I have a great story to share about the day I met the three best bodybuilders in the world on the same day.
I was 14 at the time and had just started to get interested in bodybuilding. It was wierd because I had been interested in muscles and bodybuilding for a long time, from when I was very young. In the ’70’s, however, bodybuilding was very small and was not main stream at all. There were many myths and old wives’ tales surrounding the sport.
When I started lifting and exercising in the eighth grade, I went out a bought some bodybuilding magazines and brought them to school with me. I was shocked that all my teachers who saw the magazine were so overwhelmingly negative toward the sport. They all warned me to stay away from bodybuilding. “You’ll get muscle bound” “If you build up muscles, you’ll have to do it for the rest of your life or they’ll all turn to flab”, “those guys are all homosexuals”, etc, etc. With so much negativity surrounding bodybuilding, I was hesitant to get into it with the enthusiasm I had when I discovered the sport.
In the summer of 1977, my family took a 4 week road trip out West. Starting from Chicago, we traveled all the way to California and then turned around and came back thru Nevada, etc. We were on a tight schedule to see all the states that my Dad had mapped out. When we got to Southern California, I asked my dad if we could stop by Golds Gym in Venice to see all the bodybuilders . I had been reading Muscle Builder every month and was aware of the race for the upcoming Mr. Olympia. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of guys like Frank Zane, Robby Robinson, Ken Waller, Danny Padilla, Mike Mentzer, Kal Szkalak and maybe even Lou Ferrigno or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To my major disappointment, my Dad told me that we wouldn’t have time to see Golds Gym because we were going to Universal Studios today and then leaving for Nevada the next day. I was bummed out to say the least when we saw a sign at the Universal Studios entrance that said, “Filming today for the World’s Strongest Man competition”. My Mom said, “Look John, maybe you’ll get to meet some bodybuilders here.” I thought to myself that it would just be a bunch of fat weightlifters and powerlifters.
I was still bummed as we walked to the line to get tickets to enter the park when my younger brother Don yelled to me, “Look John, there’s Arnold!”. I looked over to an area that had been roped off from the general public. It was a bunch of picnic benches and Arnold was sitting there with an attractive brunette, Roger Callard and another guy. Arnold was wearing shorts, a blue Golds Gym t-shirt and a crazy flower covered hat. He was totally relaxed, tan and with big arms. He was doing all the talking and everyone was just sitting there laughing at his jokes. I called out to Arnold to come over since we were on the other side of the rope but he just looked over at us and ignored us.
Then, we saw big Lou Ferrigno walking around in the background. My brother and I called out to Lou and he came all way up to the rope and shook our hands and signed an autograph for us. This was before Lou did the Hulk series but some people still recognized him from the Superstars competiton that had been on the year before. Lou was massive at 6’5″ and 275 pounds! That was so nice of him to come by.
After Lou left, we spotted Franco Columbu in the background also. Finally, my brother and I decided to jump the ropes and go see Arnold and Franco. As we approached Arnold’s table, my heart was pounding out of my chest with nervousness and anticipation. I asked Arnold for his autograph and I think he gave me the Arnold Evil Eye but he obliged, saying, “Hey, you guys can’t do this to me, I’m in the union.” I took a photo of Arnold but my hands were shaking so much, I’m surprised the photo came out. To this day, I wish I would have had the foresight to take a photo with him.
After meeting Arnold, we went over to meet Franco. He was walking around with just shorts and gym shoes on and no shirt. He was dense, thick and muscular. I remember he had a hard six pack when he was totally relaxed. Franco was very nice to us and I asked him why they were all at Universal Studios. He explained that they were there to compete for this strongman contest. His accent was so thick, that I could hardly understand anything that he was saying so I just nodded my head and smiled.
My brother and I finally left the scene and went back by my parents. I was in a daze the rest of the day thinking about the incredible twist of fate that I had just encountered. Can you imagine the chances of meeting the three greatest bodybuilders in the world all on the same day?? I took this as a sign that I was destined to be a bodybuilder. The hell with all the warnings from my teachers and relatives, it was my destiny to be a bodybuilder!! I couldn’t wait for the rest of our vaction to end so I could get home and start training!!