F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE – Standing in front of the mirror, arms up flexing and camera flashing, a little voice asks, “Dad, why are you taking pictures of yourself?”
“I am going to compete; I’m going to do a competition to show my muscles,” said Maj. Richard Bottinelli, to his five year old.
The journey to a bodybuilding competition was filled with potholes and mountains to climb, alleviated with comical comments from a curious child.
“Every New Year, I set a goal to do something I have never done before,” said Bottinelli, 90th Force Support Squadron operations officer. “I want to be able to tell my son and future grandchildren, ‘yeah I did that’.”
The idea was planted while he was deployed to Baghdad. His friend, a former bodybuilder himself, mentioned his body type would do well for building muscle and competing.
“The category I wanted to train for was men’s physique, just for the fact that I don’t have the muscle size to do the speedo bodybuilding. I can’t look like the big guys,” said Bottinelli. “That’s just not my body type; however, I can get good definition in my muscles.”
The physique category is a relatively new category in bodybuilding, created around 2016. It focuses on muscularity, body conditioning, and symmetry with attention to aesthetics.
Beginning in April, Bottinelli invested in a coach to guide him through workouts and nutrition as his body changed. Along with getting a coach, he signed up for a show in Loveland, Colorado, to have a goal to work towards.
“Without an actual goal to obtain, it is easy to say, ‘it’s not worth it’ and quit,” said Bottinelli. “For me, actually having a show signed up for, paying money for; if I decided to quit it had repercussions. It gave me the motivation to make sure that when I went up on stage I wasn’t looking like someone who didn’t belong.”
Training to create an award winning body was no easy feat. It required a strict diet, a ruthless gym routine and a solid support system.
“My son, who loves chicken and chicken fingers, sighed and asked if we had to eat chicken for dinner again,” said Bottinelli. “If a five year old hates chicken after a few months, imagine how I felt.”
His family often ate to his meal plan, suffering through chicken and veggie nights. Occasionally, though, they would leave Bottinelli to fend for himself.
“There would be times where they were having mac-n-cheese,” said Bottinelli. “Of course this was my workout plan and my meals, so I couldn’t expect my family to follow it like I did.”
For him, the hardest part of the whole process was learning self-discipline with the nutrition plan.
“What made it easier and bearable was, I did not have to plan for lunches,” said Bottinelli. “I was always at the dining facility.”
Anytime it came to lunch and occasionally breakfast, he would visit the facility, selecting only items labeled with the green card identifying it as a healthy food.
“Everything I needed was already at the dining facility,” said Bottinelli. “I just had to practice self-control.”
His body started to change over the months and updates to his nutrition plan and workout routines were made by his coach to work on deficient areas.
“The only time I wanted to quit was when my show was canceled,” said Bottinelli. “I was mad; I had put in all this effort and work. It made me feel like everything I had worked for was in vain.”
After a night of pizza and dreams of Chick-fil-A, he decided to look for a new show.
“I chose a show in Orlando, Fla.,” said Bottinelli. “That way we could visit family after.”
Another major decision for what show to choose came from Bottinelli’s desire to keep everything natural.
“You know that the only way someone was better than you is they either worked harder or ate better,” said Bottinelli. “Not that they had better chemicals.”
As the trip to Florida grew closer, cheat meals began to disappear, and diet and water intake became stringent.
“For that last week the calorie intake had decreased a lot,” said Bottinelli. “I have always been a big snacker and that is all I wanted to do.”
The schedule for the show came out and guidelines and rules began to pile up.
“A lot of people look at the stage and think, ‘oh you work out, diet right, get up on stage, pose and that’s it,” said Bottinelli. “But there is so much to it. There’s photography, tanning appointments, the dos and don’ts of tanning, a polygraph test I have to take to prove that I did everything naturally, and when to stop drinking water. There are so many things that happen backstage and it can be overwhelming.”
As the show approached, the daunting tasks to prepare piled high ready for that tipping point. The moment he waited for where months of training, dedication and support would pay off on stage.
“My biggest supporter through it all was definitely my wife,” said Bottinelli. “Between meals and meal preparation, me going to the gym seven days a week, grocery shopping for what I need and what the family needs. She has been the biggest supporter to me, egging and cheering me on through it all.”
From flexing in the mirror to flexing on stage, Bottinelli was awarded third place in his category and plans to compete again next year.