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Health

Clean physique

| Monday, May 3, 2004

Afterwards, there would be Dairy Queen Cheesecake Blizzards. And pizza from Mineo's.

Mmmmm. Pizza.

Warm and chewy. Sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. A wonderful cure to that gnawing, empty feeling in the stomach.

But first, there was the matter of the awards presentation.

Until it took place, the bodybuilders could only lounge about in a staging room splattered with tanning lotions and reeking of Bengay.

Bobby Omeara, 34, of Erie, was among the anxious. Sitting there, he wondered how the judges would rank his physique and whether ice cream mixed with bits of cheesecake tastes as good as it sounds.

He had spent the past 12 weeks getting ready for this show, the 2004 NATURAL Pittsburgh. Eighty-four days doing countless sets of countless repetitions in the gym. Eighty-four days of eating chicken and turkey dinners, meted out in miserly portions measured on a scale.

Of course, the 40 or so other competitors, men and women ranging from their early 20s to late 50s, all had endured similar regimens.

And now, the only thing left to do was wait and think of ways to break their diets, even if only for an evening.

Ultimately, Omeara's self-sacrifice was rewarded. He took third in his division, the open men's short, and got that Blizzard.

The show was the latest of 17 organized by promoter Dean Tortorice, a former bodybuilder and owner of Dean's Health & Fitness Center in Murrysville. It was held April 17 at the Franklin Regional High School auditorium in Murrysville.

The show is specifically meant for bodybuilders who refuse to take illegal drugs to help them bulk up.

To be allowed to participate in it and other competitions that fall under the auspices of the American Natural Bodybuilding Conference, bodybuilders must have never used steroids, growth hormones, diuretics or a host of other pharmaceuticals.

They also must pass a polygraph exam attesting to that fact.

The ban, however, excludes legal dietary supplements, things like protein powders, vitamins and creatine. Some contestants spend hundreds of dollars on these items.

There have been no scientific studies to evaluate the long-term use of creatine. Possible side effects include nausea, stomach upset, dizziness, weakness, loose stools, diarrhea, muscle cramps and weight gain.

Tortorice said it is important to have organizations such as the American Natural Bodybuilding Conference take a stand against illegal drugs. He said youths who are interested in the sport, or any sport, need to see that they can be competitive without illegal drugs.

"At the elite level, drug use consumes bodybuilding," said Dr. Charles Yesalis, a Penn State University health and human development professor who has studied the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

The conference bodybuilders contend drug-free is the only way to go. They say they'll stay healthier and be able to remain competitive for a lot longer. "We'll be doing this for another 10 years. They'll be done in four," said Omeara.

Yesalis said no study has been done to examine the effects of long-term steroid use. However, he said, it appears that, at high doses over extended periods, steroid use can cause liver damage, heart disease, stroke and, in rare instances, rage. In women, steroids can lead to the development of male characteristics. In children, it can stunt growth.

Despite the health concerns, some bodybuilders are driven to use because of what's at stake -- money, endorsement deals and notoriety.

In the ANBC, there are no cash prizes. Just big trophies, and a sense of accomplishment. That attracts a different type of bodybuilder, amateurs who are in it strictly because they enjoy looking good, feeling good and tasting victory, said Tortorice.

In this sport, victory takes an incredible amount of self-discipline, hard work and strict dieting. For many competitors, training, which often starts months in advance of a show, becomes a second job.

Take the training schedule of Terry MacDonald, a 28-year-old from Latrobe.

His days begin at 5 a.m. with a cup of coffee or green tea and some thermogenics, an ephedra-free diet pill.

He drives from Latrobe to a Murrysville gym, where he hits the treadmill for a 40-minute, high-intensity cardiovascular workout.

Breakfast -- two cups of rice and 10 egg whites -- is eaten at work. "To me, that's my best meal of the day," he said.

After an eight-hour day, he heads back to the gym, and kills himself for two more lifting weights, and then runs through another 30-minute cardiovascular workout.

Dinner, often chicken and sweet potatoes cooked a few days before, is eaten during the ride home.

"There's a high price to pay in bodybuilding and not everyone can afford it," he said.

For MacDonald, bodybuilding is his way of setting himself apart in a society that is becoming increasingly fat.

According to the latest Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics, 60 percent of the state's adults are overweight. Of that figure, 24 percent are obese.

So there's that, plus MacDonald figures women dig a guy who is buff. "Or at least you would think so," he said.

At 55, New Jersey resident James Sealy Sr. also doesn't want to become just another obese American.

He's always worked out, but only started competing in shows nine years ago.

His physique has earned him 12 trophies. The tournaments, he said, give him a push to keep at it. "I don't want to go where other guys are going, fat and flabby and out of shape."

That's where Alan Vacks was heading.

He had been slim, fit and athletic in his younger days, but by his 40s, he had let himself go, topping out at 240 pounds and size 42 pants. "The Pillsbury Dough Boy looked like a matchstick next to me."

So one day seven years ago, he decided he had had enough. He was tired of how he looked and tired of struggling to make it through a shift at work as a Pittsburgh firefighter.

He began exercising and cleaning up his diet. Six months in, he suffered a heart attack and needed to undergo angioplasty.

Since then, he's remained committed to keeping his body in shape. It's not been the easiest of tasks, but, he said, he's had a lot of help and guidance from Tortorice and his shows.

The shows, he said, provide the motivation to keep him in the gym.

In last year's Pittsburgh NATURAL, at age 52 , he took first in his division. This year, he took first in his division, and won the best poser award, his goal for the year.

Afterwards, he headed to Mineo's, a popular pizza shop in Squirrel Hill.

"That was a slice of heaven," he said.

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