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Muscle Camp 2002
By Ron Avidan

  • My experience is a little different, as I had a chance also to go out with the pro bodybuilders and other friends on Friday, whereas the actual Muscle Camp started on Saturday morning. Here are my notes from Muscle Camp 2002, and the weekend.

    Friday afternoon:

    106 degrees. That is what the temperature on the television in my nice, air conditioned room said it was outside in the city of Las Vegas. I arrived here Friday afternoon on a short flight from Burbank and then did my cardio walking through the taxi line, which when you arrive to it, leaves your mouth agape in amazement, as there must of been over 500 people in line. Never the less, after 20 minutes in line (it moved quickly), a cool taxi took me to the Tuscany Hotel, which is one of the newer hotels just off the strip, on Flamingo Road. I registered with the front desk, then went up to the room to relax, and unpack. I am in Las Vegas to attend the 2002 Muscle Camp, organized by Shawn Ray, which promises to feature a slew of top bodybuilders who will spend Saturday with a limited number of fans and attendees going over various events. Highlights Include going to Gold's Gym, where the pros will demonstrate and dissect exercises for different body parts, picture taking with all, buffet style lunch, a no holds barred Q&A session, and a party at one of the clubs in the evening. Plus much more. For many, this should be an experience of a lifetime. Where else could you spend the day with so many top bodybuilders.

    The Tuscany Hotel is located on about 25 acres of land, and has about 15 buildings, each only three stories high, which has an Italian flair to it. It is located across Lawry's Prime Rib Restaurant. The rooms are quite big, close to 600 feet, with a full couch and loveseat, a dining room table, small kitchen, a bathroom complete with a separate shower and bathtub, and toilet room, and a television capable of playing Nintendo (some bodybuilder love to play video games), and access to the Internet. These rooms are truly bigger than normal Vegas room, and should suit fine to all of the attendees.

    Friday evening

    Since Muscle Camp did not officially start until Saturday morning, I was invited by Shawn Ray to come to dinner with the group. We met at 7:30 in the lobby, where a huge (and I mean absolutely huge) red Hummer limousine was waiting for us outside. It was awesome, enough to fit over 16 people. The group swarmed into the limo, including Lee Priest, Dexter Jackson, Shawn Ray, Kevin Levrone, Dennis James, Skip LaCour, Mike Matarazzo, Garrett Downing, and some friends. The limo was pretty remarkable, with seats on both sides of the body, flashing lights and laser beams, interesting smoke effects, and a great sound system. With all of us in the limo, we had some great conversations, and listened to some wild tunes. The limo dropped us off at the Aladdin Hotel, where the dinner of choice was P.F. Changs, a Chinese restaurant where Shawn had reserved the special table that sat over 20 of us in a private room one the second level.

    Besides the athletes, there were a number of other people there. I met Chris and Carla, who were the ones who produced the Muscle Bobble dolls for Shawn Ray, and Lee Priest, which both look great. Two more dolls are in the works, one for Flex Wheeler, which should have an interesting pose on it like the splits, and another for Ronnie Coleman, which should have him putting up a finger saying he is number one. Both of these dolls should be introduced at the 2002 Mr. Olympia in October. Also at dinner was Mitsuru Okabe, a photographer working for various magazines, and the video producer of a number of the bodybuilders videos. You can always tell who Mitsuru is, as he always wears his customary baseball cap backwards, and hockey goalines to protect is knees. Tonight was no exception to the rule. Also there was Rosemary Hallum, a writer for various magazines, including MuscleMag International. Rosemary also wrote Shawn Ray's book. Dinner was quite good, and believe it or not there was lots of food left, as some of the bodybuilders complained there was not enough protein in Chinese foods. I admired Skip LaCour, who, since he was competing next week, did not take a bite out of anything, as he had food back at the hotel.

    After dinner, the limo took us to Gold's Gym Las Vegas, where Shawn reviewed everything that was needed for the next day, and what each person would be doing in the morning. It is noteworthy to see the faces of the people working out at Gold's when eight top bodybuilders walk through the door into the gym. Some of them just could not believe it. When Shawn was done with the walkthrough, we all piled back into the limo, and went back to the hotel. We then had a choice; as we could either take it easy for the night, or switch into another limo, a hug white stretch Ford Expedition ranging over 25 feet, where it would take us to a nightclub at the Palms Hotel called Skin, and a dance club called Rain in the Desert. Quite a number of us decided to take Shawn up on that offer.

    The Palms Hotel is located across the street from the Rio and Gold Coast Hotels, off the strip. We entered the nightclub via the back entrance, as VIP members. Skin is set up around a pool, where girls in bikini's dance in the middle of the pool, and lifeguards dance in their lifeguard stations. It is set up as a nice tropical island theme, and we all had a good time relaxing there. Afterwards, we entered Rain in the Desert, a dance club where water streams from a wall, and the dance floor is in the middle of the room, on an island somewhat, with bright lights, and fire sometimes coming out from various places. With the music loud, and the groove keeping the crowd dancing, it was pretty interesting checking out the sights. The line to get into the place was unbelievably long, but with VIP status, we just buzzed right in. We spend over an hour in the club, enjoying it all.

    Afterwards, we left the club and had a choice of either going home and visiting the hottest new gentleman's club that just opened three weeks ago called 'Jaguars'. After all, curiosity of the mind needed to be fulfilled, and we needed to check out and review the new club. Jaguars was quite interesting, as this new club had a lot of money spent into it to make it an upscale gentleman's club, with extra high ceilings, two floors, two stages, nice comfortable chairs, and lots of beautiful women entertaining the audience. Our bouncer at the door was none other than Justin Brooks, who took 5th place as a Super Heavyweight at the 2002 Junior Nationals.

    It was late when some of us went back to the hotel, close to 2 am. Others were hungry and went to eat out, at Fatburger, as energy and protein was needed to sustain the body. I chose to go back to the hotel, as I was quite tired.

    Saturday morning

    The alarm sang to me early, around 6:30, and I stumbled to the lobby of the Tuscany Hotel at exactly 7:30am, which was the official meeting time to start our adventure. Already there were many of the attendees, all eager to start the day with the pros. We found out that Dorian Yates was not going to make it, his girlfriend having problems back home in England, and Dorian needed to take care of her daughter while it was being handled. Flex Wheeler and Chris Cormier also were not there this morning, they were both flying in from California, and would meet the group at Gold's Gym of Las Vegas on Flamingo where the training sessions would take place.

    Our first step was to change our shirts into the special Muscle Camp shirts. The pro bodybuilders took the shirts that were black and had their last names spelled on the back of them, and the attendees took the white Muscle Camp 2002 shirts. It was a great way to tell who was in the group, and who was just trying to crash the camp. Right from the start in the lobby, Mike Matarazzo took charge and started answering some of the questions that were asked of him, along with Skip LaCour (who competes in one week at the NPC USA). Kevin Levrone and Dennis James soon joined, and the four started an impromptu Q&A session . That lasted for about 20 minutes until the white vans showed up, and the group entered into them for ride to Gold's. It was pretty cool for the attendees, the pros mixing it up a few per van, thus giving them more personal time together. And it was stated that since this is your camp, you can ask the pros anything.

    The vans arrived at Gold's about 20 minutes later, and 40-50 of us entered the gym. I loved the look on some of the people from Gold's when all of these pro bodybuilders came walking through the doors. Five stations were set up at various parts of the gym, and the group was split into five groups. Each group would rotate around, spending a half hour minimum with two bodybuilders, as they showed and had you participate in various training exercises. Dennis James and Dexter Jackson showed the group how to train shoulder's and biceps. Chris Cormier and Kevin Levrone trained chest and triceps. Garrett Downing and Mike Matarazzo trained Quads and Calves. Ken 'Flex; Wheeler and Lee Priest trained Backs and Hamstrings, and Shawn Ray and Skip LaCour trained Abs and Cardio.

    With free drinks provided by American Body Building, every participant was revved up and exciting, and for the next three hours, everyone had the time of their lives learning from the experts.

    Lots of interesting tidbits were learned from the pros this day. Comments (regarding the Hacksquat Machine) included 'This exercise is what separates the boys from the mens. Those 2 or 3 inches in really do count. Don't cheat. You need to do a full range of motion. Guys who come in the gym and pile on a ton of weights, but don't go all the way down are full of shit, they are just pretending to show off'. Other comments included 'It takes a long, long time to build muscle tissue. If you want to change your body, it's a pain game. It's a mind game. You need to focus during exercises. Lee Labrada was so technical, he had every workout, every diet on notes so he could see his progress.". Other comments included 'Squats are usually the first exercise we do because otherwise my legs would be too tired, and normally the weights is only about 315-400 pounds. Too much is not a good thing either. The last exercise should be Leg Entesions. It lets my body leave the gym with a bad taste. I like to burn the muscle out of it when I leave, and this machine does it for me.'

    In each station, comments like these were heard, and each attendee got a earful of what the pro's were teaching. Having one on one time with your favorite pro was just quite awesome, and training with the pros was an excellent experience for many who came.

    Saturday afternoon

    By noon, we all were getting tired and hungry, and so back at the hotel, lunch was waiting for us, in a private dining room. Lunch consisted of chicken, pasta, rice, salad, and other various items, including some chocolate cake and truffles. I personally saw some of the bodybuilders special training diet by eating that chocolate éclair. The maximum that could sit in any table was four people, so each bodybuilder sat with 2 or 3 fans, which gave the fans more personal time with their favorite bodybuilder. After lunch, we had about 4-5 hours of free time, to spend hanging around the pool, or go back and rest in the rooms, or just talk to various people.

    I spent my time talking to Lee Priest, Rosemary Hallum, and two of the attendees, John Roshel, and Dave Stamper. Rosemary gave us a great story as when she check into the hotel on Friday, she went to her room, opened the door and there was a man sleeping in the bed. Rosemary just left, and got another room, but we all thought that Shawn Ray was providing Rosemary, who wrote Shawn's book, with another special treat that none of us got. Talk about room service! Rosemary also talked to us about past bodybuilding experiences, especially with Bob Gruskin, and how he was the master at making athletes become winners in the sport of bodybuilding.

    We talked for over 2 hours about various topics, including the reasons why John and Dave would come to Muscle Camp in Las Vegas, when they both live in Indiana. Both said it was an honor to be here, and that the experience is not like anything they had ever experienced. Dave had read about the old Muscle Camps close to 15 years ago, and wanted to be a part of that. With a lineup like this one, he could not refuse. Dave Stamper is a 10 year veteran of the police department in Indianapolis. His wife, Julia, was the 7th place middleweight at the 2002 NPC Junior Nationals. His wife is also a police officer, and they have a 3 ½ year old daughter named Haley. In his patrol car, he was a child seat in it, one of the few patrol cars that has that. Dave has followed bodybuilding since 1978, and loves it. His daughter Haley loves to watch the Mr. Olympia video, especially Kevin Levrone's posing routine to the song 'Hero'.

    John Roshel won the middleweight class at the 2002 NPC Hoosier Classic in March, after going and working out with Shawn Ray last December for the day at Gold's of Venice. John credit Shawn for helping me get motivated, getting in shape, and entering the bodybuilding contest. John is a professional dentist, married to Jamie, has a two year old daughter, and another on the way. Just having the chance to meet various people from around the country made the trip worthwhile, and for them, spending time with the pros was the best.

    Another person I met was Andrew Snyder and his lovely wife. Andrew was celebrating his birthday on Saturday night (his actual birthday was Sunday), and is a big guy, a pro trainer in Pittsburgh. He also enjoyed the experience here at Muscle Camp.

    I jotted some of the various quotes I overheard this weekend, including 'Skip LaCour is turning 40 on Friday, July 26th, the night he is competing at the NPC USA. Skip and others can't compete in the NPC Team Universe anymore because of a rule which says that once you win you class, you can't go back to repeat'. Also, Mike Matarazzo and Kevin Levrone did not start into bodybuilding for a career. They started to like bodybuilding, entered into a few contests, and things eventually started to fall in their laps.'. Another quote was 'Check your ego at the door! Ego's don't last long in this business. Can you stand the test of time of the agony of defeat'. And what about the politics in the juding. When one competitor failed to make the top 10 at the 2000 Mr. Olympia, the judges told him that 'You gotta pay your dues'.

    Saturday evening.
    The 'No Holds Barred' Question & Answer session.

    As we entered the room, the sight of seeing nine of the top bodybuilders ready for the question and answers session was an incredible sight. In fact, other than the Mr. Olympia press conferences, I don't remember a place where you can see Dennis James, Mike Matarazzo, Flex Wheeler, Garrett Downing, Lee Priest, Shawn Ray, Dexter Jackson, Kevin Levrone, and Chris Cormier answering questions, and being good natured towards one another as I did in this room that evening. It was quite incredible. We all have to realize that because this event was held a few months before the Mr. Olympia, it was one of the few times that these bodybuilders received quality time together without the 'state of mind' of competition in the air. Skip LaCour was the moderator. And as they started, it was repeated that we can ask them anything. Anything at all. Here are some of the questions asked.

  • So what was the first question asked? Did you guys get to the top of the bodybuilding world because of drugs? What a loaded question?

    The answers are just a synopsis of the Q&A session, the bullet points. Answers, not in any order, included almost 15-20 minutes of discussions about steroids and bodybuilding. Including: Drugs are a reality in the sport of bodybuilding. Don't be fooled, when you put artificial stuff into your body, you are drastically changing your life and health. Don't do it. Why do it unless you really think you can get somewhere. Why even put stuff into your body if you are not going to get anywhere in bodybuilding. It is amazing to see various amateurs buy tons of steroids and drastically change their life and health when they know they are never going to go anywhere. Be open minded when it comes to bodybuilding. Drugs themselves are not going to make a physique. If you think you have a chance as a bodybuilder, then go for it. But first, you need to go natural! If you can't have a great body physique naturally, what makes you think that drugs can help you. You need to have excellent genetics and train without drugs to see if you can make it in professional bodybuilding. The maze to get to the top is enormous. There are hundreds of pro bodybuilders and high level competitors, but they have no money.

  • Another question was asked 'Do you ever foresee a time when the judging might change?

    It was funny as all of the bodybuilders immediately yelled 'Shawn can answer this question, but we might be here for over an hour, so keep it short'. It was answered that changes to the judging and judges is a priority, and that they are occurring, albeit slowly. How can you expect changes if the good old boys are the same judges year after year?. How can you judge a show if you have never competed in bodybuilding? How can you judge the Mr. Olympia if the judges are 24 row back? The first thing that is happening is that pro bodybuilders talk about change as individuals, then as a group. The biggest change that could happen is seeing at the Mr. Olympia 12 different judges than there were last year. We personally think that if the bodybuilder's knew that there would be 12 different judges at a contest, they would train much harder; they would try to train a notch above, for there may be a change at the contest.

  • A question was asked about Joe Weider and how he controls bodybuilding, and the IFBB? If it is good that Weider controls pro bodybuilding?

    This question is one that is asked a lot around the Internet bulletin boards, in gyms, and in discussion groups. And quite a lot of the pro bodybuilders have their opinions on it. Here are some of those opinions.

    "Regarding Weider, you have to make a distinction between Joe & Ben Weider, and the Weider Nutrition Group. Weider Nutrition, and other supplement companies are pretty much the same. They are run by suits (people who never have trained or are bodybuilders). Joe Weider is the main person who cares about bodybuilding, who drives the sport. Once Joe Weider leaves or retires, I would hate to see where the sport will go."

    "Regarding Weider, some of the Weider contracted athletes had a group meeting a few weeks ago, and for the first time, Joe, Ben & Eric Weider were at the meeting. For some of us, this was a special moment, a true honor to see all three of them in the same room, of which I can't remember when that has happened."

    "Regarding Joe Weider. It is not Joe. It is the suits at the supplement companies who have never lifted a barbell in their lives who have a say in the sport. These suits come into the supplement companies, don't understand bodybuilding, cut some of the athletes contract, and even place a cartoon character in their place, and then wonder why it does not work?".

    "Regarding Joe. If Joe gets out of the sport, it will be a huge downturn. The suits don't like us as bodybuilders. They forget that bodybuilding started this nutrition business. Nutrition in the last 10 years has grown so much that they think of the mass market. Without us, there is no them. The biggest ego's are not the bodybuilders, but the suits who want to change the face of bodybuilding. For the worst. These are the same suits that have never went to the gym, but want to run the supplement company like they do other food companies. They don't understand bodybuilding. You think Joe Weider controls bodybuilding. Imagine if Joe was not there? Where would bodybuilding be? Where would the money come from? From the suits at nutrition companies?

    "Lately, the market has dropped. The suits are telling the pros that they can get amateur bodybuilders for free to promote their lines by giving them products, and having them pose in the magazines. Let's get real. How many bodybuilders do you know would pose for free in a magazine, or want to get free products just to be associated with a sports nutrition company. Face it, some of these pro bodybuilders have been posing in magazines for free for a long time. It's all about supply and demand. Some of these supplement companies have the thinking that they can get any amateur bodybuilder to pose in their ads or magazines or promote their product lines for free so why have a professional bodybuilder on contract? Many people forget that Joe Weider has the most bodybuilding athletes under contract. Joe Weider was the first person to provide contract for bodybuilders. Think about that.

  • Question regarding why don't the pro bodybuilders start their own supplement company.

    Answer is that it is not as easy as it sounds. It is actually quite hard. Lee Labrada had money come in from his small ownership of Met-Rx, and Lee actually started two years before, used many connections, and worked hard to build up Labrada Nutrition. Dorian Yates has his line; Rich Gaspari has his line; and there are a number of other bodybuilders who started supplement companies, but it is hard. We are not in the protein business.

  • Question regarding how all of the pro's up here handle their egos.

    Answers include that all bodybuilders have egos. But you also have to have a measure of respect towards other bodybuilders. Many of us here on stage have grown old together. Shawn watched Mike Matarazzo win the Heavyweight Division, defeating Flex Wheeler (2nd) and Chris Cormier (4th), and ultimately winning the overall at the 1991 NPC USA's. Then, in the 1991 NPC Nationals, Kevin Levrone won the Heavyweight Division, defeating Flex Wheeler (2nd), and Ronnie Coleman (4th) and winning the overall. Flex Wheeler had to wait another year to become a pro (at the 1992 NPC USA's). We all have learned to have respect to one another, which is what the younger bodybuilders lack. They don't understand that yet. Each one of us has their own mentality, of wanting to beat everyone here onstage, but respect is key."

    "When you compete for a contest, it is a mentality game. Some people say what is wrong with this dude. He does not talk to me. It is because of the attitude of a warrior; blood is going to be spilled onstage. I am the warrior. After the contest (or a week after), it is a different story."

  • Question regarding trash talking and the mind game before a contest.

    Answers include that talking itself does not really psyche some of the bodybuilders, it's the game face that psyches you out. The shows in the United States make more money and carry more prestige than the shows outside the U.S., so you want to win, and psyching out a competitor is part of the game. A long time ago, when Mike Matarazzo was working on his hamstrings, Chris Cormier came by, slapped Mike's ass, and commented to him 'Now we know why they make adult diapers'. It pissed Mike off, but made him work that much harder.

  • Question regarding how do you train, and what motivated you, and how do you treat the fans who approach you while you train?

    Dennis James: Dennis lives in Thailand, and self motivates him self, which is not easy, Dennis watches tapes for various Olympia's to motivate himself. Dennis sometimes watches the tape in the morning before he goes out to train as it gets him pumped up. Regarding the fans, since Dennis is also the main man at the gym and it is his livelihood, the people don't understand that Dennis is training for a contest. If they come up to him, Dennis politely tells them that he will see them afterwards, as a gym owner, he can't tell them to fuck off.

    Mike Matarazzo: Mike trains with headphones on, and no smiling. Mike trains with the attitute of 'balls to the walls'. No looking at girl's asses. That is the only way he makes gains. While he tries to be gracious before or after a training session, he is at the gym to train, and if you come up to Mike when he is in his mind set, you are interfering with his training. If you are a fan, and you come to the gym and follow Mike to every station he goes to, then you are interfering, and Mike may tell you to fuck off. 'If I was a brain surgeon, you won't not go up and start tapping on the glass'. Mike is in the gym to rock 'n' roll, and Mike is truly in that mindset when he trains. No pain, no gain.

    Flex Wheeler: When Flex is at the gym, he is very introverted, and does not want to talk. Sometimes when he waits for his reps, he sits down and holds his head down. Flex's attitude is being upset and mad, almost to the point of the brink of irritation. That is when Flex performs at his best. It is not normal for Flex to be happy while training. It is Flex's way of training, and Flex is a creature of habit. At one time, Flex was so intense in his training and desire to be first, that he broke his 2nd place trophy in the parking lot at the 1991 NPC USA's when he lost to Mike Matarazzo. Flex was almost in tears in the parking lot as he does not believe in 2nd place. It is a double edged sword, as sometimes the mind mentality of Flex is too intense. It is just the will of a champion. As for fans, they have to understand that at the gym where Flex trains, that is where he considered he is feeding his family. Flex trains with partners and sometimes they can sense he a fan is going to break their mind set, so they intervene before it happens. Flex is not arrogant. Afterwards, after the workout, Flex can talk or take a picture.

    Garrett Downing: What motivates Garrett is wearing women's underwear. Actually, this got one of the greatest laughs of the evening, after then, Garrett was pestered to see if it was actually really true. It was a joke, just a joke.

    Lee Priest: Lee likes the quiet. When Lee first trained, he trained at Gold's Gym of Venice, where it was noisy, and had loud music playing. Lee then switched to World Gym of Venice, where it was quite, with no music. Now, Lee trains at home, in a built up small gym. Lee trains in the heat in a little shed.

    Shawn Ray: Videos are definitely inspirational and motivational. What keeps Shawn coming back and training harder is the fear of losing, the fear of falling down, and does not want to end up like Nasser El Sonbaty, who barely made the top 10 at the 2001 Olympia. Shawn like to keep raising the level of expectation every year. Shawn wants to make sure he stays in the top 5, as being in the top 5 keeps him in the lifestyle he is accustomed too. Shawn's first pro that he talked to a lot was Chris Dickerson, and he held the coveted Mr. Olympia trophy in 1983. That was a major inspiration. How many of the pros, or anyone has actually held the Mr. Olympia trophy? The first time for Shawn was in 1983, and the second time was in 2001, at Dorian's place. And that is it. Notes: Shawn Ray had a flat top.

    Dexter Jackson: What motivates Dexter is the fans. Dexter would never ever treat no one bad. Dexter will always treat his fans right. It keeps him humble. Also, comments and training from bodybuilding video's motivates Dexter.

    Kevin Levrone: Kevin ropes the area off (he owns a gym). He does not like anyone coming around or talking to him when he is training because Kevin is in the zone. For Kevin, it is like boot camp for 12 weeks. He does not even sleep in his bedroom, or in the bed. He sleeps in a special room. It is like being locked up in the zoo. In order for Kevin to do damage in a contest, he needs to get into the zone and train like that. Notes: Kevin donates money to the Make-A-Wish foundation. Kevin lost both of his parent's to cancer. And every bodybuilder has his off days; his off contest. Also, Kevin had a ponytail in the early days of his bodybuilder career.

    Chris Cormier: Chris' first inspiration was Shawn Ray. Chris' ultimate goal in the early years was to be the best teenager in California. In 1987, Chris won the Teenage Cal the same night Shawn Ray won the Cal at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. Chris is two years younger than Shawn.

  • This Q&A session was truly a good one. Whereas many of these athletes do not spend time with each other normally, this event caused them to spend an entire day together, and whether or not they may like each other in the past, I truly feel that many of them gained more respect for each other than they have had before.

    The Q&A session ended with the bodybuilders giving away some of their stuff to the participants, based on a ticket call out system. The most interesting prize was given by Chris Cormier, which was his suit at the last Olympia. I can imagine the guy telling his wife what he had just won! Other prizes included special belts from various shows, lots of Musclebooble dolls of Lee Priest and Shawn Ray, and various videos and autographed pictures.

    At the end, each bodybuilder went to their table where people could see and purchase other various items that the bodybuilders had brought, and take their finals pictures with them. It was a cool evening.

    Saturday late night / Final Notes

    The evening ended with some of the fans going out with some of the bodybuilders (Dennis James, Kevin Levrone, Chris Cormier, Dexter Jackson, Flex Wheeler) to the Rum Jungle Club at the Mandalay Bay where we all had a great time. Still later, some of us went back to Rain in the Desert to check it out, and came back way late. So what happened Sunday morning. I don't know, I was sleeping. I awoke Sunday afternoon just in time to catch a flight back home.