It was Saturday night around 8:30pm. For the past 15 hours I was barely getting by on eating cold tilapia and brown rice cakes without water. I stood shirtless in my red board shorts amongst a group of men’s physique competitors just off the main stage; just moments before being called out in front of hundreds of people.

Before and After Photos

My Fitness Journey – Before and After Photos


A few of the guys next to me dropped to the ground to get a few last second pushups in. Acting as if this was all routine to me, I followed their lead and did the same for a quick pump up.

I stood up and stretched out my neck and back. Then the announcer called out “Men’s Physique Class C.”

It was time.

A few years ago I was in my mid 20s and had fallen prey to constant late work nights, nonstop traveling and extremely long periods of time without working out. I was just out of college and was working full time in a marketing job, building up my photography business and was actively involved in a bevy of professional organizations to which I sat on the board of most of them.

My days would start around 5am and I would be moving and working consistently till 10 or 11 that night. My meals were grabbed on the go and coffee became more plentiful that water in my diet. I ate heavy and was not shy about my alcohol intake.

I don’t recall there ever being a pause to notice that my weight was steadily increasing all the way up to 230lbs. Slightly ironic as I was pursuing a business in fitness photography.

Then came the punch in the gut. I had some routine blood work come back to show me just on the verge of being pre-diabetic. A disease which had drastically affected many of my family members. Also around this time I was watching both my father and my grandmother beat various forms of cancer in their bodies. And there I was, not taking care of myself.

I still remember my first run to get myself back in shape. I was staying at the house of my girlfriend at the time and we agreed to go on a brisk mile and a half jog around her neighborhood in midtown. Within a quarter mile I felt the immediate fatigue, the tightness in my drastically underused muscles and the gasping for oxygen to replenish my exhaust from cardio. After three-quarters of a mile I felt the cramp creep up into my right side. I winced my eyes and focused as much as I could on my breathing. Upon completing the “short” run I nearly collapsed to the ground to catch my breath. My heart was pounding and I was in a significant amount of pain for the next hour as my body attempted to recover from the shock of what should have been a minor workout. I was terribly embarrassed and truthfully scared.

The next morning I woke up and did it again. The pain was still there, but I noticed it was significantly less than the day before. Not going to lie, it still felt awful. But I did it again, and again, and again.

I called a friend of mine who was a trainer and began working out with them two days a week. She moved away and I immediately hired another trainer to keep myself moving forward.

In full discloser, I had a lot of dips during this period. I would catch a cold and that was an excuse to skip two weeks of working out. I would have a great week or working out and use that as a reason to spend a weekend of eating heavy as if it balanced out.

Nonetheless, I noticed my habits were slowly shifting. I was eating more often and smaller portions. The level of alcohol I consumed had decreased dramatically.

In this time I had shed 30lbs of pure fat and was starting to lean out my body.

Originally it was a humorous muse. I was fully engrained into working with numerous competitive athletes on a regular basis in my photography business. I would joke about “someday” competing against them; although never really imagining I actually would. It is like when most people say they want to write a book one day, but 99% never do.

Then one weekend morning I generated my own tipping point. I was sitting at home one weekend on Facebook and realized that the only way I was actually going to do this, was if I made myself accountable for doing it.

I then entered in a Facebook post that I was going to start my journey to be a fitness competitor in an upcoming show. This was the late summer, early fall of 2011. The post generated a wealth of LIKES and comments.

Now… I had to do it. I created mass accountability for myself. All my clients, friends and family have now seen this.

For a few months I continued to train myself to condition my body. When November came I began the process of dedicating myself to my diet and my training with a coach who had experience in prepping athletes for shows.

The transformation began. Each week I snapped a photo of myself and each week I saw my body gradually change. The midsection leaned out. My shoulders broadened. My face slimmed up. I began to see definition appear in my arms, shoulders and back.

My diet got cleaner each week as my workouts got more intense. The two months leading up to the show I spent about two-to-two and a half hours in the gym every single day. My energy was drastically depleted making working my two full time jobs a constant struggle and challenge.

I forced myself to put many of my side projects on the backburner. I even went so far as to step down from the board of directors of several organizations. I no longer had the mental or physical energy to get through it all.

The reality was that I made a bold claim I was going to do something. I had to see it through.

I was enamored by all the positives I pulled from it. I found the gym to be addictive. It became the routine of how I started each day. My perception on food shifted from desiring greasy fats to lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and good fats. I now found great pleasure and value in something as simple as an apple. My state of affairs had changed dramatically from the previous year. I now had a fuller understanding of my body that I never did before. I knew how my body would respond to a workout and how it would react to certain foods. My perception on what I wanted versus what I needed to sustain had changed.

I now was doing everything from eating to training to sleeping with a purpose. I had an end goal and everything I put in my body or did to my body would get me closer or further away from that end goal.

Anyone that has ever competed can attest to the difficulty of the process. Those that have not may not fully grasp that concept. I was the latter as I would watch so many of my clients and friends go through the process. I was confused when they get moody. I was perplexed when they claimed they had no energy or no time. I simply chalk it up to ignorance as I fully understood it when I put myself through the process.

My free time completely evaporated. I went weeks upon weeks without seeing, much less talking to my friends. My mood was sour constantly and I felt like I was always on edge and ready to tip over. My eyes were ready to close around noon each day and it was a struggle to keep myself awake long enough to get my work done before falling asleep as early at 7 on some nights.

The last few weeks dragged slowly. I knew there was an end in sight, I just didn’t think it was actually going to come. It was as if someone had turned my life into slow motion.

I got intensively nervous about my body and began to second guess the entire process. I look nothing like those other men’s physique competitors. Who am I kidding? I have no right to be doing any of this. I am going to look like a fool standing up on stage next to all these other guys.

It was the fourth quarter of this journey and I was on the verge of giving it all up. I was weak, I was tired, I was miserable.

I was having a very late work day. I finished a very long photo shoot and was foolish enough to book a business meeting right after. In the meeting was a friend and client Scott Keppel who owns Scott’s Training Systems in Chandler, AZ. Although I was not one of Scott’s athletes for the show, he offered a sentiment which I truly feel is what helped me power through the last leg of this adventure.

“Have you ever watched a marathon race?” Scott asked me.

I replied, “sure.”

“Did you ever look at the last person to cross the finish line in the race and say to yourself, that person is a loser; that person shouldn’t have even done this?” he asked.

“No of course not,” I said.

Then came the light bulb going on above my head as he said “the same can be said for these competitions. Whether you take first place, or last place, the reality is that you got on stage. The moment you get up there, you are a competitor and no one can take that from you.”

Right after the emcee announced that my class was about to get on stage I thought of Scott’s comment. I looked around me as I was competing with some friends and clients. I did a quick hand shake with a few, wished them good luck, smiled and got on stage feeling better than I did in the past four months.

I felt electrified, energized and excited.

Earlier that day someone asked me why I chose to do this and I was not fully sure how to answer them at the time (probably due to a significant lack of carbs in my brain). But the moment I was on stage I knew the reason why.

The reason is that I deserved to do this. I deserved to be health, to challenge myself, to complete, to do what I never actually thought I would do.

There were several individuals who were instrumental in me begin able to get on stage. I wouldn’t have enough room to name every single one of you, but there are a few that I really need to thank from the bottom of my heart.

The first is Scott Keppel who gave me that small token of advice which was the last bit of fuel I needed to power through the show.

My great friend and business partner Kimberly Miller who was relentlessly supportive. She handled my constant mood swings in perfect stride, kept me on top of all my deadlines, was an amazing sounding board, picked up all the slack on our side projects like the podcast, and helped brighten my mood probably about every single day. Seriously could not have managed all this without her help.

My family for their support, for coming out to the show, and to my mom for making me that yummy diet-approved fish every week when I had dinner at their house. Also should note that both my mother and my sister each went through a body transformation themselves right around the same time as me; so I got to see their great progress in their health goals.

Tiffani Bachus who taught me the importance of listening to what my body needed on a day to day basis; over what I thought it wanted.

Dave Dreas for helping me mix up my cardio and weight training routines for a more effective workout.

Jay Dunfee for being a good mentor backstage letting me know what I could expect on stage, how to pose and more. True we technically competed against one another on stage, but he was extremely helpful and supportive off stage.

And thank you to everyone else who was constantly checking in on me to see how I was doing. Even if I didn’t always respond (also due to lack of energy) I did very much appreciate the fact you were thoughtful enough to keep me accountable for my goal. There are far too many names to list off, but a special thanks goes to Pamela Wilson, Patricia Gonzales, Kelly O’Horo, Kim Dolan Leto, Teri Simmons-Crenshaw, and my good friend Jason Black. There are many more of you out there – so thank you all as well!

One of my main goals was that I wanted to understand what my clients have to go through to prepare for these competitions. Everything from the training, to the diet, to the lovely-smelling spray tan, to getting on stage. I wanted to understand how it affected them, why they did it, why they would do it multiple times and so on.

Now that I’ve done it, I have a very full understanding of the desire to compete. To constantly challenge yourself to get better.

The best piece of advice I can offer from what I learned is to do this your way. Everyone (trainer, coach, athletes, etc) has their own perspective on the perfect diet, the right training, how to pose and so on. Find what works for you.

I would also like to second Scott Keppel’s sentiment that the moment you step on stage you become a competitor. Regardless to those of you who place first or last… no one can take away the fact that you did it.

Thank you all so much for allowing me to be a part of your industry.

James Patrick