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Bodybuilding as a Crutch

Bodybuilding as a Crutch

By Danny Manslaughter


Recently, I found myself in all places, behind the judges table of the 2nd annual NGA Natural Mr. & Ms. Western America Bodybuilding, Figure & Bikini Championships. I, myself do not have an extensive competitive history in bodybuilding; just getting my feet wet (in the right way) this year, making an earnest commitment to see what I can bring and improve on the stage. I found myself in an odd paradox, preparing for my competition date while judging athletes who had worked tirelessly for their special night. The promoter Mark Pacheco asked me if I’d be willing to sit alongside the legendary Mr. California: Tom Touchstone, Johnny Carrero, and others. To be sitting next to these individuals was very humbling, to say the very least. Mark, himself has worked tirelessly to resurrect bodybuilding competitions in this town, sorely needed in an area so entrenched by the iron culture.

Tom Touchstone

Tom Touchstone

There is a song by the British Rock band The Eels titled — It’s a motherfucker that has been on somewhat steady rotation in my mind and laptop since the ides of the month. It’s been my sentiments for the past couple weeks, as life’s all too common and likely adversities bludgeoned me. I decided to put a halt to the song however as I decided it wasn’t good for my overall mental ‘health.’ But this didn’t prevent the crippling Joe Louis left hook that would occur next. I decided to check one of my most cherished friends—leaving a voicemail and anxiously waiting to hear back from my mentor Dax Ferguson. Not 10 minutes ticked by until I received a call from a Montana cell phone number. Dax’s ex-wife was calling me back – She calmly said on the phone ‘Is this Dan Church?’ I already knew what she would tell me next; I could feel the squirming pain inside my stomach that one only suffers from loss or venturing to what a can of chili purchased from the 99cent store (grease rainbows accompanied with a meal). Dax’s-ex said ‘Yeah I know it’s a shocker, he’s one of those people you’d think would live forever’; she was right on this assumption as I had always imagined him as immortal at the very least.

Danny with Dax

Sitting at the judges table of the competition, I tried to eradicate the other mishmash of wanderings, and distractions are running like amphetamine-snorting greyhounds in my head. It did not take long—As I began to relive once again—the magic, the drama, and pageantry of all that is a bodybuilding competition. Walking in, a middle-aged woman inquired to the lady handling ticket sales — ‘How much is it?’—The answer was, of course, $25. After hearing this, apparently the possible patron felt it was ‘far too much’ and quickly stammered off. That’s very unfortunate, as she missed an entertaining spectacle of fine natural physiques and a harrowing backstory, fit for an episode of 60 Minutes with Brant Lewter taking the stage. Lewter, a Coast Guard Veteran competed with his sister that night in the auditorium, after months of hard preparation. Lewter decided to enter in the physique division, after recent diagnoses of Stage 3 Brain Cancer and having a tumor removed from his frontal lobe.

Brant standing front and center

Brant Standing Front and Center

A thunderous roar—measuring in decibels perhaps to Iron Maiden’s entrance onto ‘Rock in Rio’ (possibly a slight exaggeration) waited for Brant as he stepped on stage. He was conditioned, diced with pleasing proportions; Brant looked exceptional. Merely a year earlier, Brant was bed-ridden, unable to walk or even perform basic functions post-surgery from removal of a tumor. His sister—Ashley made him a promise she would do a bikini competition if he competed with her—this was the motivation he needed, and he made this vision come to fruition on July 28. Even the most hardened bodybuilding curmudgeon shed a tear that night to hear Brant and Ashley’s moving story as relayed by the MC.

The night progressed with well-constructed posing routines, a video documenting California bodybuilding history, but the story of the Lewter’s remained the emotional pinnacle. Bodybuilding we can dress up with as many nouns as we’d like—whether people consider it a ‘sport,’ ‘art,’ ‘career,’ ‘endeavor.’ After the night show had concluded, I recalled a comment many years ago when a friend once mentioned to me — ‘Yeah but you use bodybuilding as a crutch.’ I can’t deny the allegation, as for certain bodybuilding has helped me crawl out of the darkest holes. Towards the end of the week as I felt downtrodden, reflecting on the death of a bodybuilding mentor and friend I became resurrected as I witnessed a young man struggling for dear life, stepping on stage simply because it was his vision. To watch a young man at a different position in his life, making the most out of his circumstances and showing his passion for this culture was enough of a crutch to elevate me from my slump.

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