It’s been a long road for me with a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs. That’s life, I guess. Many fans of our brand know that I have a dual role with Animal as both a sponsored athlete and as an employee in the marketing department. The journey, however, did not start there. I was already on my way before I even thought to send over my resume. This is my journey from Animal fan to employee and athlete.
Fan of the Brand
I had been of fan of Universal and Animal since I started lifting in 2006. There was a rumor that Animal M-Stak was extremely close to steroids (not true) and you should only take it if you’re ultra-serious in the gym. I used to stare at the bottle in magazines and local supplement shops. My friend Frank Mannarino, an up-and-coming teen bodybuilder sponsored by Universal, used to provide me with Animal Pak and bring me to local Animal Barbell Club events.
Joining the Animal Team
As the years passed and my physique improved, I was working at Apollon Gym in Edison, NJ when I found out there was an opportunity to work on the Customer Experience Team at Animal’s New Brunswick, NJ headquarters. I sent in my resume, went in for an interview, and the rest is history. As I progressed through the employment ranks, I found that I excelled in copywriting. One of my favorite things to do at work is to write for the Animal social media team and connect with our fans. It comes naturally for me because I am Animal. There is no charade or imitation in my lifestyle. I live by my words, which align with Animal’s credo. No fiction. We are authentic.
Dream to be More
To be honest, working in the office wasn’t my stretch goal. I love being able to be in the industry I love, surrounded by likeminded co-workers, but on top of that I had a dream to be recognized as a sponsored athlete. I’m a bodybuilder through and through. It’s what wakes me up in the morning and what puts me to sleep. This is my identity. I’ve attended every expo, event, photoshoot, and video shoot. For years, I’ve observed athletes from all walks of life and studied their professionalism, how they handled fans, how they spoke with management, what kind of shape they were in, and more. Being a sponsored athlete would mean that I measure up to the very high standards of this company and receive a thumbs up from the team with respect to my physical appearance.
Becoming an Animal Athlete
It didn’t come right away—years went by. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in management’s office pleading my case. The higher ups knew what I wanted but a contract didn’t fall on my desk. It was frustrating at times. I often questioned myself. “What’s wrong with me? I’m hardcore. No excuses. I’m big, and I live exactly like the other Animals do.”
Truth be told, it just wasn’t my time yet. I hadn’t built a big following and I hadn’t won any big shows. My physique wasn’t as advanced as I thought it was. But, hey, hindsight is always 20/20. In 2018, I was finally offered the dual role of employee and sponsored athlete. This is a hybrid position that allows me to assist the marketing from both vantage points. It was a dream come true and a feather in my cap for all those early mornings and late nights training alone and forcing meals down.
Training Through Covid-19
Fast forward almost three years. Covid-19 slammed the entire globe and I’d been in off-season for two years. I was bulked up and this was supposed to be my year to break out. Shows were getting cancelled left and right and gyms shut down. I live in New Jersey so our gyms were REALLY shut down. Although we got them back in early September, I live by a “no excuses” code. I didn’t care what state the show was in—I’d be competing. I didn’t care if the gyms were closed—I was training.
For the early weeks, I trained in a friend’s basement that had some equipment that got me by, and then as time went on, gym owners slowly started inviting me into their facilities to train with the lights off. It wasn’t easy navigating our way through these stormy seas. Many people dropped out of shows because conditions weren’t ideal, but I don’t co-sign that.
After my qualifier in NJ got cancelled, I scrambled around and found one that was happening in Virginia and headed down there. Ten minutes before I got on stage, we were told we’d have to mask up. I didn’t practice posing or breathing with a mask, but I had no choice. The state of Virginia was there and they made the call. Whatever. I threw it on and put away the Super Heavyweight class. To top it off, I also won the prestigious Most Muscular Award. Seeing my son cheer me on in the crowd and running around afterward with 2 trophies was a great way to end such a tumultuous and uncertain contest season. I think I can say on behalf of everyone in the world that we cannot wait for 2021 and a bit of normalcy to return.
Peaking for a show is tricky. Obviously, the first plan of action is to become fat-free, but after that, an athlete must know when to feed into the show in order to present the best possible look. No one can explain this to you better than John Jewett does in his latest article.