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by Vinny Galanti
Although it was over 30 years ago, I can remember, as if it were yesterday, my mom complaining about how bad my supplements made her kitchen smell and threatening to throw them in the garbage. I also remember having a can of Animal Pak out on the counter to show off what I was taking to any guest who would come into the house. After all, I was 16 years old and I was sure I was going to be a pro bodybuilder.
Starting out in an era that was monopolized by Weider, I’d read all the magazines about what Weider product did what and what Weider principle all the top bodybuilders in the magazines were using to build a powerful and strong physique. I would go to the local health food store, which was a 25 minute bus ride plus a 15 minute walk away, just so I could go in and read all the books on health and nutrition.
I made friends with the owner, who didn’t seem to mind a 16-year old skinny kid interested in learning about health hanging around. I was fascinated with branch chain amino acids. I wanted to learn everything I could about them—to understand why I needed them and how I could use them to get big. At the time, I didn’t always understand what I was reading and sometimes got a little confused.
I bought a liquid protein supplement and would pour 100 grams of it into my gallon of water. I had read something about nitrogen balance; and so I thought, if I sipped on it all day long, how could I not be in nitrogen balance? Like any kid, I was impatient and wanted results yesterday. I figured, the more I hit the weights and the more supplements I took, the faster I would get to my goal of being a bodybuilder like the ones in the magazines.
About a year into working out in my father’s garage, I learned that my next door neighbor had a nephew who owned a gym. I was 16 years old, and the rules of the gym were that you needed to be 18 or older to be a member. I begged my dad to take me there so I could see what a real gym looked like. I wanted so badly to go lift weights where the big guys trained. When I learned that I had to wait until I was 18 to join, I harassed my neighbor every day to ask if his nephew would let me train. I explained how I was going to be a bodybuilder, and that the weights in my garage were not enough. After weeks of begging, he finally told me to get lost.
I couldn’t take “no” for an answer, so instead, I hopped on the #10 bus and headed out to Bayonne, NJ to go sign up at Billy’s Gym. I walked in and said, “I’d like to join for the month. I brought with me $30.00 that I saved from my paper route.” The guy at the counter started to ask how old I was, and before he could even complete the question, I blurted out, “I’m 18.” I’m not sure if he believed me or not, but he let me sign up.
I quickly fell in love with everything about the gym—the smell of the rubber, the smell of the iron, and the lifelong friends that I made too. I started to see guys train in a whole new manner. They never talked to anyone, they kept to themselves, and there was this intense energy around them—it was like the calm before the storm.
I started training at Billy’s in the fall of 1983. In the winter of 1984, I remember seeing a poster at the gym for the 1984 Mr. Hudson County, taking place that March. I ran home to ask my dad, who was my number one supporter from the very start, if we could go watch the contest. His reply floored me. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you do the teen class and get your feet wet to see if you like it.” My eyes grew wide—I couldn’t believe he was all for it. The next day he came with me to Billy’s to get all the information on the contest and find out what I needed to do to get started.
When I tell you I had no idea how to prepare for this thing, I’m not fooling around. As a diet, I mostly ate cottage cheese and fish filet sandwiches from McDonald’s. I was clueless about the whole thing. And even though I only placed 3rd out of 3 teens in my first contest, the bug had bit me.
Three decades (and four National titles, a Pro card, and 16 years with the Universal family) later, I STILL love the iron just like I did on the first day I walked into Billy’s Gym in 1983. I have always known what I wanted to do with my life, and I made sure I never let any distractions get in the way. Surround yourself with positive people who will help cultivate your dreams into reality—I’m eternally grateful to my dad for his support. Always believe in your dreams, but focus on short term goals to reach bigger ones. If I could accomplish what I have, I’m sure one of you reading this can do the same. So put the blinders on and get rolling.