Fort Bragg, N.C. - The term body builder is often associated with the well-known figures that have dedicated their lives to one thing, competitive body building. Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other famous body builders have inspired people through their passion for body building to enter the sport.
This devotion stems from many sources and the reasons for doing it differ from person to person. Some people enter the body building after years of physical training for various sports. There are some that start lifting purely out of self-interest and develop an attachment to it. A very small portion of people are surrounded by the influences of physical fitness daily. Those people, among others, would include Soldiers in the U.S. Army.
Physical fitness in the U.S. Army is regarded as one of the most important elements of being a Soldier. For some, it is merely a requirement. For others, there is a passion and need for being in the best physical shape that they can be in.
For Staff Sgt. Edward James, the 3RD Special Forces Group (Airborne), or 3RD SFG (A), resource management office noncommissioned officer in charge, or RMO NCOIC, this passion has set him on a path not only to be in the best physical shape that he can be in, but to take his interest in physical fitness to a competitive level.
Although James has always been interested in competing, his journey did not start with the intention of being a competitive body builder.
"It started with playing sports," James said. "I started playing sports in high school and that's one of the requirements you have to do is lift weights."
James continued to lift through his college years.
"After I graduated college, I was doing personal training. It was a lifestyle thing," James said. "It's a passion."
After joining the Army, James continued to lift and involved himself in recreational sports. He set career goals for himself and tirelessly drove himself to meet those goals.
"I had my own flag football team on post and I tore my Achilles tendon playing football," James said. "Body building helped get me out of a depressive state because once I got hurt, it was the first major injury that I had in my life. It kind of set me back career wise with other goals that I had. It was a good way to get me back on my feet."
"I was always interested in competing and one of my friends from the gym did a show and he won the show," James said. "A couple of months later I thought, if he could do it, I could do it. I was coming off tearing my Achilles and I had gained some weight. That was another reason for me to do a show and be committed to the show."
James' first show was the Mid Atlantic Classic in Charlotte, N.C. Oct. 2017. The show required weeks of preparation.
"July of 2017, I got with a coach and started my prep for my first show," James said. "It was 14 weeks of prep."
The preparation phase is filled with many challenges, especially for someone that is new to the realm of competitive body building. The lifting routine, the nutrition, time management, and learning new skills such as posing and choreography are a few of the many challenges that go into the sport of competitive body building. For James, he had to manage all of this on top of his job in the Army.
"The hardest part about prepping is the consistency with the nutrition part," James said. "Working out is easy but staying on your diet and staying on your cardio are the hardest parts. My workout routine is 5 A.M. cardio, then I go home, eat and come to work. At lunchtime I do cardio again, eat again and then go back to work. After work is when I get my lift in for the day, that's my routine."
James, at 31 years old, is a Staff Sergeant after only five years in the Army. Managing his time for his show preparation and maintaining his work ethic to keep meeting his goals and leading his Soldiers has proven to take a lot of commitment.
"You have to be able to commit to yourself and be able to commit to your job and be accountable in both aspects," James said. "Being able to prioritize is the top thing you have to do when it comes to competing and being good at your job."
Capt. Kelly Gilchrist, the deputy comptroller for 3RD SFG (A) RMO, works with James every day.
"Every day he comes in with a go getter attitude," Gilchrist said. "He puts in the work, not just in the office but with his family and fitness as well."
His interest in physical fitness is a motivating factor to his Soldiers Gilchrist said.
"He sets a tone that physical fitness is something that needs to be consistent and you need to be serious about it," Gilchrist said. "It doesn't just happen overnight, and it does shine down to his Soldiers."
"He's a great NCO," Gilchrist said. "I think the Army does need more Soldiers like him and I really like working side by side with him. Overall, Staff Sgt. James' qualities are something that our entire office can emulate."
James proved he is capable of managing both show prep and work. At the Mid Atlantic Classic, his performance was phenomenal.
"It went well. I placed first. I got two first places and one second place in one show," James said. "The way shows work, it goes by class. I competed in two different classes. I won my class and won the overall and I competed in another class that I got second in, which qualified me for a national show."
After winning his class at the Mid Atlantic Classic, James competed at the national level a year later in the National Physique Committee, or NPC, national championship.
"The difference between my first prep and this prep would be experience and being able to have a full year of training to be a body builder," James said. "My first show, I really did it to see where I would place but also to get back into shape and to get myself back into the right mindset."
At the NPC national championship on Nov. 17, 2018, James competed in the men's physique category, class F. He got the first call out from the judges and placed fourth in his class. Going into the NPC national championship James wanted to win his class for the chance to earn his pro card which would allow him to compete at the professional level in the International Federation of Body Building, or IFBB.
Although he did not win his class, he accomplished something that most competitive body builders are unable to do during their first national level show.
"Initially I was upset. When you compete, you come to win," James said. "After talking to my coaches, they explained to me that at national shows it takes guys multiple times to make first call out and for me to make the callout, it was a big deal."
"Getting that level of attention from my first show was a big accomplishment," James said. "All of the judges at that show are judges at the pro level and I got a level of exposure that meant a lot to my career as a body builder."
Focusing on the positives of the outcome from his first show, James is excited to continue his career as a body builder and looks forward to the opportunities in front of him.
"After thinking about it, I was grateful to be able to compete at that level and a fire is lit within me to compete again for my pro card," James said. "Earning my pro card is a stepping stone for me to make a name for myself. My future goals are to earn my pro card and start to earn sponsorships. Fitness is my passion."