Dino and Christy Resendes

THE PAYOFF

Dino and Christy Resendes After months of training and sacrifice, the big day arrives for Dino and Christy Resendes of Fairhaven

Christy Resendes reacts as the places are announced following judging of the Musclemania competition. The Wednesday before Musclemania was a watershed day for Dino and Christy Resendes. Literally.

For many outside the world of competitive bodybuilding, the routine the couple has put themselves through for two months is entirely foreign. A complete denial of "cheat food," instead snacking on little more than chicken breasts, green vegetables, baked potatoes and various scoops of various powders. A feverish workout regimen, leading even the most stacked men at Gold's Gym in Dartmouth to occasionally turn and say, "You see that chick? She was ripped!"

It would be impressive even were the Fairhaven pair not trying to build their bodies to heights unseen between collegiate classwork, everyday employment and the other rigors of parenting three young children. It would be noble even were they doing it for a multimillion-dollar prize, not a simple foot-tall trophy.

"What we do is a lot like playing Division 3 football," Dino said. "You're breaking your body and everything else. You know you're probably never going to make it to the NFL and you're not going to get rich off of this stuff, but you're doing it because you love it. Because otherwise you wouldn't be torturing yourself like this."

When one realizes the torture he speaks of is hardly understated in the days immediately prior to the Musclemania Atlantic Bodybuilding Championships, held on that rainy Saturday in Connecticut, the power of the human will borders on the unbelievable, if not the impossible. Or the indescribable.

THE JOURNEY THROUGH HELL

To look at a competing bodybuilder like the Resendes or nutritionist Dave Lyford on stage is to see something only sort of there. Rest assured, none of these competitors are cheating ... it's just part of what Dino calls "the journey," and the most trying part of all. "It's learning about yourself, and what you can and can't do. Pushing yourself beyond certain boundaries that you never thought you could break," he said.

Sure, the payoff is perhaps a form as good as one may ever look. That journey, however, is pure hell.

"You're just hazed over," said Dr. Ellyn Robinson, one of Christy's professors at Bridgewater State College. "When you want to listen to someone, but you just physically can't. This is what I got from Christy the other day for an hour and a half (in class)."

So, why do carb-depletion, sodium loading and encouraging the body to dehydrate itself make sense in context? Why is a near total denial of carbs, leading to a near total lack of energy in the body, such a good idea? Grab your pens and paper, it's time for some lessons in osmosis. In the start of the final competition week, the Resendes drank upwards of two gallons of water per day, eating mainly protein and sodium through various sources. The goal is to convince the body it has too much of the first two substances, thus sparking an attempt to flush them entirely out of the system. Once that begins, the diet abruptly changes.

"We continue the same amount of protein, and go up in carbohydrates, up in calories. We also include potassium, which helps to shuttle the carbohydrates into your muscles to create that filling effect, that illusion," said Dino, who was consuming little more than 1,000 calories per day at the diet's low point. "What you're doing when you're having just protein and no carbohydrates, your muscles are deflating."

Because a deflated muscle filled with water will look smooth and bloated, water and sodium are phased out while the body continues to flush them away. So, the muscle stays "drier" and looks far more cut than it would in a hydrated body. For the Resendes, daily water consumption from all sources dropped steadily from two gallons on Wednesday to roughly nil in Connecticut.

"The day of the show, we're eating every hour and we only takes sips of water," Christy said. "Whatever we need, so that we dehydrate."

Dehydration, of course, being cool because their doctor told them it was OK. To say nothing of making everything balance out at the same time as raising young children. "When you're heating up food for your child right at the end, your instinct is to try it to see if it's too hot. Now, you don't want to be adding that extra sodium. You have to find new ways," Dino said before a smirk began to curl. "'Here. Try this. See if it's too hot.'" Yet, that's far from all. Since the halogen lamps used at shows are so bright, they tend to "wash out" even the most cut and naturally tanned physiques. So, competitors "paint" themselves, with the word choice no accident. For Dino and Christy, the final four days of the week meant applying coats of oil, with some other competitors taking it a step further -- a little bit of cooking spray to create a sheen on posing day is a trade secret. And don't worry about anyone ingesting any water in the shower. That, plus shaving and anything else hygenic beyond a patdown with a towel, is out once the painting process begins. "It's a very smelly operation," Robinson said.

dino and christy So, to recap, on that rainy Saturday, roughly 100 athletes converged while parched, painted and peaked. Physical specimens, but battle weary before the day has even begun. The question "Why?" doesn't even need to be asked. Not so much because it's assumed, but because the chorus from the Resendes has been constant throughout the whole process. "As a couple, you do kinda have to struggle a little bit juggling schedules because we have children and day care and whatever, watching the kids and going to the gym," Christy said. "You work through it. You work through it and you get it done. "It's a choice."

Which brings up another question, one that hangs far heavier over the entire bodybuilding scene.

The Chemical Call

Steroids.
On Friday, the eve of Musclemania, each competitor headed to a local hotel whether they were staying there or not. It was the site of the event's urine testing, a first after six years of subjecting each competitor to a polygraph test asking if they'd used.

"I feel we added serious integrity to our show," event producer Brian Cannone wrote after the event, adding that his Musclemania Atlantic show is the only one of its kind to test beyond just the winners.

Important, because Musclemania has always been a drug-free show about authentic bodybuilding. It was evident at that night's weigh-in, where head judge Ted Clark spoke praising each in attendance for making the choices they did. It was evident in each step of the actual competition, where everyone from Cannone on down reminded the crowd they were viewing natural athletes.

As anyone who has viewed "Pumping Iron" knows, that's not always the case. Early on in our time together, Dino held up two magazines -- Natural Bodybuilding, and Muscle and Fitness. The figures in the latter were clearly the more massive, with muscles seemingly bulging from muscles.

He didn't need to explain any further.

"There's a lot of money to be made at those levels if you're at that super-elite point," Dino said. "Generally, people want to see the freaks. At the pro level, they say 'People don't come to our shows to see the middleweights.' They come to see the 280-pound monster. They just want to gasp."

The International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB), which oversees the yearly Mr. Olympia many view as the pinnacle of the sport, doesn't drug-test competitors. The winner receives $120,000, never mind the acclaim that will undoubtedly bring more dollars -- for starters, Joe Wieder's name appears both on the cover of Flex Magazine and in the creators list of the IFBB.

While an extreme example, clearly there's plenty of reasons for bodybuilders to use. But the Resendes see things a little differently.

"You read about it and you kind of cringe, but that's the choice they made," Dino said. "Here, you have to be a lot more strict on your diet, because they have ways they can hold muscle a little longer. But again, it's a choice. It's a health matter to us. Short-term, a lot of people will take it and they'll blow up and they'll compete and they look beautiful. But what happens in 20 years? What happens in 30 years? What happens in 50 years, if you make it that long? You're destroyed."

"We can be lifting for years and years. The consequences definitely outweigh the benefits," Christy said. "And for women, it's just ... you get the broadening of the jaw, the facial hair. You turn into a male, basically. And you can't reverse that."

"These shows don't generate millions and millions of dollars like professional sports do, yet they're going through urinalysis to test every single athlete to give it as much authenticity as possible as a natural show," Dino said. "If you have the passion for something, you really shouldn't be looking at those quick fixes."

It's about standing on an even playing field, and knowing it.

"Bodybuilding is a personal sport. It's one against one," Dino said. "You against yourself. You have to overcome the fear of it."

Fear being common when competing against equally toned athletes on one of the biggest stages around.

THE BIG DAY

I wonder if the students of East Haven High School knew what went on in their hallways over the weekend.

The Musclemania show was only a part of what Cannone termed the seventh-annual "Super Fitness Weekend." In the auditorium, the stage became slick and the walls were in some spots stained by a mix of Pam and tanning oils. In the lobby by the gym, people disrobed for free body composition tests, not to be confused with those disrobing around the room for pictures and product placement. The administrative offices faced out to a stand selling protein ice cream called "Energy Scoop," while the only drinks available in house were water and Gatorade.

It is a blend of those who share a passion, but in some cases little else. One of the event's heavily muscled co-organizers walks around in a tight sweatshirt and shorts combo, walkie talkie in hand but never seeming to do much. In one corner, a man reaches into a bag for a jar of peanut butter, which he spoons out onto a rice cake. Vendors from any of the handful of fitness supply stores chat, alternately trying to make sales and pick up females. Others sell activewear, Tupperware or custom routine music -- we'll get to that soon enough. "The culture is definitely different. You've got all the muscleheads hanging out," Dino said. "And it's all the different kinds of muscleheads, too."

Muscleheads mixed with their admirers. The crowd at a fitness event is hardly just those of the same ilk, as there are those there simply to sit in awe and pay their respects. There were plenty of couples on the edge of their seat throughout the day's events in the more-than-half-full auditorium, scanning the contestants as though jotting notes in an invisible notebook. "Look at him keep it tight!"

"That guy has no back."
"His legs don't match those shoulders."

Their silent cries mix with the shouts of coaches and well-wishers during the early afternoon's initial posing. The shouts of "Open it up!," "Smile!" and others perhaps mean more than some know -- while the centerpiece of the day is the evening's show, for the bodybuilders, the winners and losers are determined that afternoon, while the judges pose and compare them in rows across the stage.

"During the night show, I didn't hear anything. I heard my music and that was about it," Christy said. "For the pre-judging, I try to focus more because I want my friends and family to tell me if I'm not squeezing something. Or if I need to smile ... the first show, he was like 'Smile!' I have a hard time squeezing, concentrating on all your muscles and you forget to smile."

With a light beat of dance music in the background, the pre-judging matches the simplicity of natural bodybuilding -- each of the 13 classes are called onstage, spread out so all eight judges can get a clear look, and instructed in a series of poses. First, a series of "relaxed" quarter turns so symmetry can be checked, then (in the case of Musclemania) eight mandatory poses held for roughly 10 seconds. Starting with front views of the biceps and chest, to the abs, side views of the thighs and triceps, reverse views of the arms and back, the mandatory poses finish with what's called "most muscular," with hands on hips, ads crunched and displaying the whole package.

Following the mandatory poses, the judges can shuffle competitors around the stage either to get a clearer view or to put two tightly ranked bodybuilders next to each other for easier comparison. They also offer a series of other poses, depending on what they feel needs clarification, finishing with time for each competitor to do a "pose or series of poses that shows why you're the winner of this class."

"You should see the wide shoulders and the wide back, with the 'V' taper into a thin waist. Then you should see another bulge, which is the legs, the quads, exploding out underneath that. The calves should also have that certain proportion, the arms, the chest, everything," Dino said. "You can be really, really conditioned and lean, but if you don't have the muscles on you, you might look more like a plank or a 2-by-4 than you will something very flowing. "In the shoulders, you have a front head, you have a side head and you have a rear head. If one of those isn't fully developed, to the untrained eye, you look at it and say, 'Something just doesn't look right. It look weird.' Like a big guy up top with little legs. Everything's got to be fully developed in proportion to each other."

The 11 men's classes featured roughly 60 contestants split between classes by age, experience level and size -- there were some crossovers, such as an over-50 man in the open light heavyweight class -- but due to the far smaller number of competitors, the women were split between merely Novice and Open.

And Christy immediately took center stage.
"Christy's got more of an exhibitionist in her than I do," said Dino, his fingers almost black from the tanning oils. "I can remember at one show during the posedown, she jumped out in front of everyone. The guys were trying to get in front of her, and she was elbowing them to stay center stage, larger than life. "When she jumps on stage, it's 'Look what I did.'"

What she did at Musclemania, at least to the voice in the audience that shouted, "You're killing them, Christy!," during her pre-judging, is stand out from the crowd while doing little at all. In a royal blue suit, her arms simply looked slightly more defined, her abs and back the same way. All the talk of genetic advantages on top of her hard work never seemed more real. "I get really nervous prior to going on stage. I'm just thinking about how I'm going to go, half-naked, in front of all these people," Christy said. "I hope the lights are really bright so I can't see anybody."

For Dino, competing against Brett Oteri, Christy's 27-year-old classmate at Bridgewater, and three others in the Open Welterweights (165-174 pounds), it's different. While he's in his best shape in years, having only trained for Musclemania since October has him behind, as he admitted.

"My conditioning wasn't what it needed to be, bottom line," said Dino, who was sweating profusely, both from exertion and the bright stage lights. "Not to win this competition. For me to be sweating like that, I was holding a lot of water."

His wife had a chance to win, fulfilling her dream to win that berth in November's national show and become better known within natural bodybuilding circles.

"Musclemania will get you noticed," said Lyford, who, despite seven years competing and returning as the bantamweight champion from 2004, would only finish fifth in 2005 after cramping up during his performance. "If you win, you go out west." Christy, and everyone else, would find out whether that was the case later that night.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

dino and christy "Is the audience ready?! Let's make some noise!"
"I can't think of any other sport where you put in the thousands and thousands of hours of preparation just for a two-minute window," Dino said.

After months of preening and prepping, posing and preparing, it's nearly time for what Dino has simply called "the payoff." The Musclemania show shares time with competition for both the Ms. Bikini Atlantic beauty contest and the Fitness Atlantic pageant, which features more gymnastic performance and cardiovascular fitness, and could offer a future road for Christy if she chose to go that route.

"The fitness and figure branched off from bodybuilding. NPC and the IFBB are the highest organizations, and since female bodybuilders started using steroids, and now it's not drug tested ... if I wanted to go that route, there'd be no way for me to reach the top unless I used something," Christy said. "For a way for me to get recognized for my body, I could do the fitness or the figure. It's an out for me to make my path."

It's not the path she's chosen for now, as she sprints to the front of the stage in a new pink suit when all the bodybuilders are encouraged to pose for the crowd. When the emcees ease them off the stage before later being called back by class, she's also the last one to leave. A smile on her face the entire time.

"We're very different in that respect. Christy's very ... diplomatic, I guess you might say. She's just social by nature. Very pleasant to be around," Dino said. "I'm not naturally very outgoing or showy or all this kind of stuff, so when I got out there, I get kind of shy and everything. So my thing is I kind of smile. I'm giggly, I'm kind of, 'OK. Here I am.' The lifting is my thing."

After some former champions appear as guest posers, doing a short routine set to music, each of the top five in each class is encouraged to do the same individually. In a sport where so much is structured around sameness, the stage performance is a chance to express oneself beyond mere physique and play to the crowd. The choices are wide -- Oteri comes out dressed as a kickboxer, performing a spinning heel kick to LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," while Lyford simply poses to AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" and Dino chooses a hard-rocking track, almost defiantly showing his form to the cheering crowd. For Christy, ever the exhibitionist, it's a pair of Terminator sunglasses, moving about as if she were a robot.

From there, we close on the scene that started it all. Once the fitness performers finish their musical routines and a few more guests pose for the crowd, each class is called out, one by one, for a final 30-second posedown. As those in attendance roar their approval, the emcee calls off the top five, one by one, revealing the winner by announcing who claims second place.

In the welterweights, Dino seems pleased with finishing fourth, while Oteri grimaces for a moment after hearing his number called in second. Sandy Dias, Christy's friend competing in her first show, claims third in the Women's Novice.

As for Christy? That was her standing, recessed with a smile, in the scene described yesterday, clasping hands as the other finishers in the Women's Open class waited to find out who would join them as a runner-up.

"Second place ... goes to contestant number ..."
"I was getting more and more excited. I was like, 'Yeah! Hold my hand, OK.,'" Christy said. "She was squeezing my hand harder than I was squeezing her hand. And then just ..." "58, Tammy Pawlowski! First place! Number 59! Christy Resendes!" "And then just, 'Yes! I did it!' I worked so hard and it paid off!"

AFTER THE COMPETITION

It's four days after Musclemania, and we're back in Fairhaven. On the dinner table is Dino's No. 83 contestant button, plus a small white wristband reading "I (love) carbs." Across the room is his fourth-place trophy, displayed with the fine china. "The show was great personally to do. It helped me to feel better about myself. Hey, I set my mind to this very intense goal, and I accomplished it," Dino said. "Secondly, I helped my wife along the way to get her first place. I hope I kind of, by doing this, helped her out a little bit. That was gratifying. The whole contest, the dieting and everything ... to know that you can still do that and be successful at it is just, wow." As for his wife, her trophy's not alongside his, nor in a more special place in the house. It's in the possession of Dr. Robinson, Christy's mentor and the motivation that got her back into competitive bodybuilding. After the show, she presented it to her as thanks for all her hard work.

Dino plans to spend the next 12 months training for Musclemania Atlantic 2006, with he and Christy battling over the best ways for them to train. He'll also be working with Oteri, helping him add mass to a triathlete's frame while the kickboxer helps Dino with cardiovascular work. She'll be helping friend Dias with her leg work, at the latter's request.

"You get to meet so many different people doing this, and share ideas," said Christy, something she clearly enjoys, given she's now a semester away from her exercise science degree.

Something she and Dino are hoping to put to good use, as along with their training, the pair are in the planning stages of expanding a personal training business into starting their own gym. Dino has had conversations with Edward August Braun, Bridgewater professor and author of "How to Buy and Manage a Fitness Club," and the duo are in the process of finding investors, plus designing a Web site where they can continue to help others on the road to fitness.

"I like seeing people change," Christy said. "I have people come up to me. I was in the mall to buy clothes one day, and some guy just came up to me and goes, 'Do you personal train?' I'm like, 'No, but I will eventually.' 'Well, when you do, just call! Anytime!'"

"Once you become informed, you really know how much damage these diets -- Atkins, South Beach -- do to your body," Dino said. "And that's what you see with Vioxx, and all these different things that are coming out. People are looking for a quick-fix pill that's going to make them tone or make them feel better or make them lose weight. Cortislim and Corti-this ... without having to do the work. And that's not really what it's about.

"It's a love we've always had, and I think we've rediscovered it. It was an awesome experience. I can't wait for next year," Dino said. "It's not a quick fix. "It's a way of life."

By JON COUTURE, Standard-Times staff writer

Article 2: Fiercly Determined

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