Secaucus will be the sight of many tan, tight, and muscular physiques on April 28 for the Mr. America and America Women Championships being held at the Crowne Plaza. Local resident and recreational bodybuilder Bob Bonham resurrected the historical Mr. America title last year.
Although he has faced opposition to his effort from competing bodybuilding associations, he hopes the natural, drug-free contest will generate greater interest in a sport that has been on the decline, especially among teens.
Rooted in history
“It used to be the main show in this country,” said Bonham. He has been a resident of Secaucus the past 15 years and lives in the Harmon Cove area. “You couldn’t get a better title than Mr. America. I would like to restore it.”
“It is a totally positive experience for everybody.” – Bob Bonham
“The AAU dropped bodybuilding from their criteria from all their sports and they let the trademark slip,” noted Bonham.
Regional contests abounded along with Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia. The contests gave amateurs a way to further their career and eventually earn money and, in the most famous instance, paved the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise to Hollywood and political prominence.
He said that when he bought the trademark, he faced considerable opposition from bodybuilding associations he was once closely affiliated with because of the threat of added competition. According to Bonham, the other associations have blocked him from advertising in popular bodybuilding magazines, even though he worked as a promoter for 20 years. But he said that with the availability of social media tools like Facebook, he expects he will get about 50 to 60 participants and about 400 to 500 audience members to attend Mr. America.
All natural, drug-free
The Mr. America competition, as part of the International Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (INBF), is a pro-qualifier for the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation. Winners also receive a trophy.
The competition features categories for women and men of all ages including teenagers, women’s and men’s bodybuilding, mixed pairs, master’s competitions for those in their forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, and women’s bikini competitions among others. He said the men’s physique competition is new this year.
Bonham said that the INBF is distinct from other bodybuilding associations because it is drug-free and natural.
“It is a totally positive experience for everybody,” said Bonham. “There is a difference in attitudes. [Participants] are all happy they all live that lifestyle all year around.”
Participants undergo a polygraph lie-detector test and urine test before the competition. The contest tests for drugs such as anabolic steroids, growth hormones, and testosterone among others.
“The bodybuilders look changed, and now they have extended bellies but not us…not the natural guys,” said Bonham.
He said that bodybuilders now use insulin to enhance their build, which has to be taken in combination with a number of other drugs.
“I had just had a friend overdose from insulin,” noted Bonham.
Bonham described the bodybuilding role models that he grew up with in the 1960s and ‘70s as having distinct shapes and bodies but that today “everyone looks the same.” The advent of certain drugs and enhancements does not help that sentiment for Bonham.
“They took the aesthetic beauty out of [bodybuilding] with the drugs,” he said.
Generating interest among youth and beyond
“I was always a fan of the sport,” said Bonham. He said that as a child he devoured bodybuilding magazines and began working out when he was in the fifth grade.
“It has been my passion since I was in my early teens,” said Bonham. But he revealed that his main motivation was driven by his desire to impress girls.
“A girl said I had muscles and she ended up being my girlfriend.”
While teenagers like Bonham growing up in the ‘60s wanted to be like bodybuilders to impress girls, teens today aren’t as interested according to Bonham but he hopes to change that.
“I also don’t want kids to be involved with drugs. It is the only way to save the sport,” said Bonham.
Bohnam said that the majority of bodybuilders these days are not young. He believes that mixed martial arts has dominated teenager attention for those interested in competing.
Bonham took his passion for bodybuilding and eventually opened a gym in 1984 with $6,000. The gym, Strong and Shapely, is located in East Rutherford. It has grown from 2,500 square feet to 25,000 square feet. He said that one reason he pursued the Mr. America title was for financial reasons to offset the challenges he has faced since the economic downturn but that he also hopes to return interest to a sport he said has been on the decline.
At his gym in Rutherford, Bonham said that all types of individuals work out including doctors, lawyers, teachers, and performers. He finds that people interested in weights are not the stereotypical “muscle-heads.” He tries to encourage an interest in bodybuilding in all those who attend his gym.
“I hope it will help make the sport grow…help make the show grow,” said Bonham about his expectations for the Mr. America contest.
The contest will be held on April 28 at the Crowne Plaza in Secaucus. Prejudging is at 10 a.m. and the evening show begins at 5 p.m. For more information, visit: http://www.musclewebsites.com/clients/mra/
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.