Good Health - Internally, Externally and Eternally
I was born in Abington, PA on February 15th. When I was 4, my parents moved back to Massachusetts, where they were originally from. I spent a considerable time at home, in bed, sick with asthma. I couldn't go out and play with the rest of the neighborhood, for if I did, I'd usually get an attack of asthma which would last around 10 days. Not fun. My parents took me to specialists from Boston, MA to Hartford, CT. Nobody had an answer.
When I was around 11 or 12, I was starting to get self-conscious about my extremely skinny physique. I remember going to the town beach in the summer and I would always drape a towel over my body to hide my skinny physique. I remember one day seeing an older boy on the beach with an extremely muscular physique. I wondered if he was born like that or if he did something to create his physique. His name was Charlie Bucci. I never really got to know him.
Then, that fall, a transfer student moved into my 7th grade class. His name was Billy Dawson. He had a very muscular physique with huge arms. I asked him what he did and he said he lifted weights. I really never felt that I was doomed for the rest of my life to be skinny and I was also never one to accept the status quo - especially if it wasn't to my liking. So I shopped around and found out I could get a set of barbells and dumbbells for $30. I asked my parents for the money and was surprised when they agreed to give it to me. You must remember that was back when $30 was a lot of money. My father took me to the store and we ordered a weight set from Brown and Horton's Sporting Goods. I remember it like it was yesterday. March 26th.
The instructions were brief with pictures of men doing various movements. There wasn't a great deal of explanation about sets and reps, so I just did everything in the booklet until I was fatigued. My parents were concerned with my asthma and rightfully so. I made some gains in the first 6 months which was incredible considering I never took a day off.
Then a series of things happened to me. First, I saw a Mr. America, Tom Sansone on a TV show which made quite an impression on me. Then, I bought a bodybuilding book from a news stand in Boston while on a trip there with my father. Who knew they sold books like that? While browsing through the book I saw an article and pictures of the late, great Steve Reeves. It was like time stopped and a bolt of lightning hit me. I was around 14 years old, but I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. His physique was out of this world (and still is.) From then on I bought all the muscle magazines I could with the money I made from my first job, making Ken's Steak House Salad Dressing, on weekends. It was a 6 person assembly line in the basement of his restaurant.
I continued to work out on a more scheduled routine and the gains came like crazy. I was skinny but I was determined and I always was strong. It's a funny thing about being strong - you're about as strong as you think you SHOULD be. After training thousands of people, I've come to the conclusion that people are also as happy as they let themselves be. You're not born with any limits or perimeters - but people will tell you what your limits are. It's up to you whether or not you want their opinion of you to become a reality.
In any event, I was gaining muscle at a very rapid rate. And a funny thing happened along the way. My asthma disappeared. I couldn't believe it, nor could my parents. We couldn't have been happier. I'm convinced it had to do with the extreme heavy breathing and the expansion of the lungs with weight lifting activity.
When I got to high school the coaches were in the dark ages when it came to fitness. The football coach discouraged lifting weights because you'd be "muscle bound," get hernias, etc. I never stopped lifting weights. I was captain of the gymnastics team and captain of the track team in my senior year. I was 6' 0" and 190lbs. I did the still rings, parallel bars and rope climb (which was an Olympic event then.) I won the state meet in the rope climb. In track, I did the 100-yard dash and the shot put, which would seem like 2 diametrically opposed events. I always wanted to be Big, Strong & Fast. And as a matter of fact, I still train for that. I never lost a shot put event in my league and I always placed first, second or third in the 100-yard dash, which was amazing since the only time I ran the hundred was at the meets. If this all sounds egotistical, look at my before picture.
In 1996 I started to get curious to see if I could still throw the shot put. I bought one and started practicing with it. Two months later I entered a Masters track meet at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA.) It was an open meet. I won. I got some calls from various Boston track clubs to join them. I may some year, who knows. I just happen to love bodybuilding more. So for now I've got a very heavy, round, odd looking conversation piece for a door stop in my home.
I began reading about all the health clubs in the fitness magazines. Vic Tanny's, Jack Lalane. I spoke to my father about the health club business and showed him some literature about the business. He agreed to give me the money to start the business. I, along with my brother, Lee, opened President City Health Club in Quincy, MA. It was the third health club in the state. I remember going to town hall in Quincy to get a permit to open the business. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. About all they could imagine or identify with was a boxing gym. I finally impressed upon them the fact that people were exercising with equipment and weights. I'll never forget his look when one of them leaned back with a smile and said, "Ooooh, I get it." He thought we were nuts. He also probably still thought the world was flat. We ran that business for several years and eventually sold out.
I should mention my musical background. My mother played the piano her entire life. She could play country to comedy to classical music. And she often did them all at one session. My father played the trombone his entire life also. He played in everything from Dixieland bands to Jazz bands as well as with the Cape Cod Conservatory. His favorite was Jazz music.. He was president of Musicians Local #393 in Framingham for 25 years before retiring from that position. My uncle sang with several Big Bands in the 40's under the name of Jack Whiting. I've been playing the Blues guitar and singing since I was a teenager. Some friends of mine contacted me and told me that there was going to be a blues concert in Woods Hole, which is on Cape Cod, MA. They told the person who was putting on the concert about me and my blues guitar playing and singing, and he asked if I would be interested in playing in the concert. It was scheduled for a Saturday night at the Woods Hole Community Center. I agreed and went down to Woods Hole with a half dozen of my friends and played and sang several songs. It was recorded live on WCOD radio station at the time. It went over better than I expected. We had a great weekend on Cape Cod. The concert was put on by Dick Pleasants who still does concerts all over Massachusetts as well as hosts a folk and blues radio show on WGBH - Boston. I went back to Hertz and gave them a 30 day notice. At the end of the 30 days I moved to Cape Cod. It was time to get back into the health club business.
Shortly after I arrived, I started inquiring about a health club to join. I was informed that there was a health club in Hyannis at the Dunfey's Hotel Resort. I drove 15 miles to Hyannis and looked at the health club. The manager was an older fellow who didn't know anything about working out with weights. I looked at the facilities. There were a couple of dumbbells strewn on the floor and an old Universal Station. That was it. The only health club on Cape Cod. I decided then and there that there were going to be 2 health clubs as soon as I found a location. I found a location inside The Hyannis Inn Motel which is one of the better hotels on Cape Cod (they're still open - I'll give them a plug.) I opened Preston's Health Spa on Main Street, Hyannis on Feb. 10, 1977. My friends and relatives told me not to do it because there was already one health club on Cape Cod. And what's more, it was in Hyannis about 1 mile from my location.
I opened up and six months later the place was packed. People were leaving Dunfey's and joining mine. I had an exercise area loaded with machines and free weights, an Olympic size pool, men's and women's locker rooms each with their own sauna and a huge sun deck. All one block from the ocean. The women who joined my club from Dunfey's told me that the manager from there told them that they'd get big muscles and become muscle bound if they joined my club. It wasn't long before Dunfey's got a line of equipment and a new manager. It didn't matter, though, because my club was getting all the results. You can open a car repair shop beside another car repair shop, however, if you know nothing about cars, you're not going to last long. You can't fool all of the people all of the time.
I was opened a little over 9 years. About 10 health clubs opened and closed on Cape Cod during that time. I took 2 or 3 long weekends off. I never took a week off. It was time-consuming but successful. I loved the club and Cape Cod, which, by the way, is one of the very best vacation destinations in the country. However, when someone made me an offer to buy my club, I thought it over and a month later we agreed upon a price and I sold it.
For those of you who are not familiar with Cape Cod, it has a huge summer tourist trade. It's a lot like spring break in Florida, except it's 3 months long. I dated many women during my time on Cape Cod and enjoyed my many years here. I have offices in both Cape Cod and Medford, Massachusetts.
I should say a word here about my sabbatical. A year or so before I opened my health club, I went to Los Angeles to get involved in competitive bodybuilding. Southern California was the "Mecca" for bodybuilding. I stayed there close to a year. I worked out at the original Gold's in Santa Monica, Vince Giranda Gym in North Hollywood, Bill Pearl's Gym in Pasadena, and every other gym I could find. I had a ball. The down side is if I wanted to compete and win, I'd have to use steroids. No, thank you. That was 1975, the year they were filming "Pumping Iron." As with any sport, I met some real nice guys and some real super-egos. So, bodybuilding is the same as every other sport. I talked to Bill Pearl about entering the Mr. California contest that year. He used to call me "Boston." I was going to enter the Mr. California contest that year. I didn't. After the contest, I felt I could have placed high in my height class, but certainly could not have won the overall without steroids. I left California and returned to Cape Cod.
I really didn't learn anything about bodybuilding. The guys in the east coast gyms worked out just as hard. The only guy that stuck out in my mind was Dave Johns. He hoisted some serious iron. Full-squatting with over 600 pounds like it was a feather. But for the most part the East Coast gyms worked out harder. Certainly no gym was as hard core as Bob Backus Gym in Pembroke, MA. I had guys in my Hyannis gym who certainly worked out as hard as anybody in Southern California. Guys like Tom Ghiorse, Malcolm White, (who eventually placed 2nd in Mr. Bay State), and Troy Belisle (Teenage Mr. America competitor) and too many other bodybuilders to mention here. So why were the guys bigger in Southern California? That's a no-brainer.
After I sold my club in Hyannis, I got certified in several muscular therapies. From then until today, I've been running a personal training business along with muscular therapy. They're both facets of physical culture. I love both businesses.
Around 1992 with the encouragement of my clients, I decided to do stand-up comedy on a lark. I called myself "Mr. Fitness." I wound up playing most every major club in and around Boston. Around 1996, Jay Leno and The Tonight Show had a national comedy talent search with eliminations and the eventual winner getting a spot on The Tonight Show. The contest was in Stitches Comedy Club in Boston. The place was packed to the rafters. They gave everybody a maximum of 3 minutes on stage. I did my "Mr. Fitness" bit and tore the house down. Afterwards, comics I never met were coming over to me and shaking my hand. The judges were from The Tonight Show. I didn't win, but 3 weeks later on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno is doing "Iron Jay" which is about 90% of my act. Coincidence? Maybe.
I did comedy for about another year and phased it out. I wasn't interested in the traveling at night, the food, and the smoky clubs. I had fun, a lot of fun. My favorite club was "To Catch a Rising Star" in Cambridge, MA. I got banned at Nick's in Boston, MA. Me and Sam Kinnison. I like that. Someday maybe I'll do stand-up again. Who knows? Life is about having goals in front of you, not behind you.
I should mention that after I sold Prestons Health Spa in Hyannis, I spent approximately 1300 hours in the next 5 years writing Health Nutz on Cape Cod. It occurred to me that I had a ton of funny stories about the health club business. Between both health clubs and what I could embellish, I had a hell of a funny book. I don't have to tell anyone who has ever belonged to a health club that there are some humorous people and some odd people and a lot of bizarre stories. Robert Kennedy, the owner of Muscle Magazine International read it and said I could use his name as an endorsement (see Health Nutz.) He calls it "a very funny book." The book is now in its 4th printing and it has been selling very well. Beware! It's not for the faint of heart. I've been writing the sequel to it called Health Nutz, Too!
In my current business, I train a lot of people involved in other sports - football, track, etc. The interesting thing here is that when I opened my Hyannis health club in 1977, weight training was starting to be accepted by coaches. The bad news is that the coaches were, and still are, putting their players on terrible work out routines. I recently trained a trainer in 1996 for a major university in the Boston area for over 3 years. He passed along the information and told me that in fact the athletes were getting big, strong and fast. I couldn't begin to tell you all the high school and college football players who were members of my health clubs. For the most part, their routines were completely wrong. I changed their routines and they grew big, strong and fast.
A women bought a one month membership for her 14 year old son at my Hyannis club. She wasn't sure if he'd stick with it. He also had asthma and was as thin as I was in that he (like myself at 14) could be x-rayed with a 100 watt light bulb. He stuck with it and 1½ years later was my training partner for the Mr. USA contest which I eventually won. His name is Mike Miexler. He eventually moved off Cape Cod to attend college and several years later he thanked me for everything and told me his asthma has never returned. Once again, I can't prove this to be the cure for all asthmatics, but then again, it's hard to disprove.
No matter what your goals, whether they be bodybuilding, sports training, loosing weight or just tightening up, it can be all accomplished with the correct weight program. When I opened my Hyannis health club in 1977, I had on my business card - "Bodybuilding Men - Women." Now look how popular bodybuilding is for men AND women. It's a great sport, it's fun, and it produces results.
1981 - Mr. USA, 1st Place - Kansas City, MO. Christian Bodybuilder Association, Natural Contest
1990 - World Cup Bodybuilding Championship, 5th Place - Atlantic City, NJ. ANPPC, All Natural Physique and Power Conference, Masters Division
1990 - American Natural Bodybuilding Championship, 2nd Place - Allentown, PA. BAD, Bodybuilders Against Drugs
1996 - Mr. Universe, 4th Place, Masters Division, Tall Class - Las Vegas, NV. ABA, Amateur Bodybuilding Association
1997 - Mr. Universe, 2nd Place, Masters Division, Tall Class - Las Vegas, NV. ABA, Amateur Bodybuilding Association
Height - 6'0"
Contest Weight - 200-214lbs.
Off Contest weight - 231lbs. (highest)