SO YOU WANNA BE A FITNESS MODEL :: Three years ago, I embarked on a mind and body transformation that would change who I am as a person, and my entire life. I never expected either. The experience was fraught with facing my own demons, misinformation, experimentation, very hard work, laughter, and a lot of money.
When you decide to re-invent, to present yourself as something you’ve never been, you run a huge risk of it blowing up in your face. That’s the risk I took though when I decided to become a fitness model.
The idea began in 2009 when I hired a trainer, Benjamin Paley. I have been overweight my whole life. Though I’d had many other trainers in the past – who came and went as fast as some of my boyfriends – this time around I found one who stuck.
Benjamin would put me on the path to change my life forever.
He noticed I stuck to my goals. I had at this point, through grueling effort, trimmed about 55 pounds.
When he asked, “Have you ever thought of becoming a fitness model?” he planted a seed of change within me.
But my first reaction was to be aghast. “Me? The fat kid! No way!”
Benjamin pointed out, “Max you’re in the gym five days a week already, why not?”
Benjamin wasn’t looking to train me, he had no experience training a fitness model. He just thought I could do it.
So I thought I could too. I approached a fitness model and competitive bodybuilder named Ivan Kalinin. I had watched him train. He is gorgeous and dedicated.
At first, he didn’t want to take me on, I had to convince him I was up for it. I swore to him I would be dedicated like he was. The idea had quickly grown to become important to me and I told him that it was more important to me than anything else.
He finally agreed. “I will take you on, but two things: One you will lift heavy weight. Two you will not touch alcohol at all while we are training. You touch booze once I will fire you as a client.”
I was floored. But I nodded that I understood, and training began.
On my first day, Ivan entered the trainer’s room clad in a tight t-shirt and exercise pants vaguely showing the outline of an almost inhuman bubble butt. He slammed two 45 pound plates on either side of a 45 pound bar, stood at attention, folded his arms and commanded: “LIFT!”
I blinked at him. The heaviest I’d ever lifted was full swag bag at fashion week.
I got in dead lift position, wrapped my manicured hands around the bar and pulled. I swore. I swore like an angry bull-dyke whose truck just broke down in the middle of a highway at rush hour.
As I put the weights back down, I felt the beginnings of a puddle of sweat and held back a few tears. Ivan walked to the bar, removed two plates. “Rest one minute and lift again.”
I realized then and there this man was going to kill me.
He didn’t. Over the next year and half Ivan and I were inseparable. Ivan instilled in me to making sure every rep I did counted and to deeply value nutrition. This wasn’t about starving myself. I ate, it was just what I ate that made a difference. Ivan insisted on maximum dedication to my goal, which meant not missing a workout, even while I was vacation. Every day, while in Miami Beach, I went to the gym and workout – without fail – even though sometimes I faltered on my eating.
Each month I watched my body change and with that, inner perceptions of myself.
However not everyone was happy for my success. Want to see the ugly side of people? Start to show them your hard work is paying off. I hadn’t changed in personality however as my body did, so did the people around me at the gym. As my competition body came in, I was shunned, ignored and whispered about. People don’t always like to see others succeed, like success is in limited supply. The fat kid was supposed to stay fat, I guess.
One day, in tears, I went to Ivan who saw me and morphed from trainer to coach. “Remember, you are doing and growing – where some of those guys haven’t and never will.”
From that point on I was determined to place when competition time came.
And I did.
They don’t warn you that you will literally crap bricks 30 minutes before your stage call. Here I was, backstage, a year and half of training behind me, one solid week of taking a diuretic over, at the end of eating more chicken than I’ve ever thought possible, countless practices sessions for proper posing done. It had boiled down to now: five minutes before four judges.
Friends, family and fans were in the audience getting ready to hear my category being called, “Masters Male Fitness Model” for men over 40.
I remember hearing my name, putting my foot on the stage and thinking, “If no one boos me I’m good.”
No one did.
I got more applause than I thought could be possible. Apparently everyone, including the judges, loved me enough for me to walk off with a third-place trophy. As I stood on stage after the awards were given out, holding my trophy, smiling and waving, I felt like Nomi Malone in her first night as lead dancer.
My family and friends were beaming. I got backstage and my mom came rushing to me. “You look so amazing and I’m so proud of you! If someone hadn’t called your name I wouldn’t have recognized you!”
I cried for three days after, it was that big of a deal. The obese me was finally gone and the Max I hid for so many years under layers of fat and issues was free.
The next week back in the gym, news was out that I had placed. People wanted to know how I did it, my trainer was beaming and so proud, my nutritionist was glowing and I felt I had finally reached that point in my life where I was happy with my body.
Through it all, here’s what I learned. When I came out as gay, I was 16, “a gay boy”. In my 20s, my love of fashion taking hold, I was “a stylish gay boy”. As my 30s hit I was “an angry stylish gay boy who had something to prove”. But it took this experience – and to get to my 40s – to realize that as a kid I was never taught how to just be “a boy”, who could do boy things like lift heavy things. Now I don’t care how you label me. I have labelled myself “the boy”, “the boy who nobody though could ever be anything but fat, who won a fitness model trophy at the age of 42”.
And I really love that.