Being born legally blind and for all practical purposes an only child (I have a brother who is 18 years older), I was sheltered and over protected by my parents. I never was able to play outside, to run or climb or do any of the other things that play a part in the normal physical development of a young boy. As a result, I was very overweight and in extremely poor condition. At age twelve I was 5'2” with a 38 in. waist!
Since I wasn't able to participate in them, I never had an interest in most sports. However, from an early age I became obsessed with professional wrestling.
My initial exposure to weight training came in middle school. One of the coaches took us into the high school wrestling room where there were some fixed barbells, a bench press and some other odds and ends. I remember not being able to press the 15 pound bar and everyone, including the coach, made fun of me. I also remember that I was hooked right then and there! For my birthday in May, my parents bought me my first weight set from Sears. Does anyone else remember the plastic coated, cement plates? I vowed to workout hard all summer, come back to school in great shape, and was going to try out for the wrestling team. I had no idea just how far I had to go. I did bench presses on the picnic bench in the backyard and pushups on the pool ladder. I followed the workouts in the bodybuilding magazines as closely as I could. I sweated and strained with little more than a great tan to show for it when September arrived. I thought that I had made some decent improvement and was disappointed that no one noticed when I returned to school. I had gotten a little stronger, but was still fat. A condition that other kids were quick to point out.
Needless to say, my dream of trying out to wrestle was shelved until the next year. The truth is that every year I dreamt of it, but never had the nerve to try. Looking back I know I would have never made it, as it took me several years just to get into average physical condition. I kept struggling with the weights and studying the magazines trying to learn more. Why wasn't I starting to look like the guys I saw in the magazines? I came to the conclusion that my problem was my limited workout equipment, so I convinced my parents to sign me up at a real gym. I became a member of a Vic Tanny health club where I hoped my answers would lie.
The people working there didn't know any more than I did. Even though I had a lot more "toys” to play with, I still didn't seem to be improving much. It was during this time I read an article in an old magazine about Gene Massey, Teenage Mr. Florida. The article described all the titles he had already won and referred to an accident he had while he was a child in which he lost an eye. This inspired me as I felt a kind of bond, since he had a vision problem like myself. Shortly thereafter I came across another article about him in the local newspaper. It stated that he ran a health food store and gym right here in Hollywood. I went to see him and was in awe. He was getting ready to compete in just a few weeks so he was in great shape. Tragically, on his way to that contest the small plane he and three others were in crashed and all were lost.
A few months later Vic Tanny's closed and I had to find another gym. I went to see what had become of Massey's gym, The Hollywood Health Center, and found the doors open and an older man, who turned out to be Gene's father, behind the counter. Everything changed for me at that moment. This wasn't a health club with business people and older retired guys just hanging around, this was a real gym with big guys working out with a purpose. Serious muscle guys like I saw in my magazines. There were even a couple of wrestlers! They were great to me and showed me what I was doing wrong. Which turned out to be pretty much everything. I practically lived in the gym the following summer. I would just hang out and talk with Mr. Massey and the other guys, workout, sweep the floor or straighten up the shelves in the health food store. I did anything I could do to help out. I had found my niche. I found a place where I felt like I belonged. That was something new for me. I remember telling Mr. Massey that if he ever decided to sell the gym, that I wanted to buy it. Pretty bold words for a 17 year old kid, I suppose. I was finally on the right track. I was getting bigger and stronger and slowly losing some body fat. After only five years of hard work I finally was starting to look like I worked out! Around that same time I attended my first live bodybuilding contest. A couple of the judges were guys I knew from the gym and they let me sit at the judges table, right up front so I could see everything better. I attended every local contest that came along. I loved them, the crowd, the energy, the whole thing. Most of the time the promoters would bring in a big name bodybuilding star as a guest attraction and usually hold a seminar or training clinic with that star the following day. I attended every one and probably made a pain of myself with all my questions. I wanted to pick their brains to learn everything I could. It was at one of these seminars, one with Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, that I found out the truth concerning the magazines. "If I told Joe what I really did for my arms or chest he would tell me it wasn't enough to build an article around." Scott said. "So I would say, okay, sometimes I do X,Y and Z and that became part of the story." No wonder I didn't improve following the routines in the mags.
In 1978 the new owners of the gym announced they were going to promote a bodybuilding contest and I decided to train for the teenage division. I worked harder than I ever had before and really watched my diet. The day of the show came and I was in the best shape I had ever been. I didn't do well but I was proud that I was able to stand on that stage and not look foolish. I continued to train and entered a couple more contests. I realized that I just didn't have what it took genetically to win, but I used the contests to push myself harder and harder. In August of 1980 I entered the Mr. Southern States and placed very low but for the first time in my life I was in really great condition with great abdominals, something I had never seen before, and not a trace of body fat! The little fat kid was ripped!!!
In early 1981 I completed my yearlong training to become a massage therapist and started to work in the field. Shortly after that I learned that the gym was not doing well and that the owner was eager to sell. I went to my family, and after a lot of discussion, we bought that same gym I had wanted to buy 5 years earlier. In September of 1981, BODYMAGIC FITNESS CENTER opened its doors featuring a large photo of Gene Massey hanging prominently on the wall.
I didn't know the first thing about running a gym and neither did my parents. However, both of them had been small business owners and they did know how to keep a business going. Thank God for them, or like many other guys who thought it would be cool to have their own gym, I would have been out of business in no time. My parents were retired and were a tremendous help. My father worked part time during the day so I could keep my massage job. I worked the afternoon/evening shift, while my mother did the books.
I soon realized there was a lot more to running a successful gym than just hanging around and lifting weights all day. I had loved being involved with the bodybuilding shows I had previously competed in and decided that it would be a great idea to run one. It would be good publicity for the gym. In April of 1982, I promoted the first Hollywood Bodybuilding Championships. It turned out to be an annual event which I ran for many years to come. I helped several people get ready for the show. That's when I started to realize that even though I had a hard time making progress myself, I must have known what I was talking about, as everyone I worked with made great improvements.
I became a student of training and nutrition. My massage study involved almost the same anatomy and physiology as premed so I had a new and much better understanding of how the body worked. I also took to really watching people. There were three power lifters who trained together. I knew nothing about powerlifting so I watched their workouts and made lots of mental notes. Being in south Florida, I had the opportunity to watch lots of people visiting the area. Many professional athletes as well as a few celebrities wandered through my doors, and I always took the time to observe their workouts. They perceived me as a friendly attentive gym owner (which I suppose I was) but in reality I was always trying to learn something new. One day I called Vince's Gym to speak to the man himself, Vince Gironda. Vince was famous for getting movie and TV stars in great shape in very short time as well as having trained some of the top bodybuilders in the world. People like Karl Weathers, Robert Blake and Sylvester Stalone had been regulars in his Hollywood (Cal.) gym. He was considered the best trainer there was and I wanted to learn from him. He generously gave of his time while I asked question after question. This was a time where there were no such things as personal training certifications and the only people who paid someone to train them were celebrities. If you came in my gym I helped you. There was never a thought of charging someone to put them through a workout or help with their diet.
As the fitness craze of the 80s took hold I saw my membership change from hardcore people like lifeguards, construction workers and fire fighters to more business people and professionals. The thing that never changed was the simple, unpretentious and very comfortable atmosphere of the gym, that same feeling that made me feel like I belonged so many years before.
By the early 90s I had done well enough to purchase the building in which the gym was housed. Man, how things had changed. I had more invested in cardio equipment by then than I had spent on the entire gym back in 81! My days were filled with training people, all kinds of people from high school and college athletes to professional people to guys and girls wanting to get in shape to take the firefighters academy exam or to look great for their wedding or high school reunion. Some paid me very well and others paid me nothing and that was fine. I did it more for the joy of seeing someone improve than the cash. Isn't that what they say? "Do something because you love it and the financial rewards will come."
By the later part of the decade my life had taken some very negative turns. I had lost both of my parents and my marriage was on very shaky ground. It was time for some major changes. The gym just wasn't any fun anymore. My parents, especially my father, had been such a big part of the gym that it just didn't matter without him being there. (He was an almost daily fixture until his mid-80s). I decided to sell the property. I still remember the song on the radio at the end of the last day. It was "Turn the Page" by Bob Seager. I thought that was fitting. I want to say here that I am very proud of the fact that I made arrangements for all of my members to be transferred to another facility very nearby and gave everyone notice that I was closing. I didn't just vanish in the middle of the night like I have seen so many other gyms do.
Now, more than 15 years later I still run into people who were members and hear how they miss the old gym or how great a guy my dad was. Closing the gym did nothing to save my marriage so I soon found myself renting a room in someone's home, no parents, no wife, no gym and feeling like I had nothing. I was spending far too much time in the bar next to my old building until I realized things had to change. I purchased a place on Hollywood Beach. My first home that was just mine!
I returned to the site of my first massage job, the Sun Spa Hotel, which was a short walk from my new apartment. But instead of just being a therapist, I was the spa director. It was a seasonal job, six days a week from October through April and then I just relaxed during the summer. It was a nice change after so many years of 60 hour weeks in the gym. After the hotel closed that first spring I went to Morristown, NJ and met Hannah. my first guide dog. Then my life really got better. Living on the beach with a great job a five minute walk from home with this awesome dog that everyone wanted to know about...Life was Good!
Over the years I made many friends from all over through the gym including several friends in the wrestling business. I traveled to wrestling shows a friend promoted in Ohio and to a convention in Las Vegas for the Cauliflower Alley Club, a group of retired boxers, wrestlers and movie stunt people. I got very involved with the CAC and started writing for their newsletter and website. I had the opportunity to interview practically all of my childhood heroes and actually became good friends with many of them. I began collecting wrestling memorabilia and eventually set up a website where I bought and sold everything from wrestling posters and programs to autographed items to real ring used wrestling belts and masks.
There was an antiquated workout room in the rec building and they were talking about renovating it. Someone dragged me into the mix knowing that I had been in the gym business. They pretty much said, "Here is the budget. Get it taken care of." So I got to build my own gym once again. It was a little limited but for a condo gym I believe it was the best in the area. I had a gym right at my fingertips and I took full advantage by soliciting all over the beach for training and massage clients. After five years, the hotel closed and that job came to an end. I was a little sad to see it go but it really didn't affect my life much. Between my little wrestling memorabilia business and a few regular clients, I was doing just fine.
I became conscious that my vision was starting to get worse and decided I needed to knock some things off my "bucket list" while I could still see. So in the fall of 2006, Annette, the love of my life, and I took our "once in a lifetime" trip to Europe. We climbed the Acropolis, took a gondola ride through the canals of Venice and got totally lost wandering the streets of Paris. It was wonderful from beginning to end...Oh and we went back three years later!
When the economy started crumbling in 2008 my phone stopped ringing. No one had extra cash for personal training or massage. I was depressed and bored. Just too much time on my hands and I felt unproductive. I was also getting very frustrated with the further loss of what little vision I had. I was pretty much down to only seeing light and dark by 2009. By this time my own workouts had devolved from intense hardcore training to kind of boring fitness training. I had accepted that I was nearing 50 and my body just couldn't do what it used to. Just too many years of heavy lifting and my shoulders, knees and elbows all just were reminding me of my age every time I tried to go heavy. To fill my time I started looking for work in the travel industry. I loved to travel and I knew I could sell so it seemed logical enough. I finally found a small local travel agency who was willing to take me on. From the beginning they were pretty negative about my prospects. They just couldn't grasp how I was going to learn all I needed without being able to see. It wasn't going to cost them anything as it was straight commission so they had nothing to lose...and I took it as a personal challenge. In my first two years I far exceeded the sales they expected of me but already I was realizing it just wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had met and beaten the challenge of learning everything I needed and I was working my butt off going to networking meetings and doing everything I could to promote myself. At the same time I started doing presentations for the local Lighthouse for the Blind. I went out to church groups, women's clubs, Kiwanis clubs, etc. doing community awareness kinds of presentations. I enjoyed it as I have always had fun talking in front of people, and it gave me the chance to do a little subtle networking for the cruise business as well.
One day I was wandering the web and came upon a very cool site called old time strongmen which in turn led me to www.brookskubik.com . Brooks focused on hard heavy training and how an older lifter should approach it. I was totally enthralled and ordered his book, GREY HAIR BLACK IRON. It took me a very long time to scan it page by page into my computer so I could read it. Brooks is an old school guy who refuses to put his work in e-book form. Reading this book reignited my excitement for training. More than teach me anything really new, it reminded me of many things I had forgotten and showed me a path I hadn't previously considered. I knew how to get a younger guy big and strong and I knew how to make an older lady or man healthier and more fit, but the idea of hard heavy training for an older person had never crossed my mind before. I shortened my workouts and reduced the number of days I went to the gym and almost magically I started getting stronger and it became fun again. I woke up excited to go to the gym instead of dreading it. It was like I was 19 all over again! I went back to my old habit of devouring every bit of training information I could find. I was amazed at how many websites on building muscle, burning fat, bodybuilding, and strength training there were. Sadly most of which I looked at offered little more than a regurgitated form of what I had read in the muscle magazines 25-30 years ago. I started reading about the old time strong men and bodybuilders. Not the guys I grew up on in the 70s but the guys from the early part of the century.
Then the best thing that could have happened to my training happened. The Golds gym I was training at closed! How could that be a good thing you ask. Well I couldn't find a new gym I was comfortable in so I started training at home. We had just purchased a new home with a two car garage that had been converted to an extra bedroom. I had started equipping it with a few odds and ends so I could lift at home if I didn't want to go to the gym. I had joined another gym with my workout partner but just wasn't happy there and gradually started lifting at home more and more. My partner preferred the social environment of a commercial gym while I was learning to love the solitude of my home gym so we parted ways. Ironically, I have a few pieces of equipment that came from that Golds that closed on me.
I started to get curious about different forms of training. Sandbag training, Kettle bells and bodyweight training were all new to me in spite of the fact that apparently they all had been around for longer than the barbells and dumbbells I knew so well. I purchased some kettle bells and hired a RKC (Russian kettle bell certified) trainer to teach me how to properly use them. I had to leave my ego at home as I was a total beginner at this form of training. It was very challenging and kept me motivated to learn more and more. Then I purchased a TRX at the urging of an old friend I had recently reconnected with. Joel, a former employee of mine who is a strength coach at a local high school, convinced me it was a great tool and to give it a try. He was right and another facet was added to my ever growing arsenal of training tools. Wow, I guess you can teach an old muscle head a few new (or old) tricks.
The summer of 2012 brought the promise of a podcast project focused on fitness for the blind community. After I had done a lot of prep work the project fell apart. Ever since then I have been playing with the idea of reentering the fitness world in some way. I haven't had any training clients in a while and realistically, a blind personal trainer is not the easiest sell in the world, especially one who wants to train you in his dungeon of a garage gym rather than a slick shiny commercial facility with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment to choose from. However, I have counseled several people long distance. I am still in contact with a few people who were members of my gym who no longer live in the area and email me for nutrition and training advice. I also started frequenting a sports and recreation for the blind email list a few years ago through which I have met several people around the country that I have set up fitness programs for. As 2013 was coming to a close a request came my way. A gentleman who I was playing chess with online asked if I would be interested in doing a live exercise program on a blind community chat site that he hosted a chess chat on. I had my doubts but he brought it up several times so I agreed to give it a try. So at the beginning of January 2014 I started hosting a three mornings a week live workout show on the blindcafe.net . It was something new and in its own way very challenging as I am interacting with several people at different levels of fitness and since they can't see what I am doing and I can't see them to correct mistakes I have to be extremely descriptive. I have a nice little following of people who are there every time and other curious ones who come and go. Overall, I would consider it a success and hope to continue doing it as long as there are people who want me to. And that brings us to this website. That morning class has me wanting to do more and to reach more people, so here we are.
Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions. I am always looking for ideas and input. My intention with this site is to address the needs of people that most other sites tend to ignore as well as to appeal to the rest of the fitness community.