I had not watched Pumping Iron in years, but it popped up while flipping through Amazon Prime, and I decided to watch it tonight. I probably watched Pumping Iron a hundred times before I was 17, and that is a conservative estimate. There were times where I would watch it every day for weeks because, of course, there were no sources for motivation outside of the bodybuilding magazines. While watching Pumping Iron tonight, I reminisced back to my early days and asked myself who had the most influence on my training. I narrowed my list to three people whom I’d like to thank.
Andy was my best friend when I started working out. In fact, I honestly think that I started training because of him. He was naturally muscular (for being an eighth-grader) and, like me, he was a pretty good athlete. He had just changed schools when we met, and we hit it off right away. As much as I liked him, it always irritated me that he got a lot of attention for "his muscles." These were not my words but the words of eighth-grade girls. I don't recall him working out when we met, so the fact that he had a muscular build at that age tells you something about his genetic potential. I had no genetic potential and was very clear on this even at that age. In hindsight, this made me resent the attention he received, and it was a big motivator for me to start working out.
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Shortly before the end of my eighth-grade year, I started what I thought was working out. I borrowed a sand-filled barbell set from a friend and made up a workout while lying on my bed. Two weeks later, my friend asked for his weights back. I bitched him out because I was convinced I was well on my way to becoming huge, and I knew the weights were going to go right back in his basement and gather dust. I was right.
It was at this time that I started going to the Y-Center and sneaking into the weight room. I would make up exercises, and whichever muscles burned, I knew those muscles were going to get bigger. I didn't bother to thank my friend who gave me the barbell set because he was an Indian-giver (is that even politically correct to say?). I owe Andy a thank you for being the first person in my life who motivated me to train so I could pull eight-grade ass, too.
It was at the Y-Center that I met another person who also deserves my thanks. Tony looked like someone who walked off of a photoshoot in Flex Magazine. He had an incredible tan (even by my standards), bleach-blonde hair, and looked like what I one day hoped to emulate. Tony was a God to me. I did every exercise he did and would try to be sneaky about it so that he didn't notice me copying him. After a couple of weeks, he approached me and asked me if I was "taking notes." I was embarrassed, but he smiled and was cool about it. He gave me advice about training, and he always encouraged me. To this day, I always wonder what happened to him because, after a few years, he disappeared. I never saw him again. I have no idea what his last name was, so if you read this, Tony, know that I thank you, and I have thought about you often over the years.
Dickhead Steve Jones
I didn't mention Andy's last name simply because I haven't spoken to him in years, so I don't know if he would appreciate me mentioning his name to my millions of adoring readers. I didn't mention Tony's last name because as hard as I have tried to remember it, I just cannot recall what it was (or I would have looked him up on the internet long ago). I am using Steve's last name because this asshole deserves it. I secretly hope he reads this or someone who knows or knew him reads it. If you knew him, you would likely agree that he was an asshole.
In Steve's defense, he may be a cool guy these days, and age tends to temper egos and shitty attitudes. Still, he deserves my thank you because his shitty comments made me want to train even harder. Like the cartoon bulldog Spike, who had the little yappy dog that followed him around riding his nuts (figuratively), Steve had a sidekick who was every bit the dickhead that Steve was. They both put me down even though they were "adults" by my standards as a teen.
Steve had a badass physique. He was no Tony, but Tony didn't compete and Steve did. I looked up to Steve because he competed, but at the same time hated the guy because he was mean to me (that sounds weak but keep in mind that I was an insecure 14-year old at the time). Steve was short but thick and strong as hell. His sidekick was tall and gangly and wore those 1970 cotton sweats that gathered at the bottom. He wore them two sizes too small, which only made his legs look even less impressive—if that was even possible—than they already were. He eventually attempted professional wrestling. When I heard he failed miserably, I was happy he failed; I still am. Judge me if you like; I'm good with it.
Though there are many examples I could give, I will give this example of how Steve and his business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back friend treated me:
I'm wearing a wife-beater while training at the Y-Center gym in Battle Creek, Michigan. I'm 14 or just turned 15, working hard but keeping to myself. I don't think I'm the shit, and I'm staying in my lane. I go to the drinking fountain to get a drink, knowing these two clowns are standing in the doorway, next to the drinking fountain. I get a drink, and I'm walking away thinking, "Cool, they didn't say anything." Then, Steve speaks up, but he has a friendly tone to his voice.
Steve: “Hey, it looks like you have a pretty good pump going there. You are bigger than the last time I saw you.”
I stopped, turned around, and figured he was going to be laughing, but he was straight-faced. I immediately looked down at my arms and said, "You really think so? I've got a pretty good pump going," and I smiled at him. I just got the best (and only) compliment from Steve, the badass bodybuilder. I was pretty happy.
Steve: “Hell no. You’re just as skinny as you were the last time I saw you.” He then busts out laughing and, predictably enough at this point, his sidekick does the same. I’m not talking about just a laugh; they were knee-smacking and laughing so hard they could barely breathe.
You would think I would have been embarrassed. Instead, I was just plain angry. I stopped their laughing quickly when I said, "You two are fucking assholes." I quickly turned and walked away, hoping I wouldn't get punched in the back of the head. Not that I was any threat to them after that, but they never said a shitty thing to me again. To this day, I don't know if they felt bad or if they just didn't get the same satisfaction out of fucking with me, anymore.
I thank Steve and his sidekick because that situation stuck with me throughout my teenage years. If there was a day that I thought I might not train, I would think of him picking on me. If there was a time where I wanted to eat something that wasn't on my diet, I would think of them. It motivated me for a very long time. Hell, maybe it still does on a subconscious level.
I am quite sure that I am not the only one who has had people influence my motivation, positively or negatively. Though there may be quite a few people who you need or want to thank, take the time to comment below with the one person who stands out the most that you would like to thank and why. You heard my story; I want to hear yours.
Ken “Skip” Hill has been involved in the sport of bodybuilding for almost forty years and competing for twenty-plus years. Born and raised in Michigan, he spent 21 years calling Colorado home with his wife and their four children. Four years ago, he and his wife traded the mountains for the beach, relocating to South Florida. His primary focus is nutrition and supplementation, but he is called upon for his years of training experience, as well. He started doing online contest prep in 2001 and is considered one of the original contest prep guys (when the bodybuilding message boards were still in their infancy). Skip’s track record with competitive bodybuilders is well-respected, and he also does sport-specific conditioning, including professional athletes.