Three years later my begging paid off. May 26th 1976, for my 13th birthday, I got a used cement and plastic weight set with a new bench. I didn’t have a clue how to train, so for the next 5 years I would train every body part every day for months at a time. Of course, I didn’t see any results because I was over training and playing sports and climbing trees and running in pastures or creek beds or down dirt roads. On top of that, I had a super fast metabolism.
I graduated high school in 1981 at a whopping 145 lbs, but that summer I had a growth spurt, and got on a good training program and by September, I was 165 and on my way to becoming Mr Olympia.
Now like I said earlier I always wanted to be bigger. Arnold was still the man then and I was a big fan, but I wanted to be Lou Ferrigno, because he was the biggest bodybuilder at the time. I was a 275 pounder trapped in a 165 lb body.
Four years later I was working 60 hrs a week at a very physical job and still had a super fast metabolism. I was a sidewalk-crushing 185 lbs, still trying to be Big Lou. I was the Incredible Hulk trapped in Bruce Banner’s body.
A month later I fell at work and hurt my back. I was in the hospital in traction for a week. I got right back to training as soon as I got out of the hospital. Seven months later on May 16th 1986, 10 days before my 23 rd birthday, I was hit in the back by a forklift. I had a couple of herniated discs and 3 cracked vertebrae. They wanted to do surgery, but I wanted to be Mr Olympia so I said no and kept trying to train.
In October of 1987, my left leg was almost completely numb and the pain had become unbearable so I had major surgery. When they weighed me after surgery I cried. I was back down to 145 lbs and no hope of being able to train again. I was expecting to be permanently disabled at 24 and became very depressed.
In March of 1988 I met a former bodybuilder named Ken Adams who was working as a youth minister while finishing seminary. He took me to lunch one day at Burger Bar in Cleburne and while we were waiting on our burgers we walked around the corner to a gym where he trained and he introduced me to the owner, Gary Anthony, who had been in a bad head-on collision and was told he might not walk again. He went on to compete in power lifting, Olympic lifting and was Mr. Texas in bodybuilding, all after his accident. He encouraged me to come train when I got released from the doctor.
In June of 1989 I was released from the doctor and joined Anthony’s Fitness Center. I trained off and on for the next 8 years, continuing to help people for free with training and nutrition. It was at this time that I decided to get serious again and pursue a career in fitness. In 1997, I took the ISSA Fitness Trainer course and started college with a major in Exercise Science and a minor in Nutrition
I ended up at Texas Tech. I was going to school and working at a furniture store and training hard and heavy again. Then in 2000 I was unloading a truck and the driver dropped a 275 adjustable bed out of the back of his trailer and it hit me on top of the head. The doctor said that if I had not had strong traps and neck muscles it would have broken my neck.
It didn’t break my neck but it did a lot of damage and I ended up having multiple sets of injections and procedures to burn the nerves in my neck on both sides at C-3,4 and 5. I was also having low back issues again.
It was Jan 2005 before I was able to start training again..light dumbbells and body weight stuff. In August I was strong enough to start delivering furniture again. By 2007 I was starting to get the itch again to join a gym and start training seriously again. That June I was down stacking a washing machine at work and fell backwards with it. It was back to therapy and more injections . When I went back to work I was never the same and eventually transferred to a light duty position.
This new job required hours of sitting which was not what my back needed and I progressively got worse and after multiple sets of injections I ended up having nerve burns done in my low back in 2009. I lost that job because they said I was missing too much time due to my back and my wife’s illness.
Although the burns gave me some relief from the pain, my condition continued to deteriorate and I became weak, depressed and was looking at going on disability. My days were a cloud of pain pills muscle relaxers and anti-depressants.
Then on Easter 2010, I took Troy Brewer up on his invitation to Open door Church’s annual concert. I just went to hear Troy jam like in our old hell-raising days. After the concert, Troy said we want to pray for you to the crowd. He said God’s telling me there is someone here who needs healing. Like I said I was only there for the music, but I stuck my hand up. Troy said my friend, Jimmy Pitts, in in the back with his hand up..the guy in the cowboy hat..somebody put their hand on him and we are going to pray for his back. Now there was no jump out of your wheel chair and dance, blind man can see type of thing, but I did feel at peace and over the next week, my pain was better and I wasn’t so depressed. I felt so good that I went out to the Opendoor Food bank and volunteered that next Saturday.
The following Saturday was The Ronnie Coleman Classic and Troy’s band was playing a gig there and a group from the church was going and Troy asked me to tag along. I met Brian Dobson and had a great time,but didn’t really have any hopes of training hard again.
Over the next couple of months my condition continued to improve and I started doing some body weight stuff again and the working with light dumbbells and an exercise ball for a bench. I kept improving and finding different things to lift to test myself. I started running sprints and hills and made up a whole workout with some old tires.
By July I had the bug again and approached Brian after church to ask for some advice. He invited me to The Original Metroflex Gym – Arlington Texas, so I went the next day…just expecting to talk. Of course, I had just met Brian; if I had known him, I would have been expecting to hear his booming voice as soon as he saw me, ” You ready to train?” In my head, I’m thinking, “No, I just came here to talk and I ‘m not sure about my back etc.” But this was Brian flippin Dobson asking me to train at The Original Metroflex Gym-Arlington. Well, it was time to put up or shut up…time to put my faith in my healing into action. So, I said, “Sure, do I just go in and get after it?” And he said yes. I headed back to what I call champion’s corner, where the deadlift platform is and the old-school t-bar in the corner, where all those famous Ronnie Coleman videos were shot, to train my back.
I lost count of how many sets I did, at least 20 heavy (for me) sets. Then I decided to deadlift, something I had not done in over 10 years. Heck, this was the first time I had been in a gym in 10 years.
I did maybe 5 sets, the last one 275 x 3. I tried 315 but barely got it off the floor. Now, like I said, this was heavy for me. Three months earlier it hurt my back to lift my 15-lb dog Bruiser Brodie, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get the 315. Then I realized, 275 lbs was how much the adjustable bed weighed that was dropped on me 10 years earlier, and I’m no Bible scholar, but I know the number 3 is a big deal..so 275 x 3 was ” my sign.” I kept at it for the next 2 years and on my 50th birthday, I was in the best shape of my life at 205 lbs and after 40 years, was happy to be me.
I wish the story ended there, but 2 months later I hurt my knee and 2 months later had surgery, followed by a move, my mother passed away , I lost my job, my wife nearly died..blah blah blah…life happened and I used all those excuses to let my training and my body go down the drain. After a 40-year journey to get to the best shape of my life, after not being able to train because of disabilities,I was the reason…no one else to blame.
I could still catch the light just right in the mirror with the right pose at the right angle and fool myself, but I knew all my hard work was slipping away. I had gotten so much praise for the shape I got in for my 50th birthday that I was embarrassed to admit how far I had gotten out of shape.
Then, my friend and mentor, Josh Bryant of The JoshStrength Method, shared something similar about himself in one of his newsletters with a before and after picture. So that gave me the courage to take some current pics for before and start training hard again to get back to my best shape ever and beyond. So the journey begins again…..