On the last day of the Staten Island Bodybuilding Club’s existence, one of the members, John “The Viking” Delin, hung a poster high on one of its mirrors. The poster read STRONG WILL RETURN. Like a prophecy, the Viking’s words came true several years later.
In 1995, I received a phone call from bodybuilding promoter Mark Delio. Mark told me he was taking over promoting the Staten Island physique competition and wanted to start giving an annual award for bodybuilding excellence. The award was to be titled the “Mario Strong Staten Island Bodybuilding Award.” It was for those who made positive contributions to the Staten Island bodybuilding community over the years. He also told me that I would receive the first annual plaque for my contributions to the sport. Since the closing of my gym in 1986, I had remained out of the bodybuilding limelight. My only connection to the sport was training at different gyms on and off the Island. Now a sleeping giant had been awakened within myself and a new era was about to begin.
The 1995 Staten Island Bodybuilding Championships was billed as the day of champions. Many former Staten Island bodybuilding champions were invited and attended. The show’s program booklet had a section dedicated to me and the pressure was on to live up to the image. During the second half of the show, Mark Delio gave a great speech about my years in the sport. He talked about the Staten Island Bodybuilding Club, its rich history, and all the champs I had trained along the way. I reflected on the good memories as he spoke and looked forward to the many great years to come, as I once again, felt truly inspired.
After handing me the Staten Island Bodybuilding Award (see photo) Mark Delio summed it up with these words to the audience: “When I first trained at a gym it was STRONG’S GYM. For those who trained there back then, and whenever we train today, we try to attain the same psych as we had there. We felt magic in the ANIMAL ROOM as the theme from Rocky echoed in harmony with the sounds of iron pumping. It was the man, who created the magic, and you can never recreate that atmosphere, you cannot buy it, you cannot fake it. It comes from the heart, and none has more than MARIO STRONG!” With that, the audience stood up and cheered in appreciation for what I had done for bodybuilding on Staten Island. I thanked them with a special treat, not seen on the Island in years.
As I walked towards center stage, I waved to the DJ and signaled him to play my favorite tune. Suddenly the theme from Rocky exploded loudly throughout the auditorium. As the trumpets flared with the tune of Gonna Fly Now, a sense of history repeating itself flooded the auditorium. The captivated crowd stood up from their seats and began to cheer my name repeatedly. I raised the hot water bottle to my lips, sealed it tight, and began blowing air into its thick walls. The more air I forced into it, the larger it became and the louder the fans cheered my name. Once again, it felt great being onstage in front of my hometown Staten Island bodybuilding crowd. I gave it my best and I pushed myself to the limit. After a minute or so of forcing extremely large breathes of air into the hot water bottle it exploded with a thunderous bang and sent pieces of stretched rubber throughout the auditorium. The crowd roared as their cameras flashed to catch the moment, knowing that I was back where I belonged.
A legend from bodybuilding’s golden era, Leon Brown, was also present that night and received the Staten Island Bodybuilding Award for his excellence in the sport of bodybuilding. After exploding the hot water bottle, I stepped over to the microphone and gave the following speech:
“Tonight I would like to begin an annual tradition on Staten Island. A tradition that recognizes Staten Islanders for their accomplishments in the sport of bodybuilding. Tonight’s award will be presented to a bodybuilder who is not only a champion onstage but also a winner in the eyes of his peers. This bodybuilder’s journey has touched many lives. His dedication and perseverance in the sport are legendary, going back to the days when Arnold was the king, Sergio the myth, and gyms looked more like chambers of horror than neon-lit nightclubs. Today this bodybuilder’s presence in the gym ignites enthusiasm among the muscle builders. He is a positive force, electrifying all those who follow in his path. Bodybuilding is in this man’s heart. It is his reason to smile, his reason to dream, and his reason to live. On behalf of the Fit Physique Health Club, The NPC, and myself, I would like to present the Staten Island Bodybuilding Award for excellence in bodybuilding, to the original Mr. Staten Island, the living legend himself, Staten Island’s very own LEON BROWN.”
With that, the Brown Bomber walked onto the stage and waved to the standing-room-only audience. Leon Brown was in his element. The stage was his home; on Staten Island, he was as American as apple pie. He was well-respected by his fellow Staten Island muscle builders and a legend throughout the muscle-building world. He had trained with some of the greats of bodybuilding’s golden era and was a constant sight at physique shows in the metropolitan area. After receiving the award, Leon mounted the posing platform. He performed a posing routine that displayed his flawless symmetry and proportion. He was a living work of art that captivated the audience with every move he made. The Brown Bomber was back and better than ever!