My First Show
I remember it was like yesterday. I took the #10 bus from Jersey City to Bayonne. It was during the cold winter months in Jersey. Every day after school I'd rush home to get in a meal before I would make the journey to Billy's Gym. I had no idea what I was doing, but I read as much as I could from what was available at the local library on diet and nutrition. Even though I read as much as I could and asked all the veterans in my gym for information, I still made some choices that I realize now weren't great.
In fact, looking back, I just have to laugh. I used to rationalize that the deep fried fish filet sandwiches from my local fast food spot were healthy, just cause they were made out of fish! I also lived on lots of cottage cheese that was flavored with pineapples. Since I was 16 years old and only had a paper route, I didn't make enough money to eat chicken and red meat every day. I did receive some support from my parents, but at the time they thought that it was just a phase that I was going through.
My first contest was the Mr. Hudson County. It was a non-sanctioned event run by Billy Schultz of Billy's Gym. To this day, I have lifelong friends from that contest. The experience stands out in my mind just as much as when I won my weight class in the USA bodybuilding championships, and the most recent light-heavy and overall Master's Nationals, where I won my pro card. The journey to my first contest started the building blocks to a lifelong career, as I can proudly call myself a bodybuilder today.
Back in the old days, there were no tanning products like there are today. We had to make our own. I’d mix a tanning product called Quick Tan with food coloring called "toast" to come up with the color that we would apply to ourselves to be stage ready. I had no idea about carb depletion, carbing up, or any other tricks of the trade. Some would think that coming in 3rd out of three competitors would discourage me from competing again, but it only added fuel to the fire.
So I set my sights on that summer's NPC Teen Jersey Cup. I worked hard for that contest and there, I managed to win the lightweight class. I went on to the Mr. Hudson County where I placed 3rd out of 3 in the teen division. Though I didn’t do as well as I’d like, I gained a world of knowledge from more experienced competitors. That’s what was so great about bodybuilding back then. Everyone was willing to lend a hand and help out. It was a real community.
As you can imagine, back then bodybuilding was not that popular. You hardly ever saw girls in the gym and most gyms were closed on Sundays. Even my close friends thought that I was crazy to dedicate myself to something such as working out and building my physique. Very few respected my choice and many made fun of me. But the negativity only served as more fuel for the fire.
I had one friend, Dino Nerney, who never questioned why I was doing what I was did. Instead he’d come ride with me on the bus and we shared workouts together. I'll never forget that, even though I had a third place trophy. And although I was eating McDonald's fish filet sandwiches and pineapple flavored cottage cheese, I propped up my two foot trophy on top of the counter at our local Dairy Queen. Not only because I wanted to show off my trophy, but also because I thought that I deserved a banana split from the hard dieting that I just went through!
At Billy's Gym I had the best of both worlds. There were not only champion bodybuilders, but powerlifters as well. To this day I still use some of the same methods and training styles that I used when I was training for my first contest. My first contest was a great experience, one that I'll never forget and will cherish for the rest of my life. And isn’t that what bodybuilding is all about? Great experiences and memories? What are some of yours?