1st Air Cav Soldier vies for pro bodybuilder status
October 23, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas - When a person thinks of a Soldier, they probably imagine someone fit and in shape, ready to tackle the most physically demanding of tasks in a moment's notice.
It is doubtful however that they imagine someone as fit as Spc. Stephen Sykes Jr., a native of Providence, R.I., and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter maintainer for D Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
In addition to Sykes' status as a Soldier, Sykes is a decorated amateur bodybuilder, who is on his way to compete for a Pro Card in Atlanta at the Hyatt Regency for the 2012 National Physique Committee National Bodybuilding Championships Nov. 9 and 10.
Sykes is 'three for three' so far, winning 1st place in his weight class in all three shows he has participated in since he started in the Spring.
It has been a long journey for Sykes to get to where he is now and it started long ago when he was in his early teens.
His father, who was very athletic and gym oriented, started the younger Sykes on his path, Sykes said.
Sykes described a time when, as he grew up, his father ran out of ways to discipline him, and so used the weights in the gym and exercise to correct his son.
"At the age of 14 or 15 the human body has a very low tolerance for lifting weights, fatigue, and the way your muscles feel when you are pumping iron," Sykes said.
As time went on though Sykes became better at lifting weights, and what started as a form of punishment became something he enjoyed and pursued of his own violation, he said.
"That's how it all began," Sykes added.
Ever since then, Sykes' passion and drive to be physically fit has led him along his life path. It was even what led him to join the Army.
"The Army seemed like the perfect fit ... the Army's slogan back then was 'Be all you can be', and what they advertised was (Soldiers) going through obstacle courses, climbing ropes, going through the mud ... the physical aspect, it just made sense to me, it was the initial reason I decided to join the Army," Sykes explained.
It was a good decision for Sykes to join the Army, as it allowed him to grow and develop in the physical fitness world not just figuratively, but quite literally as well, as he now had free access to the two most important keys to unlocking his physical potential: all the weights and exercise equipment he could want in the free Gyms on post, and all the nutrients and calories he could want via the free food at the Dining Facility.
"It allowed me to become a bigger, stronger person and Soldier," Sykes said.
All of this was a gradual process though, Sykes iterated, and he had no idea he would someday be competing in bodybuilding on any level. It took an outside source to point out that bodybuilding could be a very real possibility for him.
It was this last Spring that Master Sgt. Curtis Allen, a native of Torrington, Wyo., and the senior trainer for the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, convinced Sykes that he should look into bodybuilding, Sykes elaborated.
"We actually met in the Gym here on Fort Hood," Allen said.
It became apparent that Allen and Sykes had similar goals and interests, and so they began to work out together, and developed a friendship, Allen explained.
"I encouraged him to pursue his goals further, and introduced him to a trainer I knew that could help him properly train for a competition," Allen said.
Unfortunately for Sykes, when he began formally training as a bodybuilder, the first competition he was training for was in a short three weeks, and usually bodybuilders train and diet for more than four times that length of time to be properly prepared, Sykes said.
Fortunately though for Sykes, his already high level of physical fitness, which he attributes to the Army's stringent exercise regiment, allowed him to be competitive even after only three weeks of dieting and training. In fact, he placed first in his weight class, despite his lack of experience and minimal conditioning time, Sykes explained.
"Saying that is almost a blasphemy in the bodybuilding arena," Sykes continued. "It's unheard of for someone to just show up to a competition with three weeks prep time and take a trophy, I mean I was competing against more than 250 other people, many of whom had a great deal more experience than myself."
Don't be fooled though, Sykes' success has a great deal to do with his determination and hard work.
"Sykes followed the trainer's regiment verbatim ... he puts in 110 percent always, which is obvious when you can so clearly see the results of his hard work," Allen said.
Since then Sykes has gone on to win two more competitions, and is currently conditioning for a fourth competition.
If he places in the upcoming show in Atlanta, he will be awarded his Pro Card, and will be free to seek out sponsors and possibly represent other companies who are interested in having him as the face of their company or product.
However, all Sykes is really hoping for is to better be able to spread his message and dispel what he considers misconceptions surrounding exercise and fitness training.
"There are just so many misconceptions out there blocking people from pursuing a healthy life," Sykes said.
"People think it's so hard, and that they have to devote everything to it, in order to get fit. The reality is that at no time in a person's growth process did the body have to put forth any special effort to grow ... continuing this process is actually easier than many believe it to be," Sykes added.
In the end though, Sykes priority after this competition is a bit more simple in comparison to getting sponsors and such, as he wants to truly show his gratitude to the Army and his Unit, because in his eyes, it was all made possible by them, Sykes explained.
The dieting regiment needed to compete in this arena is taxing on the body, if Sykes hadn't had such a supportive, and understanding command, he may not have been able pursue this goal, considering the grueling diet, and the extreme level of exertion that the Army requires of each Soldier, Sykes said.
"To do this safely, some special considerations were made on my behalf," Sykes said.
"I just want to contribute back to those who have done so much for me, knowing they've given me every opportunity to become what I am today," Sykes concluded.