U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND, Miami -- Although powerlifting has been a popular activity since the early 1900s, it wasn’t officially sanctioned by the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) until 1964. Many agree that it reached cult status when the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic “Pumping Iron” hit the big screen. Since then, many more have been attracted to the sport and the number of competitions has grown exponentially.
When USSOUTHCOM’s own Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Philip Ricardo started lifting in 1990, he didn’t plan on making it to the big leagues of the powerlifting world, particularly since he was already well into a successful career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was stationed at Iwakuni, Japan and was lifting weights to get in shape.
In 1992 he entered a basewide competition at Iwakuni at the suggestion of a friend. With little preparation and much to his surprise, he won first place in his weight class. This was the first of what would be many victories. Among the more recent of these, include overall winner of the Musclemania Super Body Competition in June 2006; Winning the International Federation of Powerlifting’s (IFPA) Cape Cod Pro Show in Oct. 2006; and National Gym Association’s (NGA) Professional Mr. Universe competition.
It wasn’t easy starting out
One of the things he learned from his early competitions was that powerlifting involved much more than simply being able to bulk up and pose. He learned that in order to be successful he was going to have to commit to this sport as a lifestyle. Success was going to involve choices beyond exercise: Diet, discipline, planning, weight control and grooming among others.
Despite achieving early success, what he attributes to being a “big fish in a little pond,” he soon found out that he was going to have to work harder, much harder, to make it in the big leagues.
California-sized reality check
After transferring from Japan to San Diego, he had to establish himself in a new competitive environment. One he refers to as “the center of the powerlifting universe.” Disappointment during these early competitions taught him that he was going to have to work twice as hard to keep up. He said, “I knew I had a lot of work to do. It’s easy to get down when you’re working your tail off and you come home with sometimes a trophy at best…and sometimes nothing at all.”
It would take Gunnery Sgt. Ricardo several years before he would earn a title in the U.S. “I had to move up in the rankings all over again. It wasn’t until 1998 before I earned a title.”
Competition is challenging to the body and the mind. “You have to understand what’s involved in competing. It’s more than just weights. It’s dieting, cardio – you have to be ready to put forth a 120 percent effort. It’s an individual sport. It’s all on you. Your senses are heightened so you have to stay positive, be disciplined and stay the course to win.” He said.
Winning competitions and earning titles are only one component of his sport. He also enjoys the benefits associated with maintaining peak physical condition. “It’s always a test to see how far you can take it. I look in the mirror and see that there’s always room for improvement. Despite obstacles, these accomplishments show that I’ve done something with my life.”
Juggling two careers
He also discovered that he was a Marine first, powerlifter second. As he puts it, “As a Marine, it’s Marines first. I had to maintain it (powerlifting) more as a hobby. It’s tough to schedule around a competition when you might deploy.”
Despite the difficulties inherent in managing a career and competing in a sport, he said that once people understood what powerlifting was all about, they supported his efforts. Some were even inspired to join him in the sport: “I even started a powerlifting team at Miramar.”
Ricardo is committed to his career as a Marine. He said, “I have 17 years in the Marines. For me, it’s important to be able to take care of my family and accomplish my goals. I’ve enjoyed my time in the Marine Corps. I want to complete my career, then enjoy the rest of my life.”
As far as advice to those just joining the military, he added, “I don’t regret the time I’ve spent in the Marines. You can become a great leader and the experience will serve you well for the rest of your life.”
Continuing to move forward on all fronts
While enjoying his recent success, Ricardo doesn’t plan to rest on his laurels. “Every year I have more goals. I’ve been on television, magazines and newspapers. I’d like to be on the cover of a national magazine. Someday, I hope to open a gym and encourage natural bodybuilders to participate and compete.” He said.
Although proud of his achievements as a bodybuilder, and a Marine, Ricardo says his success comes from the support of his wife Ana and his son Terell. He added, “Having my son in my life is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me. When I won Mr. Universe, he came up on stage with me. You always want someone in your corner to share your success with.”
For the immediate future, he plans to continue his Marine Corps career, continue training and prepare to compete in the upcoming IFPA “Clash of the Champions” on May 12 in Fort Lauderdale.