By Mario Strong

In the spring of 1979, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was king of the bodybuilders and Sylvester Stallone was fighting his way to the top of the box office, I invited national bodybuilding superstar Ron Teufel to my Staten Island Bodybuilding Club, for what turned out to be a very well-received and momentous seminar. The seminar gave Ron a forum to express his opinionated views on the world of Muscledom through the national coverage it received in a bimonthly feature within the pages of Dan Lurie’s Muscle Training Illustrated.

I remember the day of the seminar very well. It was a bright sunny day and several hundred members waited outside my gym to see and learn from the man with the legendary “slabs of abs.” However, there was one small problem. Ron Teufel was nowhere to be found and the door to my gym remained locked for fear of a riot. As the minutes ticked away, the crowd began to get impatient. After nearly an hour of waiting, they began to get loud and shades of panic began to set into my usual calm self. Against my better judgment, I went outside the gym to answer questions about Ron’s whereabouts while hoping to stall for more time. Suddenly I heard the sound of screeching tires coming closer. As I looked up in disbelief, I saw Ron Teufel racing his red Trans Am directly at us with his head and left arm out of the car’s window while waving widely. He nearly drove over some of the fans who rushed into the street to greet him as he hit the brakes and slid into a spinning stop. As the fans circled around the Trans Am, Ron exited the car. You could immediately sense the energy and joy that he was feeling as he said hello and signed autographs for every one that came to see him that day. After all the excitement had cooled a bit, Ron entered the Staten Island Bodybuilding Club for the first time to give what was probably one of the most detailed and honest seminars ever given by a nationally recognized bodybuilding champion. The seminar lasted about three hours, but to those in attendance, it seemed much less. There were questions regarding training, nutrition, steroids, and a host of other topics. Ron answered each question to the best of his ability, while adding shades of humor to lighten the intensity of the seminar. The Ron Teufel seminar was a major event for the Island’s muscle builders and to this day remains the most widely publicized bodybuilding event in the Island’s bodybuilding history. After the seminar, Ron was the guest of honor at a special gala dinner that was attended by the members and staff of my Staten Island Bodybuilding Club. That day was truly one of Ron’s happiest occasions as he was in his element, celebrating his joy of bodybuilding with those who shared the same passion. The Ron Teufel seminar was definitely a turning point in the history of my club.

Note: For some unknown reason Ron Teufel was never awarded the title of Mr. America. A title he so richly deserved, but was denied; placing runner-up several times. I always felt this was the lever that pushed Ron over the edge. He was so close to realizing his dream but was denied because of politics in the sport he loved. Through the years, I occasionally heard from Ron and always enjoyed his phone calls and ideas about muscle building and the sport in general. One thing he was always passionate about was the topic of politics in bodybuilding. Ron strongly believed he had been wrongfully denied his place in the sport’s history. When I got the news of his passing in 2002, I was saddened, but not shocked, for I knew deep inside he felt emptiness in his heart where joy should have been.

The Staten Island Bodybuilding Club had become a nationally recognized muscle building gym and whenever bodybuilders would pick up a physique publication on any newsstand in the country, there was a good chance they would see a picture or read a story with my gym somehow mentioned. The tide was turning towards Staten Island and bigger waves were about to hit its shores.

A month after the Teufel seminar, another legendary figure in the sport walked through my gym’s door. It was none other than world champion bodybuilder Robby Robinson, who was nice enough to visit my gym and meet with the local muscle builders. Staten Island legend Leon Brown and Bath Beach Bodybuilding owner John Barberro also accompanied Robby. It was great meeting Robby for the first time. I had followed his career for years and had seen him on the silver screen in the movie Pumping Iron, and now here he was in the flesh to say hi to the members of my club. One incident I can still vividly remember about that day was when a couple of my members were performing Barbell Curls incorrectly. These two were nicknamed the Herculoids because they were always trying to lift a ton of steel in every exercise they performed. It did not matter to them if it was the Bench Press or the Dumbbell Wrist Curl. These two guys would always lift as much steel as humanly possible. Robby was gracious enough to walk over to them and demonstrate the proper technique as I cringed, knowing that the Herculoids would never lower the poundage on the barbell for the sake of form. After Robby spent what seemed like an eternity trying to get them to use the proper technique, the Herculoids thanked him. As he walked to the front of the gym, Robby looked back only to witness in horror the Herculoids performing their sloppy form once again. Robby just shrugged it off and after an hour or so he, Leon, and John Barberro said goodbye. When they left the gym, I walked over to the Herculoids to explain once again the importance of proper form in weight training. They both acknowledged my advice but as soon as I walked away, they were back to lifting impossible numbers in their usual manner. Several months later, I got a nice surprise when I picked up a copy of Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder & Power publication and saw a photo of Robby Robinson wearing a Staten Island Bodybuilding sweatshirt that I gave him on his visit to my gym. It was the first time I had ever seen a world bodybuilding champion wearing one of my shirts in a major muscle magazine and it felt great.

As my gym became more popular, it received greater attention from the media and became a constant hot bed for physique champions to stop by and visit. One day, Bill Pearl, a five time winner of the Mr. Universe title, stopped by to check out the Staten Island Bodybuilding scene. Bill Pearl was, and still is, a much-respected star in this world of muscle and it was truly an honor to have him come to my club. I had first received word that Bill Pearl was headed to my gym only about an hour before his arrival. Luckily, it was on a Saturday morning and I had the cleanup crew working quickly to spruce up the gym for the arrival of this legendary Mr. Universe. I also made about twenty phone calls that morning to alert as many Staten Island bodybuilders as possible that Bill Pearl was paying a rare visit our way and this was their chance to meet him.

When Bill Pearl (see photo) arrived it was as if the Holy Lord had just entered my gym. He had an aura about him that glowed with confidence. Even legends looked up to this man. Bill Pearl was bodybuilding royalty and it just did not get any better than that. His physique was world-class and his knowledge of the sport of bodybuilding was unmatched. He was the epitome of what bodybuilding was meant to be, and it was an honor for him to be at my club. In awe, my club’s members greeted the champ as he signed autographs for them while happily answering the many questions they asked him. Bill told some great bodybuilding stories to my members as they listened and absorbed his every word. His history in the sport was as vast as the universe itself and his presence at my club seemed to make time stand still. Bill Pearl is a true gentleman in every sense of the word and if more bodybuilders were like him, this sport would be less looked upon with suspicion, and instead, highly respected for what it can offer. The day Bill Pearl came to the Staten Island Bodybuilding Club was one of the most memorable days in my club’s ten-year existence. That day, as well as the ones before and the many to come, only served to fuel my member’s ambitions even more as they trained harder than ever before and with a keener vision on where they were headed in their quest for muscle. The Staten Island Bodybuilding Club had become an institution that was recognized by some of the biggest names in the sport. On Staten Island, it was the Home of Champions, where legends not only visited, but were created as well.