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Just Another Arnold Spectacular
March 6, 2003

At one point I stood on a folding chair within our quadrangle of booths to look out and over the heads of the churning crowd surrounding us. We were located in an enviable central site of the vast expo hall where the traffic is thick and energetic and curious. I witnessed a sea upon which one could sail an arc to a distant shore upon the winds of vigor, enthusiasm and good will.

You didn’t leave; the colorful mobs came to you in a steady, slow-moving ooze. They were a parade especially orchestrated for your viewing pleasure, stopping by to say, “Hi. How ya doin?” and shake your hand, take a picture, talk about yesterday and dreams of tomorrow and then a warm goodbye. You hated to see them go, but they were without loss of space and time replaced by endless more.

None of the faces are the same. The world each represents is unique, the hopes, plans, beliefs, perceptions, styles, rhythms, joys and fears as individual as thumb prints. Yet one thing connects them all and that’s their passion for musclebuilding, the need to express themselves through muscle, might and training; the desire to be lean and hard and shapely; the admiration for and identity with those who have achieved the coveted muscular deed. The iron, the steel and mounds of muscle turn them on, light them up and ignite the fire within.

Give me muscles and give me peace. Without them and the process by which they are attained, I will fret. Spare me the pain.

In one afternoon I hugged with great sincerity Bev Francis, Cory Everson, Ingrid Marcum and Dianna Dennis. Sparkling stars. I also hugged with equal spirit Colleen, Lillian, Cheryl and Cindy, newly met Queens all with power and delight. I’m in heaven. There’s a lot of good looking people wandering -- jamming -- the aisles, including families with small children, dads with their sons and young moms pushing strollers, not an easy task. Everyone misses Laree, the lady I hang with, but they know she navigates the dirigible and cannot leave the controls.

Two years ago, a lifetime, I stood behind the limiting barrier of a booth and engaged with the people -- the spectators, the illuminated and illuminating fans. The milling crowd today was no different at first glance, yet, as the day progressed, I noticed I was speaking with more of the young audience as well as the mid-age folks my generation naturally attracts, and the conversations carried a slightly different tone. Another two years of bodybuilding evolution has taken place and the views and perceptions of the flexing species are continuing to adapt with the changes of time.

We agreed that we were immensely impressed with the champions crossing the stage today. Respect and admiration for the peaks they are achieving was shared by all. The awe cannot be extinguished, but there is a growing slice of bodybuilding aficionados who prefer the pre-monster days when well-developed men and women looked like well-developed men and women. Knowing the compromises they’ve made and the rough road they travel make it clear that only a few will follow their footsteps. The way is costly and strewn with land mines. What appears to be today’s progress and development is unapproachable to even the hardcore bomber.

My need and desire to understand the advanced bodybuilding scene and share it with bombers has been to redefine it as an extreme sport, the cutting edge, X-generation product we see everywhere we look: the snowboard, skateboard, dirt bike radicals who defy gravity and dare impact with the earth’s hard surface; the cliff jumpers and skydivers and monster wave surfers in search of the zone; the bare-knuckle, cross-kick boxers, WWF wrestlers from hell and NFL wilderbeasts playing really real hard to entertain. Today’s bodybuilding is an extreme sport not to be confused with the musclebuilding we do as health conscious, long-life seeking, no pain, no gain, get huge, get ripped, protein-rich and disciplined sportsters.

The big difference is one is crazy and the other is just nuts.

I didn’t go to the Saturday evening competition. Fact is I didn’t see one monster contender all weekend. Once we set up shop it was work, work, work… if you call “work” talking to the grandest bunch of people about things they love as much as you do. I sold pictures for the first time in my life -- something about selling pictures of yourself when you were a kid that is unpleasant -- but knew from past experience that folks are disappointed when I don’t. Both books, Brother Iron and Your Body Revival, were sold and autographed most cheerfully and I autographed Stella’s Kitchen next to my foreword. Those who had already purchased Stella’s Kitchen over the internet raved (with mucho gusto) of the recipes and the great flavors achieved with bodybuilding foods. Thanks, Stella, you nutty musclebuilding animal.

Odis Meredith, engineer extraordinaire, and his band of loyal followers -- including Cindy, who is not a follower by the simple fact that she’s his wife and, also, a quietly humming generator of energy -- constructed the cluster of four booths through Thursday night. It was a high, colorful and heavy duty affair to (1) display and demonstrate clubbells and kettlebells (pieces of art in my opinion) to the dynamic culture of club bell enthusiasts, (2) to offer T-shirts bearing 18 different mad logos of monster-lifter artistry and wit by Chuck of Warrior Graphics and, last but not least, (3) preview the first stages of the Draper Dungeon and present the Top Squat in action.

The space was jammed with equipment, gear and activity. It was cooking from start to finish. There were large people who wanted to buy the very cool power rack built for gorillas and guys with shoulders and traps like watermelons stacked for display at Costco who gave the Top Squat two thumbs up.

Shortly after arriving on Saturday morning I found myself standing before an expectant audience speaking boldly of the Top Squat’s simple yet remarkable features. Odis was busily talking shop with a fellow engineer behind me and I gently urged him without words to move to the side. It was time for me to demonstrate the unique apparatus and I needed plenty of room. As I spoke with instructions, I assumed the proper position and lifted the bar on my back, stepped back and set my stance. I gave the forward extending handles of the Top Squat a brawny tug to demonstrate its robustness and the left handle slipped out of its sleeve with the excruciating pop of a bottle of cheap Champagne. I began rotating counter-clockwise like a helicopter out of control until I hit the indestructible uprights of the power cage and Odis and the guy with whom he was chatting.

Mayday… Mayday…

I didn’t need no stinking help but the whole crowd decided I was going down for good. They came to my rescue and saved another helicopter from crashing in the middle of the Arnold Expo. I handled it well, being a Bomber who has had his share of near catastrophes. It seems Odis had removed the large and efficient insert screw that held the handle securely in place to show his friend how large and efficient the screw really was. “Feel the weight of that thing. That’s some rugged piece of steel, and those threads. You ever see such thick threads before?”

The experiences go on and on and they are priceless. And we were just one little stir of energy amid the roiling sea. You’ve gotta see it to believe it.

Oh! Jay Cutler won again. He instigated a posedown which took the competitors into the audience and on a march up and down the aisles, and not just briefly. The fans were standing and cheering and tearing the house down. Like to have seen that.

Here are the final results for those of you who were betting:

Jay Cutler
Chris Cormier
Markus Ruhl
Dexter Jackson
Kevin Levrone
Darrem Charles
Ahmad Haidar
Melvin Anthony
Quincy Taylor
Troy Alves
J.D. Dawodu
Tommi Thorvildsen
Eddie Abbew
Stan McCrary

A good day to take to the skies and roll around on the wind. Keep your eyes open, watch my back and I’ll watch yours.

As always, God’s speed,

Dave Draper, the Bomber

Click here for more stories and photos of the Arnold Classic 2003

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