IT'S NEVER TOO LATE

 

By Micheal Sikorski

My name is Michael Sikorski.  Starting in my teens I always had a fascination for self-defense, the military and bodybuilders.   I remember watching guys like Frank Zane, my all-time favorite, on TV along with my father and brothers during broadcasts of the Mr. Olympia.  My father, Anthony Sikorski, ingrained a strong appreciation for weights, strength, and boxing into us.


My father (seen here at the age of 21 in 1938) was born in 1917 and shortly after his birth he contracted the Spanish Flu.  The doctor at the time told my grandmother to throw him on the trash heap because he didn't think that my father would live.   His aunt decided to nurse him and, as the story goes, she fed him milk, whiskey and honey.  He pulled through but not without problems.  His lungs were scarred for the rest of his life and he could not walk until he was five years old.  He was weak and frail throughout his childhood. 


As he got older, and because of his condition, my father grew obsessed with strength and health.  He looked for, and found, as much information as he could on weightlifting, strong men of his time, and boxing.   There were no weightlifting gyms around so he gravitated to boxing.  He eventually became a professional prizefighter and fought for the welterweight championship of Texas.  He made weights from old coffee cans filled with cement connecting the together with a metal bar.  He also did the same thing by melting lead in cans and connecting them in the same manner.  I still have a pair of those lead dumbbells that he made many decades ago.  During the last year of WWII he was drafted into service.  He asked to join the Marines because he had heard they were the toughest.   He went through Boot Camp and Infantry training in preparation for the invasion of Japan.  His unit was loaded onto ships headed for overseas but Japan surrendered after the atomic bombs were dropped.  His ship was turned around and he was discharged.  


Around that time, my father was married to his 1st wife and would eventually have four kids, 3 boys and one girl.  He passed his passion for strength and fitness onto his sons.  They would eventually open their own gym in my hometown of Carnegie, PA.  It was called Sikorski's Barbell Club.  The gym was not a for profit private club.  Membership was granted to those who could be vouched for by another member and who were willing to pay dues which helped cover the rent and utilities.  The gym was on the top floor of an apartment building.  The equipment was not fancy.  A lot of old York Barbell dumbbells, plates and homemade benches and other machines.  They even used large pit car wheels for their homemade leg press.  The bare studded walls were covered with graffiti written in weightlifting chalk.  There was no air-conditioning in the summer and in the winter heat came from electric space heaters.  The bathroom was a toilet and small sink.  As time passed, more and more weights and bars were added.  There was a padded section for boxing and wrestling.  A platform was made for squats and deadlifting.


At this point my father had divorced his first wife and married my mother.  He had 4 more kids, 3 more boys and another girl.  I was 9 years old when I visited this gym for the first time with my father and brother.   I remember watching the guys doing heavy squats and deadlifts while music played from an old transistor radio.  I also remember trying to pick up a weight to lift over my head.  I got it up but lost my balance and fell backwards with it.  I was a little embarrassed but I also felt pride at having lifted a "heavy weight" over my head.  As I got into my mid teens, I joined a local boxing team and also tried my hand at weightlifting.  However, my father was much older and was in poor health.  As such he could not work much so we never had a lot of money and food was a scarce resource.   There were a lot of lean times in my teen years so I never had an adequate diet to help me gain and keep a solid physique.


Three days after I graduated high school, in 1984, I shipped off to Marine Corps Boot Camp weighing only 130 lbs..  It was in boot camp that I was able to eat enough food to put on weight.  I remember thinking that I never knew there was so much food.  Because I was underweight the drill instructors made sure that I ate extra rations.  By the time I graduated I had gained more than 30 lbs.   I went to Infantry school and immediately afterwards I was sent to my first duty assignment in the Philippines.  While there I began to study Karate and Judo.  I kept up with studying the martial arts for about 20 years after that.  Towards the end of my tour in the Marines I, once again, started to lift weights.  I left the Marines and moved back home and one of the first things I did was begin working out at the family gym.  I slowly gained in size and strength.  I also started to teach Karate to some of the club members.  In time I would reenlist in the National Guard and try out for the reserve component of the Army Special Forces.  I drilled with the SF for about a year until a series of injuries (broken bones) derailed my dreams of becoming a Green Beret.  I stayed in the Infantry for a couple more years but eventually I changed my military occupation to military intelligence and got involved in a counter-narcotics program.  I also was trained in specialized surveillance and reconnaissance and ran my own teams for several years.  Eventually 9/11 occurred and I was deployed overseas.  After my first deployment I began a nearly decade long assignment in counter-terrorism.  I would travel all over and received a lot of training.  Through it all I kept up my weight-training and martial arts.  By this point I was around 200 lbs. 


In 2012, I finally retired from the military.  I had accumulated a number of injuries which included 9 broken bones, including 3 vertebrae fractures, and had two surgeries.  I had to scale back a lot of my activities as a result.  I gave up martial arts altogether.   I still kept up with my weightlifting but did not push the heavy weights I used to.  Fast forward to 2015.  I started to work for the Army as an analyst and it was here that I met several people who competed in natural amateur bodybuilding.  They were members of the National Gym Association (NGA) and the Organization of Competition Bodies (OCB).   They noticed my interest and told me how to get involved in the sport.  I was 49 years old when I decided that I wanted to compete.   I started to train and diet under the guidance of one of my bodybuilder co-workers.  I trained for 9 months and was entered in my first competition with the NGA.  I was a week out from competition when I received a call telling me that the competition was cancelled due to a problem with the venue.  All that effort for nothing.  


It would be a year later when I decided that I would try it again.   This time with the OCB.  I trained myself and adhered to the diet I used for my earlier attempt.  After 10 months of training, and at 53 years old, I December of 2018, I stepped on the stage for the first time. I was the oldest athlete in the competition.  I admit that I was not in as good of condition that I should have been but I did manage to take third place in both the debut and age 40+ brackets of the new, "Classic Physique" division.  A couple of weeks after the show I reflected on everything and decided that I would try it again.  I felt that I could, and should have, done better and that I left something on that stage.  I reached out to Mario Strong who I met through my wife years earlier.  He laid out a weight training program and provided some additional mentorship which I immediately put into practice.  Everything was going well for a few weeks when I injured my bicep, from my elbow to my shoulder, during a workout.  It would be four months before I would be able to flex my bicep again.  I finally went to a doctor who gave me a cortisone shot in my shoulder.  I was really frustrated because by this time it was April and I was planning on competing in December.


In order to rehab I brought exercise bands into work which I would use during breaks and slow periods.  I began to do isometric exercises for my bicep to help regain my ability to flex it again.  Finally, by August, I could flex my bicep and could curl enough weight to train again.  And train I did.  I busted my butt in the gym.  I kept the expression Mario said to me, "Train like there is no tomorrow", in the forefront of my mind.  I also decided to work with a dietitian and posing coach during the last two months of competition prep.  I remembered Mario telling me that posing would become more important than the workouts as I got closer to competition day.  I took this to heart and spent hours each week posing in front of the gym and home mirrors.  After each set in the gym I would hold a pose.  After my workouts I would spend another 15-20 minutes posing in the locker room.  At home, I played YouTube videos of other shows and practiced each pose as the judges in the video called them out, practicing my transitioning from pose to pose. 


Finally, it was time.  On December 14th, 2019, I stepped on stage for my second show.  I entered the Novice, and Master's 40+ and 50+ brackets of the Classic Physique division.  At 54, I was the oldest Classic Physique competitor in the show.  The next closest competitor to my age was 42 years old.  The rest of my competition was in their 20's.  I honestly felt good.  Although I came in 5 lbs. lighter from the previous year, I had still gained about 5 lbs of muscle.  I weighed in at 172 lbs and was down to 7% body fat.  I was far from the best physique in the show but I was pleased with what I had accomplished, a better physique than the last time.  All I wanted was to walk away with a 1st place trophy in one of the brackets.    


Back stage I used exercise bands and the homemade, lead weights my father made in his youth to pump up with.  My son Michael Jr. (see below) was there to help me.  I stepped on stage 4 times during the show, once for each bracket and again for my individual routine.  Because of the sequence of events, I had to go onstage, step off, and immediately go back again 3x in a row without any rest.  The younger guys who I competed against in Novice were inspired and began to cheer me on.  All that posing practice paid off.  I was exhausted and tired but I could still hold the poses without shaking for each stage appearance.  My competition in the Master's could not say the same.  By the end of the show my back was killing me.


Finally, it was time to announce the winners and receive the awards.  I had no certainty as to how I did.  My position onstage was changed several times during the judging.  In the end, I took 1st place in the Master's 40 and 50+ brackets and 4th place in Novice.  I was told by others that I should have been given 3rd in Novice and that I was ripped off.  But the cherry on top of it all was that I was awarded the winner of the overall Master's and was elevated from an amateur to a professional athlete!!  I was so surprised I did not know how to act on stage.  At 54 years old I became a professional bodybuilder after only my second competition.  I took home 4 trophies and a medal that day.  Although I was the oldest Classic Physique competitor, I took home more awards than any other athlete in the show.  What a day!!  After my father (pro boxer) and youngest brother, who is a professional strongman athlete, I became the 3rd pro athlete in my family.


I guess the saying is true, "it is never too late".  I never would have guessed that at my age I would become a pro athlete.  But it happened.  After the show a trainer asked me if I would be willing to help make a "how to" video demonstrating proper posing.  I was told that my posing was excellent.  I am already starting to prepare for my next go at it.  I plan on competing as a pro bodybuilder this coming November 2020 in Providence, RI.   This time the prizes are cash awards.   But I am mostly looking forward to seeing how another year of good diet and exercise will improve my physique.  I have every intention of going on stage with a better body than the last time.                             

 


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