BODY KNOWLEDGE MAN

 

Sam Bergstein is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilding champion, trainer, and edutainer (singer-songwriter, humorist, and commentator).

Here now is Sam Bergstein’s story as told in his own words:

"Listen I don't care how much juice you've done, you don't tell me and my friends to leave!" This is what was hostilely said to me circa the late 90's during my late night/early morning weekend security gig at a local diner. Soon after this patron uttered this to me one of his friends chucked me over a table (I believe they thought their friend might get "punchy" with me) using my new sweater - thus ruining it. This isn't one of the worse encounters though from my security days. Oh and by the way angry diner patron, I was and am (as I type this) drug-free! The ultimate compliment for the drug-free bodybuilder/lifter is being perceived as a juicer when in fact being clean. Okay, so I did security/bouncing and I was inspired by Schwarzenegger to lift weights. How un-unique and clique' you may be saying or thinking. However, you would in fact be wrong! I'm actually pretty doggone unique in my biased and unbiased opinion! I'm an ‘edutainer’ (education and entertainment put together) artist. My art has spanned from my body to my music, with things in between. I've dealt with (and deal with) the challenges of disabilities from emotional to physical. I was born on June 13, 1977 in Brooklyn, NY. For 5 years I had foster parents till I was adopted by them in 1982. Ironically or not, the year 1982 is when muscles/lifting weights caught my attention. The aforementioned Arnie S was a significant part of it. I have a good memory and if it serves me correctly I got my first pair of dumbbells (that I still have and use if needed) and Schwarzenegger’s book "Education of a Bodybuilder" in or around 1982. The math indicates I was about the tender age of 5.

Notable early muscle inspirations (other than the aforementioned Arnie) were "The Hulk" Lou Ferrigno and more directly my maternal Grandfather Bob and Cousin Eric. My Grandfather, though not muscular at all, did have nicely developed biceps that he would flex to impress his muscle aware grandson with. His discipline in what and how much he ate, as well as his consistency in getting his walks in made me aware of what good health habits were very early in my life. My Cousin Eric (who is 10 years older than me), to whom I idolized as a kid, got into weight training as a teen, thus providing me with more inspiration to want....MUSCLES!

A funny but slightly embarrassing story from my very young years which relates to my muscle fascination is from when I was in summer camp in the mid 80's. My direct councilor had some muscle which was cool but this other red-headed councilor dude was JACKED (or at least he seemed to be at the time)! I told my councilor about him which provoked him to approach the guy and say to him "Hey flex for this kid." He's obsessed with muscles!"

As the years passed I occasionally had to deal with bullies because of various issues, and having a "husky phase" around the 7th grade or so I set out to improve my body. I started doing pushups, curls with my book bag (with the resistance from my text books) and some sit-ups too. People were starting to notice (especially the girls) the physique changes. At about 13 I got a weight-set at home (that years later was given away without asking me). I sporadically worked out with the home weight-set in a friend's basement for a summer and at a local health club - very occasionally between the ages of 13 and 14. Around 13 or so I developed some bad habits: 1-smoking cigarettes, 2-some alcohol, and 3-marijuana. All 3 got used more between my 14th and 15th year. I had become a truant in high school due to what I later learned were panic attacks (as well as depression). If you're young and/or don't know how to handle things effecting you more optimally, you're more likely to make poor choices. A brief muscle intermission for some talk about my other passion/talent/ life work. Music!

My affection for music coincided with my awareness of muscle. Music is a very powerful force and is important in many people's lives like mine. Whether as purely a listener, a participant, or both. The first 2 recordings I got were Iron Maiden's ‘Powerslave’ and Bruce Springsteen's ‘Born in the USA,’ purchased during one of the many family short trips over to The Woodbridge Mall in NJ.  In the mid 80's I won my school’s first annual music appreciation award. I was recognized for having an ability to sing and for my musical awareness which eventually landed me briefly in a school madrigal singing group (I was referred to being like The Tambourine Man at my 8th grade graduation). At 12, I was inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Guns n Roses, Eric Clapton, and G.E Smith primarily to start playing guitar. For a while it was more about music than muscle, though I never played in a band (due to being undisciplined and the panic/anxiety attacks taking over). I haven't forgotten the look on my music teacher's face as he wide-eyed said to me "You sing like an angel!" In high school my music teacher (who also went to my gym) told me that I could be a professional musician. Positive acknowledgement (if merited) is important for everyone, but especially the young. Through the beginning of my teen years, as I mentioned earlier I wasn't treating my health well, I was getting sick more than I really should have been and wasn't pleased with how I looked. So, at 16 I made the decision (some take MUCH longer to change or never do) that I was going to stop smoking and really get in better shape. I'd like to touch on significant relationship that I had as I was embarking on improving my health/body at 16. I met a girl named Loren prior to beginning the improvement of me. She was my first real girlfriend and was a handful of years older than me. She was spunky and was a diabetic (a disease I'm quite familiar with in my family). Loren smoked, ate fast food, and at times, dealt with complications from her diabetes. I had improved my health habits and I wanted her to do the same. I expressed this to her in her car one day outside of my house and her response was troubling and poignant. She said to me tearfully, "I just want to be with my mother!" Her mother had passed away a few years or so prior from diabetes. Tragically, Loren died at 21 from cancer. Even though we had broken up several months before she passed away we still spent a fair amount of time together. Her genetics and lifestyle decisions caused her to have an unfortunately short life. She was a truly memorable girl in positive and unfortunate ways.

I joined World Gym with my buddy. He didn't stick with it (more of the guitar/music guy then workout type). Those gains happened pretty fast! The newb gains. I was eating more because I wasn't smoking and that coupled with my mesomorphic favorable genetics added roughly 20-lbs. in a few months. Some thought I was on "the sauce." No, just luck and consistency. Making my lifestyle changes at a young age made it a challenge being around some of the friends I had who were getting more into what I was done doing. I recall one time being in a car with a bunch of them and having all of them (or perhaps most) lighting up cigarettes at the same time! I wasn't hanging out with them like I use too. I felt more isolated/lonely. I was making decent progress in the gym but wanted more guidance. A mentor of sorts. I remember saying to myself "I wish I could have an older friend to hang out with to help me workout." That wish was granted when Joseph Ojeda approached me by saying that I trained hard and that he was looking for a training partner. He was 24 and at first I was a tad leery. During that timeframe I often thought dudes who wanted to be my friend/hang out with me wanted to be more than friends (if you get what I'm saying.) Joe became like a brother to me. He showed me how to push hard in the gym. We even went to clubs (I have some stories related to a couple of those trips!) together. He was even the first person I knew who had a cell phone (circa 94')! Not a "brick" style one too! I was quite sad when Joe moved to the Virginia/DC area to eventually become a police officer. In late 96' I was in a profound depression. Wasn't speaking much and was hanging around in my bathrobe a lot. Joe came and visited unannounced with his wife and very young son. Seeing him after sometime in the state I was in really lifted my spirits! Thanks Joe! I took the special extra step by competing in my first contest in the summer of 1995 at 18. Not really successful but it was an experience! In November of that same year I won my first teen title! The next time I competed it was the teen and open light-heavyweight class in the 1996 Staten Island show I entered. I won the teen overall!  

So I have my regular dad who along with my mother attended almost all of my shows and took me to see GUNS n ROSES at MSG etc., but there was a man who became a sort of a "gym dad friend." One of the manager's at the decades past now deceased World Gym was a fellow by the name of Jack Orr. He LOVED bodybuilding but had 2 daughter's that weren't much into it. So I was the male kid bodybuilding sonish. Jack not only drove me home after closing the gym (I would help him clean up) but took me to shows. He had a massive collection of muscle mags from 50's and 60's that he shared with me when I visited his home to watch the Olympia one year. I was surprised by the quality of physiques back then! He was known for attending shows (amateur and pro) and taking terrific photos.  Jack was a good friend who had some interesting stories and encounters.

The story goes on... After having some success competing as a teen (with the assistance of my mom and GNC sponsoring my protein powders and whatnot) the only shows I did before I stopped competing till 03' were the local Mario Strong’s Eastern Regional Classics. In 98' I won my class at the aforementioned show. Good shows Mario!

In 01’ I had no desire to compete and also had gotten a nagging knee injury. For some years prior to my comeback in 03’, I had become friendly with Lou Zwick (through Kenney Santiago who competed in his organization) of ESPN's American Muscle Magazine and Musclemania. It was really cool chatting with him on the phone and him asking me my opinion on stuff at times. He had promoted/discovered some notable bodybuilders such as Mike Matarazzo, Flex Wheeler, Dennis Newman, Skip Lacour, Stan McQuay, etc., and had an interest in me! I had a profile for some time on the Musclemania website. My comeback show in 03' was the Musclemania Superbody in Miami were I won my class. My then girlfriend, who accompanied me to that show, went on to compete the following year in the bikini class at that show and I experienced for the first (and maybe last time) judging a contest. In and after 03' I was living with my girlfriend in Manhattan and competing more than I had previously. I started competing in the INBF as well. In 05' I competed in the INBF Naturalmania Nationals in the lightweight class. It was a super-pro qualifier (the class winners won a pro card). I won my class and was now a pro! My best placing was my pro debut in the following November at the INBF Worlds.

In 06' I hurt my knee again (same knee as years before). I was limping because of the injury but now that I look back at it I was also starting to deal with some other gait issue stuff. As the years went by people would ask me why I would walk the way I walk. I would reply "Oh it’s my knees." I had some balance issues and I didn't enjoy stairs. Fast forward a number of years later (around 2011), it got so bad I needed to start using a cane. I was still training legs though! I finally sought out medical attention regarding my "knees." The orthopedist, upon examining me said my knees seemed okay but my hips had some issues. Medical insurance with some time elapsing. Some stuff was approved and I was referred to a neurologist. What's going on!? I got various tests ordered by the neurologist (MRI, blood work, etc.) spanning from the winter, through summer, to finally Thanksgiving. Nothing??? Years later I found out in a place that people might end up in when things get to be too much (read between the words) that my disability was psychosomatic. It was caused by depression, anxiety and trauma. It hasn't gotten worse over the years (knock wood) and through my efforts I've actually improved things. I've had to adapt. At times for stability I kneel-walk so I don't fall. If you *value* something and you need to find a way - and you can find ways - you'll find ways. 

Over the years I've trained in various ways. For over a decade I trained in the different H.I.T style's (I was primarily inspired by Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates and Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer). I've also trained using various body part split systems. However, the majority of my training has involved "total body" training or upper, lower, and "total body" sessions in a week workout's over the years. As I write this in October 2018 I'm training in an esque powerlifting training style 3 days a week (with conditioning done on non-lifting days also 3 days a week). I currently find the focus, strategy, and mastery of basic barbell movements captivating. In addition, for a number of years I have actually utilized a lot more machines than free weights. I find the sport of powerlifting vastly more compelling than bodybuilding (powerlifting is a real sport). I've thought for some time about competing in a powerlifting meet. Either a bench only, push/pull or perhaps a full meet. We shall see...

For a while, looking back on it all, I've had the desire to express myself in many different ways. Singing, playing guitar, some acting in school/summer camp plays, and once, I even flexed my muscles while semi-nude in front of an audience. Through a chance encounter at home I even got the opportunity to be on TV in 97' on the Riki Lake Show. What a unique experience that was! At first it was going to be related to my buffness. It wasn't. It ultimately became an acting performance based around this scenario involving a guy named Rico. And I got paid! 

Around 2012, I started putting my varied talents on display on my YouTube channel. Initially it was called by my name then became Bodyknowledge77. Initially the channel was 90 percent about physical culture. Information related to what I've learned by being involved with it (physical culture), my belief regarding it, and displaying my physique. It was also created to inspire people to see what can be achieved drug-free, etc. I also know that I'm just not about lifting weights and things of this ilk and merely doing video's about bodybuilding isn’t too exciting for me. So my YouTube channel also contains my original music, some humor (sometimes odd), observations/wisdom, performance art, and physical culture stuff. It’s a cross between Monty Python, Prince, Frank Zane, Henry Rollins, Ryan Adams, George Carlin, Frank Zappa (etc.) and the uniqueness of me! I’m an edutainer! My channel is my pride and a current frustration due to monetization issues.

My final words are that even though it can be REALLY HARD you owe it to yourself to believe in you. Be the enthusiastic one at your party while waiting for other's to arrive with equal or greater enthusiasm as yours.

 

Here’s an original song I wrote based on an issue I had in the gym:

“Casual Cruelty (Couldn't Tell You)”

Couldn't tell you what I wanted to, it's symptom of my funny mood.
And it's better that way. Yes it's better that way.
If I said how I really felt, it could go over head or below the belt.
Just doesn't pay. And I'm poor today.
Not an uncommon way for me to be. You don't know me well.
Your cruelty has a casual way. The ref ain't ringing the bell...
Life provides you with the rules, to get through and manage fools.
Will you obey, when you're not ok? Not an uncommon way for me to be.
You don't know me well. Your cruelty has a casual way.
The ref ain't ringing the bell.
Life's like this, sometimes you need to make a fist and not use it for those on the list that insist to abuse you.
Bend don't break and don't pretend you're still not a contender. This is the message, I'm the sender and receiver.
Couldn't tell you what I wanted to, it's a symptom of my funny mood.
And that's how it'll stay. At least today.

To visit Sam's YouTube channel CLICK HERE.


 

 

 


Return to SPECIAL FEATURES