by Jim Provenzano
One of the most popular New Year's resolutions people make is to get more healthy. Gym memberships regularly get a boost in memberships in January, yet few take their workouts through the new year with the dedication of Bay Area medalists in Physique at Gay Games VI.
Among them were powerful competitors in men's and women's solo, and a popular couple in the pairs category. Winning did not come easy for anyone in this sport, which requires years of dedication and devotion to weight-lifting, diet and even choreography.
"This was my first Gay Games, and my first competition," he said with pride.
Simpson trains at Gold's in San Francisco. But while there was a Gold's on Oxford Street's gay district, he said he didn't train upon arrival in Sydney.
"It's not a good idea to train right before a show. About a week out, I stopped, and focused on posing, aerobics, and abdominals."
"Oh yeah," Simpson said. "That was really difficult. It's hard to find the right type of food, just being in a different environment."
Like many Physique competitors, when asked about the subjective judging, Simpson laughed, but preferred not to comment.
Basketball in North Sydney, Aquamania at the Olympic Park, and other sports events filled his free time. He passed on circuit parties until after competition. "I wanted to be focused on what I was doing."
Not that he doesn't like to party a bit. Patrons of Daddy's Bar in the Castro recently enjoyed Simpson's terpsichoriean talents as well, when his gogo Santa helped raised funds for a toy drive for kids.
San Francisco's Debra Reabock took silver in the Grand Masters - Women category. Oakland's Charlene Bennett took fourth in the Masters Women. Many others from California competed, and medaled, but one couple particularly embodies the efforts, tribulations and triumph of Games novices.
Sergio Mercado (left, in photo above) and Geoffrey Rudy not only competed together, they're boyfriends, too. They won a gold medal in the Pairs Mens Tall category last November in Sydney. But their victory didn't come easily.
Mercado's parents came to New York from Puerto Rico, but raised their family in Miami. Rudy was born and raised in Nova Scotia, and lived in Northern Quebec and Toronto.
"I was a very rambunctious kid," said Rudy. "So my grandmother put me into gymnastics lessons at eight years old, and it caught."
Rudy competed in Canada by age twelve and ranked nationally. He excelled in gymnastics through high school after moving to the US, and moved to California in 1992, where he competed for four years in Division I gymnastics on a scholarship at San Jose State University.
His Olympic goals were cut short when he ruptured two discs in his back. Years of pain, hospital visits, and treatments yielded little help. He gradually returned to working out after long-term therapy.
After back surgery in 1998, Rudy still had severe pain in his body. Tryouts for the 2000 Olympic team was a lost goal.
"It was so disappointing to miss that opportunity," Rudy said. "I couldn't even watch the Olympics, having lost a dream that I'd had since I was nine years old." With his discs replaced by titanium steel cages, his recovery was incomplete, and his emotional state suffered.
Dismissing anti-depressants and pain pills, Rudy instead enlisted the aide of his freind Nancy Brigham, a bodybuilder, Gay Games Physique competitor, and neuro-muscular therapist. Brigham confronted Rudy with his "roadblock of pain," and suggested using the 2002 Games as a one-year goal.
Mercado had just met Rudy at the gym, after living in San Francisco for nine years. An interior and architectural designer for upscale hotels and restaurants around the world, Mercado has been partners for over a year with Rudy, who works in exercise rehabilition at Mountain View's Axis Performance Center.
Rudy said that Brigham told him to "work to achieve a goal. Whether or not you achieve it, you'll find a way to overcome your other losses."
Proposing that his new boyfriend help him compete didn't come easy for Rudy. "I said, "Honey, I'm thinking of doing this particular sport, and it's gonna require me to work out for hours each day.?"
Rudy then asked Mercado to compete with him. "I told him I was fully supportive," said Mercado. "I said, "Absolutely. Let's do it.'"
"I almost fell over when he actually agreed," Rudy laughed.
BACKING HIM UP
Finally, Rudy's breakthrough occured, where his strength training and some chiropractic sessions eliminated the pain. "After five years, I was able to move without pain, without thinking about it," he said.
Like all Physique competitors and other athletes, Mercado said, "Eight weeks out, the preparation took over out lives." A team of three people assisted the couple, including Brigham, trainer Sue Epperson, and Troy Markle, a former national aerobics champion who teaches Step classes at Gold's.
"Carbo depletion and loading, potassium, sodium levels; it was all new to me," said Mercado.
Performing before an audience was new, too. Markle dumped their meditative trance tune, replacing it with an energetic R&B song, providing what Rudy calls "our sassy attitude. Troy said, "We are gonna work your bodies all across that stage until the crowd is screaming on their feet.' The whole routine; that's not us at all. We really had to get out of our shells."
Bashful practice runs followed at the expansive aerobics room at Gold's Gym on Brannan Street before an enthusiastic crowd of gym-goers. Their sexy, flirtatious and very gymnastic partnering routine wowed friends, and later, the Sydney audience and judges.
"We had to be up on the stage, almost naked, painted in tanning make-up, and not thinking about it," said Rudy.
The naturally-trained pair told of the controversial decision by the Sydney Sports committee to not drug-test competitors.
"They didn't have the money to do them," said Mercado. "There were people there, obviously on steroids, who came up to me and said, 'You mean to tell me that you've done nothing' We said no, but they were basically telling us, by making these comments, that they had."
Added Rudy, "We realized that we were not on an even playing field. In Montreal for 2006, they're going to have to make two competitions; one natural, one not, or they have to find the finances to do drug testing."
Despite that controversy, Rudy and Mercado remain victorious. With a year of struggle and effort condensed into a few minutes onstage, the pair also did well in individual events. Rudy placed 7th in the Novice - Men's Short competition, and Mercado took silver in the Novice - Men's Tall.