JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Sergeant 1st Class Robert Clark, 4th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, used to be like many active-duty service members trying to find a way deal with stress when he first entered the Army. Clark's way was to party, blowing a whole lot of money on drinking with his buddies every weekend.

But a challenge from a friend convinced him to give it all up for something that ended up saving him from walking down a dark road to alcoholism.

"My friend, Paul, challenged me to get a better score than him on the next (physical training) test," Clark said. "Since I'm very competitive and wanted to win, I stopped drinking and smoking and started to eat healthier and work out in the gym with him six to seven days a week. We were both trying to get promoted at the time. It just grew into a lifestyle from there."

In 2005, Clark took up the sport of bodybuilding, then got serious about it in 2008, making a total life transformation from that point on. The overhaul transformed his health and mind and he's positive it's adding a lot of years to his life.

"It's a better option to go to the gym than drinking," Clark said. "I was saved from becoming an alcoholic. Not only that, but I'm becoming the best version of myself I can be."
THE ROAD TO VICTORY

Clark's fiancée, Tracy Smith, had a huge influence on him along the way, he admitted. Smith had been competing on her own as a bodybuilder and she convinced him to compete, as well. So, in 2016, Clark prepared for his first show, the 2017 National Physique Committee Holiday Classic in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- and placed first.

He has competed in further NPC amateur shows in his weight class:

• The 2018 Cascadian Classic, Bend, Ore., placing second.
• The 2018 Universe Nationals, Teaneck, N.J., placing second.
• The 2018 NPC North American Championships, Pittsburgh, placing first and earning his IFBB pro card.

In building his way from the amateurs to the professionals, Clark receives inspiration from other bodybuilders, such as International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Pro Cedric McMillan, who is also a Soldier. Clark also recently appeared with IFBB Pro Michael Spencer, Drug-Free Athletes Coalition Pro Derek Davis and Tina "the Titan" Brown at a JBLM posing clinic promoting the upcoming 2019 JBLM Bodybuilding Championship.

JBLM BODYBUILDING CHAMPIONSHIP

JBLM's Bodybuilding Championship may be small compared to other shows, but it's a perfect venue to introduce bodybuilders to the stage.

"Many first timers are ready physically but have stage fright," Clark said. "Getting on that stage with the support of everyone, including those you're competing with, changes your mind about how well you can do on stage."

Participants from ages 15 to 65 competed in last year's show, proving that bodybuilding knows no age limits. The competition is also a proven stepping stone for larger competitions and turning pro.

"The 2018 JBLM competition relit the fire for me to train extra hard for the North American Championships in Pittsburg, where I took first place," Clark said. "After competing at JBLM, I felt more relaxed and calm for the finals.

"Training for my first professional show can be intimidating because it's much more competitive. But I've learned from all the amateur shows how to be the best version of myself. I learn something from every competition I'm in."

FINDING YOUR PASSION

If you're a service member, there's nothing stopping you from pursuing your outside passions, according to Clark. If that passion is wanting to become a competitive bodybuilder, all you need to do is ask around for a prep coach to get good advice about how to get where you want to be.

Clark suggests to go into it with an open mind. Do your research, find a coach, ask questions about a good diet and how long to train, then trust your coach's advice. Set realistic goals, learn patience with your progress and trust the process.

Be sure to find someone who will honestly evaluate what you're capable of and whether you're ready for competition. Also recruit supporters, both family and friends, who have your back throughout the process.

"It's always great to have support, because it takes a lot of time to become a competitive bodybuilder," Clark said.

The JBLM Bodybuilding Championship is June 22 at Nelson Recreation Center on JBLM Main. Entry forms and costs are available online at JBLMraces.com. For more information, call 253-477-4204.