Flex appeal

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday June 20, 2006
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Nothing can change without discipline. Armando Luna knows that.

A conversation with an accomplished bodybuilder like Luna doesn't usually include topics such as fabulous pecs and the gorgeous bodies that are part of the sport. More often, the talk is about the little things; egg whites, chicken breasts, and water weight.

For all that beefcake, it's ironic that bodybuilders often nearly starve themselves during the weeks before a competition. It's all to highlight muscle definition, of course. But the chemistry of dieting seems to be a common obsession.

"You don't want to peak before the competition," said Luna, 49, who will compete in the masters 40-49 category at Chicago's Gay Games VII. "I won' t even be in what I consider competition form until a few weeks before the Games."

Everything he eats has to be measured for protein versus carbohydrate content. "As each day goes by, I' m trimming down to my optimum weight," said Luna.

His reduced diet consists of potatoes, lean chicken, turkey, and fish, with salads and more salads. He refrains from all foods with sugars, except watermelon. Breakfasts are limited to oatmeal, or cooked egg whites.

Luna has already planned his "last meal" in C hicago before the physique competition, which will be held July 18 and 19 at McGaw Memorial Hall in the Welsh-Ryan Arena at Northwestern University in Evanston.

Because of the popularity of the event, tickets will range from $10-$40. There, after rounds of preliminary judging, finalists will have to condense years of training into a 60- to 90-second posing routine (two minutes for pairs).

In an attempt to accommodate people who may be taking medication that could fall into the banned substances list, a three-tiered competition for physique has been adopted. The goal is to create drug control policies that are meaningful, fair, confidential, and non-discriminatory. Categories include standard (tested or "natural"), modified (untested), and guest competitor (untested and not eligible for medals).

To avoid disclosing potential private health matters like HIV-positive status, individual physique competitors are the only ones to know in which category they are competing.

Judges and officials won't reveal this information either. The decision, while considered inclusive, and accommodating to the varying types of bodybuilders, has never been attempted at other competitions, which usually divide between natural and untested events.

Luna proudly stated that he is not a steroid user, and has competed in all-natural competitions, which prohibit steroid and other banned substances.

Of the Gay Games' three-tiered categories, Luna said, "I can understand it, but as a natural competitor, it's a little unfair. They're saying everyone can compete together. But the untested competitors will get their medals afterwards, which I think is wrong. Part of this event is to be acknowledged by your peers. What if I get by beaten another guy, then find out later that he's disqualified?"

In Amsterdam, there was a similar controversy, where disqualified competitors were asked to return their medals. Most didn't.

"Physique has always been a controversial sport," said Luna, who added that while usually shy, he enjoys the thrill of competition. "I love that high you get on the stage."

Born in Texas, and a self-described military brat, Luna traveled the world as his father was stationed in Europe and Central America. He later joined the Army, serving from 1975 to 1982. His last military job was working as a nurse at the Presidio's Letterman Hospital.

During his time in the Army, Luna was also married for four years, and fathered a son, who was born at Letterman. He now has three children. As he gradually came out as bisexual, he even told his superior officers in 1981. But with only a year left in his service, they decided to avoid dishonorably discharging him.

Staying in San Francisco since then, Luna gradually came out in the local gay community, and started competing in bodybuilding in 1989. He competed in San Francisco as a member of the Arcadia Bodybuilding Society, a local group of physique athletes who eventually produced a series of events (from 1989 to 1992) at the Palace of Fine Arts and at a few high school theatres. Luna also served as ABS' vice president.

At the San Francisco tournaments, he consistently won medals in various levels. In 1991, at a Dallas tournament timed to coincide with local LGBT Pride celebrations, he won third place in the open middleweight category, where huge trophies were doled out.

Luna's Gay Games accomplishments go back to 1990 in Vancouver, where he won a silver medal in men's pairs with Michael Fiumara. At New York's Gay Games IV, he and mixed pairs partner Lisa Schomberg won bronze.

At the fifth Games, held in Amsterdam in 1998, he won gold in mixed pairs with Valia Kindelvich, who now lives in Sacramento. He also placed fifth in the 75kg men's competition.

An independent personal trainer at Gold's Gym, Luna helps others focus on bodybuilding, whether it's for serious competition or general fitness. When not helping others at the gym, during the extreme period of his weight cutting, Luna said he loses about 15 to 20 pounds.

A revised aspect of his training is building up to 200 pounds, then cutting back to his optimum competition weight of 180 pounds. But he warns other bodybuilders not to rush to return to a normal or excessive diet to compensate for the weeks of careful eating.

"Afterward , you shouldn't eat too much, or you can gain it all back in a few weeks. When you compete, you go to the ex treme. That's what it's about."

Luna has also hired a trainer for himself, so he can get an objective eye on his form and improvements, particularly when he spends about an hour a day developing his posing routine.

Such obsessive discipline sometimes has an effect on his relationships and free time. "When I'm staving off a few pounds, sometimes my friends don't know or understand why I can't go out to dinner," he said, adding that sometimes, when invited to their homes, he brings his own food.

As a trainer, he works with runners, bodybuilders, and people who just want to get in shape. " You have to know what type of training they need," he said of his varying advice and regimens. "A lot of it i s motivation."

But what about his own motivation? Part of it is his older brother, who suffered from diabetes throughout his life. Even after leg amputations needed to fight the disease, his brother continued to work out and try to stay healthy, but died in 1997.

Also, as an overweight college student, Luna finally decided to fight off a similar fate by finding his way toward exercise and a healthy life. "I think it's my previous job as a nurse that influenced my work as a trainer," he said. "It's helping people turn their lives around."