Photo: Binais Begovic
As far as my competitive career goes, I think this year has been the highlight of it, to say the least. I always talk about improving from show to show, but what if those shows are really only about five days apart?
When I competed as an amateur, I was signing up for contests one weekend and the following weekend I would run a thirteen mile obstacle course, followed by another contest the weekend after. I would go on to win my class and overall titles this way, back to back, while going to work a bar tending shift after every contest or race. It wasn’t hard for me, my energy was never low and I just needed to keep moving, I couldn’t just stand still. This all happened when I was starting out in the NPC as an amateur without having a clue as to what I should be doing on stage.
Fast forward to three and a half years later.
I am now an IFBB Pro.
I am now engaged.
I am now thirty two years old.
The amount of responsibilities has doubled since I first started competing. I have to manage my time differently now, at the same time I don’t want to stop competing or stop progressing my physique because it’s something that I simply love doing. I look at my situation realistically and know that next year things may be very different, I may not be able to dedicate as much time to training or competing because of new priorities that include a move and family.
After this year’s Olympia, where I got ninth place, I didn’t want to have to struggle next year to qualify, or stress about not being able to compete when I want to. After several international expo appearances and a lot of miles flown, I decided to go back to the formula that worked so well for me as an amateur. I signed up for three contests, three weekends in a row. I sent out three contracts – Europa Phoenix, Ft. Lauderdale Cup and Dayana Cadeau Classic.
Unfortunately for me, the food during my last international appearance in Spain, Madrid didn’t agree with me. I got sick for the first three days I was there, unable to keep my food down. The language barrier was a big thing trying to explain to people that I want my orders cooked without oil, or butter or any seasoning. The remaining few days in Spain, I only ate eggs, it seemed to be the only thing my stomach didn’t have a problem with. I would take a dozen boiled eggs from the hotel with me to the expo and try to make the ration last for the duration of my appearance. The training was about as half-assed as my eating. Even though I trained regardless of how I felt, I didn’t have the focus, the drive or the mind-to-muscle connection that I usually have during my training sessions.
Coming back to the states, with a week to go until my first out of three contests, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to present a physique worthy of a high placing. My physique looked slimmer and even though I was back in my zone, training and eating the way I normally do, I still didn’t have enough time to really fill out. I still didn’t want to sacrifice my conditioning, so I maintained my cardio for the five days I had left until I would have to leave to Phoenix, Arizona. Instead of my sprints and stair master morning cardio combo, I just did forty five minutes of steady incline walk, keeping my heart rate at around a hundred forty.
At Phoenix Europa, I looked very lean, felt very tight, but didn’t have the fullness that I usually bring along with my conditioning. The head judge was Sandy Williamson from Texas. The lineup was surprisingly small (six guys in men’s physique division), and it was a two day contest. Meaning that pre-judging was held on Saturday and you had to maintain your water at bay until finals on Sunday, to make sure you’re on point when the time comes for judges to confirm your placing during the confirmation round. I wasn’t worried or stressed too much and set a realistic prediction for myself. I told myself I’d be okay with top three.
As always holding my breath in the lineup as the places are being called out, I let it out once they called out second place and it wasn’t me. I took first first place and qualified for next year’s Olympia. I was happy and honored to have qualified so early. That meant that for the next two weekends, I’d have no pressure regarding qualifying or placing, I would just want to present my best self and come in better than the week prior.
Coming back to New York, my motivation has set back in and I went to town on the weights. I had been eating like my life depended on it, the appetite was there and the drive to be better pushed me to train with weights heavier than I normally do. In between my training, throughout the week I had a lot of work to do, so my entire week was booked with errands and clients.
Heading to Ft. Lauderdale cup, I felt a lot more confident, I looked better and I couldn’t wait to step on stage again like it was my first time. I was excited more than anything else. Checking into my hotel room after my flight, I immediately looked at myself in the mirror and was surprised how much tighter I’ve looked. My body reacts differently when I fly, than most other people. Any time I walk off the plane I look much tighter than before I boarded, in most other people’s cases they actually get bloated and start holding water. Flying actually benefits me.
The lineup had a few more guys in it than the week prior, but still fairly small in numbers – total of eleven competitors in Men’s Physique division. This time, the head judge was Steve Weinberger from New York. During this show I decided to really pose the hell out of my back. Normally, what I do is, because my back is my weakest point, I hit the pose for a few short seconds then quickly get the hell out of it. I show just enough of it for judges to see the balance, but not enough for them to see the lack of detail or width in it. During this contest I took my time, knowing that I’ve put in a lot more work than most people give me credit for. I hit my back pose with the most confidence and held it there for as long as I could. The funny thing is, I’ve been working so much on my back pose that I got flustered when I turned around and forget how to pose my front. That didn’t seem to hurt me in any way, since it’s the overall look that usually wins the show. After pre-judging and seeing the photos, I felt so relieved to see how well my back looked. I was already happy knowing that I hit the pose just right and regardless of how I placed, I felt like I brought my best look to date. A full, detailed, conditioned physique, complete with a proportional back.
As usual, holding my breath as they called out the top five, I wasn’t nervous. When it came down to top two, I wasn’t exactly sure which way the judges were going to lean towards. The guy I was up against had a great look, something I would strive towards in my younger days. Conditioned, clean lines, proportional, but it seemed like he didn’t have as much detail in his back or maybe he just wasn’t posing it to the best of his abilities, even though his lats were twice as big as mine. It was his pro debut, his name is James Cant and he took second next to me. When they called his name, I let out a sigh of relief. Second pro win in a row. I was shocked, since I didn’t set the bar too high as far as expectations go, so when something like this happens I start doing backflips on the inside out of joy.
Coming back to New York, walking through the airport with a huge trophy for the second weekend straight, one of the security guys stops me and asks if I do this for a living.
“You mean traveling?” I asked, putting on my best confused face.
“No, walk around the airports with trophies, since I’ve seen you at least five times this year,” he said smiling.
Back home, I was ecstatic, and just two hours after landing I was back in the gym crushing chest, getting ready for my last contest of the season. Winning two contests back to back was my fuel and it kept my training sessions at well over 110% for the days leading up to Dayana Cadeau Classic.
Training wasn’t exhausting for me, neither was eating, since I never really have any cravings and I usually eat like a robot. The most exhausting thing for me was not seeing my fiancée or my family enough. I’ve been traveling and competing so much that I felt alone and like I’ve been living out of my bag. At home, my relationship with my fiancée felt like it was at a halt, she felt like she was living with a roommate who occasionally visits and that just made me realize that I need to prioritize my life better. I promised my fiancée I will take a very long break from competing to repair our relationship and work on making our bond stronger. I had to stop living selfishly for myself and start living and growing along with my significant other. With her blessing and her support, she decided to come out with me to Florida, for my last contest of the season.
We got to Florida the day before the contest, and as always I immediately went to the mirror to practice my poses. I asked my fiancée how I looked and her eyebrows crept as high as her hairline over exaggerating her surprised reaction. She said she’s never seen me so lean, especially in my lower abs. I had veins crawling around my entire body, I felt lean, tight and full. It felt great to hear that from someone who’s seen me for every one of my thirty contests. Confident, excited and happy I headed down to the athlete meeting to meet the athletes and judges. The head judge for this contest was Luke Tesvich.
This lineup consisted of twelve competitors, half of the lineup were athletes who competed at Olympia. Even though it didn’t have the quantity, it was definitely quality.
Early in the morning, while my fiancee was still sleeping I went about my morning ritual. I had my eggs and my pancakes at 5am, then went to apply my last coat of tan and started filling up on carbs for the show. During pre-judging I felt small, so I kept my loose shirt on while pumping up, once I took it off, the confidence came back. I filled out nicely and maintained my conditioning.
During pre-judging, Luke asked me to come to the middle of the first callout, where he kept me until the end and didn’t move me. What that usually means is that he was looking to see how to place people around me, so if the head judge puts the athlete in the middle, that means he’s comparing the two athletes on either side to him.
One thing that bugged me during pre-judging was that one athlete took it upon himself to ask the DJ to play his song during our solo routines. That means he practiced his routine to this song, to perfect his posing, while the rest of us walked out to whatever the DJ decided to play. Neither one of the athletes had a choice in choosing a song to walk out to, we just did our thing like we practiced in silence. So this guy, basically got his own posing routine along with the song of his choosing. Another thing about this guy is, I notice this at every athlete meeting, while all the athletes are meeting and greeting each other, he’s mingling with judges and officials. It’s just not fair to everyone else when an athlete is rubbing elbows with the right people in hopes of them liking him better.
Since my fiancée felt so confident in me, she didn’t attend pre-judging, as I told her she doesn’t have to. For finals however, she came and cheered for me. Every time I saw her face, I smiled and adjusted the confidence within my posing. During our solo routines, the athlete I mentioned earlier pulled the same thing and while we all walked out to something very mellow and low on energy, the music picked up and his own song played during his routine while he posed to every beat accordingly like he practiced. Me and another competitor next to me just looked at each other and shook our heads. The placings started being called out. As soon as the MC announced second place, my fiancée started cheering, knowing that I had gotten first before my name was even announced. I finally did it. I won three pro shows, three weekends in a row. Dayana Cadeau Classic marked my seventh pro win and my thirtieth contest since I first started competing.
I want to prove to people that you can push yourself further than you think you can. I want people to think limitlessly. We must not get discouraged and we must learn from everything, every loss is a lesson and a test to see whether or not you have what it takes to get up and get moving again. This stunt was a personal achievement, but I’m glad I’ve inspired some people along the way, and that’s all I can ask for. Never be afraid of new challenges, face your fears and don’t ever let anyone tell you what can and cannot be done. Impossible is an opinion, not a fact.
Always strive to better your best!