Trying to summarize this entire experience from the snap of the first progress photo to my final moments on stage is like trying to fit an elephant into a shoebox and mail it across Africa…yep, that’s my opening line.
I remember ripping my shirt off, exposing what I thought was a pale-ass frame for the first time as my prep coach pokes at my body fat while several six-packs were doing bodybuilding poses directly behind me at the gym. All my doubts and nervousness were quickly swept aside as he quietly muttered, “I’m really excited to see how you’re body is going to progress.” After a brief emotional side discussion, I buckled down, fueled up the angry part of my brain and started what would be around 18 weeks of soreness, late nights, early mornings, emotional breakdowns, panic attacks and a war with myself that only now has subsided thanks to the love and support of my friends, teammates, coaches, family. Someone said this was supposed to a fun experience…I don’t remember that part.
Oh crap, lemme back up…after meeting a fellow gym rat and agreeing to train with him for five straight weeks, I stumble upon a charming white smiled bodybuilder, let’s call him “TJ”. That’s actually what everyone calls him. I asked for his help and he stared like a laser all the way across the gym at a local legend, a man who exudes more confidence than George Clooney in a dorm full of virgins. Bruno was his name…his last name. At this point, I had no idea who I was speaking with, all I knew was that TJ trusted him, so I went with that.
At this point, I had already decided what division I would be competing in and what League offered me the biggest challenge. Since the inception of Men’s Physique and Women’s Bikini, popularity for the National Physique Committee has risen insanely over the past few years and other leagues have quickly followed suit. Your physical appearance still matters greatly, but personality also plays a part in determining who places where and if you place at all. Essentially it boils down to conditioning, symmetry and stage presence. So during this process, I’ll be learning how to portion and prep my food on a day to day basis, pose as a bodybuilder in order to harden my muscles, all while resisting the temptations of everyday distractions or excuses…yes, all of them.
My first trip with Bruno was down to Newburyport for a local OCB show, a league he wanted me to warm up in before diving into the NPC and all the baggage that comes with it. First off, why the hell are these boarding short guys posing like bodybuilders? Why were they doing full routines? Why am I asking you? This show caused me many late nights in the gym trying to perfect a routine that I never actually performed on stage. One huge takeaway from this show was meeting Tom and Kim, a couple with more muscle than the Russian Mafia. Tom’s back required a topography map just to navigate across it and Kim’s abs coupled with her Dorchester accent could make any punk Irish kid under 5’8 run for his life. A couple steaks and black coffee’s later, Tom is videoing Kim and I half naked in a busy café street posing off in front of ….an oncoming Toyota Four-Runner. Quick, hit the oblique pose and get the F&#k off the road!
Oh…she won the pose off, by the way.
Anyone ever used a stair-climber machine? Looks like normal cardio equipment as you stroll thru the gym, but at 5am…it’s a death machine of pure evil. With nothing but a handful of vitamins in your nauseous gut, you ascend up this mountain of never-ending steps. Your head leans against screen in pure exhaustion, and you only keep your eyes open just enough to peel through all the food porn on Instagram. This, of course, is only your cardio, your workout still awaits you at the end of the day, along with a psycho gym rat, whose chest only reads “FEAR GOD.” Welcome to my summer of 2014.
In order to properly prepare for what would become 4 shows over 34 days, I had to lighten my mental load. Three weeks into training, I went to my storage locker; which contained what was left of my 30 years of existence. Without any hesitation or cognitive thought, the first trash dumpster I saw within a mile was where I left all of it. Armed with with a laptop, a smartphone and a small arsenal of gym clothes, I ambushed social media like it was 1968. Knowing that a large community of fitness fanatics eagerly were awaiting another Gym freak, what they got was me, a man with no “home”, no attachments, no identity…and no excuses.
By week 6, I was attacking the gym, social media, and after being screamed at by my nutritionist, I was also attacking the salt. By week 8, what once was a 180 pound soft shelled podcaster was now a 170 pound overly aggressive ball of veins. I had a chest, I had abs, I had wings, I had promise.
My posing still sucked, but hey…baby steps.
Now after 3 months of posing, lifting, dieting, and video journals; which looking back I can barely understand what the hell I was talking about, the team was one week out from the first show. After a fun photo shoot with my Niece, I headed for posing practice feeling a little tired, but I thought it was from just working so damn hard to prep for my first show. Two days later, my temperature was 102 and the physique I had worked so hard for was shedding like a dog in the summer time. My first show was only days away and I was barely able to stand. By Wednesday I was full of drugs and covered in Pro-tan by Alison who was the only woman I even allowed to touch me during this process. Nice girl, just don’t piss her off. Regardless of how awful my first show was going to be, I was getting up on that goddamn stage no matter how sick or stupid I looked.
Somehow I manage to Dayquil my way up to Maine and register for the show, keeping in contact with Jimmy, my council, I sat in my hotel room and rested as I listened to the couple upstairs screw each other stupid…how goddamn romantic. It is now September 27th.
I don’t remember much of the morning, other than doing pushups in the parking lot before the show. I can honestly say nothing during that show went right for me, I had lost so much weight, my trunks didn’t fit, I was sweating thru my dream-tan, turning my skin a solid gold color, and before announcing my name for 3rd place, I puked up a phlegm ball so big, my lung was still attached to it, I went out onto the stage, became light headed and nearly buckled to the ground. Welcome to Men’s Physique.
There was no time to really review what happened during that show, because the next day, I was back at the gym, lifting and posing with the rest of the guys. Patrick’s season was over after one show, but his physique consists of very little flaws. Watching him and Tom battle head to head on stage was a show in itself. I’m glad everyone walked away from that show with hardware, but what I wanted was still 30 days away.
Next up was Cape Cod, tearing back into the weights with a body running at maybe eighty percent capacity, that’s more than enough for me and apparently it was plenty for my friends on social media, as I was surprised at the amount of support I was getting heading into the next show. I stuck with the same plan, reloaded on supplements and went shopping for new boarding shorts. It’s critical what colors a person picks, because dream-tan is unforgiving on lighter clothes. I’ve been told this before, but ignored the warning as I picked out a streaky white bathing suit for my show on October 11th. This time Jimmy accompanied me down to the Hotel where various topics including how great my hair looked were fired back and forth. Imagine a 168-pound Physique competitor and a 230-pound bodybuilder with very little patience for scratchers like me riding in a Saab for 2 hours down to the Cape, only to sleep in the same bed and watch him consume an entire seafood platter while I sip an unsweetened Iced Tea. Mmmmm delicious.
If you’ve ever been backstage at a fitness event, the heavenly scent of tanning products and body odor welcomes you as competitors scramble to find their buttons before running on stage. My dilemma lied not with my button, but with my shorts. Dream-Tan doesn’t really dry, so when I sat down for about an hour…yes I was wearing white shorts.
Thankfully I had a backup pair, which are now the most recognizable in my collection. Before hitting the stage at a carb-heavy 173 pounds, Bruno, Jimmy and myself briefly went over something I now call the “Victory Pose”. The photographer nailed it at the perfect moment, as I gaze at my closing hand and although my competitors were far better conditioned, this photo defines my entire experience thru this transformation, a tiny smile, a little redemption and a growing love for the stage. Tom, Kim, Shaina, and I all took home OCB hardware that day. However their season was over…mine was just getting started.
In a last second addition, we added NPC New Haven to the schedule, so just one week later I was back in the mix against much larger competitors. I found that since starting fat burners, my body wasn’t holding food like normal; which was expected, but my appetite was dropping rapidly. That I didn’t expect. So when I woke up Saturday morning in New Haven at 162 pounds, I had a feeling it was going to be an interesting day.
This was Rick’s, Hung’s and my first NPC show, so it was good we had a warm up show before the November 1st beast called The New England Regional Championships.
Lemme back up again, cus this article reads a lot like a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (see Pulp Fiction). Rick is big, calm demeanor, very approachable, but for some reason I can imagine him knocking out Big Bird without any hesitation. Hung…is a little ball of lean muscle. He lifts big and learns fast. He’s a little shy, but can own any stage, regardless of his height. Looking at my competition, Kevin Richards weighs in at 190 pounds…shredded. So after I see what I’m up against, I start pounding this sweet potato protein pudding I created the night before in order to look a little bigger against these monsters, but after eating a little too much (the whole Tupperware), I spilled out over my abs and chest. Day over. No callouts. No trophy. Lesson learned. Yet I wasn’t that upset, I saw it as a learning opportunity to see where my bodies’ limits were. It was a very well run show and I made a lot of friends at this one, some whom I will see again very soon. Michael Morin didn’t leave empty handed in Men’s Physique and Josh Brown happily returned my towel after crushing in Men’s Bodybuilding. I was happy to have cracked the top ten, so I had something to look forward to, as I was to begin prep for the final and largest show on my schedule.
So here we all are, all hands and teammates on deck. Big Rob with quads that only Jupiter could orbit, Bantamweight Andrew Lafond, who in my honest opinion has really nice hair and he really likes to be complimented on it. With the addition of Mike and Derek, we’re all sausaged up in the posing room. I’m not sure where Bruno found Hung, but I’m blown away at his ability to find the more promising Bikini girls in the region. Enter Jen Polk. She’s blond, bubbly, and some other nice word that begins with B that I can’t think of at the moment. This pink bikinied assassin isn’t far away from winning a big show thanks to the support of her fitness freak of a mother, Francis.
Okay enough compliments, back to business here…
At this point, after all the training and lack of sleep, my body is gassed. I took all the pre-workout I had left (six scoops) and flat-lined in the gym after about 20 minutes. I was 10 days out from the biggest show in New England, was way lighter than most of my competition and I still didn’t like the way I looked. I asked Jimmy if I could rest for a couple days, he agreed for the fact that I over-trained constantly. I was doing fasted cardio everyday and lifting every night. From the moment I woke up to the second I passed out, I was running, lifting, prepping, posing, my only quiet moment was tanning, and since that was the only true moment of peace I had, that’s when my emotions would at times get the best of me. When you train for something like this, there are moments in every competitors training when the brain and body fight back and it’s not always pretty. So just because I trained harder than everyone else, that doesn’t mean I trained smarter. So now if I was to avoid leaving my last show empty handed, I had to show up smaller. Size matters, but speed kills. Enter carb/water depletion.
Before leaving for Boston, I said goodbye to my niece, Nicole, who despite all our recent arguments, I hope will one day grace the stage with her cosmic presence.
I was in Boston before any of my teammates were even awake. Covered in Pro-tan and running only on the energy that the city was putting out, my last bit of water was a 2pm black coffee from the North End, about a mile from my hotel, I wanted to exhaust every bit of energy so that my sleep cycle that night would be uninterrupted. Applying Pro-tan yourself is fun, for me…it usually turns into a dance party, but I had to be careful while roaming around the hotel, cus the bill for a hotel in Mid-town Boston is already high enough. To ensure I depleted all my water the night before the show, I popped six more water pills before wrapping myself up at about 11:30pm. I had a feeling it was going to be a rough morning, but my shorts were ready, my food was portioned and my Calvin Klein Suit was hanging in the closet.
No Distractions. No Regrets. No Excuses. It was 6am on November 1st.
The only water I had was so I could down two multi-vitamins, two fat burners and six water pills. My hands were shaking, making it hard to shave. I put my headphones on, my all black hoodie and walked across the street to the event, by the time I was in line, I started to fall apart. The combo platter of AQX, Super HD and zero water had given my body all it could handle. Bruno saw me in line and tried to calm me down, cus I was in rough shape and would remain that way until they opened up the backstage. I was happy to see all my teammates and was very glad to also see Josh and Mike from New Haven. Since Alison didn’t have a backstage pass, she applied my Dream-Tan right in the upstairs lobby in full view. However, I waited to put on my shorts until we started lining up. The white shorts that were all messed up from Cape Cod were all clean and ready for the stage, but I decided to save them for the night show and brought back a pair of shorts I’ve owned since high school. The shakes were gone and my veins were popping, but competition was even bigger and I was the first one onstage to introduce my class. So I crushed a couple rice cakes, and a little bit of water. At this point, it wasn’t up to me. I was there and that’s all that mattered. 18 weeks and I was standing in the batters box about to pose in front 1500 spectators and 300 competitors.
Introducing Number 104…
What an adrenaline rush. Your there in front of everyone, lights blasting you in the face and you can only hit your pose and smile. Even thinking about it now, I shake my head in amazement that I did this many shows under very tough conditions in that amount of time. Lucky for me, Jimmy was right behind the judges giving me instructions with his hands, I heard Alison scream, “Corso, your abs!” I squeeze down and Jimmy’s final instruction was a closed fist, meaning, “Lock it up and look right at the judges.”
Before leaving the stage, I made a switch with 108 leaving me standing right next to center stage. I knew very well what this meant in prejudging…
Break time was rather rewarding, as a burger and fries can warm the hearts of almost any hostile nation. A few laughs later, we were backstage once again for the finals. It was almost over and everyone was doing well. Before heading onstage for the last time, I received some important information. My whole purpose of taking the stage was to become a better person…turns out I already was…by a landslide.
I went behind a door and made a rather heavy call to South Carolina, where my parents currently reside. I grabbed my menthol spray and white shorts with a renewed sense of purpose and proceeded down the narrow backstage. It was loud in the theater but at that moment when they called my name, everything in my head became calm. I felt relief, freedom, redemption. I hit the pose, waived to the crowd, took my first NPC trophy and the first two faces I saw were Bruno and Jen, I gave Bruno a hug and Jen a big compliment.
And just like that…it was all over.
I haven’t stopped thanking people, gaining fans and making friends. I’ve already set the date for my return to the stage in 2015. I’m very excited for my teammates I now know that will be part of my life for a very long time.
A few weeks later I was once again across the street from the same venue attending a show and was on my way to the after party to see my buddy and fellow competitor Kevin, when I received a text…one that changed everything.
Thank you to all my teammates, prep coaches, friends and fans. I’m at your service.
Joseph M Corso (Positive Sarcasm)