published Friday, August 1st, 2014

Hard Body, No Drugs: Champion bodybuilder achieves goals without steroids

Personal trainer Billy Medlin met his wife, Elena, left, while training at a North Georgia gym.
Personal trainer Billy Medlin met his wife, Elena, left, while training at a North Georgia gym.
Photo by Logan Foll.
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    Billy Medlin holds two of his natural bodybuilding competition trophies.
    Photo by Logan Foll.
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Billy Medlin's best tips for losing weight

• Remember, no one can out-train a poor diet.

• Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. If you must eat in a restaurant with one, order off the menu. And don't stroll over to the buffet.

n Plan meals and snacks at least two days ahead. If you come home from a rough day at work and you are hungry and frazzled, you don't want the only immediately edible item in sight to be a bag of Double Stuf Oreos.

• Allow yourself one cheat meal per week on this condition: You get right back to healthy eating the next morning. Your body will be very upset with you if you force it to process a truckload of carbs one evening after it has grown accustomed to balanced meals.

When Billy Medlin was five years old, he was so chunky and his blood pressure so high, doctors feared for life. By age 18, his heart was in such dangerous shape, doctors told him he would need a pacemaker in three years.

Now at age 40, he is fit, lean and muscular. But what a stranger can't tell at a glance -- unless Medlin takes off his shirt -- is that he won first prizes in Georgia's Natural Bodybuilding Association 2014 contest in the lightweight and Master's divisions. He has also won prizes in Natural Atlantic Coast Bodybuilding Competitions.

"Natural" means no drugs or performance-enhancing steroids that give bodybuilders Incredible Hulk proportions. Watermelon-sized biceps and tree-trunk thighs were emphatically not Medlin's goal. He began weight training to save his life. And he wanted to play high school football and be popular.

At first, he had some success losing weight but had trouble doing it in a healthy way, fasting so often and so crazily that he thinks he had a bout with anorexia. High school wrestling and football coaches were willing to let him play if he hit the right weight, but his doctors were worried about his heart health.

"I kept my heart problems hidden from the coaches so I could participate in sports," Medlin says. "That was before the year 2000 when coaches realized kids might look OK but have enlarged hearts or a high blood pressure."

But Medlin did pay attention to the doctors' advice, read voraciously about nutrition and exercise and slowly undid the damage years of obesity had done.

The soft-spoken Dalton, Ga., native stands 5 feet 6 and works full-time as a personal trainer at a local gym, SuperBody Fitness. Some of his clients have illnesses ranging from diabetes to multiple sclerosis. To help them get fit, he had to challenge American stereotypes about bodybuilders.

"People shouldn't worry that weight lifting will cause them to accidentally develop Mr. Universe-era, Arnold Schwarzenegger/Barry Bonds steroid scandal-period body types," Medlin says. "Honestly, without drugs, it's biologically impossible to achieve those bizarre bodies simply through exercise."

Medlin met his wife, Elena, while training at a North Georgia gym. He jokes now that he is surrounded by women and loves it since his wife, an accountant at Shaw Industries, brought his stepdaughter to the marriage; they then added two more daughters of their own to the mix. The whole family is fit and healthy, he says, although he is the only bodybuilder.

Within the natural bodybuilding world, to ensure contestants are bodybuilding without drugs, some competitions require bodybuilders to take a polygraph test because it measures perspiration, heart rate and breathing, all of which can be affected by steroid abuse. The Amateur Bodybuilding Association and International Natural Bodybuilding Association require contestants to submit to urine samples for testing immediately before the competition begins.

Diana Kakos, chief executive officer of both of those California-based organizations, which her husband founded, says samples are tested for more than steroids. Some herbal supplements can get a contestant booted from competition. Websites for both groups contain long lists of banned substances.

"Our testing is done by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and we run a full WADA panel on every sample before the competition," Kakos explains. "Our goal is to clean up the sport and make it healthy.

"We have a category for small children who want to compete. The kids exercise with hand-weights and baby barbells and do modified push-ups. They aren't lifting weights. My husband and I just want them to feel comfortable with the idea of strength training as a fun, safe way to be fit. "

Her husband, Denny, even created a bodybuilding competitive category for wounded soldiers and wheelchair athletes in an effort to make the sport more inclusive and focused on fitness.

A recent article in the Journal of Mid-Life Health urged baby-boomer women to incorporate strength training into an exercise routine as a way to preserve bone mass and build lean muscles for a more efficient metabolism.

Medlin, who attended Dalton State College and has a degree in criminal justice, worked with juvenile offenders in Georgia before he realized he could double his salary as a personal trainer.

"I felt like I was having more of an impact on people's lives as a trainer than I did in the justice system," Medlin says. "It seems like I've been able to help everyone I've worked with except for my parents. They have serious health problems beyond weight. But if my parents were ever proud of me for getting healthy, they never said so. It's disappointing but..."

He pauses then adds wistfully, "Maybe some people have trouble putting their feelings into words."

Medlin is so determined to be upbeat that it takes some prodding to learn he was an only child whose parents seemed baffled and annoyed when he stopped sharing fast food and Southern-fried entrees . He would bring his own fruit, vegetables and healthy food in a cooler to family gatherings so he could socialize without gaining weight. His description of the vibe he would get from other family members sounds as if they found his new diet snobbish.

Journalist Pete Hamill described similar responses from his buddies when Hamill decided he was an alcoholic and tried to quit drinking. In his memoir, "A Drinking Life," Hamill explained that in his Irish New York neighborhood, drinking was the way family and friends bonded socially, and getting drunk was how Hamill could prove to them he wasn't a snob just because he had landed a cool writer's job.

"Southern cooking might have that kind of hold on some people; it's definitely a way some families bond," Medlin muses, mulling over the great pride Southern cooks take in making a delicious meal even out of buttery, fatty scraps other cooks might overlook. "But it shouldn't be the only way. And I don't always stick to healthy food. I tell clients to allow themselves one cheat meal each week when they can eat candy, cake, whatever they crave. My cheat meal is Friday night supper."

His favorite "cheat food" is Mexican, complete with flour and corn tortillas wrapped into meat- and bean-filled tacos and burritos then sprinkled with healthy tidbits like tomatoes, cilantro and lettuce. But these meals are not every-week treats, he says, and he will go without a cheat meal for 12 weeks before a competition.

After that deprivation, though, he confesses one of his favorite binges used to be Little Debbie Fudge Rounds.

"No nutritional value whatsoever," he says, a bit wickedly.

Contact Lynda Edwards at ledwards@timesfreepress.com pr 423-757-6391.

about Lynda Edwards...

Lynda Edwards has covered just about every beat there is while working for The Associated Press, PBS as a Frontline and Nightly Business Report associate producer, Gannett in the heart of Louisiana Cajun country as well as newspapers in Miami, Tucson AZ, Colorado and Arkansas. She has freelanced for The New York Times, NPR, Washington Post, Vogue, Rolling Stone and The Washington Monthly. While at the ABA Journal, she won a Fourth Estate Award, Lisagor ...

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