I watched a well-deserved standing ovation. Stay with me here.
Just a few hours ago, an audience stood to cheer, very very loudly, for an award. The young man on stage staggers a bit when he walks, but he walks. Not only does he walk, he won an award for extraordinary hard work, accomplishment and dedication in the face of unbelievable odds. I am doing a separate story on that young man, but this is about a commenter’s utterly inappropriate comments which touched this person, and the community around him.
The Cecil Phillips Classic is Eugene’s all-natural bodybuilding event. For whatever reason, my new home town is the center for that sport in this neck of the woods. For the last three weeks I’ve attended posing practices at one of my two gyms. Been gathering story lines. Getting to know folks. Taking photos.
I wrote a few stories and shared them, along with those photos. The people who do this kind of thing, the drug-free competition, are not pro athletes, although some winners get their pro cards and can go on to compete elsewhere. Most, however, are everyday Joes and Jeans, they are your truck drivers and doctors and folks who eschew drugs for good reason. They will never participate in the big shows that are so popular, and which have spawned the Arnolds and The Rock. There’s a place for that.
This isn’t that. This is a much smaller community of people who want to lift without the easy cheat of drugs and the sometimes horrible side effects that those drugs can cause.
It takes many, many more years of hard work to build the kind of muscle that wins shows. Steroids are fast track. And a fast track to hell on your health. With this group, you have to be drug-free for ten years if you want to compete. They’re serious. If you are found to have drugs in your system after a win, you’re banned for life, and it’s very public.
Over the past few weeks, I wrote a few pieces introducing some folks who had taken their health in hand. People who were overweight, depressed, aging fast. And in that way that discipline and exercise pay off, you could argue, look at them now.
The commenter wrote this:
I assume the photos you use were taken at the “posing practice.” People can do what they choose, and if weight training works for them, all well and good. For me, the idea practicing poses fits perfectly with the selfie mentality, and is laughable.
I didn’t respond well, and I’ll explain in a sec. But first, if you have nothing of value to add, zip it up, Sparky. Second, if you know nothing about the sport, kindly refrain from so publicly demonstrating your ignorance. Here’s why.
The audience, at the top, is clapping and cheering for 31-year-old Zack Childers, above, who has cerebral palsy. I previously published several photos of him as he practiced his poses, alongside a 66 yo retired vascular surgeon who has completely rebuilt his aging body. Learning how to pose is part of the sport. Comparing this to selfies, well, folks, all that does is show how little he knows about body building.
It’s a very common misconception that this is all about selfies. Ego. Utter self-absorption. The body beautiful. Kindly, get over yourself. While that might be true for some, and is most assuredly often true for the better-known bodybuilding industry that leads to the Mr. Olympia and is riddled with steroids, this has far more to do with developing greater body autonomy.
The people in this competition included a woman who had lost 100 lbs. She wasn’t lithe and thin and cut and perfect. She was in her forties, decided to take her health in hand, and bloody well dropped the weight. She won prizes. In order for her to do that she had to put in untold hours of hard work, learning to do the right movements for the judges, balance on high heels, and come up with the balls to wear a tiny bikini in front of several hundred people.
Another man, who came out on stage with a tiny red bow tie, sported titanium stitch scars down the center of his chest. Among his challenges: a heart attack, two stents, and two aortic surgeries. And, he is a comedian who speaks about suicide. What qualifies him? According to him, “I know what the barrel of my gun tastes like.” He won some prizes, too. He is hilarious in that way that people who have indeed looked down the barrel can be. He’s incredible.
One woman I befriended took this on to rebuild her body autonomy because of incest. Another, because of rape. Each and every single person that I interviewed had a similar story. Their path was a path to some other kind of body health, and with it mental health, and with it a sense of personal pride and self-control. For so many of them, the body building- which led to this contest- was far more about learning self discipline, learning to love and accept their bodies, and strengthen themselves along the way.
Zack got a standing ovation, placed third in his competition, but in so many ways came out the overall favorite because everyone knows his story. He was told he would never walk. He ran across that stage clutching his prize. Awkwardly, but he ran.
A great many of us in the audience were crying. We stood and screamed for him.
Bodybuilding gave him strength, the ability to walk, to work out, get married, have a life. Laughable. I watched Zack practice his poses, his routine. It’s hard, sweaty work, and the judges are tough.
The retired vascular surgeon won in multiple categories. He has not only completely retooled his body, but also his life, and in doing that, his options. This competition is specifically for people who have chosen to take their bodybuilding to the highest level they can without drugs. It is an intimate, close-knit audience. We hollered ourselves hoarse, acknowledging years of hard work and sacrifice.
For people who have never lifted, who don’t care, this is not for you. And if it is not for you it is also not for you to pontificate about the sport and call the posing aspect of it laughable, when you, like my commenter, know fuck-all about what’s going on and why. This particular, much smaller branch of body building appeals to people with post-baby pouches, loose skin from having been huge, people with all kinds of scars. They wear them with pride.
That is what learning to work with your body can do for your self-confidence.
In my response I pointed out that the commenter had no idea what those folks had gone through to reach that point. He responded by stating that I was devoid of a sense of humor, a statement that could well cause my regular readers to spew their dirty martinis onto the keyboard.
Right, Sparky. I have no funny bone. Of course not.
Folks, trolls come after me all the time. I’m a big girl and kindly, this matters how?
But I will turn into a junkyard dog if you show up an asshole on a thread that honors other people’s heroic work and courageous journeys. THAT is over the line. You can be a jerkoff to me any way but Sunday. But you do not diss these people.
The people I met these last few weeks, the folks I have befriended, whose stories I have learned are incredible. Many have been through hell. And having been through hell, and some paying for it by losing their health, they also picked themselves up and did the work to get back up.
Frankly that is more than I can say for one hell of a lot of folks past forty, especially those who bark at people doing the hard labor and refer to them as “laughable.” The people on stage were bio engineers and students and moms and retirees. They were blue-collar workers and your next-door neighbors.
That’s my kind of community. Particularly because while there might not have been many, there were American Indian, Black and Asian contestants who got just as much support as everyone else. That makes me very happy.
As with nearly all angry old White male commenters, Mr. Laughable took offense that I called him out. Rather than take a step back and seek to understand, he doubled down. Of course he did.
Zack, and all the other extraordinary, everyday people that I watched strut their stuff all day long are the people who inspire me. So many folks are just trying to get their unruly bodies under control, to find something they love to do and will do, a community which will show up for them and scream for them and whistle when they pose, which takes hours and weeks to master.
If that’s laughable, then call me laughable. Because I claim that crowd. They show up for underdogs. They stand for folks with severe disabilities and honor them. They don’t laugh. They love. I want to be a part of that community.