- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - Burdge Elementary School Principal Joe Vrydaghs said that as a child, he dreamed of becoming like The Incredible Hulk.

And at age 44 he said he’s a little closer to his dream since becoming a bodybuilder. Although he’s been lifting weights since age 15, he’s gradually improved his physique and physical limits over the years. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall and with two more weeks until a contest, he weighs in at 207 pounds.

“The look I achieve when I compete is as close as I can to the ideal image that formed in my mind back when I was a little kid. Some people want to be engineers, I wanted to be a bodybuilder,” he told the Beloit Daily News.

Vrydaghs is training for the Fox Cities Showdown on April 26 in OshKosh. He will be competing in the Physique Class Tall, Men’s Open division. He is planning to get down to 200 pounds by the time of the show, noting he’s already lost 38 pounds since Jan. 2.

Vrydaghs said lifting heavy weights has given him both discipline and confidence.

“I feel as if I can accomplish anything I set my mind to,” he said.

Because of his love of lifting, he said he’s tapped into the key of what will make students successful at school - the chance to find their passion.

“If you can help kids find something they’re passionate about, it can change their lives,” he said. “It could be a sport, an interest in an academic area, music or chess. One of the primary purposes of school is offering all those different opportunities to kids so they can find something to pour their heart, soul and energy into. When people find it, it changes their lives for the better.”

And Vrydaghs knows all about that feeling. He said he was overweight as a child, known for eating massive quantities of food.

“I could eat with the best of them,” he said.

He still recalls when he had his picture taken in fifth grade, and someone told him the 12 pancakes he could eat in one swipe were showing. Vrydaghs said he held tight to the heroic vision of the Hulk, but just didn’t know how to make it a reality.

He got into shape in high school sports and lost weight, but he didn’t quite understand how to achieve the Arnold Schwarzenegger look. It was when he finally got his “Muscle & Fitness” magazine and different books on bodybuilding that he started reading up on how to properly do his “reconstruction” project.

Vrydaghs went on to be a discus thrower in college and competed in two bodybuilding competitions in his 20s. At his peak he could do squat lifts of more than 500 pounds.

He then took about eight to 10 years off from bodybuilding. But after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in his 30s he decided to try weightlifting again, a sport he felt he could still do to stay in shape despite injuries. And battling back problems, he eventually transitioned over to physique competitions which judge the “best beach body” as opposed to size or bulk.

While preparing for physique competitions, Vrydaghs said he only eats about 800 to 1,000 calories a day, usually having meals of chicken breast and broccoli or a peanut butter sandwich and half a banana. He also does aerobics for at least 45 minutes a day and two 90-minute sessions of weightlifting a week when preparing for a contest.

Although he will ease off his regiment after the competition and probably settle around 220 pounds, Vrydaghs plans to always stay in shape and share his love of fitness with others.

“Whether you compete in any of this stuff, or just work out to stay in shape, it is a huge confidence builder. When you put time and energy into staying healthy it releases endorphins. And when you feel good about being healthy, those good feelings translate into a positive attitude in a lot of other areas in life.”

Vrydaghs said he tries to carry his fitness message to Burdge Elementary School. For example the school had a recent health night for parents, with teachers doing Jazzercise and yoga with families. Vrydaghs gave a presentation titled “the joy of bodybuilding” and other staff discussed nutrition.

“We had an excellent turnout, and everyone had a great time,” Vrydaghs said.

Vrydaghs, who will be co-principal at McNeel Intermediate School with Tony Bosco next year, said he will take his fitness message with him and would consider helping to create a power lifting team at the school.

He said weightlifting is one sport most people can do, even if they’re not particularly athletic.


Information from: Beloit Daily News, https://www.beloitdailynews.com

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