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Bodybuilders make muscle a lifestyle. Find out why.
Over the years, the Chattanooga area has seen some momentous battles, including the Battle of Chickamauga, the Battle of Chattanooga and the current tussle between Comcast and the EPB.
This weekend sees yet another Battle here in the Chattanooga area. One that, while not quite as bloody as these others, features even bigger guns. I’m talking about Chattanooga’s very own bodybuilding competition, the “Battle at the River.”
Now in its ninth year, this annual event (taking place at the Tivoli on June 14) brings athletes from across the country to Chattanooga. They come to compete against each other using the one thing that most of us would rather keep hidden: their bodies. These folks are extremely serious about their bodies.
For most of us, working to achieve this sort of physical ideal is something that only exists in our minds from December 26 to about January 3 each year. After that, well, the kids go back to school, work gets intense and… OH. MY. GOD! “Game of Thrones” is on! (Yes. It’s all reruns, but did you see what that little guy did to that other guy?!)
The point being, in life, as in writing, we’re easily distracted from our goals. So, in an effort to find out what drives these folks, I interviewed five bodybuilders, to see what got them started, and what keeps them going.
The Pulse: What got you started with bodybuilding?
Zac Cooper (age 24): I was an overweight nerd in high school. I was valedictorian, so I was known for my brains, not my physique...In college, I became extremely intrigued with human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and nutrition. I started reading all the bodybuilding magazines and next thing I knew, I was 19 years old and ripped to shreds. People I graduated with didn’t even recognize me from my transformation. It was a life-changing event, and I will never give up my [fitness] lifestyle and my passion for bodybuilding.
Shannon Lewis (age 44): I started bodybuilding because I enjoy working out and the more I worked, the more my body would change physically; which made me work harder and just gave me a sense of accomplishment. After a while, I was just hooked.
Tim Lewis (age 50): I’ve always done some sort of weight training. That started all the way back in high school. When I finally settled down many years later, I was invited by a friend to come train with him. I reluctantly went and I was instantly hooked.
Jody Sullins (age 29): I started because I love working out and changing my body to look like an anatomy chart. We all want that Photoshopped body, but in real life.
Stefan Vanchev (age 23): I started lifting weights when I was 12. I had two dumbbells and I was training at my house doing curls and pushups. I wanted to look like the bodybuilders in the magazines. Later on, at the age of 14, I got my first gym membership and started training with heavier weights and a variety of different equipment.
The Pulse: What do you personally get out of bodybuilding?
ZC: Working out comes with many health benefits, and even helps decrease stress. As a grad student in physical therapy school, I need all the stress release I can get.
JS: It has pushed me to make fitness training my life. I just opened a personal training business and I’m living the American dream, doing what I love as a career.
The Pulse: How many times a week do you train? How long is each session?
ZC: Four to six days a week. I listen to my body. If I don’t feel like I can give 110 percent that day, then I take the day off. Most workouts tend to be 45 to 60 minutes.
SL: In my off-season (winter and fall) I will normally be in the gym five days a week for two hours, doing around 30 minutes of cardio, and the rest lifting as much as I can. I like to use that time to put more size on and relax my diet just a little so I can grow for the next season. In the spring, I will tighten up my diet, and I’m in the gym six to-seven days a week for two hours a session. Two days a week I also teach a “Body Pump” class at the Key Fitness Center in Rock Spring, Georgia.
JS: Six days a week for an hour at a time.
SV: Four to five times a week for an hour and 30 minutes.
The Pulse: Most folks make a yearly resolution to go to the gym and “get in shape,” but most give up after a few sessions. Given that you’re human, too, how do you keep yourself motivated to not give up?
ZC: Bodybuilding is a sport where it’s you versus yourself. Sure, on stage you’re competing for the best, but in the gym its just you trying to be better than you were yesterday. Some people would spend hundreds of dollars a day on drugs or therapy to help them feel better, but all I need is my headphones and some iron plates.
TL: I guess it comes from the lifestyle that has taken me years to build. I’m 50 years old now and still have people ask, “Hey, how old are you?” They usually guess around 38-40. I’ve found the fountain of youth. Then I have Shannon. She keeps me in a “always wanna be better than yesterday” mode. She’s great. It takes so much to be a bodybuilder. I’ve always said that 75 percent of bodybuilding is done at home in the kitchen and the time spent resting. A mere 25 percent is done in the gym.
The Pulse: What’s the furthest you’ve ever gotten in a competition? What titles have you won?
ZC: I placed second in the Battle at the River in the teenager division and second in the middleweight class at the Anthony Stewart Competition in Calhoun, Georgia.
SL: I have always come second in my shows except for last year, when I placed fourth in an open show.
TL: My first competition was the Battle at the River in Chattanooga. Much to my surprise, I finished in second place! I was overjoyed. The following Saturday, I competed in Gadsden, Alabama and finished second again. I was extremely happy, and took home another really nice trophy.
JS: I’ve won first place in three shows and placed in the top three in a few in Marietta, Georgia.
SV: I competed in the Battle at the River in 2010. I won second place in the teenage class and third place in the novice middleweight class.
The Pulse: If someone goes to the Battle at the River, what should they be looking for? That is, it’s easy to tell when a point or a goal is scored in most other sports. What are the judges looking for in a bodybuilding competition?
ZC: Bodybuilding is a very subjective sport. Each judge will have their on view of what the best physique may look like. Overall, just size with symmetry.
The Pulse: If someone would like to get started with bodybuilding, what advice do you have?
SL: Bodybuilding is a very extreme sport. If you want to start, you need to make sure you have a properly certified trainer and nutritionist who has been in the sport for a long period of time with plenty of experience. Do your research, watch videos on the internet, visit several gyms and talk with their trainers and ask for their qualifications.
The Pulse: How young is too young? How old is too old?
ZC: There is no age that is to young or too old in my mind. As a physical therapist, we learn that exercise is medicine and therapeutic for all ages with numerous health benefits.
TL: Unless you have health issues there’s no age limit. At the Battle and other shows there’s always someone in their 60s and 70s. And, might I add, they look amazing.
Battle at the River,
6:30 p.m. June 14.
Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.
$25-$35 ($10 for prejudging, beginning at 9 a.m.)
For tickets, visit chattanoogaonstage.com