Riviera Fitness Center in Pace celebrated a few of its members and trainers on Friday after five members took home awards from the Panhandle Showdown, a bodybuilding and fitness competition.
“I was so happy,” said Lee Smith, known as “Bear” to many. “I didn't think it would mean that much to me.”
Smith won the overall event, earning the title "Mr. Pensacola" and placed second in the master's 40 plus category in the physique category.
The 44-year-old began working out when he was 26. He credits the victory to his staunch determination, hard work and diet.
And his diet consists of consuming 5,000-6,000 calories a day. Smith said he eats around four-and-a-half pounds of lean meat---chicken, turkey and fish---a day. Calories are taken in 7-9 meals throughout the day.
Time at the table is coupled with time at the gym. Smith spends two hours a day working on his fitness. He adds an additional 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise in the morning and then another 40 minutes at night.
Smith was proud of his accomplishments, but even more so of his cohorts.
“I watched them work so hard,” he said. “I've seen their bodies change.”
Even though there was a competition looming, the atmosphere around the gym was friendly. He noted that everyone was trying to encourage and inspire each other.
“I love to help people,” he said. “It's about what we can do with our bodies.”
Recent Pace High graduate Jake Johnston snagged first place in the Teen Bodybuilding division. He said it felt great to have his hard work win accolades.
Johnston attended Milton High School for his first two years and Pace High School for his last two years. He was active in sports, playing baseball and football, but started having seizures in class at Pace. Coaches talked with his parents and came to the agreement that it wasn't worth the risk to play sports, Johnston said.
With high school sports out of the question, his mother got him a gym membership.
"Once I reached my senior year, I was one of the strongest guys in my class," Johnston said.
The 18-year-old now attends class at Pensacola State College where he studies nursing. He plans to continue working out and competing in events. After his win in the Panhandle Showdown, he said he will take the next step in the competition and attend a national event in Pittsburgh, Pa. in July.
Lori Esser, manager at Pace Riviera Fitness Center, says they have been trying to help the muscle aficionados wherever possible leading up to and after the events.
“We're basically listening to them and making sure that they have what they need,” Esser said. “Most of it is overall support. A couple of nights, we stay late.”
This event had four categories: Bodybuilding. Figure. Physique. Bikini. There were different divisions in each category based on age and experience. The winners will able to compete at the next level, called nationals. After nationals, the contestants could compete in the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness. Arnold Schwarzenegger gained fame and notoriety competing in the IFBB events.
Before winning events, and when he first started working out, Smith said he was "scared to death" to step in a gym. There was so much worry about what people were thinking and their judgments.
“Everyone is different,” he said. “Don't focus on other people's goals. I'm inspired every time someone comes into the gym and who is trying to get in shape.”