Wednesday, August 20, 2003

In 1974, Danny Holland started doing muscle-building exercises. At first, working out with a spring-loaded isometric gizmo he’d bought by mail order was just a hobby for the wiry 15-year-old. Then one day he looked at a bodybuilding magazine and saw a massive, gap-toothed Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Atlanta teenager was soon downing protein shakes and, like the title of the seven-time Mr. Olympia’s first film, he was pumping iron.

“Arnold was it,” says Mr. Holland, a sales executive and married father of two who, at 45, still works out regularly to maintain his brawny build. “There’s got to be thousands like me out there.”

Decades before he declared himself a Republican candidate for governor of California, Mr. Schwarzenegger was an inspiration to teenagers who dreamed of bulging pecs and biceps.

Challenging stereotypes of weightlifters as musclebound dimwits, Mr. Schwarzenegger helped revolutionize the science, the business and, most of all, the image of bodybuilding.

“Arnold took bodybuilding out of the basement and changed it,” says Wayne DeMilia, who has known Mr. Schwarzenegger for 30 years.

Mr. Schwarzenegger popularized the message that weightlifting “was OK to do.”

“It would make you look better, make you feel better and make you healthier,” says Mr. DeMilia, chairman of the pro division of the International Federation of Body Builders and producer of the annual Mr. Olympia championship.

Mr. Schwarzenegger “really created an entire industry,” according to Mr. DeMilia.

Bob Shepherd agrees.

“He had a huge impact on bodybuilding and the fitness world,” said Mr. Shepherd, vice president of the Gold’s Gym franchise in Arlington. “I think he helped bring weight training into the general fitness world.”

A competitive bodybuilder for 10 years, Mr. Shepherd recalls reading Mr. Schwarzenegger’s 800-page “Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.”

“He definitely had an effect on me. Arnold had a huge effect on everybody,” says Mr. Shepherd, 40. “That’s where the Gold’s Gym name got recognized, from ‘Pumping Iron.’ That’s where Arnold was training, at the original Gold’s Gym.”

Gold’s Gym in Venice, Calif. — made famous by the 1976 George Butler documentary starring Mr. Schwarzenegger — was the destination of Mr. Holland’s vacation pilgrimage in July.

“We went to Vegas … and while we were out there, we took a two-day road trip and drove to … Santa Monica and Venice and stayed at the motel where Arnold lived when he first came to America,” he said. “It’s walking distance from Muscle Beach, the mecca of bodybuilding back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, where the old Gold’s Gym used to be across the street.”

One legacy of the Schwarzenegger phenomenon is Mr. Holland’s body. Nearly 6 feet tall and 198 pounds (down from 220 pounds a year ago), the Atlanta salesman sports 17-inch biceps, a 47-inch chest and a 33-inch waist.

“Back when I competed, it was like 30 [inches],” he says of his waist, which expanded to 36 inches until a few months ago when “I decided I wanted to get in shape again.”

Working out four times a week in the basement gym of his suburban home, Mr. Holland is now following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet — “lots of tuna fish and chicken breasts,” he says — with the goal of returning to his competitive peak. “I haven’t seen my abs in years, and they’re coming back.”

Inspired by Arnold — as with Elvis or Cher, one name is all that is needed to identify Mr. Schwarzenegger in the bodybuilding world — Mr. Holland competed in fitness contests for six years, placing second in the 1978 Mr. Teenage Georgia contest.

His admiration of Mr. Schwarzenegger extended to his hero’s film career. When a new Arnold film came out, Mr. Holland was always in the theater. Or almost always.

“I’ve missed a few, some of the flops like ‘Collateral Damage’ and ‘Last Action Hero,’” he says, adding that he later rented the tape of “Hero,” which was savaged by critics. “I could see why it was a flop.”

Weightlifting was once frowned on by athletic coaches, says Mr. DeMilia, recalling the boxing coaches of his youth who warned against becoming “musclebound.”

“Now every sports team — baseball, football, hockey — they all have gyms in their fieldhouses,” he says, crediting Mr. Schwarzenegger for the shift in attitudes.

The Schwarzenegger mystique began in the 1960s when he won European contests as a teenager.

“We first started reading about Arnold here in America about 1965, ‘66. We started hearing about this guy … that was well over 6 feet tall with super-wide shoulders and big biceps,” Mr. DeMilia says.

The young phenom was nicknamed “the Austrian Oak” because of his revolutionary size.

“He’s a big man, about 6-2,” Mr. DeMilia says. “Back then, most bodybuilders were kind of short, because it was hard for a guy that tall to ‘fill in all the spaces,’ as they said. Not only was he tall and thick, the fact that he was so young made it so amazing.”

Such is Mr. Schwarzenegger’s enduring reputation that when Flex magazine runs reader surveys, Mr. Holland notes, “they have polls of the most popular bodybuilder and Arnold still wins, even though it’s been more than 20 years since he’s competed.”

From bodybuilding to movies and now to politics, Mr. Holland remains an avid Arnold fan. “Now I’m following the governor’s race real close,” he says.

The same is true for Mr. Shepherd. “The big thing about Arnold is, he’s the American dream,” the Arlington gym co-owner said. “He came to America as a poor immigrant and now he’s running for governor of California.”

Mr. DeMilia remembers meeting Mr. Schwarzenegger 30 years ago. “Anyone that met him realized he was going to be someone special, just because of the drive he had,” he says, recalling the bodybuilding champ’s predictions, even back then, of a political career.

“When you’re all in your 20s and you hear somebody say that, most of the time you laugh it off,” Mr. DeMilia says. “But with Arnold, you knew it was more than a distinct possibility.”

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