Today, we begin a three-part conversation with Randy Roach, about Randy Roach. The Bodybuilding historian tells us about his life, his health and how a blind man came to write the most detailed single history of any sport. Part two will be published January 18-19.
There surely is no shortage of books within the genre of sports history. This is great news for football and baseball fans, among others. But for the enthusiasts of professional bodybuilding, the question persists as to whether it even IS a sport, making it perhaps the Rodney Dangerfield of athletic pursuits in that it gets "no respect." Though it traces its roots back for over a century, few outside the small world of iron pumping know much more about it other than that its biggest success story became a movie star and then the Governor of California. Beyond that most people draw a blank. That is all changing with the publication of "Muscle Smoke and Mirrors" by Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) historian and author Randy Roach who has published two volumes of what is to be a three volume complete history of "the game" as it is affectionately known by its devotees. It is probably no stretch to say that Randy has written the most complete history of any sport and, thanks to both his writing ability and story-telling gifts, one which is universally proclaimed a "page-turner."
While Randy is providing us with some of the best reading material in all of sports history, we know little about the story of Randy himself. We mean to change that here so you feel you "know" Randy a little and are reading the work of a friend. I am privileged to know this good man as a friend and I want to help you become better acquainted with him yourself. With that as our goal, we present here and now the first installment of a three part conversation with Randy.
(For those of you arriving on this page via a search for Randy Roach or "Muscle Smoke and Mirrors" and want to know who is writing this blog, my name is Charles Welling, a one-time live-in student/"before and after" of "Nutritionist to the Hollywood Stars" Rheo H. Blair whose ideas on nutrition and exercise played key roles in the history of bodybuilding. Rheo Blair is discussed at length in Randy's books and I am both humbled and privileged to be included in that conversation).
We begin with a brief biographical statement and then go to straight to the interview.
Randy Roach is a graduate from George Brown College in Toronto. He is a retired computer programmer who spent over 15 years developing systems in both the museum and environmental engineering professions. He has written and been published in 3 different fields. Randy now makes his living as an author and private health and training consultant in his home in Ontario, Canada.
Q) Randy, you have established yourself as THE undisputed expert on the history of Bodybuilding by virtue of the massive trilogy you are working on. Nothing previously written on the subject even comes close. Tell us something of your childhood, your growing up and how you got into this field. Did you always want to be a bodybuilding nutrition expert and author?
A) Well actually as a Canadian, my first love was hockey. However, back around the late 1960s, I saw 1965 Mr. America, Dave Draper first on either the "Monkees" or "Beverly Hillbillies." it was also about that time that I
saw my neighbour, Bob Zarzycki, working for a landscaping company with his shirt off. Actually now that I think about it, it was probably around the summer of 1966 when I saw him working outside. Bob wasn't as big as Draper or guys like Don Howorth of course, but he still stood out from the average person and was a natural bodybuilder. You just didn't see that look around very much, at least in Ontario, Canada back in the mid to late 1960s. He was about 12 years older and I grew up with his younger brother, Steve. I remember playing at his place and making Bob promise that before I went home one night, he would go downstairs and lift the loaded barbell over head for me. I was so excited about that.
I did play hockey and participate in martial arts in the early to mid 1970s, but I had to withdraw from those activities due to my deteriorating eyesight. I had contracted Steven Johnson's Syndrome (SJS) back in 1961, lost my left eye to it in 1962, and by the 1970s, I was losing sight in my right eye as well. I had begun lifting puny dumbbells and playing with Weider spring sets around 1970, but when the sight started to diminish, I slowly began switching emphasis from hockey and karate to bodybuilding in the later 1970s.
Q) Interesting that the Beverly Hillbillies should come up. My wife and I were just in Beverly Hills this last week on New Years Eve on Beverly Drive -- the very road where the opening sequence of that show takes place with the cast in the old truck driving up that tree-lined drive. Well it turns out that Dave Draper was on an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies called "Mr. Universe Muscles In." How old were you and what inspired you when you saw him? Have you ever spoken to him about that?
A) Dave appeared in both the "Monkees" and "Beverly Hillbillies" in October of 1967. I would have been a man of the world at the grand old age of 8. I can't say for absolute certainty that I saw him at that exact time or shortly after in a rerun, but it was definitely around that period. I am also quite sure that he was appearing on the back covers of hockey magazines advertising Weider products. He had that classic pose with both arms extended out to the sides and looking very vascular.
I never did get to interview Dave over the phone. I believe my timing was bad back in late 2002. However, he did correspond with me several times through email giving me some great personal quotes based on questions I had asked. He really was the face of bodybuilding back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His physique looked phenomenal in those shows and also in the 1967 movie, "Don't Make Waves."
Q) Did anyone else inspire you?
A) Yes, I was also heavily inspired by a photo of Don Howorth that appeared in one of my early magazines from the early 1970s. The shot was actually taken in early 1968 I believe by Steve Downs and it was that pic I used of Don for Volume I of "Muscle Smoke and Mirrors". Draper and Howorth were huge, but not crazy big or totally out of a cultural context such as what we see today."
Q) Did your interest in nutrition come early as well?
As for the interest in nutrition, that did not come primarily from bodybuilding since initially I believed I would do just fine if I could land a can of Popeye's spinach. Really, I remember bugging my mother so much to get me a can of that stuff until I tasted it. The drive for nutrition came from wanting to know the foods that the real bodybuilders ate, but perhaps more so, my exploration into diet was a venture to see if I could halt the loss of my eyesight. This fascination with nutrition began around 1977, but picked up dramatically in the 1980s.
The eyesight loss was slow, but at times excruciating. See, my conjunctiva and the epithelium of my inner eyelids began drying out causing the lids to turn inward and attack my cornea. If you ever have had sand in your eyes, just imagine that feeling for weeks on end. My teens were a terrible time
Q) So let me interrupt and ask you when the spinach didn't pan out, what did you initially learn about the connection between nutrition and bodybuilding? You must have had some success if your interest in the subject skyrocketed. Did you have any success with your vision?
A) Yeah, the spinach was a real downer. I mean, I was so hyped for that stuff! My naivety back in the 1970s and 1980s was so extreme. I basically believed in much of what I was reading. When the spinach didn't pan out, of course I believed the real secrets for true muscle growth came from Weider supplements. In fact, I was so convinced that I actually stole a can of his protein in the early 1970s because I didn't have the money to buy it. I mean, that is how bad I wanted it. I didn't typically steal at that age. Well, it was either the desire for the protein or Betty Weider's huge knockers on the can label that led me to do so. Although it was a chocolate based powder, it didn't taste much better than the spinach. However, Betty made it worthwhile.
I used supplements on and off from the mid to late 1970s; primarily a protein powder brand with Doug Hepburn's name on it. Hepburn was a champion Canadian weightlifter from the 1950s. The heaviest supplementation I engaged was from the early to mid 1980s. However, I was also an idiot and smoked and drank through that era and that did not do my eye condition any good. Back at that time, you could actually smoke in your hospital bed forshit sake. Compounding the bad habits, the botched surgeries where they were scraping my cornea and grafting mucus membrane from inside my mouth onto my eyeball didn't help my situation either.
Q) So, you mentioned that your interest in bodybuilding began to pick up in the later 1970s? What were you reading back at that time?
Many of the books I used for the "Muscle Smoke and Mirrors" project, I had purchased way back when they first came out in the late 1970s when bodybuilding began to emerge into the mainstream. My first bodybuilding magazines came just before turning 13 years old with the July, 1972 issue of Muscle Builder and the August, 1972 issue of Muscular Development. The former magazine had Ed Corney on the cover with Reg Park gracing the cover of the latter. I then purchased Dave Draper's last magazine cover with the August, 1973 issue of Muscle Builder.
With my interest in karate and hockey, I didn't buy my next issue of a bodybuilding magazine until late 1977 or early 1978 when I was in the hospital for an eye operation. I picked up the February, 1978 issue of Muscle Builder with Kalman Szkalak on the cover. That guy had crazy peaks on his biceps. That was when my interest in bodybuilding picked up along with my interest in nutrition. From late 1976 until roughly 1983, I would undergo about 12 eye surgeries. That was my second and last barrage of surgeries. The first 12 to 15 came back in the 1960s.
Anyways, my fascination with nutrition was underway. I was a ferocious reader with almost a photographic memory. I would go to the University of Waterloo book store and read their nutrition textbooks cover to cover along with a good number of books on diet that were hitting the shelves by the early 1980s. Of course I would be distracted by the cholesterol nonsense for a number of years, but it did lead me to try other things such as vegan vegetarianism for about 4.5 years. Regardless, that didn't work for me and it wasn't until almost the mid 1990s that I came to my senses about the lies
being perpetrated on us regarding many things including diet. From that point onward, I began reading the writings of Jay Robb, Mauro Di Pasquale, Atkins, Weston A. Price, Robert McCarrison, etc. I began drinking raw milk around 2000, then Dr. Ron Schmid introduced me to raw meat and a bit later to Aajonus Vonderplantiz. I have been a raw food eater ever since.
It was actually Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation who asked me to write an article on the diets of the bodybuilders that led to the"Muscle Smoke and Mirrors" project. Little did I know what that would lead to.
Q) Before we get into that, tell us about your experience with a vegan diet. How long were you on it and what happened with your health during that period?
In the fall of 1985 I lost all of my sight. Some of it was restored with drugs such as atropine, homatropine (pupil dilators) and cortical steroid drops. I remember the one doctor telling me that they were going to put me on steroids and I said, "you mean like what the athletes take?" He said, "Ah...no. These are more the opposite." I told them no way, but then they came up with the bright idea of injecting the drug directly into my eyeball. I laughed at the notion of me willingly holding my eye steady as they drove a needle into it. However, the bastards came up with a way to do just that.
It was actually more scary than painful. Well, at least in comparison with some of the other procedures I had to endure.
Anyway, those procedures were enough for me to begin thinking of other alternatives. In the spring of 1986, my brother-in-law lent me his copy of Harvey Diamond's "Fit For Life." His book considered with the cholesterol hysteria of that era. Harvey convinced me that raw food eating could help reverse disease. However, all animal products according to him were the prime cause of pretty much all disease. So, at the age of 26, at the height of my lifting, I became a vegan vegetarian.
I probably lost 30 lbs in about 7 to 8 weeks. I just couldn't get enough food eating that way. In fact, I wasn't digesting all those raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. I had a terrible body odor and I thought my training partner was going to jump out the gym window just to get away from me. I wasn't overly worried about that and just figured I needed time to adjust or adapt. I stuck with it for about 4.5 years, but had lost all my strength as a bodybuilder. I actually stopped bench pressing, squats, and dead lifting since I was embarrassed over how much my poundages had fell.
I eventually broke out with terrible boils and a type of cystic acne. It was brutal. I finally gave it up and I would say I haven't been totally the same ever since.
Next time: Randy recovers from his vegan diet, takes up raw milk and joins the Weston Price Foundation. Also, an article for the Foundation becomes the launching pad for his three volume Magnum Opus. We get into his research experience and learn just how he does it all without sight.
Copyright © 2012 Charles Welling
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