The sport is usually associated with steroids, spray tans and bizarrely bulging muscles, but for some competitors in Alaska, drug-free bodybuilding isn’t about vanity, it’s about therapy.
After 24 years as an Army Ranger and a grueling tour in Afghanistan, Frank Loomis retired, joined the police and started having a mid-life crisis. His solution? Start training with Mr. Alaska. KSKA’s Anne Hillman followed Loomis from training to his first masters level competition.
Personal trainer Al Wilson calls out instructions to 54-year-old Frank Loomis at one of the gyms on JBER.
“Ok, gentlemen, prepare for a front, double bicep. Roll open. Roll open in a wide circular motion. Pull those elbows back,” Wilson said.
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Loomis is preparing to enter his first masters competition and he has just two more days to perfect his look. He tries to smile as he stands in awkward poses that accentuate different muscle groups. His goal is to look like a human anatomy model, and even subtle things help.
“Squeeze them butt cheeks, squeeze them butt cheeks, flex, flex. There you go! Hold it. Breathe. Head up,” Wilson said.
Even dressed in a sweatshirt and a track suit, Loomis looks well-groomed. His clean-cut, stark white hair and black rimmed spectacles show his age more than his thick-set body. Clothed, you can tell he’s fit, but you would never know he’s a body builder until he flashes a calf with more definition than a Michelangelo sculpture.
Loomis says Wilson inspired him to push his body to a new limit.
“I love this man,” Loomis said. “He saw me…basically my stomach was way out to here.”
“He basically looked pregnant,” Wilson said.
But since they started training together, stocky Loomis has lost more than 40 pounds. He says he wasn’t always overweight, especially when he was an Army Ranger.
“I was skinny, had no hair, cocky, and fearless,” Loomis said.
He enlisted straight out of high school in 1980. Over the decades, he was stationed in Grenada, Panama, Thailand and Korea. Then in 2002 he was sent to Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately we got sloppy one time and we got engaged and were in a fire fight,” Loomis said. “It’s just one of those things I don’t like talking about. It’s why I still don’t go hunting these days.”
Loomis says he was diagnosed with PTSD and took a desk job training other soldiers. When the Army asked him to go back to Afghanistan in 2004, he decided to retire instead. He joined the police force at JBER and he still worked out some to manage his anger, but he was depressed and just let his body go. Then he hit his 50s and his midlife crisis.
“It was either a new sports car and a new girlfriend, or keeping going to the gym and competing,” Loomis said. “So I’m competing.”
Loomis says he met the world’s strongest man, and then Wilson, a former bodybuilding champion, and he felt inspired. He wants to achieve some of what they have, though it takes discipline. Every morning he lifts weights and every afternoon he does two to three hours of cardio exercise. Loomis hasn’t eaten dairy or unhealthy carbs for about four months.
“I’m dreaming of pizzas chasing me,” he said.
By the end of the practice, Loomis says he feels confident, like he’s a good role model for all the young kids he works with on the police force.
On Saturday morning he shows up for the competition, ready to impress the judges with his new body.
Loomis quickly befriends 63-year-old Grand Master Ken Babich. They stand around in their tiny, shiny bikini shorts.
“You know it’s good thing I didn’t wear my blue shorts,” Babich said, laughing. “That would have been awkward.”
Babich shows Loomis how to properly apply oil to his newly bronzed skin and gives him tips on his presentation. For the older folks, the competition is less fierce.
“So if you hear me talking to you, I’m not trying to make you laugh. I’m just saying like “lean back,” Babich said.
“No, perfect,” Loomis said.
“They’re not going to say anything,” Babich said. “We’re senior citizens here.”
“I know I told them I had to check in my cane when I came in,” Loomis laughed.
And finally it’s time.
“So let’s bring out the Master’s Class in the Anchorage Pro-Am,” a competition official said as the audience applauded.
They stand in front of the panel of judges, turning on all sides, flexing their abs, lats, and triceps. The judges are looking for muscle definition and symmetry. The whole thing takes about five minutes.
“I hope I did ok out there,” Loomis said.
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“I don’t know for sure, because it was so quick,” Loomis said. “And you couldn’t see your competitors.”
“But I had fun; it was great.”
Loomis waits all day to hear the results at the evening show. He takes third place out of three. But if last place bothers him, Loomis doesn’t show it.
“I’m good. I’m happy,” Loomis said. “I came from a broke man when I retired to a healthy man now. Healthier…and wiser.”
Loomis puts on some clothes and heads out to get a pizza. He has a few weeks off before he starts gearing up to compete for Mr. Alaska in April.