What Bodybuilding Taught Me

Q:   How did bodybuilding make you into a better lawyer?

A: There’s no doubt that I’m a better lawyer for having been a competitive bodybuilder. Bodybuilding taught me lessons that fueled the success of my law firm and the many other ventures I’ve undertaken, and it played a role in my courtroom accomplishments as well. I could write a whole book on what I learned from bodybuilding. But I’m going to focus on a single event, a single night, to tell you how much bodybuilding has meant to the course of my life. It was my very first bodybuilding contest – a college show held at Hofstra University. I was just turning 21 years old. I remember accepting the second place trophy in a contest I had come to win. What happened both before the show and after are instructive for me in my career today.

IGNORE THE NAYSAYERS. Less than two years before that first contest, I had been one of the passengers in a one-vehicle car accident that killed two other college students. I suffered serious injuries including a broken neck, back, and wrist. Doctors said I would never lift again. They didn’t know the power of bodybuilding in your blood. I defied their predictions, and went on to win bodybuilding awards and to lift heavier than ever. Even though I didn’t win the show, I walked off with three trophies and the satisfaction of proving the doctors wrong. In my work as a lawyer today, I ignore negative voices. For example, I was recently brought onto the legal team of a client facing seven years in prison for charges related to steroid trafficking. His highly competent local lawyers had been negotiating for a 3 or 4 year sentence, and at first doubted I’d do any better. I hit the prosecutor with a wide range of scientific and legal weaknesses in his case that nobody else could have recognized, because nobody else has been so immersed in these legal issues for so long. By the end of the tussling, we walked away with a 0 – 6 month sentencing range – an incredible team effort.

PREPARE TO WIN. Litigation is a gunfight. If you’re trying a case before a judge or jury, you better come prepared. That means getting all the little details right. It’s all about the preparation, as I learned from bodybuilding competition. I remember how meticulous I was about my diet in the months leading up to that first show. On the night of the show I squeezed the skin over my abs between my fingers and it was so thin and dry it felt like cellophane. Not long ago I had to cross-examine one of the top endocrinologists at FDA on the medical risks of certain bodybuilding drugs. Without a detailed understanding of the medical literature, some devastating but misleading testimony would have slipped into the record. But I had done all my homework and knew the science better than he did. I won that hearing.

FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS. Training for competition develops an instinct for what works for your body. You find what’s right for you. If you follow your instincts in life, you’ll often make the choices that work out in the end. I was disappointed at that second placing, and as I was leaving the stage a protégé of the late IFBB pro Steve Michalik approached me. He said my potential was huge and offered me a free membership to train at Michalik’s legendary gym, “Mr. America’s.” It was very tempting. But I knew it would mean taking bodybuilding to a different, much higher, level of commitment, sacrifice … and potential risk. After some debate, I followed my instincts and declined. Instead, I dedicated myself to law school, training hard recreationally but not competitively, and ironically I’m probably far more involved in the bodybuilding world today than if I had taken the other path.

That’s my story from that night, but I suspect everyone reading this will agree that the lessons we learn in the gym and on the stage make us better at all the other things we do, and give us an advantage over those who’ve never tossed around the iron. Be well, my friends.

Adapted from Rick’s “Busted!” column in Muscular Development magazine.  © 2016, All Rights Reserved.