DR. RICK’S THIRD ACT
NPC New England Championship, April 21, 1996
Alright, so I lied. So, sue me. I had promised to disappear for a little while, but after catching the competitive bug, I was easily prodded by my “advisors” to consider entering the NPC New England Championship on Sunday, April 21. Why, you ask yourself, would a “natural”, nutritional supplement enhanced (per previous posts) bodybuilder expose him or herself to the murky waters of an untested competition. Let me tell you–It was worth the potential disappointment, the potential embarassment–it was even worth the entry fee. I confess, I had to trust my friends that I wouldn’t look like a “dork” standing next to a bunch of huge “freaks” on stage. I was reassured that I would at least be presenting the same symmetric, complete package that I had presented in my two previous competitions, aided by well-instructed and thouroughly practiced posing. What the hell….I took the bait and decided to go for it.
Of course, I had bagged the diet for a couple of days before I decided to do it. So that meant another adventure in carb depletion last Wednesday. I wasn’t as well-prepared for that this time, so I didn’t have my food support system on standby–I resorted to a little peanut butter here and there to get me through the day. Thursday, I looked a little soft (as one would expect), not quite as cut up, and I was questioning entry. By Saturday, though, I looked fuller and harder than the week before. I was still holding onto my size, but showing even more cuts which had previously not been there.
Now, because I hadn’t planned to do this particular competition, I hadn’t made any provisions in my call schedule, and I was on call that Saturday. The day was reasonably quiet, and I was happy to have thetime to catch up on paperwork and a little relaxation. I applied my tanning solution to everything but my arms–just in case I had to operate–but finally, as things remained uneventful, I even put the stuff onmy arms around midnight, just before going to bed.
RRRRRRRRRRing–2:30 am. It was the orthopedic surgery resident–they were covering hands tonight, but plastic surgery always covers finger reattachments. He was evaluating a thumb amputation in the emergency room, and the thumb, though still partly attached, would need to have the artery and nerves repaired. I couldn’t believe what was happening–but as usual, I just got up, washed the color off of my arms, and drove to the hospital, where I spent the rest of the night reattaching the thumb. Actually, it only took about 3 hours, a little quicker than usual. When 7:00 am rolled around, I questioned my sanity as I rushed home to apply a second coat of color, pack some food, and drive to Boston.
Because I hadn’t registered, I had to be there at 10:00. Of course, I got there and nothing happened for about 45 minutes. When I finally registered, I weighed myself with clothes to mark on the form–and only weighed 191. One of my friends had warned me that the scale might be light–don’t get worried. I figured that I might have lost some water having been up all night. My body tends to do that. It didn’t really matter at that point anyway–nothing was going to change. When we finally weighed in for real about an hour later, wearing only posing trunks, I was a whopping 186 lbs. I hadn’t registered that low a weight in two years, and had I not been forewarned, I might have really felt depressed. I don’t think I could possibly have lost 19 pounds for this contest–I didn’t have 19 pounds to lose. For what it’s worth, though, I was ripped!
I wandered around a little. I was afraid to sit for too long, because I knew I would fall asleep, and I wasn’t sure that someone would wake me up. Gradually, the other athletes assembled, and a fellow I knew from the gym was there. I sat with him and his girlfriend, waiting for the weigh-in. Now that’s something different. I had never been to a weight-class competition, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As everyone went up to the stage to disrobe, get weighed, and dress up again, I recollected earlier ,recommendations that you want to keep things covered–hide the goods, basically–perhaps so that no one sees what you look like when you’re truly “relaxed”. When my turn came, I stood there in my posing trunks, considering leaving my socks on, since they didn’t weigh anything, and I knew that I was in the middle of the weight class anyway. But everyone else (including the heavyweights, who were assembling behind us) was taking off their socks–so I took mine off too. After all,I didn’t want to look like a “dork”.
After the weigh-in, there was the meeting for orientation, remarkably similar to the previous ones I had attended. I looked at the other competitors, and except for the heavyweights and a few guys in the top of each weight class, most of the competitors still looked “normal” wearing clothes (referring back to the “bodybuilder look”). The heavyweights couldn’t hide, nor would they have wanted to hide their hard-earned mass.
I was able to watch the teens and the women do their mandatories. The teens were big guys, and I reflected on myself as a teenager–skinny, physically shy, though artistically and intellectually more aggressive, and generally most comfortable in bulky sweaters and sweatshirts than in tank tops or shirtless. I would never have been caught dead or alive on a stage in these skimpy posing trunks, nor would anyone have encouraged me to do that. I had survived that part of my life, pocketed the experiences, obtained my education–and at a rather late point discovered that I could actually attend to my body without ignoring all the other matters of importance that seemed to rule my first 30-some years. All this from a bodybuilding contest??–Fortunately for me, the women came out before I had a transcendental experience or started to levitate.
The women were impressive, relative to the women I had seen previously. Their physiques were significantly more developed, and their posing, for the most part, was much better. Three of the six exhibited exceptional elegance in posing, and even the other two were damn good. I, unlike many men, don’t find women bodybuilders physiques “disgusting” (though I’ve never seen any of the “big girls” up close in their posing suits). I like a woman with some muscle, and these women carried it off pretty well.
I watched the men get started, but then headed backstage. The area for pumping up was compact, but warm. I liked the warmth, because it allowed for my vascularity to come out, as it had in Amherst. Looking around, though, my vascularity, generally pretty generous, paled in comparison to some of these other guys. The aroma of “Hot Stuff” emanated from every-which-way, but there may have been other ingredients contributing to the remarkable patterns evidenced throughout each class.
After helping my friend get ready for the middleweight class, I started my pump up, remembering that my first experience was marked by an inadequate pump. The atmosphere was not unpleasant, but it seemed a little less relaxed than the previous contests. I realized that most of these guys had higher expectations than I did. While I was looking at the other tall, thin guy–obviously natural, I assumed–thinking, I can beat him at least, these guys were trying to figure out how they would win a first place. It was especially interesting as the heavyweights began to gather. Many of these guys knew one another. I didn’t know anyone at this point, but I asked a woman who was helping another of the light-heavyweights to rub some oil on my back. I had noticed that the lighting favored a lighter sheen from the oil. I felt like I was getting reasonably pumped, and I looked hard–but the guys who stood a few inches shorter than me with a few pounds up on me looked formidably competitive. I wondered to myself if anyone else had been up all night reattaching a thumb.
We headed out as a class. I was #30 this time, and I missed #12. Mark, the guy who cheered me on in Fall River and Amherst, was there helping out the guy who ended up winning the Teen Class, who was also competing in my class. Obviously, though he complimented me on how I looked, he was cheering on his man during the quarter turns and the mandatories. I understood, of course. Between the quarter turns and the mandatories, there was a 60 second posing routine without music. I had modified my routine, taking out some of the “glitz”, and hitting all of the madatory poses. It seemed to go well, and I felt reasonably comfortable. I hoped that they couldn’t see how skinny I had gotten. Certainly, though, when we were all standing there together, I felt like they knew that my appearance was the result of “Proper Posing” rather than sheer bulk. I held the mandatories with resolve–for longer a period than I had experienced in the previous two contests. On my side triceps, I couldn’t keep my “vacuum” for the whole period the first time. I tried not to pant as I took shallow breaths, waiting for the “relax” signal. I knew, at least, that I could survive the long holds, since I practiced that way–but I confess, this was even longer than I was accustomed to. I was thankful for my friends–and one of my patients who happened to be at the prejudging round–for keeping me tight with the standard calls which were gradually gaining in familiarity: “Bring your arms out”, “Tighten your legs”, “Lookin’ hard, man”….all prefaced by a #30 or my name–or “Doc”!
We were herded off the stage and replaced by the Heavyweights. I watched in amazement, observing how some could demonstrate their wares so much better than others. I thought one of the guys was going to blow a gasket with his breathing style during his 60 second routine. These guys were heavily invested in the endeavor–physically, mentally, and most certainly financially. I looked for evidence of gynecomastia. I wondered if it was possible to reach those proportions with good food and exercise alone–I doubted it.
When Prejudging was over, some of my friends and I walked to Newbury Street. I had decided that the meal of the day was going to be sushi, and though I misjudged the distance of the Japanese restaurant that I knew was on Newbury Street, i did manage to achieve my goal. Once again, a little extra sodium load in the miso soup and soy sauce, a touch of the hot and spicy in the wasabi, and I was ready for the evening show. Only one thing was missing at this point–about five or six hours of sleep. But I couldn’t sleep–too much action.
I returned to the auditorium to find a crowd gathering. It was 4:45, and the evening show was to start around 5:00. Jay Cutler, his girlfriend, Kerry, and his sister, Kelly, were sitting at a table with Nasser El-Sonbaty selling photos and signing autographs. Now, you realize that Jay at 5’9″, 270 (off season weight) is probably the biggest bodybuilder I’ve ever seen up close. Nasser was weighing in around 325 for the day–we’re talking HUGE. I’ve taken care of patients who were bigger than that, but they were just big and fat. Pretty remarkable–though I prefer the “smaller” guys like Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray, Lee Labrada, Charles Clairemont…get my drift? Nonetheless, the guy is that big–and pleasant as well.
The competitors were once again assembled, and Mike Katz, who was the M.C. introduced himself and proceeded to orient us to how the evening would go. (If you begin to sense that I’ve been spending the day in the presence of “giants”–at least “giants” in the bodybuilding world, you’re right. Of course, no one that I work with or associate with outside of the gym had a clue who any of these people are.) As competitor #30, I was able to watch the first 20 competitors. Some awesome routines. The quality of posing among the women was, for the most part, much better than I had seen, and many of the men were also more practiced and polished. My routine was very good–but there were routines here that were “great”. This was in no way discouraging to me–It was my first season, my third show, I’d been up all night, and I was learning and growing with each pose. The day confirmed the fact that you have to putyourself out there to make gains–“No guts, no glory!”
After my routine, I wiped my oil off and went out to watch the remaining competitors. I was very curious to see what the heavyweights looked like with their routines. Again, there were a variety of approaches–from the random hit-the-pose-off-the-beat routine to the polished, choreographed “Shawn Ray–watch out, I’m coming to get you” routines. I guess the one guy (who ended up winning the whole deal) does a little “dancing” on the side (or maybe for a living, for all I know). His routine was great.
During the intermission, I was just hanging out with Jay and Kerry, while he was getting ready to guest pose. I lent him my surgical tubing to do some stretching and warming up, and one of the middle weights remarked that he was going out to buy himself some–if that’s how big you can get using it. I told him that it was mine, and that I used to be as big as Jay until I started to use it:) He seemed to be amused. I wandered into Mike Katz and introduced myself. I mentioned that I had been up all night reattaching a thumb, and he found that interesting. I looked at the list of “finalists” and saw that I had at least beat the other “natural” guy (again, I’m making an assumption which anyone who was there would also have made…) So I was going to have another trophy. Cool.
I watched Jay do his routine–his girlfriend was more nervous than he was, I think. He was impressively huge, though certainly not in contest shape. The crowd responded to his rear lat spread with appropriate awe. He’s a big guy. When he finished, he seemed relieved. That was the first time I’d seen him pose, except when he guest posed for me at my lecture and when he helped me getting ready. He did a good job, and the crowd was really into it. The next time I turned around, he was dressed again, hanging out backstage to watch the awards–and give the overall.
Once again, the competitors warmed up a little, oiled up, and started out to collect their bounty. There were pose downs and the women’s overall and then the men. Before Mike introduced the light-heavyweights, he told the audience how I had spent my night “preparing” for the contest. I suppose that if anyone had found me asleep in the auditorium after that, they would have at least been tolerant or sympathetic. Even in this audience, confirmation of bodybuilders as not just a bunch of dumb muscle heads could be made. Anyway, he called us out, and I could hear some of my friends shouting to me. After a brief pose down, the awards were given. I took fifth, confirming that “size counts”. I was happy to still be in the running at all, and I suspected that in a contest where many of the competitors have had some chemical enhancement, thicker muscularity is accepted more as the norm. My friends had placed me third, and I had thought perhaps fourth–the teenager who had crossed over looked good among the teenagers (and won there), but I didn’t think his cuts were as sharp or his shape as aesthetic. No question, though–he was bigger.
And speaking of bigger, the heavyweights received their awards, and one of the guys seemed angry at the result. I guess when you have invested what they have invested….The overall result was as I would have predicted–the heavyweight with the great routine won.
Next, Nasser did his routine. I’m amazed he can even walk, as big as he is. But he actually moved pretty well. He did his thing and was finished, but Mike made him go back out and down into the audience. I don’t think he was psyched, but he did it. When he came back he was laughing and shaking his head. I was standing with Jay, and I had my picture taken with the two of them, and then with Mike Katz. A little history….
I gathered my bag and met up with Jay and Kerry in the back of the auditorium. He had a large group of friends and family with him, and they were about as hungry as I was. My other friends headed back to Worcester, and our party of 18 went in search of food. The end of the evening was as enlightening as the entire day had been. Jay’s nutritionist, Chris Aceto, and his wife, Laura Creavalle sat opposite me at dinner–and confirmed for me that there is nothing wrong with my turkey chili. There was nothing wrong with the key lime pie I had for desert either–or the several gallons of water and ginger ale that I drank…After all of that, Kerry generously drove me back to Worcester, otherwise I might still be sleeping in the Burger King parking lot at the first rest area on the Mass Pike.
I appreciate the opportunity to share this with list subscribers. You have all been kind and supportive. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of competing to do it. You don’t have to win to have fun, but you can win and still have a great time. If you have people around you who can tell you honestly how you are doing, that helps. While I knew that my size couldn’t match most of the guys in this contest, I at least knew that I could put on a respectable performance–and that was enough for me. Mike Katz made a comment which was very relavant. He reminded the audience–the supporters–to be supportive. But rather than placing blame on poor judging or politics when trying to figure out why the guy you were cheering on didn’t win, look at the package your friend or family member presented. And try to support them in improving it. My friends still told me they thought I should have placed higher, but I had already looked at what I had to present–And I already know that I have to get bigger.
So, it’s back to the gym…lots of food…more sleep, maybe…and some warm New England weather. I hope I’ll be able to read about some other great competitive experiences when I get back from Ecuador. Good luck to anyone and everyone getting ready for competition.
Rick Silverman, M.D.
Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
University of Massachusetts Medical Center
Worcester, MA 01655
P.S. Thanks Rich Muller for making it possible for my mother to see me in action. My brother showed her the pictures at your web site. Her response, of course, “I don’t like it–you’re too muscular”. I tried to explain that I still look normal if I’m not posing, but you know moms…
“What a man puts foremost in his life will tell you not only where he is going but about how far he will go”. –D. Ralph Millard, Jr., M.D.