Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Breakfast with Arnold

In the summer of 1980, I met with Arnold Schwarzenegger for breakfast at Francescos Restaurant in Oakland, California.  Arnold was there to give a presentation on his secrets of bodybuilding.  I was there to be his "follow-up" act.  Just one year before, I had won Mr. USA Masters in Bodybuilding.  13 years prior I had taken silver at the 1967 US Power Lifting Championships in Pennsylvania.  However, my confidence waned as I contemplated the challenge of following in the wake of some one like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here is that story....

My phone rang early one morning in 1980,  Joe Corsi's voice was urgent, "Paul, I need a big favor.  I contracted Arnold Schwarzenegger for a 3 hour presentation on his secrets of bodybuilding and I've paid him $5000.00 in advance!  He's in the middle of filming "Conan the Barbarian" right now and something came up, I just got notified that he'll only be able to speak for one hour, instead of three.  I've already sold 350 seats at $75.00 each.  I have to fill in the time somehow, everyone is expecting a 3 hr. event.  Can you fill in for Arnold after he leaves?"  Joe was a local California promoter of bodybuilding and bodybuilding competitions.  Before I had realized it, I had agreed to Joe's request.  But, soon enough I began to ponder the potential disaster that was confronting me in just 7 days.  How would I ever follow-up after someone like Arnold?

 Just two hours before the presentation was to begin I found myself sitting at a table across from Arnold, having breakfast at his hotel.  He was in loose-fitting gray sweats covering his massive physic.  His dark brown hair was long, grown out for his part as Conan.  It covered his face as he bent forward at the table eating his huge plate of scrambled eggs and bacon.  We sat for a while not saying a word.  I kept thinking, "How did I get myself into this?".  Struggling to find something to say I finally said, "Arnold, I'm so nervous.  How do you do it?", he was silent for about 30 seconds.  Then, still eating his breakfast, came an answer with his famous deep voice inflected with a heavy accent, "Your the expert, what the hell do they know?  Their the ones that should be nervous, not you!"  His incredible self-confidence was infectious.  I immediately felt energized by his comments and his presence.

The presentation was to be given at  Francesco's Restaurant in Oakland, California.  When we arrived the conference room was packed with over 350 people.  They sat eagerly waiting for Arnold to make his appearance.  Many were disappointed that Arnold would only be staying for the first hour and would not return for the final two hours after the lunch was served.  I expressed my worry to a good friend Bob Perata who owned "Bob's Athletic Club" in Fremont where Arnold trained when he was in the Bay Area.  "Bob," I started "these people came to see Arnold for the full 3 hours, not me.  How are we going to keep them here?  I'm afraid most of them are going to leave after lunch."  Seeing clearly my apprehension  Bob said calmly, "I have an idea."  I followed him to the back of the room where we could talk privately.  "Listen Paul," he began "since you just won Mr. USA, are you up to giving a  posing routine after lunch?"  I looked a bit puzzled and responded, "Yea, but I don't have music or anything with me."  Bob cracked a smile, "Don't worry about that, I've got a plan."

 Arnold took the stage in the same gray sweats he wore during our breakfast.  Even though everyone was eager to hear his secrets of bodybuilding, Arnold spoke mostly about his career in the movies and his current role in Conan the Barbarian.  Everyone seemed to pay rapt attention as he spoke.  With 15 minutes left Arnold took off his baggy sweatshirt.  It is hard to describe the audiences reaction to his sheer size as he stood there in a tank.  He took a few questions from the crowd and then agreed to demonstrate a few poses.  The audience cheered and applauded as Arnold defied the imagination as to what the bodybuilding champion of the world actually looked like in person.  It was all over far too soon, Arnold said "thank you" and disappeared off the stage.

Bob entered on stage after Arnold left.  After waiting for the crowd to quiet down he began, "We're going to break now for lunch, but after lunch we have a incredible bodybuilder, Mr. Paul Yazolino, Mr. USA 1979, who is going to perform a posing routine for you and answer questions on how, if you're over 40, you can still compete in bodybuilding and look amazing.  You're not going to want to miss this!"  When Bob left the stage I tried without success to read the crowds response to my introduction.  Where they going to come back after lunch?  I was still worried.  Through lunch Bob found all the items I needed for a posing routine.

After lunch was over I peeked into the room and was immediately rushed with excitement and adrenalin when I saw that ALL 350+ people had filed back into the room awaiting my presentation.  I was pumped and ready.  My posing routine went off perfectly and the crowd was excited.  I took questions and gave answers for more than 2 hours.  People stayed long after the program was over to meet me and thank me for such a great presentation.  In the end Bob said to me, "Paul, you didn't have anything to be worried about in following after Arnold.  Sometimes you just have to be a little creative."  Bob was right, of course.  This was one of the best experiences of my career, something I'll never forget.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Power-lifting Competition at San Quentin

Shortly before winning the silver medal at the USA Power-lifting Championships in 1965, I was working out at Johnny's Gym in Alameda, California, my home town.  The gym owner, Johnny,  received a request from San Quentin State Prison for the gym to send over a few of their best lifters to face off against the prison's best lifters.  Johnny's Gym was chosen because it was known for having some of the strongest power-lifters in the state.     At the time, I was the only power-lifter in the US in my weight class (225 lbs.) who had bench pressed 500 lbs.  I agreed to be part of the group to go up against the prison inmates.  

When we arrived, armed guards escorted us into the prison.  As we progressed deeper into the facility's interior, a succession of steel-barred, electronic doors closed behind us.  Finally, we entered into a very large room that served as the inmates' weight and training area.  Alert prison guards positioned themselves strategically along the walls.  

On the floor in the center of the room were two benches whose racks were draped with Olympic barbell sets.  Two stacks of loose disks of various weights stood ready nearby.  A huge inmate stepped out from the crowd.  Although he weighed around 250 lbs., there was hardly an ounce of fat on his body.  I reached out and, keeping a serious expression he shook my hand.  We agreed to compete with the Bench Press, which would consists of three lifts each.  We flipped a coin...he would lift first.

With his fellow inmates cheering him on he set his first lift at 425 lbs. and benched it, no problem.   The room went silent as I approached the bench, I matched his weight of 425 lbs. and easily made my press.  He increase his next set to 475 lbs.  The room filled with applause as the crowd cheered him on.  I watched his face cringe slightly as he finished his second lift.  I matched his weight again and finished my lift in silence.  The crowd of inmates roared louder as he began to press his last lift.  At 490 lbs. I could see my challenger struggle, almost falter, but succeed in pressing the weight.  Now it was my turn.  This time I decided to increase the weight instead of matching his.  I had already lifted 500 lbs. before, I knew I could do it again.  I added 10 lbs. extra to the bar.  I lifted the bar and brought it down to my chest.  With all my might I heaved the bar back up but a little more than half-way through I struggled, I couldn't press any more.  Slowly I lowered the bar.  As soon as my spotters caught it the inmates exploded in wild celebration and swarmed around their winner.  Even the guards were cheering for their prisoner.

On the way out of the prison, a teammate of mine said "Paul, you almost had that."  I just shrugged and replied "win some, lose some".  But, the truth was I didn't feel like a loser at all.  I felt really good inside.  I've always had an intense desire for competition.  It thrills me and I always want to come away the winner.  Almost always.  This time was different.  Seeing the look on my challenger's face and hearing the crowd roar with excitement for their winner was worth the loss.  The irony is that if I had won, I wouldn't have felt like a winner at all.  I didn't need to win that day to be a winner.  It was a great lesson about life I will never forget.  Hope you enjoyed it, too.  As always, love to hear your comments and questions.  P

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Power-lifting - My Best Lifts

A reader recently asked, "I see you've competed in Power-lifting. What are your best lifts in competition and in training ?" (by Darco)

I started power-lifting in 1960 at the age of 22.  I had been training since 16.  My lifts at 22 were around 300lbs on the bench, 400lbs in the squat, and about 400lbs on deadlift.  I was at the time, just learning to be a power-lifter and the sport was very young at the time.  It was hard to find info about proper training and nutrition.  Most of us were on our own in a "trial and error" sort of way.  By 1967, my best bench-press in the gym was 500lbs,  Squats: 670lbs and  Deadlift: 650lbs. In competition, at the US Championships in York, Pennsylvania which was my last power-lifting competition, my official lifts were bench-press: 490 lbs, squat: 630lbs, and deadlift: 630lbs.  At the time, the bench-press was an official US record, but soon after, a new bench-press was set by a power-lifter named Mel Hennessey at 525lbs.

It is important to remember, that lifters back then were not allowed to wear the power-lifting suits that are worn today, which enable the lifters to improve their lifts significantly. I wish that technology was available at the time but that was 43 years ago.  Between the years of 1960 - 1967 I competed in approximately 20 powerlifting competitions, most of them in California, either placing or winning in all of them.

Today, at the age of 72 I'm still working out to keep my self in shape. I'm also doing personal training in a gym in Alameda, California.  Since 1993 I've been racing bicycles at the National and World competitions.  Its called Track Racing and its done on an oval banked track.  The bikes reach speeds of 40 mph racing, and the bikes have no brakes.  Its done on what is called a Velodrome. 

In the future, I'll post about my most exciting power-lifting competition when the power-lifters from my gym, in Alameda, Caliifornia were invited to compete against the strongest power-lifters at San Quentin Prison, California.  Check it out.  P

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Climbing Lombard St. - At the Top

When I reached the top of Lombard St. in San Francisco, carrying 300lbs. of weights on my shoulders, I dropped to the ground. I gasped for breath as my body burned with pain. My brother's hand of congratulation gripped my shoulder and patted me on the back "You did it, Paul! You really did it." he exclaimed. A crowd quickly gathered around me and voices of jubilation filled the air. Family, friends and strangers joined voices to sing "Happy Birthday" to me.  Amidst all this commotion there would be two women at the top of that hill who would forever affect my view of that climb - my mother and a perfect stranger.

Soon I was able to catch my breath. My brother, Lauren, and my training partner, Jeff, helped me slowly to my feet. My legs, weak from extreme fatigue, could barely hold my own weight. As I lifted my head the impact of my climb began to filter in. Excited people were everywhere and smiles lit up their faces as they continued to cheer. Pictures snapped and camera-crews filmed all in anticipation of my next steps, my first words.

As my eyes scanned the crowd I was suddenly transfixed on an image I will never forget. My mother stood motionless a short distance from me, her eyes red and cheeks stained with tears. I felt overcome with emotion as I realized, instinctively, she was crying not tears of joy or congratulations, but tears from a deep, abiding love - grateful that the climb was over and her son was safe. As my eyes met hers I struggled towards her. Grasping her in my arms I did my best to comfort her. I realized that I didn't need to impress her to win her love, I had it all the time. She looked up at me as I embraced her and whispered "Promise me that you'll never do something like this again." I promised.

The excitement all around me continued without let up. "Paul," a camera-man shouted, "there is a woman over here that wants to say something to you." I kissed my mother and followed him.  At the top of the hill was another woman I would not soon forget. She was small in stature with beautiful brunette hair. She sat in a wheelchair with a friend standing nearby. She had cerebral palsy. As I approached she smiled. I bent down next to her as she began to speak to me, "I just wanted you to know that you're such an inspiration to me." I was taken aback. How could this small, yet courageous woman find inspiration in me? Looking back at her I smiled and replied, "Thank you, but you're the one who is an inspiration to me."  I knew the climb I had just made almost defeated me but, it was only for 5 minutes, one day in my life. The climb she faced may have felt just as insurmountable but, she faced it every minute of every day in her life. And, she continues to conquer it. Our conversation was not long but it was very meaningful. I only wish I could tell you her name, it is still the one regret I have about that day. She is a wonderful example to us all.  I hope we can all find that special inspiration which helps us conquer our own difficult climbs.

From the moment the idea of this climb entered my mind until today, 30 years later, I continue to be asked the same question,"Why?" - Why climb Lombard Street with 308 lbs. of weights on my shoulders? That will be the topic of my next post.