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Pump & Circumstance

Bodybuilders suffer for their art - and for a shot at the big time<



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When Tony isn't working out or practicing his routine, he's usually training others at Powerhouse 24 Hour Gym on Independence Blvd. Powerhouse is home to many of the city's hard-core weightlifters, where the lack of shiny new equipment is offset by an expansive, no-frills weight room in the basement.

Tony has always been an athlete; he started lifting weights in high school while playing football and running track.

"By the time I was in 10th grade I was probably the strongest guy in my school," he says. After he graduated, Tony flirted briefly with a career in semi-pro football, but eventually wound up working at Family Dollar Warehouse. All the while, he continued to lift weights, mostly to just stay in shape. But about five years ago he started getting serious, and began training others.

"I was making more money as a personal trainer than I was at Family Dollar," he says, "so I quit that and really started focusing on competing."

It didn't take long for Tony, now 30, to start winning national and state titles, an achievement due as much to his flamboyant stage show as his impressive physique. "I may not be as big or thick as a lot of the other guys, but I can hold my own when it comes to the performance. You have to know how to work the stage. A lot of guys are just going through the motions. I'm going to do something to make people take notice. I've got good rhythm, I can dance and I just let it flow. If you got it, you have to know how to use it. I know how to use it."

Like Tony, Demi Goodman, 31, grew up an athlete, running track in high school and playing football with her three older brothers. She started training seriously about five years ago, and eventually became a personal trainer at Charlotte's uptown YMCA. One day she saw a fitness competition on TV, and knew it was an event in which she could excel. She entered her first competition in June, and finished in the top third of about 90 women. "It was a wonderful learning experience, and I really caught the fitness competition bug."

September was crunch time for Demi, too, as she trained for the Mountaineer competition. Her daily routine typically begins with a 30-minute run or bike ride. She trains at Powerhouse six days a week, typically for an hour and a half. At a lean 129 pounds, she can bench press 135 pounds, and squats 185 pounds. She curls 35-pound dumbbells. Her diet is remarkably similar to Tony's. Breakfast is typically egg whites or plain oatmeal. A few hours later she has a protein shake. For lunch and dinner it's usually fish or chicken, with veggies and maybe brown rice or a sweet potato. Typically she measures out her food portions on a scale, and then records each meal into a diet journal.

"My eating routine is very regimented," she says. "You do kind of become a slave to that, but I try not to take it too seriously. You have to go out and let loose sometimes. Otherwise you get burnt-out and you'll lose focus."

Goodman says she doesn't see this kind of regimentation as obsessive or unnatural, but does agree that fitness and working out is an extremely important part of her everyday personal and professional life.

"Being in shape is an integral part of my livelihood," she says. "For clients to take you seriously you have to talk the talk and walk the walk."

Whatever It Takes

Tony and Demi's stories are similar to most of the folks competing at the Mountaineer. Both were athletic growing up, they thrive on competition, are goal-oriented, and their livelihood depends on their fitness level and physique. But what is it that drives some people to the extremes found in professional bodybuilding? To dedicate all their time, money and effort in order to possess the gargantuan, sculpted -- and some say freakish -- physique of the sport's elite? Especially when you consider the pay off.

In order to make any money as a bodybuilder one must first reach pro status. This can only be accomplished by qualifying for the necessary national competitions. Once you win first place at a national competition, you're granted a pro card by the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB), which is to professional bodybuilding what the NFL, NBA and PGA are to their respective sports. An IFBB Pro Card allows you to compete in world championships, which provide greater exposure and cash prizes. The best of these competitors are put under contract by the IFBB, and are paid a yearly salary to make a certain number of personal appearances at places like gyms and health stores. Some of them land lucrative spokesperson deals with athletic gear manufacturers, supplement companies and the like. However, the vast majority must handle their own appearances and negotiate their own deals, with the bigger names getting the better packages. And just like in professional golf or tennis, there are various professional bodybuilding tours and tournaments, where appearance fees and purses vary according to the size of the event. The bottom line, though, is that because of the sport's limited public appeal, it's the rare individual who can earn a living as a professional bodybuilder.

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