirror to scrutinize myself, to tear myself down. Yeah, home, sweet home. So this girl I just started seeing—the other day, she comes over for the first time. She has this shocked look on her face. She asks me why I don't get a nicer place. A coffee table. A couch. Somewhere she can sit. A coffee table? Couch? Fuck that. What's next, some silk fucking flowers? Anyway, I tell her there's always the two chairs in the kitchen... Or my cot. Look, rule number one—and I always say this right from the start—if you want to see me, you get all of me. Everything. Which is a lot, or very little, depending on how you see things. I'm not here to stand still and let the dust settle on my shoulders... Possessions, all the shit you collect—these are the things that tie you down, hold you back. In this world, I don't have much—just the clothes on my back and this burning desire in my heart. But that's alright because I'm just passing through... On my way to something bigger.

This Is My Mind

It's cold out there. So lately, I've been spending a lot of time inside, in these three rooms I call home. The kitchen. The bedroom. The living room. These rooms are like the confines of my mind. The kitchen, my Hunger. The bedroom, my Desire. The living room, my Solitude. Three things I have to deal with every single fucking day. Shit, I spend a lot of time within these places, within my mind. Out in the real world, you can always step outside for a breather. In my head, there's no escape... Not ever. When I meet people, they take one look at me and dismiss me as some stupid, oversized meathead. Someone who doesn't have a thought in his brain. Fuck that. I've got the opposite problem. I think too much. I dwell on too many things. My mind wanders... Sometimes, I feel trapped... Like the walls are closing in on me. It's suffocating. I wonder if I can keep this up for another seventeen weeks and make it to the end. Some nights, when I'm awake, I imagine that the front door is unlocked... Fear comes a calling. Doubt walks in... Questions howl outside, rattle my windows. But within these three rooms I must remain. Alone with Hunger, Desire, Solitude. I gotta keep driving forward. I gotta keep moving... So when I'm sitting here alone on another night, I tell myself I'm not gonna go fucking nuts. When I lie in bed, I'm not gonna stay awake. When I eat, I'm not gonna puke... These are the tenants that occupy my mind—the place where I live.

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I'm Not Gonna Puke...

What defines you? This pursuit? Mastery of the self.

I’m not gonna... puke. I’m not... gonna puke. I’m... not gonna puke... Not this time. I chew on these words, force them through my head. In the kitchen, eating another meal alone, it’s just those words and another plate of chicken & rice. This jug of water--without that I’d be screwed. Only my second week into it and I’m sick of it already.

On the road to destiny, do not waver... Do not look back.

Bite, chew, water, chew, water, chew, wash everything down. Repeat. This is my system. Listen, the toughest part isn’t the lifting. It’s not the cardio or getting up in the dark on a cold morning. It’s the diet. The monotony of eating. My training won’t change much. But eating? It will define me...

To rise above base instincts, you must assert your will.

Some days, I’m actually hungry... These are the good days. The food is still dry and tastes like crap, but at least I can get everything down and keep it there. Other days, I just sit and stare. I break out in a cold sweat. I have to will myself to start. Yeah, eating like this is a real pain in the ass.

Stay the course... Stay in control or you will lose you way.

People in the other world, they don’t understand. They can’t. They eat instinctively. For me, eating is another part of my life that must be controlled. I’ve had to learn how to eat, overcome my appetite. It sounds messed up, but that’s what I gotta do to prepare for this. It sucks and I’ve still got miles to go.

Eating To Live.

Most people, they live to eat. They enjoy food, the taste and all that shit. They eat out whenever they want. Yeah, what I wouldn’t give to eat what I wanted right about now... I like eating food too. Who doesn’t? But I gotta eat to live… I’m eating to achieve something. I can’t fucking stand what I’m eating right now, but know what? There’s something comforting about it—the regularity, the consistency. If there’s one thing that’s fucking regular in my life, it’s eating. It’s like clockwork. I follow a set time with each of my six meals. For every meal, I know what I’m eating and how much. I’ve pretty much got the calories, protein, fat, and carbs down to the gram. What’s shitty is that variety is gone. I’m down to a couple of foods. That’s it. You want to hear something fucked up? When I’m dieting, I crave foods I normally don’t like. That’s some weird shit. Anyway, when I go food shopping every week, it’s a piece of cake. (Cake… Aw shit, there I go again, daydreaming…) Four aisles, four items. One thing about shopping—always go after a meal. Big fucking mistake is to go when you’re hungry… So I go every week—same day, same time. Everyone knows me, from the manager all the way down to the cashiers. They know me so they don’t ask any questions. Yesterday, when I was there, a new cashier rang me up, a pretty girl. Never seen her before. Anyway, as I’m unloading seven dozen egg cartons, she looks up, smiles, and asks me, “Hey, you must like eggs, right?” Here it goes again. In my mind, it all comes back up... I’m thinking about how much I fucking hate eggs. Can’t fucking stand ‘em. How can she know that I boil a dozen every morning, remove the yolks and toss the whites back? At night, before I go to bed, the same thing? She can’t. She doesn’t know how hard it is to choke ‘em down, how they stick to my throat. On a couple occasions, I’ve even puked ‘em back up. When that happens, I gotta boil ‘em again, and start over. “Yeah,” I tell her. “I love ‘em...” and return the smile. Like I said, this is not living to eat… And it fucking sucks.

You Are What You Eat.

Growing up, I don’t know how many times I heard this… “You are what you eat.” Fuck that shit. If that were true, I’d be a cow. Yeah, a big fucking cow with an oatmeal tail, yams for horns, and eggs for hooves. What a fucking sight that would be. Eating the same shit every day is hard enough. Not a meal goes by where I don’t want to call it quits and just hang it up. But I can’t. I won’t. Still, there are other issues that come with dieting… Like the patience you need to explain why you eat the same meals, the same foods for weeks on end. See, when it comes to this sport, food is the bedrock, the foundation. You can pay your dues and put the time in the weight room, but if you don’t have your diet in order, you’re just spinning your wheels. At this level, everything’s gotta be just right. Another issue—dealing with not being able to go out on the weekends to kick back and relax. Dieting can really make this sport a lonely one. Here’s what I’m talking about… This girl I’ve been seeing, she’s been on my case about taking her out to eat. Dinner and dancing. I haven’t been with her long, but her birthday is coming up and she wants it to be special. I told her I’m dieting, but she won’t back off—she’s tough and I like that. “Just sit there and watch me eat then,” she says. Now tell me, what the fuck is wrong with that? Am I supposed to just sit there with a grin on my face and my thumb in my ass? Anyway, I try to explain to her what dieting means, put it in terms she’d understand. I ask her why she always goes out with her bag. “It’s got all my valuables in there.” Well, when I go out, I carry something too—a cooler and what goes in it is valuable to me. That cooler is my lifeline. When I’m out longer than two hours, I take a cooler with me. OK. Now depending on what’s she’s wearing, she’ll take one bag or another. Me? Depending on how long I’m out, I’ll take my small or large cooler. So far, so good. Now I ask her about work. She’s got a job with pretty regular hours. She looks at the clock to watch the day pass. Me, I can pretty much tell what time of day it is by what meal I’m eating. Now what about eating? She’s a skinny girl and a real looker, but she tells me she’s gotta watch what she eats. I watch what I eat too. But she’s not eating four foods and only four foods. So she’s starting to get the picture… I tell her to imagine a slice of pizza. ‘What’s the first thing that comes to mind?’ I ask her. She starts talking about the taste. Yeah, that’s how most people are. People go through life taking a lot of things for granted. How easily they could eat whatever they want, when they wanted. They live life on the surface—they don’t try to see below it. When others see a slice of pizza or a burger, they’re thinking about how good it tastes. They’re looking for satisfaction, gratification. For me, when I see food, I see two things and two things only. I see bricks and I see shit. Each good food I eat, well, it’s another brick in this motherfucking house I’m building. I knew going in that it would take a lot of bricks and a lot of time. But if I eat that burger or drink that beer, well then I’m eating shit. It’s simple: You can’t build a house made of shit and expect it to stand up to the rain. With that first drop of water, you’re fucked. So for me, every time I see a piece of food, I’m asking myself, am I building up or am I tearing down? Will my house withstand any storm or will it easily crumble? Anyway, I think I’m beginning to get to her. I think she’s beginning to understand. I think. Now about that birthday...

Within, Without... Wither.

When it comes to dieting, it’s all about living within boundaries you set for yourself. Those boundaries are determined by your goals. My goal is pretty lofty so my boundaries gotta be tight. Dieting is about restraint, constraint. In other words, it’s about living without. Without the ice cream, the pizza, the burgers, the fried chicken, the cake. And that, my friends, fucking sucks. In the end though, giving up these things, it’s not so bad. Yeah, there are moments when you just want to give up, but you figure out a way to get by... The real torture when you’re dieting is losing the muscle. No matter what you do, no matter how you do it, when you diet and do cardio, you’re gonna lose some of that hard earned meat on your bones. How do I diet without withering away? That’s what fucking gets me. See, bodybuilding is full of ironies. When you diet, you get smaller, but you actually look bigger. When you diet, you look your best but you feel like fucking shit. This game is all mental. Make no mistake about it. You gotta assert the mind, the will, over the body. Living without, I can handle. But there are a couple things I have to live with. Necessities, staples, whatever you wanna call them. First, a cooler for my food when I’m out. Second, a microwave—I pretty much microwave everything I can—my yams, my oatmeal. Fast and easy, because I don’t want to spend more time on food prep than I have to. Third, a fridge, for storing my steak, my veggies, my eggs, my diet soda. Fourth, my supplements. Four things you’ll always find in abundance in my place. Speaking of the fourth, if you know a competitive bodybuilder, then you probably know the answer to this one. There are some who think it’s just marketing created by supplement companies. I’ll say it here for the record—I use supplements. Now I don’t use a whole lot compared to some other guys, but there are key ones I never do without. This is especially true when I’m dieting. This is how I do it... I start with the basics, like Animal Pak and Animal Nitro (the Pak covers all my nutritional bases and the Nitro’s got key aminos my body needs). Then I work a nutritional program around these two. Simple. I’ve used a lot of different supplements over the years and you gotta figure out what works best for you and stick with ‘em. Trust me, I’ve used things other than the Pak and the Nitro, and I learned this lesson the hard way. Funny thing about supplements... A lot of people who aren’t in this sport don’t have a clue about supplements. When they see me throwing the pills back, the cans of Animal Pak and Animal Nitro on my shelf, or the little plastic packs in my gym bag, they think they’re some kind of drugs. That’s some pretty funny shit... Bodybuilding is a tough racket. It takes some real balls to do this day in and day out. I’m eating food that tastes like shit. And I’m eating it four times a day every day. I’m chugging pills and mixing up powders. And I haven’t even talked about the gym yet, the cardio. All this dedication and sacrifice and for what? So I can get big? So I can look my best one night out of the year, standing under those bright lights? For that I gotta put up with a lot of shit. Looks. Stares. Insolence. Constant questions. Who wants to be treated like a second class citizen, like some social misfit or genetic abberation? In my mind, I think of Frankenstein’s monster... I see people with that look in their eyes—fear, loathing, disgust. Is it worth it? Fuck yeah, every time. I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world. I gotta do what I know I was born to do. So if the villagers come calling with their torches, so be it. Shit, I’ve got the matches. Let’s fucking start a fire

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Fear. Loathing. Disgust.

Run. Hide. It walks among us...

Fear mingled with loathing. When I’m out in the world, this is what I see reflected in the eyes of others as they pass by. They only see a massive miscreant, a disgusting freak of nature, an ego run amok. They often stop and stare. But you wanna know what? They don’t really see me. While they see a freakshow, an abomination, I am an afterthought. I am invisible.

It is far easier to ignore than to understand.

This happens so often, I sometimes look in the mirror to make sure I’m still there. No, I am not a shadow. I am not invisible. In the mirror, I see skin, bone, muscle, sinew. I see the potential, the genetics my old man handed down. But there is also fear. Fear mingled with doubt. I look and wonder if I can shoulder the crushing burden of my own expectations.

We are programmed to fear the unknown, to turn away.

Only three weeks in and another fifteen to go, I stand here looking for signs of progress. After all the sacrifices, the early mornings, the meals, what stands before me is a man striving for something more. Behind the fear and doubt, a fire burns fierce with determination. Yeah, I see a man unsure of the what’s out there. But that’s not gonna turn me away.

Fear.

So last night, I’m walking down the street and this guy who’s about 20 feet away, looks up and sees me. He turns sharply and quickly crosses over to the other side of the street—like a rabid, snapping dog is charging him. Worst part is, he pretended like he didn’t see me. As if I didn’t see you. Fuck, man, I’m just walking... I got somewhere to go, somewhere to be, just like you. This sidewalk is wide enough for the both of us. But that doesn’t matter. It’s this same shit every day. Ever have to wait for a waitress to take your order because she’s afraid to approach you? Ever have someone shrink away when you just want to ask a simple question? Ever have people see you and look away nervously, acting as if you didn’t exist? Welcome to my world. I am here, but they don’t see me. They don’t want to see me. In society, I am small. I am pushed away, far out to the edges. This is what fear does. Fear of the unknown, fear of what's different. But you know what truly makes me different? Shit, it’s not my size. Out here, the only thing my size represents is the weight I must bear… No, what makes me different is my desire to make something of myself, and it’s fucking burning me up…

Loathing.

I go to the local supermarket every week. It's like a job and I clock in, same day, same time, every time. The people who work there all know me. They're like my co-workers. They all say hello and I nod my head. Even the new girl, the one who asked about the eggs, waves to me now when she sees me… Yeah, I'm a “regular”. Of course, there are people who shop who don't know me. Their reaction to me is always good for a laugh. Shit, some of their expressions are fucking priceless. Take last week for example. The weather's been cold, so I'm wearing my hoodie and sweats. I grabbed one of the carts and started making my way to the four aisles, the ones I know by heart. So I'm approaching the first and as I'm about to turn a corner, this little old lady comes shooting out of nowhere and our carts nearly hit. She looks up and is about to say something, but when she sees me, I see it… That expression I've seen a thousand times before. Loathing. It's happens slow, see—it starts with surprise, then shock, and then loathing. She can't control it. It just happens automatically. She doesn't know me, but I can see the intense dislike on her face. So what are you gonna do? Of course, there is a small minority of people who see past this body, like my girl. Last week, she was telling me about something similar. No, she's not a bodybuilder, but she is a real looker. She gets stares all the time, but it's not disgust or loathing—it's something else. Anyway, she used a word, 'lookism' I think it was… Judging people based on appearances. I know all about this... It's fucking ironic that I'm in a sport where I'm judged by the way I look. These judges scrutinize every detail, every inch, every pose, in a critical way. I submit to this judging, a necessity, voluntarily. In the supermarket though, there is also judging, judgment. But it's completely fucking different…

Disgust.

The gym. Yeah, it’s my home away from home. No, fuck that—it is home. I know every fucking inch of that gym, the placement of every piece of equipment. Some would call it a shithole of a place. Holes in the ceiling, piss on the bathroom floor—definitely not a place to bring a date. Disgusting? Nah. It's got character. One man's junk is another man's treasure. Familiar? Yup. Shit, I know that gym so well I could do my splits in my sleep. Everyone there knows me. It’s family, a real brotherhood. But sometimes, I’m on the road and I have to train elsewhere. So I always have a couple of backup gyms. These other gyms, I don’t know so well. Not exactly the ideal place for me, but hey, beggars can't be choosers, know what I mean? This one gym the next town over—nice, clean, respectable place. Well, they got dumbbells up to 150 and a whole row of the latest treadmills and steppers. The gym's got a real split personality—you got some serious lifters there and some regular ladies trying to lose weight. You know the deal... It’s funny, but every time I’m in there, most of the ladies look at me, wrinkle their noses in disgust. Disgust. Now that’s a funny emotion. Disgust for one is desire for another. A few of the ladies love the whole bodybuilding physique. Who can figure? My girl now, she's more complex—it's not an “either or” situation. I met her in a gym. Now she wasn’t turned on by my physique, but she wasn’t turned off either. Must be something about me… The fuck if I know what it is. Maybe it’s just a vibe. I got my sights set on bigger things and I don't fuck around. I know the difference one person can make—the power of one. Maybe this is what attracted her to me. Maybe...

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The Power Of One.

There are two kinds of people in this world. The Ninety-Nines and the Ones.

The Ninety-Nines... That’s what I call ‘em. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people can’t fathom what I do. They scratch their heads, can’t believe my dedication to this great sport. Many don’t even think this a sport or that I have a life. Never let others define your ‘life’ for you. This is what I have chosen. This is the road I’ve taken, with all the potholes, bumps, and turns. The Ninety-Nines, they can’t commit 100% to being their best, to step up one day and stand tall among the giants.

There are those who rely on luck, and those who don't know the meaning of the word.

I don’t play the lottery. I don’t have the winning ticket. Everything I have, I busted my ass for. The only thing I ever got handed to me are the genetics my old man passed down. From him, I learned the value of a work ethic and getting your hands dirty. To those who’ve always wanted more, stand with me. We are few and we must stand on the mountaintops to be heard. When the day is done, our voices will carry. It shall be a call to all those who have always dreamed of something greater.

There are those who tear down others to build themselves up and those who just build.

To the naysayers, I say your words will fall on deaf ears. To the doubters, take your misgivings elsewhere. To the envious, do not desire what we will achieve. I will beat back mediocrity with a fierce hand, will demolish conformity, so that when it’s time to cash in my chips, I won’t leave a legacy of regret, that I didn’t go for mine. In each one of us lies the power to start something... So to those of you out there who can hear, let me say again, who are you and will you stand with me?

Forgetting.

Shit. That's how I've been feeling the last couple days. My workouts are flat. Appetite is shot. Don't even want to spend quality time with my girl. Her birthday is right around the corner and I can't get into it. I can't complain. Most days are shit. Still, I get some real gems in between. On a good day, I feel inspired. It's like you're on a one way mission but you feel like a hundred bucks. When you roll out of bed and look outside, where there were dark storm clouds, you see blue skies and a sun smiling down on you. Everything falls your way. Finding a twenty on the sidewalk. Driving down the street and all the lights are green. Hitting new records on every lift. Yeah, this is the good life. Part of me wishes every day were like this... The rest of me knows it can't be. See, I don't want the good life... Not now. I've got too much to do. The good life can fuck you up. It can make you soft. The good life fills your ears with a sweet music that makes you forget... Forget that mission, who you are, what matters. Shit, after a while, all you want is that damn music. That music drowns everything out, including that voice in your head. Most people go through their lives, numb, preferring to listen to the music, to themselves talk, to everything but that voice... They lose their way. I'm lucky. Most days, that voice inside my head is wailing like a fucking siren. It's so loud it keeps me up nights, keeps me honest. It won't let me forget. When I get too many good days, too much of that good life, I plug my ears, roll up my sleeves, and get to work. After all, without that voice, I wouldn't be who I am... Who I can be. Now this is important... Do not forget. Do not drown in the music. Listen to your voice... It's saying something.

Remembering.

Forgetting the good life... Not as hard as it sounds when you only get a rare taste. If it was a fucking filet mignon every week, then it'd be tough to give up. Days of wine and roses? Fuck that. More like shit and piss. Remembering, now that's different. For the bodybuilder, no fuck that, for anyone, remembering makes us who we are. As a bodybuilder, I gotta remember… Where I came from, who I am, what really matters. I can never forget what's behind me either. All those who came before me and made a name for themselves. All the days of blood and guts I fucking spilled for this sport. All the things that have defined me. See, without memory, there is no desire... Knowing what I had, knowing it's not enough, and knowing that I want more. Without memory, there can be no history. I know where I’m coming from. I know where I'm headed. History? Yeah, I plan on making some of that too.

My Old Man.

My old man, he was a miner. He worked with his hands. As a kid, I remember him coming home, dust from the mines covering every inch of him. Whenever I did right, he'd put his hand on my shoulder. I remember how heavy it felt—those hands full of calluses and blisters that came from having to work with them, day in and day out, just to put food on the table. He was a big, powerful man. Larger than life. He was a family man, a pillar of the community. When he wasn't spending time with us, he'd be bulding ballparks, volunteering his time. Why am I thinking about him? Yesterday, I trained in some dungeon gym, a basement full of old, rusting equipment. Man, the smell of the earth and concrete took me back to when I got my first taste of iron... A taste I haven't been able to get out of my mouth since. That was when I found his weights buried back in a corner of the basement, under a load of boxes. The weights called out to me. As I got deeper into lifting, I remember walking down the steps, night after countless night, into the dark. As I worked, I thought of him, taking an elevator down a long shaft, working deep under tons of earth. By day, he worked with iron. By night, he worked with another kind of iron, the same kind I held in my hands as a kid of fourteen. My old man worked like a bull to put food on the table and meat on his bones. Both, he did with pride. See, he knew who he was. He was grounded, firmly planted. Me? Sometimes, I don't know who I am. I look in the mirror and I see a stranger staring back at me. I am no one... I am nothing... I am adrift, looking for a way home. Living in a society that can't comprehend what I do, what I go through, can make me doubt myself. Am I the hero or the monster? But today, as I'm blasting through this workout, I can feel his hand on my shoulder and, yeah, the clarity returns. I remember how I got started in this game. After I finish up, when I walk outside, there is no mine, no ballpark, no basement from my past—only the decaying city around me I call home and the memory of iron. I will not forget... Hey old man, as I hold the iron in my hands, as I step out from behind your long shadow, I want to tell you that I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. I also want to tell you who I am. I am a man... I am a bodybuilder... I am your son.

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I Walk The Line.

There are two kind of people in this world. The Ninety-Nines and the Ones.

Bodybuilding is a line drawn in the sand—it slaps you in the face, dares you. At 14, when I discovered those weights in the basement, I knew I crossed that line, knew there would be no turning back... Ever.

There are those who rely on luck, and those who don't know the meaning of the word.

The quickest way between here and there, today and tomorrow, is a straight line. Each and every day, so many distractions get in the way, threaten to take me off course. I have to stay on the path, stay true.

There are those who tear down others to build themselves up and those who just build.

In my life, I walk a tightrope. The air is thin up here and one small misstep means I’ll fall to the ground—without a safety net. Needs and desires? Yeah, it’s hard having to balance everything, staying focused.

It separates reason from madness...

It’s a fine line between the two... People think I’m nuts doing what I do. Yeah, they’re not wrong. This pursuit is a descent into madness. I’ve been on this slide for a while now and I can’t stop. Not yet...

It's thicker than water...

When I look at my hands, I see my old man. My hands, like his, were made for working. But it’s more than genetics he passed on. On days where I feel like hanging it up, I see him and I keep steamrolling on.

It's a thread woven into your life...

As a kid, I knew all the bodybuilders by heart—the faces, their stats. See this curl machine? Arnold himself used it. Know what that’s like? Pure electricity. This great sport has a long line... I am part of it.

My Ass Is Dragging.

Oatmeal, egg whites, yams and eye round. Four foods, 24/7… Shit, the monotony is killing me. Did I say monotony? I meant consistency. It sounds more noble. Bodybuilding is about perspective and how you approach things. If I see eating as monotony, I'm just making things harder for myself. But if I see it as a stepping stone to something nobler, then the food becomes easier to swallow. In this way, I’m no different than when I was fourteen. Yeah, I'm comparing myself to a skinny ass kid who maybe weighed a buck forty. Crazy? See, when I was fourteen, I got a taste of iron. Man, it was like fucking blood in my mouth from a slap to my face. I was challenged. I was in for life. But as a teen, I had the same heart, the same passion for the sport as I do now. The fire that burns inside me today is no hotter. What am I getting at? Yesterday, I trained arms. Because my ass has been dragging, I had to gut it out. On top of that, my arm routine is pretty much the same routine that I've been using for a while now—skullcrushers, barbell and dumbbell curls, pushdowns, etc. So you could say my arm routine has been, well, routine. But again, think about it terms of the intangibles. Think about it in terms of consistency. Sticking to it. That combined with desire and heart, and always pushing yourself… So to all these kids who come up to me, asking me how I got this big, what I eat exactly, the specific exercises I use… In the end, it doesn't mean shit. It's all about finding what works for you, then applying it with consistency and diligence. Throw in heart, real passion, and you got the makings of a champion.

Predicting the Weather.

Some days, the seas are calm. Other days, a storm. The question is, what's the fucking forecast? When you're doing what I do, trust me, the forecast changes on a dime. It's my girl's inside joke. Whenever she sees me, she asks, “So what's the forecast gonna be today, baby?” My girl has to put up with a lot of shit. And her birthday is right around the corner now… Damn, I can't forget about that. So yesterday, I'm training wheels. My knees have been acting up again so, holding me back, and that's been fucking pissing me off. Anyway, I'm in the middle of a grueling set of hack squats when this kid comes up and starts talking, all friendly like—the usual shit. Number one, I don't like to be distracted in the middle of a set. Number two, he's rambling on about what the secret to getting big is… The secret? Dark stormclouds are brewing on the horizon… My vision blurs... The blood rises up into my temples… You want the fucking secret? I wanna lay into him, for reason number one and reason number two, but I hold off and bury the weights instead. This kid doesn't know any better. So after I'm done my set, I wipe my brow, take him aside, and tell him, “There is no secret.” He looks surprised. Shit, that look never gets old. What this kid doesn't know is that all the info he'll ever need is already out there, in this gym and in thousands of gyms across the country. See, the truth isn't glamorous. It doesn’t have sizzle. The truth is like steak and the secret is boring. The secret is consistency. Having the fucking balls to eat and train a certain way day in, day out. The days will blur together… Do you have what it takes to live this kind of life? To figure out how to get through each meal, each rep like it's your last? Yeah, you gotta be able to transform the word “monotony” into “consistency”. That’s the fucking secret.

Being Different.

I wasn't always this big. No shit, right? As a kid I was overweight. Overweight and short. Yeah, how’s that? Life sucked but those are the breaks. But I was always strong. My old man was proud of that. Strength was something he valued. So before I ever got into bodybuilding, strength mattered to me. I wanted to be able to move mountains. But all the strength in the world didn't help when I was young because I was bullied. There was a gang of them and, at times, it got pretty fucking bad. But that was then and this is now. The line that connects me as an eleven year old to who I am today remains unbroken. Truth is, I still feel like that short, fat kid at times. I don't get bullied anymore, but you wanna know what? I still have to avoid fights. Guys will just walk up and challenge me. Yeah, it's fucked up... This time, I'm not being singled out because I'm short and fat, but because I'm big and strong. When you're standing close to six feet and pushing 280 like I do, you stick out. Maybe guys see me as the big dog, so they want to test themselves against me. It's one thing to defend yourself, your honor, your country or your family... But to fight because of ego, that's just nuts. You don't get into this sport to push others around. I don't have time for all the other bullshit.. And lately, the days feel like they've been getting shorter and shorter... I can't get distracted by all the shit life throws at me. I gotta stay on point, stay focused. I got enough troubles with my girl...

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Be Selfish.

You are alone...

I’ve torn through a dozen or so relationships... Bodybuilding is a lonely sport. Alone when I eat, when I train, and when I finally stand under the bright lights. It’s Friday night and I’m here with my girl but I’m alone. She’s pissed & won’t talk. Can’t say I blame her. Still, she knew it was coming...

You are selfish...

Anytime I meet a good one, I always let her know what she’s getting—selfishness... A big fat heaping serving of it. Why waste her time or mine? I tell ‘em, but it never works. They don’t think it’ll be so bad putting up with all this. Maybe they think they can change me. Yeah, like that’ll happen...

You have to be. Being in this great sport—being great in this sport-- requires selfishness... It’s demanded of you, just like sacrifice is. But that selfishness is not for personal profit or pleasure, but personal achievement. There’s something I need to accomplish and nothing’s gonna get between me and it... Nothing.

The Real World.

Been seeing this great girl for a month and a half… She’s working hard, paying her dues, putting up with all my shit. Can’t say I’ve been able to return the favor, but then again, I’m twelve weeks out. So last month, just after we started seeing each other, she tells me her birthday is coming up. She wants wining and dining, some romance. Girls dig that shit, right? I wanted to do something nice for her… Anyway, it’s Friday, her birthday. I promised her I’d take her out for dinner. She showed up in this killer short black dress. Me? I just got back from the gym and I stink. Yeah, I fucked up. I’m having a couple small problems with my diet… A couple of my body parts are lagging… Things I gotta address soon. So anyways, I’m stressed more than usual. On top of it all, I had to take care of some business today that fucked up my schedule. I had to train at the end of the day and I’m beat and I still gotta eat my meal. I’m so tired, I just want to sleep… She’s pissed and yelling, but I don’t even hear her… I’m just too fucking tired.

Swept Up.

Swept up… This journey I’m on is like a force of nature, a fucking tornado churning through the land. It cuts a wide, destructive path, threatening to sweep up anything and everything around it… Shit, most days, I don’t’ even know where I’m gonna land, or if I’ll even land on my own two feet. So I can only imagine what it’s like for those who get caught up in this. Take my girl... What girl doesn’t want to be swept off her feet? But there’s a world of difference between “swept off” and “swept up”. My girl is paying the price because of that difference… Her plans, her expectations on this night, her birthday, were swept aside… No dinner. Nothing. In fact, she had to order takeout. I offered to pay, but she wouldn’t take it. “Fuck off, you asshole. You were supposed to take me out,” she said. Yeah, this girl’s got some fire… I like that. But all that aside, here she is, gutting it out, staying by my side. She’s pissed, but she’s trying to make it work. Let me tell ya something, in this game, you can get far by yourself. But if you got support from your family, your friends, your girl, then life is easier. And trust me, this girl is solid gold. You ever find a girl who will put up with all the shit we bodybuilders go through, hold onto her. Now maybe a little romance will get things back on track, I don’t know. What I do know is that I got this girl in my bed and she’s fucking slammin’… But I can’t even think straight. Right now, I just want to sleep. And this bed I got is just too fucking small… Still, I gotta admit, sometimes it’s too big when she’s not in it… Anyway, I got a long day ahead of me tomorrow. I'm going mix things up a bit with my training and my diet, see what happens...

Somewhere Out There.

Somewhere out there, someone is enjoying a hot cup of coffee, reading the paper, and eating a plate of donuts. Somewhere out there, another day has started. The sky is clear and birds are singing in the trees. Somewhere out there, people are given a fresh start. Nothing for me. I'm hurtling down a road that leads to my destiny... The scenery passes by so quickly, it's all looks the same—nothing but a blur. The days pass, no different from one another. But I can't complain. This is what I've chosen for myself and I wouldn't have it any other way. As I stand here and look in the mirror, like I do every morning, everything gets washed away... The colors, the smells, the things that add variety to life. I'd like that right now instead of having to see my tired old face in the mirror. This morning, the guy in the mirror looks back and screams, “What the fuck you looking at you piece of shit? Get to work…” Yeah, another fucking Saturday morning. Another fine day in Jersey… So things are cool with me and my girl. At least I think they are… Stayed up later than I wanted to, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. She’s got shit to take care of, so it’s in the shower and out the door in fifteen minutes. Damn, this is a small bathroom—and here I thought my bed was too small. I’d make her breakfast, but one, I don’t have much of a range when it comes to cooking and two, I don’t have a whole lot I could make for her. That is, unless she wanted some eggs and plain oatmeal. I’ve got a full day ahead of me as well. Gotta get some shit straightened out. Nothing much… Just my diet and training, that’s all. I also have to start thinking about my posing routine too. Posing routine… That’s the part about competing that I fucking hate. Picking music. Figuring out a routine to go with that… Anyway, though I still have 12 weeks to go, I’m not leaning out as fast as I’d like. On top of that, my legs and back are lagging. I’m gonna have to make some changes. Starting next week, I gonna mix things up a bit, change my diet around. I’m also thinking about changing gyms… My gym and I, we go way back. But I think it’s time to move on. Decisions, decisions, decisions…

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55.30.29.

Drowning in numbers...

Numbers. Some days, I feel like I’m drowning in ‘em. Everything I do has to do with numbers... The weights I pile on, one after the other. The minutes I count off, one by one, during cardio. The calories I don’t add up anymore cuz I know my meals by sight. All the reps over the days, weeks, years. The same angry red numbers that glare at me every morning, telling me to get up. Then there are a specific set of numbers--55.30.29.

With numbers, people objectify.

Though they are not official, like a driver’s license or other form of ID, these numbers, from top to bottom, identify me... And that can be a problem. These simple six digits are the reason people stare, mutter under their breaths, ask so many ignorant questions whenever I step out into their world. See, with numbers, people want to objectify me like they would some centerfold. But instead of lust, I’m talking about disgust.

You cannot be so easily defined...

These numbers I have earned at great cost and sacrifice. So let them loathe me. Let them try to define me. I know who I am, who I will become. As I sit here, pumped from a grueling balls out set, I feel bigger than 55.30.29... Bigger than life. Though I’ve accomplished much in seven weeks, that doesn’t change a damn thing... I’ve still got nine weeks to go. So I will pull my cap down low, and push on, toiling in anonymity.

You Wanna Be A Superhero?

As an overweight 7-year old, I spent every last dime on ‘em. While other kids were spending their coin on candy, I was deep into comics. I'd even keep them under my bed and read 'em at night with a flashlight. Shit, all the amazing physiques, the titanic struggles. I wanted to have rock hard muscles. Yeah, that was the dream... My favorite superhero? Shit, that's an easy one... The Thing. Others were reading Superman, but to me, the Thing was badass. I knew everything about him, memorized all the details—his name, where he grew up, his life's story... What I liked about him was that he was real... Well, as real as any comic book hero could be. He didn't live a glamorous life. This dude had it rough. And he wasn't the strongest superhero around, but he made up for it through sheer willpower. Yeah, the Thing rocked. Funny thing is, in a way, I became the comic book hero I admired as a kid—and let me tell you, things aren't always pretty. When I walk down the street, people look at me like I've got four fingers on each hand, four toes on each foot, and made of orange rock. I can't take off my physique, hang it up in the closet, and call it a fucking day. I take this body wherever I go. Rain or shine. Though it’s great, not a day passes when some part of me wishes I was “normal” whatever the fuck that means. Even sitting here waiting for the bus, I can hear people talking about me. I got thick skin. Looking like a fucking freak, that's who I am, and I’m never giving that up. So you wanna look like a superhero? Then think long and hard, brothers. It ain't a cakewalk. But if you're ready, then come join me cuz the weights are waitin'... And it's clobberin' time.

Break The Chain.

When I first started lifting, I was young and overzealous. I soon became shackled by numbers, chained to ‘em. I kept notes in my training log. Every lift, every rep. After a while, it became a compulsion, like if I stopped, so would my gains. I measured my weight on the scale every fucking night, like clockwork, and in the morning, I measured my biceps to see how much they had grown. Shit, as I got more serious, I started weighing out my meals, calculating every calorie, every gram. It took years to escape my confinement. Let me tell ya, the freedom was enlightening.... These days, my tools are simpler, more effective. Instead of the scale, I use a mirror. Instead pen and paper, I rely on experience. Yeah, these days, I don’t have to keep track of anything. I can see where I am by the way I look in the mirror and by the way I feel. If there’s one bit of advice I can give anyone looking to get into this game, it’s this... Don’t get caught up in the numbers. Numbers objectify and when they do, they can trap you, rule you. The chains have been holding us down for too long, brothers. Through knowledge and experience, break loose and taste freedom.

Ain't Nothing Wrong With That...

Being “normal”, you get all the perks... Walk up to any grease truck or into any food court and you can crush whatever you want with fucking impunity—a dirty burger, cheese fries, fat cat, pizza... Shit, load it up and toss ‘em back. With food in your belly, you take a look at the shirt on your back… Damn, you bought it two months ago and it’s already out of style. So you head on over to the nearest store to pick up the latest, slickest threads in S, M, or L. Yeah, being normal means having choices and being able to make ‘em. Don’t get me wrong—just because I live the way I do, don’t think for a second that I’ve got blinders on. I watch TV. I’m in the malls. I got a girl who wants to dress me up. With all that's out there, who wouldn’t be tempted to enjoy a little fucking “excess” from time to time? When you can’t have something, you want it even more. My problem is, I don’t have the same choices. Ever wonder why bodybuilders dress alike? Do you think it’s because we all get an official handbook that tells us what the fucking uniform is? It’s because so few things fit. See, our choices are pretty much limited to workout shit. The basics. Got a 30” waist? You walk into a store and pick from dozens of jeans. You want ‘em stonewashed and boot cut? Sure… How about straight leg and acid washed? Yup. Now I’ve got a 30” waist too. But I can’t fit those legs over my 29” quads. So when I buy pants, I gotta buy 'em with a supersized waist, then cinch it tight with a belt. Jackets... You got a 38” chest, so if you’re going to a wedding, you got your pick of tuxes. Me? How many tuxedo shops are gonna stock a 55” jacket? Put it all together, 55, 30, 29 and you can understand how tough it is to shop for clothes... Not that shopping for clothes is important. Still, it's the idea that I have fewer choices. So what, right? Yeah, so what... At least I always know what I'm gonna wear in the mornings and it reads XXXL. Simplicity... There ain’t nothing wrong with that. Bodybuilding is more than just lifting. Bodybuilding is living. Fuck yeah.

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Bodybuilding Is Living.

Another day...

Another rep, another nail. Another set, another brick. Another split, another backbreaking load of concrete... An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. In here, no distractions. Not like the outside, with ignorant people and their questions such as, ‘Is bodybuilding a sport?’ The first hundred times, I answered. I’ve stopped answering long ago...

What can a word mean?

Sport. What does the word even mean? Yeah, it is a word that’s easily defined... Still it doesn't mean much. Let me ask you, how do you describe what you do in a single word, an entire way of living with just 5 letters? I can’t. What I do is more than a word. What I do cannot be confined by the basic limitations of language. Who I am cannot be so easily defined.

Bodybuilding is more than a word...

Bodybuilding is a sport, one that doesn’t end with stepping up on stage... That’s just a detour. But bodybuilding is more, like breathing or living. It is transcendent. It is not merely a word, but a symbol, a process of becoming—a constant striving to better oneself. This great journey that I’m on, one that we all can become a part of, has a beginning but no end.

As I sit here, in the middle of my labor with two and a quarter on my back, I know I’m just a tiny speck. On this ordinary day, as I hammer out reps, each one drives my determination deeper into the grain of my being.

Thirst.

“Is bodybuilding a sport?” Brothers, if you ever get deep into this game, be ready for this question—you'll get it over and over and over again. When I first go into this sport, I didn't know the answer. Later, I knew and I answered. At some point, I stopped answering altogether. Who the fuck cares? Still, a part of me can look at the question rationally. What does the word “sport” mean? If ya look it up, you'll see a lot of different definitions. One definition is a guy who can accept the hard life and can deal with all kinds of shit. Kinda reminds me of Tantalus. Now this Tantalus had it fucking bad man. See, Tantalus was punished by having to stand in a lake. Above him was a tree filled with ripe fruit. Around him, was cool, clear water. When he got hungry and reached up for the fruit, the branch would move away. When he got thirsty and bent down for a drink, the water would fall away. His punishment was that he could never satisfy his hunger, his thirst. Yeah, this is only a story, a myth, an allegory, but there's stone cold truth here. Like Tantalus, we bodybuilders have to put up with a lot of shit (yeah, we also dish it out too). But more to the point, I know what it's like to feel a constant hunger, an unquenchable thirst. Bodybuilding to me, like all great sports, like all great lives, is a process, a never-ending journey of self-improvement and betterment. Built into this process is a basic concept of competition. Not necessarily the competition of the stage—that's just a detour. If I were to never step up, bodybuilding would still mean the same damn thing. Because every fucking day I spend in the gym, every fucking set, every fucking drop of sweat that falls from my brow, I am competing. And if you’re doing it right, you’re competing against the baddest, sickest motherfucker there is… Yourself.

Mutation.

Sport. The word can mean someone takes a beating and comes back for more. This defines the iron warrior. But it can also mean an organism which, through mutation, goes through an abnormal change. Mutation? Abnormal? Change? Shit, these are words I know something about, words I can fucking relate to. Most people, they want to fit in. They want to be liked. They don't want to be abnormal. Great thinkers, philosophers and artists, they don't give a shit what others think. They are committed to a pursuit of truth. Yeah, there's truth in bodybuilding... Truth and a kind of purity that I haven't found anywhere else. When you lie there, under the weight, there is the stark black and white truth, a revealing moment—can I lift this weight? Can I squeeze out another rep? Brothers, ain't nothing like it... The silence, the peaceful solitude of an empty gym—nothing but your thoughts, the clean burn of those weights, the inner struggle against yourself... So is bodybuilding a sport? Fuck yeah... It's the sport of mutants. We walk among you.

Mockery.

Mockery. Jest. To make a "sport" out of something... One word. So many fucking meanings. And it's not just the word sport either. Same thing could be said for the word bodybuilding. See this is the problem when it comes to arguing about whether or not bodybuilding is a sport. Too many definitions, too many viewpoints. Nobody's ever on the same page. Long story short, too much talk and not enough of what matters. Action. Getting your hands dirty. Talk is fucking cheap. You wanna know about what sport means to me? Many things... Like making a mockery of gravity and defying the laws of physics every time I load up the bar... Ridiculing the plates, belittling them, putting them in their fucking place... Going heavier, harder than I ever thought possible... Never letting what I think I can do get in the way of what I'm gonna do. Spilling blood and guts for this sport I love. Being bound to it and never letting go.

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Bound By Blood.

Naked, weak, free...

We’re all born the same, unfettered by preconceived limitations. Eventually, we submit to laws. There are those we must embrace in order to be free... The laws of iron and discipline. Then there are those we must challenge for that very same freedom... The laws of conformity and small-mindedness. The weight of these chains are so subtle, we forget them. This is how we are shackled, tamed. Normalcy becomes the rule and we grow comfortable with limits. Like a dog at the end of a leash, we move but never of our own will.

It is time to defy, time to rise up...

I will test my mettle, pull hard against these restraints. I will not let conventional thinking rule me. As I stand here, the chain will bury deep into my flesh, the weight will pull me down. But I will fight. I will defy gravity. If I fall, I will get right back up. Brothers, life is short and every minute that passes hurtles us closer to the end. In the time that I have, I have bound myself to this chosen life and it to me--these words are the contract that binds me to this sport... Upon it, I have signed my name in blood.

Man Is Born Free...

But brothers, as we enter society the chains await… They’re everywhere. They’re invisible. And we become imprisoned. We fall into certain ways of thinking. We see the world the same way and can’t see it any other. This impacts our daily lives and the sum of them, in fucking totality. So we fall into ruts, into mindless patterns. Take my route to the gym for example—every fucking time, the same path... So regular, I could probably count the number of steps... So familiar, I could walk it in my sleep. What if I took another route? Truth is, it wouldn’t make a fucking bit of difference. But shit, the point is, I got used to it. It became predictable—no longer thought twice about it. And there it is right there, the fucking problem. If I did the same exact thing day in and day out, I’d fail as a bodybuilder. See, there’s a world a difference between “consistency” and “repetition”. A bodybuilder must be consistent, but not repetitive. A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I wasn’t leaning out as fast as I wanted to. If I didn’t question things, I’d have stuck to my diet til the fucking end. But I know I had to mix things up. So what’d I do? For starters, I upped my meals. I also replaced some of my beef meals with leaner chicken breasts. And for my remaining meals with the beef, I’m having my butcher grind it up. How did I figure out what to do? Did I ask some guy in the gym? Did I count calories and look at the ratio of macronutrients? Fuck no. I experimented. I paid attention to how I felt... I looked in the mirror. Know what? Things are moving along nicely now. Look, people want simple answers. They want to be told what to do, to be spoon fed the truth. The truth? Shit. The truth is, the answers you need, the answers you want, aren’t gonna be easy to come by. There are no shortcuts. Asking someone else to tell you how many protein shakes you need or how many chicken breasts to eat isn’t gonna get the fucking job done. More to the point, once you think you found the answer, you can't let it become the final answer. You gotta constantly challenge what you know. Now, if only this withering heat would let up…

My Gruel.

So I’m in the gym and all I can think about is the meal I gotta eat next. How fucking sick is that? My food... It could be gruel for all I fucking know. It tastes like shit. Same old punishing shit day in and day out. At least gruel’s easy to take—no chewing needed. Try choking down 20 oz. of lean eye round steak a couple times a day. You wanna talk about work... Lifting is like a walk in the fucking park compared to that. So here’s what I did… I figured it was time for a new recipe. What, you didn’t know bodybuilders were part chefs? We’re always messing with new ways to prepare the same old shit. I had this buddy who once tried mixing canned tuna, egg whites and rice in a blender. He didn’t get very far. Damn, that shit was wrong. Anyway, I invented this recipe out of desperate necessity. Here’s what I do… I have my local butcher grind up all my eye round, like ground beef. I take my trusty old skillet and put down a thin layer of fat-free spray. When it’s hot, I throw in 16-20 oz. of the ground eye round. While the meat’s cooking, I’ll microwave the yam. When that’s ready, I’ll throw it in the pan with the beef and mix it all together. Let me tell you how this all looks... Ever cook fatty ground beef and toss it in the fridge? The fat cools and hardens. The result is unappetizing to say the least. Well, that’s what my ground eye round and yam recipe looks like. Does it taste any better than it looks? Nah… But choking it down is a lot less work, let me tell ya. Damn, as a bodybuilder, I am chained to my food… And eating? Eating is fucking grueling.

The State Of Nature, The State Of Man.

The state of nature is primitive. In this chaotic state, laws are made of steel and rules are forged from iron. Here the mood is nasty, the work brutish, and the shot at glory too fucking short. Let me tell you, I have spent too many raw mornings in this place, alone with my toil, the clanking plates and the gnawing doubts. This path I have chosen is well worn... It is littered with sacrifices wasted, potential squandered, destinies unfulfilled. But though my journey is my own, I am not alone. Beside me are the memories of my youth, my old man who always put me back on the straight and narrow whenever I wandered, and everyone who ever lent a hand. State of nature? Fighting for one’s own? Fuck that. Though this great sport is a solitary one and though we may compete, though we may battle, we are ultimately in the same struggle. And brothers, there are plenty of spoils to go around. Listen, the contract that binds each of us to this sport also binds us together. And these laws? These laws of iron and steel forge new bonds between us. They are unbreakable. This is the state of man and ours is the brotherhood of iron.

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Whatcha' Looking At?

Some people just want to look...

Other people get greeting cards full of nice words. I get looks... All kinds, all day long. It’s like living in a cage. Different looks carry different sentiments. Some are friendly. Others aren’t. Whenever I catch a certain look from a kid new to the sport, I remember how I used to walk past this one gym every morning. Each time, I’d stop and look through the glass that separated me from the big boys training with incomprehensible weights. I was intimidated but deep down, I knew I belonged there. When I finally got the courage to join, I was at the bottom of the food chain looking up.

Is that why you're here?

Today, if I could look back and see my face as that young kid who walked into the gym for the first time, I’ll tell you what I’d see. A little fear mingled with something greater. Hunger... A face burning with desire... A kid who had something to prove and wanted all the world to know it. In the years between, I’ve learned a couple things. First, the only person you have anything to prove to is yourself. Second, you can watch life with your nose pressed up against the glass. Or you can swing open the doors and step inside.

Respect.

The doors rattle open. You step inside and take stock... Everything is right. You take a deep breath... The air is sour, familiar. Like vinegar and piss. You’re home. Shit, you got a set of keys to the place. In here, there’s no bullshit. No one looks up as you step forward. You visualize how the session is gonna go down. Your pulse quickens. The blood starts boiling. It’s time to lay down the hammer… So my question is this. Do you feel this way every time you enter the gym? Does the stink of fear mingled with excitement race through your blood? Me, I’m a kid in the candy store and everything’s free... In my gym, I’m the biggest guy there. Big fucking deal. This fact don’t mean shit to me or any of the regulars. Doesn't matter who’s competing, there’s a brotherhood here based on respect. When I enter this place, no one cares. If they see me, they’ll give me a quick nod and get back to the business at hand. No stares. No expectations. Shit, the only way they’d look twice is if I was growing a second head. Between us is a respect only men who respect the iron can have. When you’re lying under a thick stack of plates, you aren't any different than the guy next to you who’s busting his ass. Shit, you could be Elvis Presley for all the weights care—they don’t give a shit who you are. They’ll try to bury you just the same. Business is business and pleasure is pleasure. But in this place, business is pleasure and pleasure comes from taking care of business.

You Ain't Shit.

We’re vain. We’re self-centered. We spend too much time looking at ourselves in the mirror. Those who think this don't have a fucking clue. They sure don't have a problem staring at us... Shit, it happens everywhere we go… It even happens in gyms. A couple weeks back, I was thinking about changing gyms. In the end, I didn't. Anyway, I decided to use another gym across town a couple times a week. So I’m stepping through the doors to train there for the first time and I swear, it’s like everyone stops what they’re doing to look up. I get a couple of looks I easily recognize—those of acknowledgement, respect and even awe. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see him… A large figure rising, pulling himself up to his full stature. I see him push out his chest, spread his lats. A big dude. He slowly turns to me and stares... Glares is more like it. That look is one I know well… “You ain’t shit motherfucker." Damn, I think to myself. It’s gonna be a long day…

Props.

Yeah, this gig's got its share of ups and downs—though the ups are probably higher and the lows are fucking lower for sure. To get through this rollercoaster ride called bodybuilding, you need a solid support structure under you. Family... Friends... A stand up girl... Shit, all these things contribute to your success. They keep you buckled in and strapped down. But there's also a support cast that plays a big role. For me, special props go out to my Uncle Keg. Let me tell you about Uncle Keg... He's been there for me through thick and thin. Every week, I go pay him my respects and he returns the favor by helping to sustain me on this journey. Now Uncle Keg isn't my uncle. He's my butcher and all the locals call him that cuz he treats everyone who walks into shop like they were his favorite nieces and nephews and cuz he's short and barrel-chested. Proportions aside, Uncle Keg is one stand up guy. He always sets aside the best cuts of eye round for me.. I still remember the first time I walked into his shop. Uncle Keg had a way of dispensing the obvious like a gumball machine dispenses candy. He looked up at me and without missing a beat, said plainly, "Son, you're gonna need a lot of steak." No questions, no stares, no passing judgment. Simple, easy and uncomplicated. He just treated me like another member of his extended family.

Now I wish I could say the same about this new gym I started going to... Shit, the first week I was there, this little hottie came up to me as I was doing stiff-legged deads, and dropped a piece of paper by my feet with her phone number on it. Damn. That doesn't happen at my other gym is the first thing I thought. For the record though, when it comes to the gym and the bedroom, I don't fuck around. Don't have the time even if I wanted to.. Even so, this little incident reminded me why I used to use props to keep others at a distance in the gym—a worn cap with the bill pulled down low over my eyes... Headphones with the music blaring... Shit, when I was younger, I even tried wearing sunglasses to the gym to avoid making eye contact. You do that, and it's like an open invitation for people to walk up to you in the middle of set to ask you a shitload of questions. You learn real quick to look away when you get to this level. Don't get me wrong... I don't have a problem talking when I'm done, but never get in my face when I'm in the middle of a set. That's Rule #1. Seems that one big fella I talked about the other day didn't want to extend me this simple courtesy. For that, I got Rule #2...

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In Too Deep...

The sea will swallow you...

It’s late and I’m out of focus. I feel adrift at sea, lost in my backbreaking labors. Then all at once it hits me like a beacon in the night. In the middle of my rep, halfway through my set, that familiar feeling returns... The pain. It washes over me, wave after wave. My senses reel. Yeah, I could drop it all, walk away from this burden. Instead, I grit my teeth, catch my breath, and plow forward. When the going gets tough, many head for safe harbor. I don’t. I welcome the pain -- it keeps me honest. It grounds me. Brothers, this sea is wide and rough. Though the pain may come over you, never let it overcome you.

Hold On.

When I was an overweight kid just starting out, my ma said, “Hold on, son.” She thought I was too young, supplements too unhealthy. She thought bodybuilding wasn’t a respectable sport, let alone a profession…

When some of my friends starting seeing my level of dedication, all the sacrifices I had to make, they said, “Hold on, man.” Maybe I wasn’t spending enough time partying with them, getting drunk every weekend. Maybe they weren't my friends…

When my past girlfriends learned how serious I was about bodybuilding, they said, “Hold on, baby.” They thought they had to compete against bodybuilding for my attention. They didn’t. But I couldn’t convince them otherwise…

When people on the street looked at me, they said, "Hold on, stranger." They couldn't understand why I wanted to be this big... Why I couldn't eat just one slice of cake when dieting... Why I was doing this to myself. They don't get it now and they never fucking will...

When I first dreamed of competing one day and took my fucking game to the next level, my training partner said, “Hold on, Wrath.” He couldn’t keep up. Maybe he didn’t want to…

After I started lifting, whenever I forgot why I got into this game, I told myself, “Hold on.” I didn't start lifting to get back at the bullies who beat the living shit out of me after school... It wasn't to be cool or popular... It wasn't to get ass.

Why'd I do it then? Shit, I did it for me. I do this because I was born to... It's in my blood. This sport grounds me, gives my life meaning. Listen brothers, this shit is not for the faint of heart. Few can do what it takes. We are among those few. When you feel like you're drowning, catch your breath. When you want to hang it up, stand firm. When you feel like you can’t diet another day, when it’s hard to pick yourself up off the couch, get the fuck up. People will want to knock you down. Temptations will try to hold you back. Obstacles will stand in your way. Smash the fuck through 'em.

This great journey begins with a step... Even if that step is nothing more than learning how to hold on...

The Siren.

The water drips from the bathroom faucet... Another drop in the sea. Off in the distance, a squad car's siren wails... A lonely but comforting sound. It's another late night in Jersey and my girl is snoring softly in the other room. Damn, the fucking walls could come crashing down around her and she'd sleep through it. Yeah, when she sleeps, she seems a thousand miles away. Me, I'm still wired from earlier today. Just started using Animal Pump for a little extra edge... Great workout. All in all, a good day... Even the food tasted alright. I'm awake so I thought I'd put my time to good use, hit my mandatories. I’m doing that, I think about how life throws you a lot of fucking curveballs. When you’re living a "clean" life stripped of all the extras, the trimmings that make life livable for most people, a lot of temptation comes your way… Girls in my new gym giving me their phone numbers... Hot donuts at the diner down the street. Shit, when I was young, I took my share of liberties, sampled too many wares. It was a distraction, a diversion. Even in the weightroom, I indulged in excesses. These rickety knees, they’re a consequence of my youthful fucking indiscretions in the gym. Often I’d go too heavy with my ass-to-the-grass squats. Too often, pride got in the way. So these days, when I train legs, I always make sure to open with leg extensions, 4x20 usually. Warms 'em up real nice. Though I’m older, wiser, there are still days when I want to drive six plates a side from the ground through the roof. Listen, if you’re planning on being in this game a long time, leave your ego at the door. You're not in the gym to impress others but to improve yourself. Trust me, I know how hard it is to hear the call of the iron and resist the temptation to go overboard. You just gotta plug your ears with wax, and ignore it. Listen to your body. It'll steer you right... In a couple of hours, my alarm, that siren that keeps me ever vigilant, is gonna go off. My girl will probably sleep through that shit too, like she usually does. When she gets up, I'll be gone... Working my ass off so that I'm one step closer to home.

You & Me.

“You and me, we’re gonna have problems…” This voice booms in my ear as I’m finishing up a set. Shit, I’m tired and hungry, but I’m not gonna let that sonofabitch get under my skin, get me off my game… I don’t flinch, I don’t turn around. Instead, I squeeze out my last few reps and rack the weight. It’s time to catch my breath and gear up for the next set. But in that brief moment before I wrap my hands around that rusty, knurled bar, I’m that eleven year old kid again running for his life...

Childhood is supposed to be good times…. Happy memories, happy days. For me, it was pure misery. See, as that kid, I was soft and short. I was an easy mark. Even back then, I was singled out for being different. And I’ll never forget those words, “You and me, we’re gonna have problems.” Though outnumbered, I was defiant, even when the leader of this gang of bullies demanded my lunch money. The rest of the school day past too quickly and I soon found myself being chased through the woods, these bullies at my heels like a pack of wild fucking dogs. What can you know of being caught, of fighting back to no avail, getting the shit beat out of you? Of limping back home, bloody and raw, wiping the dirt from your face? What do you know of this, day in and day out?

I’ll tell you what I know… That on a hot summer day, the heat rises quickly from the asphalt. But just as quickly, a passing rainstorm can wash everything away. These memories, like the fucking injustices of youth, will pass too. What I learned is this—that I am who I am because of those experiences, good, bad or fucking indifferent. I learned that I could taking a beating, lick my wounds, and get right back up, holding my head up high. I learned that when I couldn’t beat back my opponents, I turned to my old man’s Weider bench and the concrete weights and beat the shit out of myself, making my will more resolute, my body stronger. When I outgrew those weights, I improvised—bench pressing the pool table, doing dips between the old washer and dryer, doing chins on the tree out back with concrete blocks tied to my waist… Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And what I know today is that my feet are planted in the ground and I am resolute, like my old man, like the oak I did chins on. You and me—though we look different in different ways, we are one and the same. I’m no longer that chubby and short eleven year old but a man chiseled and hard. The only difference is the years that stand between us and the memories I’ve collected. Last but not least, I learned that respect is hard earned and even harder to keep... But that it’s all the sweeter when it’s given, not by friends, but by enemies.

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Mirror, Mirror...

Who are you?

Who am I? Depends on who you ask. Some see nothing more than a mindless monster, an egotistical freak of nature to be pitied or feared. Others see a man guided by a singular purpose. Who am I? As I stand under this hot light and look into this mirror, I see a monster and a man. But I also see a bullied fat kid. A son looking up to his old man. A youth in search of a road. I’ve since found that road and soon, I’ll know how far I’ve gone and who next I’ll become.

Tools Of The Trade.

The miner trusts his shovel & pick. A carpenter’s got his hammer & nails. A mechanic relies on his wrench. Tools of the trade, brothers… Tools of the trade. In this line of work, it’s no different. I ply my craft with these hands. Shit, I've got the scars and calluses to prove it. The tools of my trade are basics. I keep 'em in this faded old canvas bag. See this belt? Been using it for the past 10 years… A decade's worth of sweat, blood and toil is written in this piece of leather that has gotten me out of more than a few tight scrapes. Been using Animal Pak for nearly as long… First supp I ever used, last one I’ll ever need. These boots—my old man’s... In ‘em, there's nothing I can't overcome. The mirror behind me? It ain’t there for looks. It’s another essential tool. It’s not there to satisfy an insatiable ego. Narcissism … Shit, this sport’s got enough of that... Don't need any more. Nah, the mirror’s there to criticize and cut me down to size just when I think I’ve turned a corner. It speaks the truth and never holds back. It's my judge and the jury. Listen up, in this trade, in this great work, you gotta keep hammering till every last nail is driven in… You gotta make sure you’re firing on all cylinders and lay the rubber on the fucking road… You gotta smash the fuck out of rock and chisel it down deep til you get to the pure ore underneath… Cuz when everything is ripped away and it’s your time to shine, when the verdict is about to be rendered, you know it will all have been worth it. Stand tall. Be proud. Labor on...

Who's The Fairest...

Of ‘em all? Dunno brothers. Society’s got it’s own narrow ideas about beauty and when you don’t fit the model, when you can’t be squeezed into those expectations, well then you’re fucked. Most who look upon the large, fearful symmetry of my frame don’t see beauty. They certainly don’t see conformity or convention. Shit, they see grotesque. I'm a round peg they want to fit into a square hole... Ain’t ever gonna fucking happen. Don't let it. See, I got this vision of who and what I’m gonna be... A bodybuilder. Yeah, that's right, a bodybuilder... The work of the bodybuilder doesn’t deal with ugliness. Now while I ain’t no sleeping beauty, there is something beautiful about this struggle, the discipline, the purity of my desire. Listen, I see the bodybuilder as an artist. Instead of marble, he works with muscle. Instead of a chisel, he works with iron. When I look in the mirror, it's not because of vanity—it's because I'm perfecting something that's not apart from me, but a part of me. I am the artist. The marble is me. This pursuit will refine me.

Reflection.

The ability to think, to reason, and to reflect… Sure, this is what separates us from the beasts. Yet the line of separation is thin one, and we’re always on edge, ready to fall over the fucking precipice. Shit, in the gym though, that line might as well be a fucking mile wide. It’s ironic that, in what should be our natural element, there is too much civility… We hold back. We're timid. We have been tamed. We don’t hit the iron with reckless abandon. We’re afraid of the pain. In nature, even the beasts quickly learn to avoid things that will cause pain. As bodybuilders, we must unlearn a lot, and at the same time, learn to be unfraid of that which is bestial within us... Yet we can never forget what makes us human. We must understand that being who we are often means choosing to endure pain, willingly. Every creature will do what it takes to survive, but would you hack off your own fucking leg if it were caught in a trap so that you might live? Could you endure it? To me, bodybuilding is like that. You gotta be willing to do whatever it takes... Not just to live—to get food or get fucking laid—but to survive, to thrive, to grow. Listen, when it comes to dealing with people, we must often be civil. Civility, respect, and all that other shit—that’s the fucking glue that keeps society together. But when it comes to our dealings within the society of iron, remember brothers, let it all fucking hang out... Or you just might end up on the wrong side of the law of nature. Reflect on that

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Under My Skin.

It's an itch you can't scratch...

I’d scratch till every square inch of me was bloody and raw but it’s no use... This maddening itch, like maggots festering under my skin, is always there, out of reach. We’re all the same. We are made of blood and bone. The difference lies underneath. The reason I am standing here is because long ago this great endeavor, this way of life, got under my skin... And ever since, I’ve been scratching away, clawing furiously for every last bloody pound.

You wouldn't have it any other way.

Though the road has been hard as the day is long, I wouldn’t trade in a second. The strength that’s allowed me to endure doesn’t come from what you see—the thick slabs of meat, veins thick as rope, skin so thin the grainy fibers show. No, it runs deeper. To get to it, you’d have to cut away all the layers of doubt and distraction till knife hits bone. The seconds are passing by. Find that itch... Scratch till there’s nothing left.

Skin Tight.

When you put on a tight shirt, what does it feel like? Feels fucking good, that's what. When you got a good pump going, it's like your skin is that shirt... The muscle feels like it's exploding out of your skin. One of the fucking perks of being in this game. Another is that you're gonna look better than 99.9% of those around you. So you'll want to show off... No matter how big or how small, we all do. Show 'em what dedication and sacrifice can produce. Yeah, there's nothing wrong with that from time to time. But balancing pride with vanity—that's some tough shit. For me, bodybuilding isn't about taking your stereo and crankin' up the volume. It isn't about revving the engine of your muscle car at a stop light. It's about getting the job done and enjoying what you do. Some say my values are old school, from another decade. I say, so what? My values are as old school as the ideal physique that I hold in my mind, or the training methods I employ. Who the fuck does stick twists these day? Not a whole lot. The car I drive, the music I listen to, the food I eat—it's all stripped down and basic. Raw... Like an emotion... Like anger. In my element, this place, that's also how I'm known. Simply as Wrath.

Thick Skin.

If you’re starting out in this sport, lemme give you some advice, and it won't cost you a dime... You’ll need thick skin. Thick skin to ward off the ignorance, the criticism, the doubts, the fear, the fucking clueless questions about why we got into the game and what it takes to stay in... "C'mon, what's wrong with a slice of cake. One slice ain't gonna kill ya." No shit Sherlock. Man, I can go on and on. After a while—sometimes weeks, months or maybe even years—your skin begins to thicken in proportion to your dedication. Your skin, your commitment to bodybuilding, becomes something like a layer of armor. At my level, at this stage of the game, I don't give two shits what others think of my dreams. Yeah, you could say my skin is made of titanium. On my journey I don't have room for belly achers or naysayers or hangers on. As I get closer and closer to the show, as things wind down, I just gotta dial it in, get shredded. Damn. How's that for irony? In this sport, thick is the skin you'll need if you ever want it to be thin...

Skinning A Cat.

Trial and error... Educated guessing... Call it what you want, experimentation is the fucking backbone of bodybuilding. In this day and age of instant gratification and quick fixes, people want results overnight. They want info that's already chewed up and predigested. They want one-size-fits-all answers. Shit, there's fast and then there's right, and shortcuts aren’t gonna cut it. In bodybuilding, there are two things that are backbreaking—the physical labor and the time it takes to get things right. You gotta have the discipline to endure both. To make my point, let’s take a simple test… Get a blank piece of paper and sharpen your pencil. Now scribble all over that paper without lifting your pencil off the sheet. What are you left with? Two points—a start and a finish—and one fucking long, messy, unbroken line between the two. Now most will see the scribble as a pain the ass… Why the long ass scribble when you can just draw a straight line between the two points? It's faster right? Here’s why brothers… There are many ways to get to where you want to go—some roads are faster than others and some are longer than others. But part of the game is reaching the end and the other part his how you get there. Put another way, in this game we call bodybuilding, what you look like when you get there defines you. But how you get there... Shit, that refines you.

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Push.

Here's how it will begin...

It all begins with a simple push—a swift kick in the ass and we’re out on our own, kicking and screaming. But it doesn’t stop there. Later, we’ll be pushed around, pushed down--with fists and with words... You won’t amount to much. You’re wasting your time. Don’t be different--just fit in. Yeah, the world is gonna tell us who we ought to be, never stopping to ask who we actually are. Who are we?

And here is how it will end?... We are the misfits and the dreamers. Though I’m still 4 weeks out, for the past 12, I’ve been pushing too. Pushing myself to the limit. Pushing off complacency. Pushing through hurdles, smashing through walls. Pushing back at all those in my life who said I’d fail. Cuz when push comes to shove, you gotta listen to your own voice... And if anyone tells you different, you tell him to shove it up his ass.

Pull.

Push. Pull... Two fundamental forces in nature—as basic as it gets... Physics as a metaphor for life and this fucking sport we call bodybuilding. All basic movements can be broken down to "push" and "pull". Love dumbbell rows, but I can't expect to build a physique with only pull movements. Life's the same fellas... You can't have attraction without repelling—the two go hand in hand. Take my girl for instance. Instant chemistry the moment I met her. I know she was something special and I do my best to treat her like the lady she is. Now take Big Red on the other hand. Yeah, I call him that cuz of the shock of red on his head and this red goatee. Anyway, this is the dude who's been going out of his way to give me shit in the gym... Another misguided fool. But things between us are cool now. When the shit hits the fan, you gotta be willing to step up and be a better man. See, attraction is the easy part—it's swimming downstream, it's the path of least resistance. But resistance—that's the fucking meat and potatoes of our sport... That's what builds our physiques. At the same time, going against the grain, challenging yourself, accommodating those who don't share your perspective... Well brothers, that kind of resistance builds character... And it's no less important.

Resistance.

A buddy of mine is into mathematics. He’s a math teacher and he sees the world around him in terms of numbers. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, I say. Couple of times, he’s seen me lift... Shit, the gym is a classroom of a different sort. Anyway, he doesn’t know shit about form or how to do a hack squat. He talks in formulas, like F=ma. Now in this world, I don’t see things in terms of mass or acceleration—but fellas, I know something about force. I know how a cold, knurled bar feels in my fucking hands. When I'm in the middle of a set, I'm not thinking about gravity, but I can feel what it's doing, the resistance pushing down on me. Shit, that’s the kind of resistance I’m interested in. That's what being in here is all about. See, the gym is a primal place. It’s where you let your instincts take over. It’s also the place where some lifters are searching for an identity, their place in the pecking order. Who’s the alpha? Who the fuck cares? This dude Big Red thinks he is... Well the other day, he’s benching with his partner… Can’t remember his name, Chops, or some shit like that cuz of his sideburns. Now the two of ‘em are putting up some strong numbers. The whole time, he’s looking over at me as if to say, “Hey, betcha can't do this.” Like I fucking care. In the middle of my set, I suddenly hear this loud screech, kinda like when someone steps on a cat’s tail. I’ve heard that sound before, so I dumped the weight and turned around to see Big Red under 5 plates, face pale as ash. The bar is sitting square on his chest and his partner's frantically trying to get it off. In a couple steps, I’m over there and help Big Red re-rack the weight. That was the other day... Today, when I entered the gym, Big Red didn't say a word to me. In his silence, he said everything he had to. Brothers, in life you will meet resistance. Know when to fight against it and know when to let it slip around you, like the lone rock in the middle of a stream.

Friction.

Shit, a lot of things in life rub me the wrong way. Did I just say "life"? Who am I kidding? Sometimes, the shit that goes on in the gym drives me to the fucking edge—like that whole business with Big Red. Needless friction. Add dieting to the mix, and I’m a keg of dynamite waiting to explode... And it's only gonna get worse as I start experimenting with water manipulation. Shit, these days, I'm feeling worn down. I just want to be left alone... I want to tell everyone to fuck off, go away. Sometimes, it takes every last fucking ounce of discipline to keep everything together... But you know what? It's easy to take the low road. It's easy to say, “Fuck it”, and mix it up with whomever gets in your way. But it takes a different breed to take the high road, to have the discipline—in the gym and outside of it—to rise above the shit so many are mired in. Shit, just yesterday Big Red walked up to me, asked me for a spot—was polite about it and all. I was more than happy to lend a helping hand. That single moment reminded me that when two things rub together, the results aren't always bad. After all, to create a spark, to create a fucking fire, you need a little friction.

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Makin' Change.

Putting it all together, one nickel and dime at a time.

So yesterday I’m in the supermarket picking up a couple things & as I check out, the cashier hands me my change. I dump ‘em into my pocket. We do a lot of things without thinking twice and everywhere, the change starts accumulating—in cars, coat pockets, wherever. Why worry about a couple coins—they’re not worth much, right? Wrong. Listen up brothers... All that change’ll add up to hundreds. It may not happen overnight, but it will eventually. You just gotta have the patience to see the big picture. In the gym, it’s like time unfolds in front of me. After all, time is all I do have... Time to do things right, time to take my time. In here, I won’t shortchange myself by cuttin’ corners--can’t afford to with three weeks to go. In here, the change I’m making comes in denominations of 45s... And with every weighted pullup, every last set, my change jar is slowly fillin’ up.

Charge.

Charge... As in, “Charge it.” As in, “Cash or charge?” How many times have I heard that? Doesn’t matter who I'm with or where I am—in the electronics store, the department store, even the fucking supermarket. Even my girl loves ringing up purchases using plastic for all kinds of shit—including a gallon of milk. Yeah, a fucking gallon of milk... Plastic. Whatever happened to good 'ol paper? Cold hard cash? Maybe I'm old fashioned, but lemme tell you, cash is all business. With cash, you know where you stand—no worries about whether you hit your credit limit. No questions asked. See, in here you don't get a fucking line of credit extended to you from the Bank of Bodybuilding. You don't get to miss a payment... You don't get 30 days to pay off your debt... You don't get to live on borrowed time. Everything happens in the here and the now. And if you miss a meal or a workout, the interest will add up to more than you can fucking afford. So train today. Eat today. Don't bank on tomorrow...

Piling Up.

Like change in a jar, plates on a bar, excuses have a way of piling up. Excuses... Shit, you need 'em like you need a third nut in your fucking sack. But they're always there... “Skip that workout,” you hear in your ear. The sun is shining. The wind is warm against your back. The sky is bluer than you've ever fucking seen. Yeah, excuses can come like that, quiet as a whisper. But I think of excuses like toilet paper. See, at the very moment you need it, seems like nothing else in the world is more important. But once you've used it, you want nothing to do with it. So flush that shit down the fucking toilet brothers... Don't use an excuse to waste your dedication.

Keepin?' Up...

Shit brothers, we've all got different priorities. In this society that we live in, success is usually measured by things. You become defined by what you buy. You are what you eat, but it's not food we're talking about... It's about the consumption of goods. Life starts revolving around keepin' up with the Joneses... Who’s got the bigger house? The nicer car? Fancier clothes? As a bodybuilder, I don't have any of that... Maybe that's why others look down on me. Big fucking deal... But it cuts both ways, brothers—as bodybuilders, maybe we look down on them too, believing that they care more about superficial things, external things rather than themselves. Know what though? None of this matters. If someone wants to buy fancy sportscar, so what? Not any of my business. But the gym—now that's my business, and truth is, I often see the same kind of shit that I see outside of it. I'm talking about that kid who’s worried about whether or not he's got the right outfit... Or that kid who keeps comparing himself to the guy next to him. We're not talking about cars or watches, but about stats and lifts... These are the things bodybuilders are comparing. Instead of keepin' up with the Joneses, some lifters are spending too much time keeping up with the Freaks. The shit never ends... Me, I don't have time to compare notes. I don't care if this house I've built is as nice as the one next to it. All that matters is, what needs work and how I'm gonna fix it. And for the past fifteen weeks, the only person I've been trying to keep up with is the one who keeps looking back at me in the mirror, the one who won't give me a fucking inch... Not one.

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Thirst.

How can you tell the dreamer from the dream?

I’ve been having this recurring vision... In it, there’s this fishtank—it calms me. I see a small speck floating on the water, and as I look closer, it’s me... I’m atop the waves. There’s water as far as the eye can see, yet I can’t drink. Not a drop. I taste salt in my mouth. I taste the bile. My thirst is great and it hangs around my neck like a chain. Eventually the weight drags me under. I’m drowning... I struggle, flail, kick... Then suddenly, I sense the familiar cold, hard hand of iron. I grab hold and pull myself up. Brothers, this world is a vast sea but one thing remains fixed, constant... This iron. This calling. This thirst.

Am I Fat?

“Am I fat?” This, brothers, is the million dollar question. We've all been here, face to face with this moment, this dillemna. I am at the crossroads...

I turn to look at my girl and wonder what I'm gonna say... Do I tell her the truth? Do I lie? Do I avoid question? My mind is fucking blank. Shit, seems like not a week goes by without her asking me this same exact question. Thing is, I can see where she's coming from—as I'm shedding the fat, her insecurities are probably piling up. This is life with a bodybuilder. Anyway, I go for option three. What do I have to lose? “Check the mirror,” I tell her. “Mirrors don't lie.” She storms out of the room. Ok... I'm fucked. Let's face it, people have funny relationships with mirrors. In dressing rooms, in bathrooms, in bedrooms, people are parked in front of the mirror like they're at the fucking drive-in. They're staring, checking every last inch of themselves out. Yet these same people judge bodybuilders as being vain. Shit, talk about irony. While bodybuilders may have complicated relationships with mirrors, there's a reason we're looking. The mirror is a tool. The mirror is my worst critic. It doesn't bullshit me or kiss my ass or stroke my ego. It tells it like it is. It is fucking relentless. Only a couple weeks to go... I'm so close, I can taste it. I look in the mirror. I'm about to ask it a question...

Leg Up.

How do you stay ahead of the competition? How do you stay ahead of the curve, keep the waves from crashing down on your fucking head? It ain’t easy, brothers, it ain’t easy... A couple weeks out, and I am depleted and sore. My head is fuzzy, my body is weak, and my limbs are worn. Dieting and cardio is taking it’s toll. Times like this, I dig deep—gotta tap into my reserves, that last bit of fuel at the bottom of the tank. Times like this, and we all face ‘em, you gotta put your foot down. Don’t take any shit from anybody. No distractions. No complaints. No excuses. Yeah, I’m gonna floor this fucker until I’m flying down the road, drowning out all the senseless noise and shit, accelerating towards my destiny. Crank up the music, roll down the windows. It's time to put the pedal to the metal. Yeah, to get a leg up, you need to put your foot down...

Day After Day...

Hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second... Time passes but I’m fucking stuck. It's like I'm running and running on a treadmill, going nowhere. It's like I'm floating in the ocean, paddling with my arms and making no progress... I’m holding my breath, waiting for something to happen. That's when I wake... Yeah, it's all a dream. In my recurring dreams, there's a lot of water—water everywhere. Maybe it's because I'm keeping my sodium high. Maybe it's because I'm drinking a shitload of water, having increased it in preparation for that inevitable drought... Damn, that raw, burning thirst is not something I'm looking forward to. Who the fuck knows? Anyway, when I'm awake, I don't have time to dwell on water. I just gotta keep chugging it down. I just gotta keep cranking out the reps, one after the other. Each one is a step that brings me that much closer... And I'm so fucking close right now.

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Connecting The Dots...

Order emerges out of chaos...

Dust collects in the corners of my room. My girl, she gets so sick of it, she’ll sweep it up. I don’t care one way or the other—right now, dust is the least of my concerns. Like dust, loose change piles up in a jar I keep on the floor by my front door. When there’s enough, I’ll use it to buy what I need, like more food. Yeah, it’s like that... From randomness comes order. From order comes a clearer picture. As a kid, I remember the game, connect the dots. You start with nothing, just a bunch of dots on a page, and as you start connecting ‘em, something emerges. When you’ve finished, you’re rewarded with an answer, a complete picture. For the past four months, I’ve been toiling in the shadows, in anonymity... And I’ve been patiently connecting each dot, waiting to see what will emerge.

Meat.

The world is against us brothers. In big ways and in little ways... The looks, the comments, the disgust... The difficulty in finding clothes that fit.... The choices we have to make when we eat. The world conspires against us brothers. In ways that are obvious and ways that are subtle... It wants to lull us into a fucking stupor, make us like them, like cattle... Take meat. Yeah, beef. Lean red is at the center of our diets. For me, my poison is eye round—a cheap, plentiful and lean cut. Whole or ground, 16-20 oz. per meal. That's typical for me. Now "cheap" is the key word here. When I'm at the butcher's, I'm always eyeing the sweet cuts, the "prime" cuts—the NY strip, the porterhouse, the T-bone. Fuck, what I wouldn't give for one of those right now with a side of baked potatoes, sour cream and butter. Here's the fucking irony though... What jacks up the price of steak is not how lean or healthy it is, but how much fat, how much marble that steak has. What's valued in my butcher's shop, what costs a shitload more, is the excess, the fat. Society is like that butcher. We live in this jumbo-size world of excess. We live in a society where all of our desires can be had with a piece of plastic—a credit card that lets us live today and put off our responsibilities for another day, so that we can live off the fat of the land. This, brothers, is excess. In this game, in this life, I have one bit of advice... Trim the fat brothers. Cut out the excess from your steak and from your life. Run clean, run lean. Tell the world you don't need the fat and send that shit back.

Skin.

The excess… The unneeded… The fucking ignored… Like the skin on a chicken, it's what you discard, what's left at the end of the day in my butcher’s shop. Like that skin, your skin, my skin… Shit, it just gets in the fucking way. It’s a flimsy yet stubborn wall that separates us from one another. Every day people look at me, at my skin, and judge. Who am I? A bodybuilder. What’s beneath my skin? Slabs of beef that took me years to build, sculpt and refine. Is that who I am? All that I am? Dig deeper. Maybe you’ll find a heart pumping like a fucking piston. Instead of innards, maybe you’ll see gears and springs and coils. Is that me? You tell me because if you don’t know, I’ll be damned if I tell you. Peel away the skin and you get to the real meat, the man himself—what that that man is made of. Every drop of blood ... Every fiber of his being. Every last fucking sacrifice he ever made. So the next time you see me, look further. There’s more than meets the eye… I am more than this face, this body. I am more than the years I’ve put behind me, more than the sum total of seventeen agonizing, fucking weeks. I am more than today and still reaching for tomorrow. So fuck yeah, my skin may not reveal who I am, but as it gets peeled and onion-thin, maybe it'll give you a better glimpse of what I'm made of and what it took for me to get here...

Bones.

Meat. Shit, meat is about the here and now. The eye round that I consume. The muscle that hangs heavy from these bones. If meat is the present, then bones are the future—the impenetrable and fucking inevitable future. So the question I’m left with is this, brothers… What’ll happen once these eighteen weeks are over, when next week comes and goes? When I'm old and need to lean on a stick? Will I leave a mark? When my time on this earth has passed, how will I be remembered? Maybe it’ll be a passing mention in the papers. No... Maybe a line next to my name of the competitions I won or lost. Fuck no... Damn it brothers, let me tell you my life will be more than a clot of words. My accomplishments will be more than a trophy. I will not lie down and make peace with myself. My legacy will be more than the meat, more than the skin, more than the fucking bones themselves. One day, all that shit will be gone. Now next week, I'll head out for the show. But over the past seventeen, I have spit out teeth and blood, cracked bone, and spilled guts. I have been feverish. I have been scarred. Yeah, this life will try to smash me, but I will smash back... I will hit back so fucking hard that when the day is done, I will have burned a hole in the memory of my foes and my friends. I will rattle my bones and make a noise so loud that a generation who follows in my footsteps will feel my wrath and remember my name... They will hear my echoes long after the dust has collected on my bones… These bones that will become the dust itself.

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What Goes Around...

This is for...

The bullies who chased me... You strengthened my resolve. The haters who said I’d fail... I am still here. Those who fell to the earth thinking they were the only star above... The night sky is ablaze with lights. My old man... Yeah, this is for the one who not only gave me his name, but more... I’ve felt your hand on my shoulder each day and it has guided me. This is for all those who believed. For eighteen weeks, I have toiled outside of society, on a fixed and lonely path. Now, I have come full circle, back to where I started. Here... This place. Yeah, life is like that. As I sit on the edge, on the threshold, what I’ve learned is that this journey is not a straight line. And the plates on each side of me, they support me. They hold me in place, like bookends around the story that is my life... And the next chapter is about to unfold...

Straight Line.

Just landed yesterday... Yeah, the trip was a bitch. I’m still on edge and it’s fucking razor sharp. Gotta settle my fucking nerves down. At the airport, I felt like I was dragging the last five months of my life with me. Glad my girl was able to make it. Glad she traveled light. Must have looked like a freak with my all my bags and my big ass cooler... You always travel with your meals. Always. That's why when you're getting ready for a show, you don't want to travel if you don't have to. Food goes where you go. It's your lifeline. To add insult to injury I gotta fit into a seat that has no business holding me. And for what, a bag of peanuts? Shit, you gotta have a sense of humor about it all. Still, should have paid the extra bucks to go nonstop instead of that fucking two hour layover. A straight shot... Yeah, we all know that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, the quickest way to get from here to there. A straight line cuts right to the bone, right to the chase... Right through all the bullshit and small talk and all the fucking distractions. Back in Week 5, I talked about this—how you gotta travel on the path, straight and true. But you know what, brothers? Eighteen weeks taught me a little something about this sport and who I am… Yeah, while a straight line may be the most direct way, it's not always the best way. When I started this Journey, when I stepped up to meet my destiny, I knew where I stood and thought I knew how far I'd have to go. I saw my destination and tried to figure out the quickest way to get there. Thing is, life doesn't like a straight line. Leave that to the mathematicians and engineers—like my buddy back home. Me, I’m a bodybuilder. Standing in my hotel room, in the present, I can look back and see how I got here. I can now see where I’ve wandered, circled back, and even walked off the path completely. But this is good, brothers. Sometimes you need to take a couple steps back so that you can keep moving forward. Yeah, it’s hard to accept, but the important lesson here is that progress isn’t a single, smooth, unbroken line. Shit, it comes in fits and starts. It’s unpredictable. It’s fucking messy. We don’t grow this way and we certainly don’t live this way. This game is not about who can make it to the end the quickest—who the fucks wants that? Shit, life isn’t a race. Slow down and enjoy it, learn from it. Remember, your legacy, the mark you leave, will be determined by what you accomplish between yesterday and tomorrow. That takes time and the the road will be roundabout... For me, though my show comes tomorrow, the end of this Journey is not my finish line... When it's over, I won't stop to catch my breath. I won't lie down. Fuck no. I'm not done. Not by a long shot. After the night has fallen and the lights have dimmed, after everyone has left, there will come a new day... And once again, I will rise up and meet it.

Letting Go...

Another day behind me, a new day before me. I'm standing on the threshold, on the edge of the abyss. Damn, I can't believe I'm here—backstage, right before prejudging. Yeah, I'm nervous, but I say fuck that. When you get to this point, things are pretty much out of your control. Everything that I could have done, should have done, has been. Brothers, I've been holding on for the last eighteen weeks like one tenacious motherfucker, and now it's time to let go. It's time to savor this moment. It's hard with all the competitors in this room... There's a lot of nervous energy here. Shit, it's like being out in the wild. Everyone is sizing the other up and staring each other down. Everybody wants to know where they are in the food chain. Before you ever step up, the competition heats up. Yeah, this place is like a fucking pressure cooker. But I can't lose my head. Not here. Not now. See, the real competition is not out there. It's not this shredded 275-pound dude standing next to me, pumping up. Nah, the real competition is me. The real war is going on between my ears, in my mind. Keep your head together. Move like water and go with the flow. Let go and relax. Let go... Thing is, anything worth having means first learning how to let go. Learning how to let go of your mama's hand. Learning how to walk out from your old man's shadow. Learning how to let go of that map—the one you've relied on, the one that you think is telling you how to get through life. Shit, when we follow a map, we're like fucking tourists. We watch the scenery pass and we snap a couple of pictures. We hold on to those pictures like we own 'em, like they were the real experience itself... Over the past eighteen weeks, so many people wanted to be a part of my Journey. They wanted a piece of me, like I was picture they could hold in their hands. People have come up to me with advice, unsolicited and unasked for... Like this one kid who told me how I could get more out of my cardio as my bodyfat levels were dropping deeper and deeper into the single digits. Or the old lady who told me to eat tofu so that I could build muscles faster. Then there was that lifter, a buck fifty wet, who explained how I could build bigger guns by changing the order of my routine. When you're on the road to success, the forgotten and the nameless rise up and try to hold on to you. Shit, all these people wanted was a piece of my success. Don't get weighed down. Travel light, brothers, and never be a fucking tourist. Never live through your old pictures or through the lives of others. Step up. Let go. Only when you do can you get lost. And unless you get lost, you'll never be able to find your own way, your own destiny. I'm about to go on soon, and what I know now more than I ever did, was that this was never anyone else's journey. It was mine and mine alone...

Get Lost...

This morning, I got up… Put my pants on, one fucking leg at a time, like I always do, like everyone else does. Yeah, I got up long before the alarm went off, before the sun was up. One minute, nothing, the next, something. It’s like the keys go in the ignition and the engine eventually fires. Combustion is achieved. Damn, for the last eighteen weeks, this life—shit, my life—has been full of fits and starts, darkness and light. Moments of perfect clarity and moments of confusion. No time at all for idling though, no time at all. It’s been a long road, but I’m finally here, stepping out… Out of the shadows and onto the show stage with its blinding lights. Stepping up to show the world what I have made with nothing but spit, hard work and these two hands. These hands have gotten me here. Day after day, night after night, as I plowed forward, the thread of my destiny unraveled behind me. It’s like the mythical story I remember hearing as a kid, about that dude who walked into the maze to kill the half man, half beast monster. Many went in, none ever came out. But this dude did. After doing the deed, he got back out by following the string he laid down when he first entered the maze. When he first stepped out of that maze, I wonder how he felt? What does it feel like to be transformed? He went in a man, he stepped out a hero. Me, I’m about to step out too. But shit, I can’t tell if this place is an entrance or an exit… And I can’t see very far because of these bright lights. This is where the fear grips you—walking out into the unknown. Shit, we all fear getting lost, don’t we? Yeah, this is the story of life. Many would choose to live out their lives in a little room—warm, safe and dry. The world outside is a scary place. It’s a big ass maze full of monsters and demons. The path that leads out from that room disappears into the horizon. But you know what? Let me tell you something and I want to be fucking clear about this… I would never have known what I was made of, what I could build with my two hands, if I didn’t take that first step down the path. Courage got me here, courage to put that fucking key in the ignition. See, life starts with a simple spark, then a single connection. But when we’re born, that connection, that line must be cut. Otherwise that lifeline becomes a tether, a restraint. We each gotta grow up to be our own men and walk our own paths. Yeah, walking out into the unknown, into the dark, can be frightening. But shit, what reassures me is this… I know I have the courage the walk. I also know that if I could see through the darkness ahead, I’d see my old man. This reassures me too. Yeah, he’d be there for sure, front and center, like he’s always been in my life. He’d be right next to my ma. My sis, yeah, she’d be there too along with my girl. Shit, none of ‘em would miss this for the world. Even Big Red. He’d be sitting somewhere, maybe next to Chops his lifting partner. I know I’d see more familiar faces, even those from my youth—the bullies, the naysayers, the critics. But I’d also see the faces of the future—the aspiring young bodybuilders. So this, so all this, is for me… But it’s also for them. It's for you too. If I kept looking, I know I’d eventually see your face—the face of someone who has awakened from the haze of a dream, as if from the maze of your former life. Brothers, wherever you go, whatever you do in this life, never be afraid. Choose to be courageous. Hurtle forward, as a man, into the mazes that will stand before you. Do not be afraid to lose your way, for if you do, you will never grow... You will never know the hero you were destined to become