He’s a Pittsburgh native, a PR/Advertising director for a robotics company, the bass player in a regularly-gigging metal band, and a professional bodybuilder. If you follow him online (Twitter, Facebook, his blog, MySpace, you name it — this man knows his way around the intertubes) you learn quickly that he’s a major motorcycle racing fan as well. Dave Minella seems to have endless energy, and more non-paying “night jobs” than day jobs to prove it. But one of his passions seems to outweigh all the others: bodybuilding.
When you see him you don’t think “bodybuilder” — he looks entirely normal, if incredibly fit. He’s the kind of guy that turns heads on the beach, but not the kind that people frown and whisper about. That may be due to the fact that unlike many of the scary-looking dudes in the big-name muscle magazines, Dave practices natural bodybuilding. After talking to him recently (over a couple of the spiciest Bloody Marys I’ve ever enjoyed), I decided that he prefers this because it’s so much more difficult.
Sacrifice and pain are words Dave knows and understands well. For nearly all of his adult years, he’s been pushing his own limits, making his way deeper into the world of power and strength. In high school he competed in powerlifting, and after a stint in the Army and then his college years (he says he was “fat” in college, but it’s hard to believe), he returned to the gym with a quiet and determined ferocity. He worked out hard for four years on his own, referring to anatomy books and studying carefully to understand how each specific muscle and muscle group worked and could be developed. He also studied nutrition, and kept journals detailing not just his workout routines, but his caloric intake, and how various combinations of proteins and carbohydrates affected fat loss and muscle development. He experimented with supplements, and learned the ins and outs of glycemic loads, carb cycling, and metabolic rates. He can tell you at any time precisely what his body fat percentage is.
Four years in, a trainer who had been watching from the sidelines made the simple comment that Dave should do a bodybuilding show. That was all it took.
“I did it once, and I was really good at it,” Dave relates, as if he had been caught just a little off guard by his success. “I took third place.”
For the next four years he quietly collected win after win until finally he decided to crank things up a notch by turning pro. Those who place high may take home just enough money to cover the expense of travel, entry fees, the pre-contest polygraph (confirming the absence of illegal drugs), and posing coach. So there’s no real money in it for him, only stiffer competition. Which means more struggle, more pain, more work.
During the months leading up to a show, he weighs all his carefully prescribed food portions. He’s in the gym at 5 am before work, and goes there again after work, sometimes driving himself so hard that he has to make a quiet detour to throw up in the bathroom before returning to finish his routine. He carries his water in a gallon container, and alcohol is strictly off the list. “It’s not so much fun going out with friends,” he comments wryly, “when you’re the only one sober.” As the date of the show gets nearer, the extreme training kills libido, causes depression, and makes him pretty cranky to be around. “Every time I have a show I lose a girlfriend,” he notes. “which pretty much sucks.”
You might say, and he would nod and agree with you, that he takes things to an extreme. “Why not just be fit?” I asked him.
“Because anybody can do that,” he says, pausing only a heartbeat before going on. “Not many people can do this.” We sit companionably in silence for a few moments while that sinks in like water over sand. Then he adds, “I’m not an addictive personality, but I’m addicted to the pain.” I wait to hear more. “It makes me feel alive,” he says, and his grin softens the seriousness of the moment.
This gives him an edge over other bodybuilding competitors, he explains. “I’ll work harder regardless of the pain. Or because of it.”
He’s driven, that much is clear, but he also seems to have an uneasy relationship with the amount of attention he attracts. He cycles through gyms like some people go through cable channels, staying at one place only until he feels the weight of too many stares and interruptions, then moving to the next place. I laugh when he tells me this, and think, but don’t say, that this is also why he’s a bass player rather than the lead in his band. There’s something about him that loves the stage, but not the spotlight. When he goes to the gym it’s with earbuds firmly in place, shutting out the world and pushing him on with rock’s relentless pounding force. If you meet him out on the town he doesn’t say anything about his training unless you specifically inquire. Even then, you may have to draw the answers out of him.
Dave seems to inhabit a somewhat lonely place without many supporters. Trainers come and go. Girlfriends haven’t stayed. Few people know or understand what he does. But he has the resolved confidence of a man comfortable with that. And it not only shows, it gleams from every smooth plane of his body.