Idrise Ward-El
May 22, 2003

Idrise Ward-El five years ago did not even think about competing in bodybuilding. Now Idrise is poised to compete in his first pro show, the 2003 Night of Champions in New York, after winning the super heavyweight and overall at the 2002 NPC USA's. With less than two weeks from the NOC, Idrise is anxious and ready to show everyone his new muscle packed physique that is much improved since his overall victory. Here are some questions with Idrise, including his preparation for the NOC, life in the military, and growing up in the Bronx.

Idrise Kevin Ward-El, interviewed by Ron Avidan.

  • So where were you born and raised?

      November 27, 1965 in the Bronx, New York City. I grew up in the Bronx, and went to elementary, junior, and high school there. My father's name was Kenneth, who passed away in Christmas 2000, and my mother is Shirley. I have two sisters. My older sister Kim, who is currently in the Air Force in Germany at Ramstein Air Force Base, and my younger sister, her name is Pamela.

  • Height, eye color

      I am 5'11" and my eye color is brown.

  • Are you married?

      No, I am not. I have a girlfriend, her name is Ashley Mayer. I was married before, in 1986, when I was 21. I got divorced in 1996, that was to my son's mom. My son graduates high school June 5th, the week after the NOC.

  • The Bronx. Isn't that a tough city?

      You learn a lot of things when you grow up. That's why a lot of stuff does not bother me like it bothers other people.

  • Did you ever thing about joining a gang when you lived in the Bronx?

      My parents both worked for the city, so they gave us what we needed. I stayed away from that kind of stuff because of my parents, also, because I did not want my mother to kill me, and being a Muslin, I grew up around Malcolm X's family, who were neighbors, and around people who just really were not into that. My friends who were into that, when they went to go do their thing, they would just kind of leave him at home. Chill out, they said, you're not with this. And I looked at them and said 'cool'. I am glad that they respected that I was not that type of person. And I am glad that I had the fear and respect of my parents in me.

  • Did you play sports when you grew up? In high school?

      I did not play sports in school, but I played in the sandlot, in the city a lot, I played baseball. Back in the days, when I was younger, I pitched in my teens. I played infield, shortstop, third base when I was in my 20's, and later on I played in the outfield.

  • So you are a rookie, and the NOC will be your first pro show. How do you think you will do?

      I feel good about it. The package that I am bringing to the show is good. Basically, the criteria for bodybuilding is that the winner is supposed to have symmetry, balance, proportion, condition, with muscularity. And I am bringing all of that to the stage. So if somebody else is going to bring it also to the stage, it is going to be a good show. If some people are lacking, then I have a good shot. Because I am not missing anything. I feel good.

  • When did you start training for the NOC?

      I started training for it in December. I really don't have a 12 or 16 week plan. I get ready long before that because if there is a bodypart that I want to improve, you have to start way out. So when I saw December, I started working on things that I wanted to see get better. I work with Hany Rambod, my nutritionist, and we talked about things that I wanted to bring in that would be different because this is a pro show. So we started looking around and at pictures, and I said 'I think my triceps need to come out, and also drop my lats' so we started to work on that in December. But I actually started on my pre-contest schedule 12 weeks out.

  • So what do you do in terms of weight training?

      Weight training for me, I go by how I feel. Lee Haney talked about something like instinctive training, and I think I do that to the max. When I rep, if I feel a little heavy, sometimes I will do two sets. If I feel I got the job done, I will move on. Sometimes I will do 5 or 6 sets. I go by completely on how I feel. I train once a day.

  • Do you have a set weekly training schedule?

      No. Before I would do hamstrings and back, as I considered those my weak areas, but my back is now my strength, and my hamstrings are fine. Now I just go by how I feel. On Mondays, if I feel like doing back, I do that. If I feel like doing chest, I do that. I don't really have a set thing anymore. I did in the past.

  • Are you resting more now?

      I rest a lot. I have rested a whole lot more this time than I ever have. It has helped me tremendously. I currently weigh about 266, and want to come to the NOC at 261, depends on how much I decide to carb up.

  • What kind of diet are you using?

      Basically your potato, steak, rice, chicken, and it varies depending on how I look that day. If my weight drops a lot, I will up the carbs a little bit. If my weight is fine, then I leave my carbs at two carb meals, which is oatmeal and rice. If my weight starts dropping real fast, then I go from chicken to red meat in order to keep my weight up, and as I get closer to the show, and want to dial it in, I will start pulling some of that red meat out, and go back to chicken. It is really a day to day thing.

      I don't use fish. It doesn't have enough for me, it's too light. I learned that fish, because it hardly has any fat in it, does not keep my size on. I have to eat. Who knows how many ounces of fish I would have to eat, and trying to eat 20 ounces of fish every meal won't cut it.

  • What time to you get up in the morning?

      I start out with a 7am client, and normally get up at 5:45am. But right now, in these last two weeks before the NOC, I push back my clients a little bit so I can get some more rest. So for the next two weeks, around 6:30am.

  • Clients?

      Yes, I am a personal trainer. I work out of Gold's Gym Palm Desert.

  • Why did you choose the NOC for your pro debut?

      I had a lot of things going on. I bought a home, last October 3rd, so I had to get that all squared away. I did not feel that at the Ironman & Arnold, I could put my best foot forward, and besides that, I wanted to make improvements. The improvements that I have made for this show, I could not of made it for the Arnold. Because after the USA's, I was really tired, and for a month and a half, I did not even work out. And by the time I turned around, it was 12 weeks out, November 8th. And I did not think that I could do anything with my body except repeat the same shape I had at the USA's. Which is not good enough to go against the pros. So I needed to take some time to improve.

  • Do you feel anxious about the NOC with two weeks left?

      I am anxious. I want to get out there real bad. I have seen these pros competing and I have always watched them so I want to see what I will look like standing next to them. I competed against Chick but never stood by him, and I would like to do that. I have done my homework. I put my physique together. I am balanced, hard, and have done things that I feel are worthy to being on stage, so I just want to get out there. My posing routine will be nice, a little bit of New York style music in it. My mother and sister are going to be there, some of my friends. I am puffed. It's in New York, where I was raised. That's why you will never hear me talking about winning the show. I am going to try my best. I am going to try to win! But that's the judges decision, not me.

      The thing about pros. Pro's don't watch amateurs. Pro's watch each other. Amateur's watch pro's all the time. I try and analyze the people that will be on stage with me that I think that will be looked at. So I can list out every single pro what they are missing, what they got, their strength, their weaknesses, if they got better or stay they same every year. I have been looking at you, but they have not been looking at me. So it is really funny how a pro can just assume that the new guy coming out does not have anything to offer. In 1998, I competed at 235. In this show, I will be 265. That is 30 pounds of stay shredded muscle out there that I have improved and added upon. I want to be looked at. I won the USA. I will be looked at.

  • At the NOC, how do you feel competing again against Jeremy Freeman and Art Atwood, among others?

      That's really cool. I love to see who had made improvements and who has not. Jeremy Freeman is with Muscletech like I am, but Jeremey even felt that at the North American that I should of won the show. And I told him 'It does not really matter'. There are things that Jeremy has to bring up for the show. But Art. His conditioning is incredible. He actually pushes me when I know that he is going to be on that stage. I have better shape than him and I lost by like 5 points to him at the Nationals. I feel if I can match his conditioning or at least come close, I will be ok.

  • The NOC is always a controversial show, especially this year with King Kamali vs. Craig Titus. What do you think of all of this?

      I don't mind rivalries if the two people are on the same page. It seems to me that if these guys are not doing this for entertainment purposes and it is personal, it is not cool. The one thing I don't like about bodybuilding is lack of respect for other bodybuilders. In every sport, the athletes give respect to the guys that came before them, and to the guys on the field. In bodybuilding, you don't get that. The reason is that most bodybuilders start in the gym and then you have some low self esteem, and all of a sudden this guy has a physique, and now he feels he is better than everybody, and it just transfers on. The guy turns pro, and he never loses that aura about him. You have a lot of guys that look at other bodybuilders and say 'they are horrible, nobody's good in that show', yet those pros are the ones who kept the sport going while these guys were fighting at the Nationals, trying to get his pro card. If they disappeared, there will be no bodybuilding when they finally got there. So I just can't do that. There are a lot of bad guys out there, that really are not good people, but I will never take away from their accomplishments on stage.

      Shawn Ray is a perfect example. A lot of people have problems with him of what he has done in the past to whoever, but I will never say he was no good, because the dude was awesome. He kicked many people's behind. I look at Shawn as one of the top bodybuilder's who has ever competed. And some people just don't have that same kind of respect, which bugs me about the sport. The lack of respect.

  • Why should the judges look at you at the NOC instead of the other competitors?

      I don't feel they should. I think I need to earn that. But what I will bring to that stage, they are going to have to look at me. All I want out of this show is to be looked at, and not get overlooked. I talked to Ronnie Coleman a few weeks ago, and he told me 'Idrise, you are too good to be overlooked!". I will compete at 260 pounds with a 32 inch waist. Round shoulders, round muscle belly. Chris Lund just shot me on Saturday, and Chris said that I looked like Ronnie Coleman. If other pro bodybuilders, Quincy, Melvin, Troy, can look at me, and say 'Wow, you are impressive, then why would I think they are lying? If they can look at me and say wow, then I hope the judges will say the same thing.

  • How did you get started in bodybuilding?

      In 1991, I moved to California and people just started to tell me 'Hey, you got a nice physique'. I did not care about bodybuilding at the time, I played baseball! Enough people talked me into it so I went ahead and gave it a shot. I was in the military at the time, and drove down to San Diego, and entered the Armed Forces Bodybuilding show. I weighed 187 pounds, and in the light heavyweights, placed 4th, reading and learning from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. I had fun. I did a couple of show that year, then came back in 1992 and did a couple of more shows, and then I did not do another show until 1997.

  • What made you come back to bodybuilding?

      There was a judge named Toni Dee. She told me 'Idrise, you don't really realize this, but you are really gifted. You really can have a lot going on in the sport, and you should compete again.' And I trusted her because she has been around. And actually when I got my pro card, and I gave her a big hug. I told her that if it was not for you, I would not have been back.

  • How did you meet Toni Dee?

      I did a contest in 1992 in Santa Cruz and she was a judge there, as she lived in the bay area too, and I had seen her in the gym from time to time. One day, at the gym, she came up to me and asked me 'How come I don't compete anymore?" That was in 1996 or early 1997. That's when I decided to come back. I did the Contra Costa.

  • How did you feel winning your pro card at the USA's?

      It was overwhelming. It really took a long time to fill in. I broke down crying backstage, and that kind of weirded me out because I did not even expect it. The strain that it took. I did not realize how much I put into it until it was all said and done. It was also kind of strange for me because I never really seriously thought about bodybuilding until about 1998, when I did my first National show, at age 33.

      In 1998, I said if I do well at the Nationals, I will keep it up, if I don't, I wont. I went to the Nationals, and took 4th behind Orville Burke, Aaron Maddron, and Stokely Palmer. And I actually lost 3rd place by 1 point. Stokely had one more 3 than I did. So I figured "I took 4 years off, took second at the Contra Costa losing to Tevita Aholelie, came back at 222 at the 1997 California, which was in Northern California, took 4th, and the following year in November, I won the Sacramento Show, and two weeks later, I came in 235 and took 4th in the Nationals. I was like maybe I got something here. That is when I decided to go ahead and go for it.

      Turning pro for me was a shock because I had only thought about if for five years, and other guys had been thinking about it for 20. It was definitely a shock to me.

  • In 2001, you came in 2nd behind Jeremy Freeman at the North American Championships. How did you feel about that?

      I wasn't ready to turn pro. I did not peak for either show that year. I always wanted to turn pro looking like a pro, and I wasn't quite there. If I had worked with somebody like Hany, and learned what I learned training for the 2002 USA, it would have been better because he actually would of taught me some things about nutrition that I had no idea on. So the physique that I presented in 2001, they were not pro physiques. So I was not that upset. Unless I looked like a pro when I turned one, why waste my time turning pro so I can get my behind kicked in the pro ranks. I would rather stay in the top 5 of the National ranks than disappear in the pros.

  • You went from 4th place to 6th place to 13th place in your 1998-2000 contests? What was up with that?

      In 1998, I worked with a guy named Andre Scott from Portland, and that is the first time I ever learned anything about nutrition. He dialed me in, and I was shredded, but not full. I did not have any fullness to me. But I took 4th at the Nationals because of my conditioning. In 1999, I has living in Houston, and I was kind of winging it on my own, and I came in really hard, but I lost all my fat. I came in 235 pounds in 1998, and only 230 pounds in 1999. And the judges looked at him, and told me 'You look shredded but you are too small'. I placed 6th at the Nationals then. In 2000, I did the USA's for the first time. And I took 13th. I really did not have that coming, but that show was strange because Mat DuVal placed higher than I did, and he was pale, and swaying like he had an infection. I felt I should of placed higher there. I just kind of threw that one away. It was not a big deal, and I did not get all bent out of shape on that one.

      In 2001, I kind of looked at what was going on, and I noticed that in bodybuilding, if you are not known, and the judges don't know who you are, you can get overlooked pretty quick. So I said 'I am going to use 2001 as my trampoline. I am going to step on it, and I am going to do 4 shows instead of 1.' Wore me out! I won the Contra, won the Cal, took 4th at the USA, and 2nd at the North America's. I started my diet in February and finished it in September. So I was pretty tired. But, it took me from being just someone out there to being a favorite in 2002. The hard work was worth it. When I won it in 2002, I realized that I definitely made the right choice by wearing myself out in 2001.

  • Which bodybuilders have influenced you?

      I really do not have any role models or anything like that, but I can say the accomplishments of certain people I have admired. The accomplishments of Lee Haney, Shawn Ray, Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler. Jay Cutler was a guy who came out, didn't have the muscle maturity, and stuck with it, and now he is one of the top dogs.

  • What do you think about the politics in the sport?

      I am fine with it. I have been around. There is no walk of life or sport that politics is not involved in. I have had many people say 'There is too much politics in bodybuilding'. Where is there no politics? If you get pulled over by a cop on the street, and you know that cop, you keep driving, you won't get a ticket. If you walk into a store, and your friend is a cashier, and give you a discount, that's politics. When it comes to competing, that is the same thing. I don't look as judges as my enemy, they are judging me. I talk to them. I want to know from them what they want to see from me on that stage. And they will tell you. I have never been let down by a judge one time after telling me that this is what you should do to get better.

  • What do you think of the drugs in bodybuilding?

      I really do not have a problem with it, because it is very controllable. The only people who have issues with anything in life are people who abuse them. This country is 50% obese, and 30% of the 50% are morbidly obese. I can't get too wound up about testosterone when half the country is dying from fat and burgers, which nobody really looks as food as a bad thing. But food is killing just as many people as alcohol and cigarettes. They are finally cracking down on cigarettes, but alcohol is so accepted, it kills people who don't drink. You walk down the street, a drunk driver will kill you. So I really don't get wound up about the drugs in bodybuilding because we all have control over what happens to our bodies. If we take care and pay attention to what's really going on in our bodies, we will be fine.

      Drugs do not make you a champion. The training and the eating is the key. All the drugs ever do is help you hold on to what you have accomplished. Just using drugs is not going to make it happen. The biggest problem with it is that America does not understand it. I have had many people come up to me and say 'That is illegal!'. I say, it's not illegal. You can get a prescription for it at the local drug store. It is illegal to use without a prescription. It is illegal to see on the street. But so is Tylenol with Codeine. Or Vicadin. People are popping Vicadin all over the place. Sharing it with friends or their girlfriends. So I don't think it is a big deal. But most of America got their negativity from steroids from the Olympic games. Because they ban it because it gives an athlete an unfair advantage over the other competitor. But in bodybuilding, everybody has the same opportunity as the other guy.

  • What did you think about the bodybuilding union that was proposed?

      I personally like the idea. I feel that bodybuilding is a monopoly and everybody can benefit for. I am not sure about a union, but there should be more stuff going on. No one really deals with the public. I live in a place where it's only me, in Palm Desert. People don't know me. And they ask me a lot of questions. And they love it once they get to meet you. But if all they ever see are bodybuilders on stage oiled up looking like freakazoids, why would they be warm to that. If you can get to mainstream American, that is where the money is. Wrestling is about the stupidest thing you can look at, they have stories, soap operas, but look at how much money it pulls in.

  • What is your best and worst bodyparts?

      Most people make comments about my arms because they are so round, and they think they are bigger than they really are, as I have no elbows. My biceps are only 22 inches, but I have small joints. I think my most impressive feature is my legs because I have a lot of weird striations and lines. My worst bodypart is my calves.

  • What is your favorite and least favorite exercise?

      My favorite is none of them. My least favorite exercise is squats.

  • You bought a house? Where do you live now?

      I live in a place called Indian Palms Country Club. It is a little house on the fairway. I got a good deal on it, so I had to pick it up. I love golf, so I had to get a place on the golf course. It's kind of ironic. I look around now, and I grew up in a concrete jungle, and all of a sudden, I live on a golf course. It's kind of funny to me.

  • How did you get into golf?

      I got into golf when I was in the military. In the military, they have different areas. Medical, supplies, etc. And its called a squadron. And they have various tournaments every year, including gold. Basically, if you wanted to play in it, you did not have to work in the office that day. So who wants to sit in the office when you can be outside and play. I did not know how to play but I wanted out of the office. And I got hooked on it. Golf is one of those games that it tough, you have to work on it. Now I am pretty good at it, but at the time, I was horrible. My handicap now is 17 or 18, but the lowest it's been is 14.6. When I get ready for a contest, I really can't go out and play. June 7th, I play in a charity event at a course called Bermuda Dunes, one of the courses they play the Bob Hope Classic at.

  • When and why did you join the military?

      I joined the military January 20th, 1985, and I went in the military because I grew up in the Bronx, as when you grow up in the inner city, you don't see a lot. You don't see what the rest of the world is like. You only see what's around you. You see some drugs, this, that. You don't see the others side, the good life. But you do see it on tv, and you know it's out there. In my opinion, God has given me a lot of insight. I was 19 years old, trying to go to college, working, it was killing me. Parents could not afford to send me to a big school, so just said 'You know what, I want to get out of here, so I just went to the recruiter and joined the Air Force.'

      I worked in medical, in the surgical ICU, at a hospital called Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. First I worked in medical, then I went to surgical, and I learned a lot. A lot of pain, a lot of people died in the ICU, but you also saved a lot of lives. We would flow to help out other units, including the ER, Recovery Room, Telemetry. My medical background came from working in nursing. I also worked in something called 6612, which is a clinic, where a lot of the cops came to, at Lackland Air Force Base, where the hospital was. They had a lot of military training there for the police (MPs), where they would come in with shin splints, blisters, etc. I learned about first aid, critical care, CPR, etc. I did 4 years of that. Then I wanted to start something new.

      So I went into engineering. I moved to Northern California to a place called Travis Air Force Base, between San Francisco and Sacramento. We worked on land surveys, topographic maps, compute drafting, and that kind of thing. From there, I left the military, and went to work at San Quentin Prison, where I was for 4 years, part of it working the Death Row section. I learned a lot about human behavior there, serial killers. That was not my cup of tea, and I learned how to talk to people there. I left that, and went to Sales. Inside Sales. I went and lived in Vancouver, Washington. I had a newborn daughter then, her name was Aubrey. Her mother Alisa and I moved up to Vancouver to work for her father, and that went pretty good. However, things in the relationship did not work out, so I took a job working outside sales for a company called Ferrel Gas. However, the position was in Houston, Texas.

      So I packed up, and went to Houston. I did not know anybody, but I don't need to know anyone to move some place, as long as there is opportunity for me. So I went down there, worked in outside sales, and things did not work because the company was not making money. So they eliminated my position. When they laid me off, I felt very vulnerable, and I realized that I am the type of person that needs to have my own gig. I had to do my own thing, and get a little more control over what I have, and what goes on in my life, and that's when I moved out to Palm Springs, California and started my own personal training business in November 2000.

  • What makes you happy?

      Being in peace. Being in a relationship. I am not a single kind of guy. Being in one that works with a person who can talk. If there are issues, you can talk about them and move on. Also, watching my kids grow up, trying to teach them things, and help them as they grow older. Also, not being held back by anybody. I like having the ability and opportunity to grow.

  • What do you think are your best and worst qualities as a person?

      My best quality is that I am straight up, real. I am a real person. I don't candy coat life. My worst quality is that I have been blessed with a lot of common sense, and I tend to think everybody sees the same thing I see when they don't. I will say something to somebody and they will look at me, and I will say 'You don't see it. It's right there in your face'. And that's not good. I need to understand that.

  • Are you religious?

      I am not a God fearing person. I don't praise God for everything I do, but I do believe in God. I was raised a Muslin. My father was very religious and he used to step on me about it, but I said to him that I know that somebody created all this and it wasn't you. There is a reason we are here. Treat people fairly, be a good person, and that's what I got out of being a Muslim. A lot of people praise God. I don't believe that God wants to be praised for everything that happens. I believe that he gives us talents, and skills, and leaves it up to us to do something with it. He throws curveballs at you, like when I lost my job in Houston. I felt like that was a challenge. I said that God wants to see what I am going to do about this. Am I going to fold, or am I going to step up. When I placed 13th at the USA, it was another test. Am I going to fold or step up. Am I going to blame the world or handle my business? I take credit for my triumphs. God already gave me the ability to make these things happen.

  • What was your lowest point in life?

      That lasted about 5 minutes when I lost the job in Houston, and tried to apply for another job, went and interviewed with 4 people, and they turned me down because I was overqualified. They said that I was too ambitious for the position. So I hung up the phone, and said 'Man, I have got two kids, and no job'. It was tough, but I decided that I am not going to let nobody get me down.

  • Do you have any tattoos on you?

      No way, I completely hate tattoos. I think tattoos are absolutely stupid.

  • Tell me something people do now know about you?

      I am actually shy, believe it or not. But I can be social when I have to be. And I am sensitive, and can get my feelings hurt real quick. However, I deal with it better now.