Looking back it was 19 weeks ago when the thought of competing entered my mind. One full week has past since the show, and I feel that it is time to reflect the actual journey of ups and downs during the contest preparation and the 5 years leading up to this recent experience.

5 Years Ago

It would be appropriate to go back to the last time I have competed, and what has taken place during that time in my life. This will give you a better understanding of my most recent contest preparation.

The last contest I entered was the year 2000. That year was the beginning of many commitments. First, I was engaged to be married to Maryann, and secondly, searching for a home to start our lives together. Professionally, I decided to make my personal training business the sole source of income. Therefore, as you can see, it was a scary year for me. With all this on my plate, I still wanted to compete. I knew that a layoff from competing was inevitable due to the responsibilities of starting a family and growing a business.

Leading up to the contest in 2000, I had some success. I won a Novice Overall Tittle, and two Open Classes, but never the Open Overall for a show. Well, that year I did win the Open Overall title and it was a great feeling. I figured I reached my goal and now I was ready to move on.

The Present.

For the past 5 years, I have lived a good and full life. I am now married to Maryann, we have a beautiful daughter Angelina, and we are expecting our second child soon. My personal training business is strong, and we opened a women’s fitness center (Working Out Women). As far as bodybuilding goes, over the past 5 years I have trained number clients for their competitions with success. In addition, my workouts have been strong and always trying new routines. However, I felt something was missing. I was slowly getting the bug to compete again although the big question was, can I handle all the responsibility that time has given me? All these thoughts were in my head when I came across the listing of the OCB contest in Wildwood New Jersey. Ironically, the location of this contest was in the new convention center that replaced the old one, which was where I competed the last time.

At 18 weeks out from the contest date, I made the decision to take pictures every few weeks to monitor my progress along with a clean diet to see if I can lose the necessary body fat slowly. Weighing 162 pounds and having 11 percent body fat, I thought how hard can it be to get in contest shape. I figured not even one pound per week loss would be sufficient for the stage.
After the first four weeks, the diet was going well but the body weight and body fat only moved slightly. I was very disappointed because it should have been more. I had to remind myself, that I am five years older and the body does become more stubborn with age. (Something I tell my clients often). After making a few changes to the diet and staying consistent, I decided to wait to take more pictures since I still was not sure of competing.

10 to 6 weeks

Now at 10 weeks out, I took more pictures, and there was a nice change. I was looking leaner while maintaining muscle mass. The abs were showing at a body weight of 158 and the body fat was down to 8 percent. My confidence was growing and now I made the full commitment to compete again. By ensuring this, I started to tell family, friends and clients about the upcoming contest. Some of them did not understand the process but they all seemed excited for me. The one major obstacle that I had coming up was going on vacation with my family around the 8-week mark. The goals during this week were not to regress, continue training and not to spoil the vacation with my timely eating. It was a great week of training because I had the chance to workout with my brother. Coming out of the vacation there wasn’t a change so I was pleased.

When the six week time period approached, I again evaluated my progress. I wasn’t sure how I should look at this stage of the preparation, since I could not compare myself to the last time I competed five years ago. Searching for help, I posted my pictures on the OCB message board. To my surprise, most of the members who responded thought I looked great and was right on track. A couple of the members requested see more pictures when I reached the 4-week mark. Of course, this boosted my confidence, but as a bodybuilder, we are always our toughest critics.

I started to practice posing this time whenever I could. Mostly it was at night due to my client training sessions. In addition, I picked out my music for the posing routine. Just a week earlier my brother had given me the greatest hits CD by Linkin Park. The first time I listened to it, two tracks stood out. Therefore, it was easy to decide on the music piece. During the upcoming weeks when I was practicing posing and the routine, my daughter Angelina would join me. For a 2-½ year old, she sure motivated me with the words “can I pose too Daddy?”

4 weeks to the Friday before the Contest.

Crunch time has arrived and the contest was 4 weeks away. Currently, I had averaged a weight lose close to 1 pound per week, now weighing around 150 pounds and the body fat between 5 to 6 percent. The numbers were looking good, but again the big question, will I be ready? I thought to myself, ”The last contest I weighed 150 pounds and this is my current weight at 4 weeks. It was discouraging because I was hoping to come in heavier from the 5-year layoff. Again, I posted the 4-week pictures on the OCB board to receive additional opinions. Soon after the posting, I received positive remarks and by some of the more seasoned bodybuilders on the board. Surprisingly a number of guys were asking me questions about my contest preparation, whereas I was looking for an assessment. This helped my motivation and kept me pushing.

During the last two weeks, I started to feel ready and anxious to be on stage. Occasionally after practicing posing, I’d ask my wife Maryann “how do I look, am I going to be ready?” She would reply simplistically, “yes, you will win”. That was nice to hear, but I thought to myself, she is just saying that and what does she know. My energy levels were starting to drop in the evenings. By 6pm or so, I was feeling very tired and my clients were noticing the reduced enthusiasm I usual present. I must thank them for their patience.

I am not going to go into details about the actual contest preparation and what I did the last two weeks. I wanted this to be more about the emotions and the actual journey of competition. However, in brief, I did not do anything too drastic. The key was to get my body fat as low as possible with out sacrificing muscle. At the two-week mark, I was around four percent body fat. Therefore, let us skip forward to the Friday before the show. We traveled this day to Ocean City New Jersey where we would stay for the weekend during the contest. I must say that I was zoned out the entire trip since my carb levels have been very low for a day and a half. I was actually looking forward to eating those potatoes later that night.

After we arrived at my parent’s house, it was time to eat and apply another coat of Pro-Tan. This was the moment that struck me, the contest is here. The plan was to relax and to continue my scheduled meals.

Contest Day

Wanting to get up early that morning, I actually over slept by 40 minutes. This seemed to help, because my wife and I just got ourselves together quickly and left for Wildwood. Fortunately, I was already packed with the contest necessities (towels, food, stretch bands, and Pam). We made it to the convention center in good time, so I was able to walk right into the polygraph test. Then the waiting game began. It was almost 2 hours before stepping on stage and I was very anxious and excited to get it going. During the long wait, I must give credit to Maryann for keeping me company and mentally preoccupied. Before I knew it, it was time to pump up and the contest was starting. My class (Open Short) had seven competitors. This indicated that we were going to be on stage for a while and mentally I was ready. I was in the middle of the line up numerically and initially I was not moved. After a few comparisons, I was placed near both ends of the line up. My adrenaline and confidence were both increasing. I was finally able to present all my hard work from the previous weeks of dieting and consistent workouts. When we step off stage, a few competitors told me how good I looked, but all I wanted to do is see my wife and let her know that all the preparation was well worth it. I was now relaxed and looking forward to the evening show.

Going into the evening show my brother, parents and a couple of my clients came to support me and watch the show. My brother Phil has been there for me at the very start of my bodybuilding. Surprising to him, he thought I was too relaxed. In fact, right before I went on stage to do my posing routines, he showed concerned. He said, “Joe, make sure you put something into your routine, your seem too calm: I replied, “the hard art is over, now its time to have fun”. Well, my routine well and the crowd responded positively. After all the competitors finished their posing routines, I was focusing on getting set to go back on stage for my class. Then in a flash, the backstage coordinator, yelled out, “hey number 30, you just won best male poser”. My brother and I looked at each other and laughed. Not to mock the award, but winning best poser was the furthest from my mind and I have never received that honor before. Simply put, it was cool.

The short class was now up and we took the stage, I was just holding on and hoping to finish respectively. The awards started at 7th place and worked itself down. When it came to the final three with my name not yet called, I did feel great. The competitor in me came out and I wanted to win! Not hearing my name until the end was a big blur, but it resulted in winning my class.

So it was onto the overall for the men. It was me and the heavy weight. This guy had about 40 pounds on me, and already carried an NGA Pro Card. Really at this moment, it just didn’t matter on winning or not. We were put through a number of poses for just two guys and seemed that we were up there for an eternity! Anxiously waiting and standing there for the announcement, they read my name and number for the overall win. I was shocked with joy as the other competitor was too! But it was the final result and the end to a great journey and comeback to the stage…