Natchez man preparing for bodybuilder competitions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Mike Simon rejects the bodybuilder stereotype. He claims the sport proudly, addresses its challenges with keen insight and anticipates competition with the joy of a true athlete.

Talk of bodybuilding evokes visions of hunky guys with taut abs, bulging biceps and rippling backs &045; all brawn and no brains, misinformed critics say.

Simon has all the physical attributes of the bodybuilder. Exercising in his workout clothes at the health club that has become his training home, his well-toned, muscular body catches eyes and draws admiration.

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But Simon is plenty brainy, too, working in a challenging job and bringing an impressive background to it from his native Philadelphia, Pa., and from New Jersey, where he worked for a while before coming to Natchez a few years ago.

&uot;In general, people do stereotype the bodybuilder. People are surprised to learn that I’m a bodybuilder and a professional person. And I have this shaved head and an earring,&uot; he said, laughing as he poked playful fun at himself.

Simon is senior director of finance for Isle of Capri in Natchez. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in finance. He is a certified public accountant.

Married and the father of two young daughters, he sees bodybuilding as a sport he can work into his busy professional and family schedule. Furthermore, he enjoys it.

Training at Highland Health Club earlier this week, Simon said he had been away from the sport for a number of years and only in the past year had begun to pursue it with an eye to competing. His first competition will be Saturday in Jackson, and he is ready.

&uot;I have weights at home. I’ve lifted weights since I was 14,&uot; Simon said. &uot;I started bodybuilding when I was 19. Then I took a long time off from the sport because of my studies, the CPA exam and my young family coming along.&uot;

Now at 35, he has the drive to get into the competitive bodybuilding again. Now he has a mature attitude toward the training, as well.

&uot;I’ve learned so much from the mistakes I made when I was younger. I did not diet correctly. I didn’t do enough cardio-vascular exercising. And I did not read enough of the material put out by the professionals in the field.&uot;

As with athletes in other sports, one who wants to become a bodybuilder begins with a strict regimen requiring mental and physical discipline.

Judges at a competition will be looking for three things: muscularity, proportion and symmetry.

&uot;Muscularity is the size,&uot; Simon said. &uot;Proportion? They want to see that you’re not just training your legs or just your arms but your whole body.&uot;

Symmetry shows off those misunderstood ripples. In poses appropriate to the sport, competitors demonstrate to judges how well they have gotten rid of

body fat.

Shedding body fat is an art in itself, Simon said. He eats no processed food, mostly raw vegetables, complex carbohydrates and plenty of protein.

&uot;Some days I may eat 15 egg whites. I eat chicken but only baked or grilled. And I don’t put any sauces on it,&uot; he said. &uot;The baked potato is one of the best complex carbs, but not if you put butter, sour cream and bacon on it.&uot;

He eats tuna &045; right out of the can or pouch, but only if it’s packed in water, and he puts no mayonnaise or other condiment on it. &uot;My wife has been extremely important,&uot; he said. &uot;She does the shopping and she has taken on the task of label reader to help me.&uot;

He tells the story of a recent birthday when co-workers brought a cake to his office to celebrate the occasion. &uot;It was not a cake I would have eaten under any circumstances,&uot; Simon said. &uot;But my co-workers said they knew I wasn’t eating cake at all then and had picked out a cake they liked.&uot;

Family, co-workers and the crew at Highland Health Club have been instrumental in his successful training. He has dropped from 265 pounds to between 200 and 225, losing that body fat so important to eliminate before competitions.

&uot;This is the fifth club where I’ve trained over the years. This is the best I’ve seen in terms of support I’ve received,&uot; he said, naming owners Jimmy Simmons and Sarah Simmons, their daughter, Rhonda Binns, and daytime manager Wink Collins.

Representatives from the health club will accompany Simon to the meet in Jackson, as well as to other upcoming contests on June 14 in Kenner, La.; June 28 in Tunica County; July 12 in Vicksburg; July 19 in Metairie, La.; and July 26 in Jackson.

Simon will be introduced as Mike Simon of Natchez, sponsored by Highland Health Club.

&uot;I’m really proud for them to sponsor me. And I’m proud to be representing Natchez,&uot; he said.

Coming to Natchez has been a blessing for his family, Simon said.

&uot;All the folks we’ve met locally have been just super people. I wouldn’t trade coming here for the world. My family has done extremely well here. They have thrived on the local opportunities.&uot;

The family attends church at St. Mary Basilica. His wife, Amy Simon, substitute teaches at Cathedral, where daughters Isabella, 10, and Sophia, 7, are in school.

&uot;My wife is in the garden club. My daughters took part in the Pilgrimage. They are at Natchez Ballet Academy and were in ‘The Nutcracker’ at Christmastime,&uot; he said. &uot;To see them taking part in things like that is wonderful.&uot;

Coming from a huge metropolitan area, &uot;where you had to take three buses and a subway to get anywhere, to be here where I can go to work in five minutes or be at the gym in five minutes &045; that is just great.&uot;

The upcoming competitions are under the auspices of the National Physique Committee, which oversees competitions in all states, he said.

&uot;You have to submit a brief explanation about your training and contest history, and you get an amateur’s card to compete in amateur body building,&uot; Simon said. &uot;Once you get so many wins, you can compete in national qualifications.&uot;

Each state has a chairman. In Mississippi, Don Hollis is chairman and was a big help to him, Simon said. &uot;He gave me some good information, sent me some good literature. And he told me that if I could compete as a heavyweight, that’s what I should do.&uot;

Simon expects the competition in Jackson to be stiff. &uot;Jackson has several bodybuilding clubs, and there will be bodybuilders who have participated in contests recently. I’m not expecting to win; but I do expect to come in within the top five.&uot;

Simon said he does not know of other bodybuilders competing from Natchez. &uot;It makes me feel good that I can go to these contests and get some recognition for Natchez.&uot;