START ACTIVE/STAY ACTIVE The Culture of the Young Athlete The Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus Ohio attracts more competitors than the Summer and Winter Olympic games combined. With over 60 sports represented and spanning four days, athletes of all ages, both amateur and professional from all over the world, gather at this event to share in the spirit of health, fitness, competition, and a culture of positivity. Athletes at the Arnold Sports Festival exhibit a remarkable level of competitive maturity and dedication, and while these are not surprising qualities to find in adult competitors, they are a truly astounding to see in young people. The young athletes of the Arnold Sports Festival are a notable group of motivated and focused individuals. As technology advances, statistics reveal that the current youth culture is more centered around visual entertainment and computer games than ever before. What sets young Arnold Sports Festival athletes apart from their peers? What drives them to achieve and keep achieving, to keep reaching for the next level? What inspires a young person to train while so many of their peers sit idle in front of a screen? The answer is the adults who surround them; their parents, their coaches, their teachers, and their mentors. These adults use sports to consciously create a positive culture; one that emphasizes hard work, dedication, and the satisfaction that comes from giving one’s all.
Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist Butch Reynolds, who was in town for the Arnold Sports Festival weekend, is a firm believer in what he calls The Gold Medal Mentality. He emphasizes not only giving your best effort every day, but also giving back what you have already received by inspiring others to succeed. He works with disadvantaged youth in Dubai and other areas in the Middle East where an active lifestyle and healthy diet simply are not emphasized, and as a result, type II diabetes is prevalent even in children. He has worked diligently over the past 15 years to bring his Gold Medal Mentality of fitness and personal achievement to young people both in America and abroad. He says, “My blessings won’t come from being the fastest man in the world. My blessings are going to come from what I do with my success from that point forward. My goal is to change as many lives as I can, and it all starts by being heard. These kids start listening because of the way I look, and the goals that I have achieved, but they keep listening because they begin to understand that what I’m teaching them is helping them to change their own circumstances for the better.”
Jim Lorimer, Co-Founder and CEO of the Arnold Sports Festival, has been a driving force from the very beginning. He has worked to expand the “Arnold”, as it is known, from the traditional body building competitions of the former Arnold Classic into an event of record-breaking proportions that takes up the entire Columbus Convention Center and surrounding hotels, even spreading out to the Ohio State Fairgrounds to accommodate the ever increasing number of young competitors. His insight on how these young athletes rise to compete at an Arnold Sports Festival level is shared by many; “I think it’s the parents who make the difference for these children. At the Arnold Sports Festival, kids learn the basic lesson of sports-‘You get back what you put in.’ This is true not only in sports, but in life.”
Clint Richards, long-time MC for the Arnold Sports Festival, agrees. “When it comes to these children, it truly is the concept of ‘it takes a village.’ It’s a mindset. We as adults must ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to improve the quality of life for this child?’ Everything that a child needs in order to learn how society works, sports provides them with a vehicle by which they can do just that. ‘Here are the rules. You must play by the rules, and if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t get to play.’ And in society, if you don’t play by the rules, and you get caught, there are definite consequences. So sports establishes these parameters in terms of ‘life beyond.’ As a parent, I’m very clear in the fact that my only job is to make sure my kids are ready to be good adults.” The question of “What makes a young person into an Arnold Sports Festival athlete?” seems to have a unanimous answers; influence, exposure, opportunity, and mentorship. The success of these kids is greatly based upon the presence of dedicated adults who offer their unfailing support and encouragement, and create continuous opportunities for learning and growth.
Denise Masino, from Musclepinups.com and The Real Adventures of Misfit, understands what it means to overcome challenges and find opportunity. She grew up in inner city Brooklyn. “It was difficult. Living in the inner city has its own set of challenges. My parents tried really hard to keep us protected and sheltered in a way.” At age 14, she found body building as an outlet for personal expression, and has been a dedicated athlete ever since. She continues not only to further herself personally with this discipline, but also shares the positive intensity of this fitness endeavor with adults and children alike. Denise says, “It is up to us, as mentors, as adults, to show children, to show people, that the world is much bigger than what they see in front of them. After school programs, community centers, mentoring; these are all so important.
These are opportunities for us to show our youth what is out there and what their potential is. We need to tell them that they can do anything that they want, as long as they put their mind to it. My parents repeatedly told me, ‘You can be anything you want to be and you can do anything you want to do, if you are willing to go after it and work hard.’” She emphasizes that adults carry a responsibility to guide and inspire young people to do their personal best and reach beyond themselves. “It is as simple as saying, ‘I believe in you, you can do this, you have the power to do this,’ and that’s all they need to hear. That’s it. Those simple words are so indescribably powerful. It’s amazing. Every great thing, every fire, every passion, starts from a single spark. Be the spark.”
Julia Richey, Arnold Fencing Event Chair and founder of the Royal Arts Fencing Academy, is this spark for so many people. A native of the Soviet Union, she began competing as a member of the Russian National Team at age 13, and then later went on to bring her love of fencing to America. She now teaches students who range in age and diversity from the very young to retirees and military veterans. She is passionate and driven to elevate fencing to a level of national recognition so that everyone can enjoy it. “My goal is to make fencing more popular than football in Columbus, Ohio.” Her message is simple and powerful. “In fencing, your results fuel your decisions…and you become the protagonist for your own life. Fencing is not a sport; it is an art. You must learn it.”
Tim Willson and his wife, Melissa, are Chairpersons for the Arnold Gymnastics Challenge, and owners of the Host Gym where they coach Cyclone Gymnastics together. Tim strongly believes “…the ones who truly achieve come from athletically-oriented and goal-oriented families. I was athletic. My dad was my coach in gymnastics at the Ohio State University. I think it’s a trickle-down effect. Our reward is seeing the enjoyment in these children’s faces when they attain a skill or a goal, and it betters them as a human being. We are not here to make champions. We are here to build character. We teach self-discipline, responsibility, motivation, setting goals. And when they attain a goal; that is the true joy for us.” This mentality is the thread that ties together coaches, mentors, and parents at the Arnold Sports Festival.
Brian Hallam, President of US Spirit, is among them. “One of the great things that we have found about all of the cheerleading events here at the Arnold Sports Festival, and the teams that come in here, is that the coaches are teaching life lessons in addition to the athletic skills. This will prepare these kids for a great future; not just to be great athletes, but to be great in all of life.”
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself, “It is no secret that working hard, eating well, and training every day, creates perfection. There are no short cuts. It’s all about work-work-work, train-train-train, do the reps, do the reps, and maybe you will become a champion. These are the lessons that you learn in life, in everything that you do. This is why I love sports.” An intense competitive passion for success, that driving desire to be “the best,” peaks at The Arnold Sports Festival. Yet the backbone of this event is not the glitz and the glamour of professional athletes and international recognition (although there is plenty of it.)
No, the real spark that sets the Arnold Sports Festival ablaze is the spirit of achievement, whether it is through victory, or from the lessons learned in failure. The words, “You can do this! I can do this!” beat in the heart of every athlete. The true meaning of the Arnold Sports Festival is the Gold Metal Mentality found within these competitors, coaches and parents, the event’s facilitators, and don’t forget the fans! They are the definition of the Arnold Sports Festival. They ARE the spark!
Sarah Serafin is a writer and artist. For over a decade she has studied and written about health, fitness, nutrition, alternative medicine, and martial arts. She is a mother of two and lives in Chagrin Falls. All photographs by Maurice Warrick Newman.