Airman overcomes crippling injury, becomes bodybuilder

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
One Airman will never forget the day he showed his doctor, who three years prior told him he'd never be able to lift weights again due to a back injury, a video of him squatting 600 pounds and deadlifting 550.

During a 2008 deployment to Afghanistan, he was hit by multiple improvised explosive devices shifting parts of his back causing his muscles and bones to put pressure on the Sciatic nerve on his left side. A year later he started training in Brazilian Jiujutsu to help with flexibility and mobility. Next he started powerlifting, but he didn't stop there.

Now, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Israel Garza, 23d Security Forces Squadron unit trainer, is spending hours in the gym and kitchen, preparing for his first bodybuilding competition, which is scheduled for June.

"My end goal is to do it mainly for myself, just to prove that I can do it," he said. "In high school, like I said, I was super, super skinny. As a senior I was always lifting with freshmen, so it was always one of those things. [I thought] that I should not be as weak as these kids that are four years younger than me, especially in high school when I played all those sports. It was one of those things just to prove I can overcome something I never thought I would."

Garza said when he first started working out it was only on deployments, and when he came home he wouldn't work out at all. Then in 2010, fitness and lifting became a passion, and he begun lifting heavier weights and started powerlifting.

More recently, in 2012 he began trimming down and following professional bodybuilders, but even as he changed disciplines, fitness was still just as much of a passion as before.

"It was a stress reliever after a few combat deployment," Garza said. "I've seen my fair share, so it was kind of what kind of kept me out of trouble and kept me from thinking of those situations. Then it just became like a second home. My social life is pretty much in the gym. It's just been something that became a part of every day. If I don't do it, it feels like ... you know when you don't shower. You feel nasty. If I don't go to the gym I feel like that."

To help fine tune his diet and exercise program, Garza asked for help from Chris Andruschkevich, an Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certified personal trainer who works at the fitness center at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Andruschkevich coaches him on poses and gives advice on nutrition and exercise to help him prepare for his show scheduled for June.

"He has a quality that is the same quality that makes just about anybody and everybody successful in any endeavor they choose to go into," said Andruschkevich. "Sometimes you can get lucky, but nothing beats hard work. He doesn't quit. He works hard. He puts his time in, and doesn't go about things haphazardly."

Andruschkevich added that Garza was already well informed on fitness and nutrition, noting that Garza was already a race car that wanted a better mechanic.

"[He has a] great personality, but when it comes to the work aspect, he's serious," said Andruschkevich. "He listens and is well informed himself. I have alway believed in knowing what it is you're doing and why you're doing it. Understand how it works and understand the possible positive and negative impact it can have on you. Then make an informed decision."

Andruschkevich isn't a stranger to bodybuilding himself. In addition to his 20 years of experience as a personal trainer, he competed in multiple bodybuilding shows throughout his early 20s.

"I would have to say the hardest thing about it is the need to be consistent," he said. "Consistent with your workout, whether it be weights or with cardiovascular activity, and probably the most important thing is consistent with your meals, you dietary plan. It is a full-time sport. ... It's all consuming. And if you have a job and you're active-duty military, it makes everything twice as hard."

As an active-duty security forces Airman, father and student, Garza said it can be a challenge to fit everything in his day. He said that if people want it, they just need to make the time for it.

After fitting in his workout, school and work, Garza goes home and begins calculating, measuring, preparing and cooking his food for the next day.

"There are those days," Garza said. "Seeing all your peers at work at work saying they're going to get (fast food).It gets really de-motivating, knowing you can't even touch ... I mean one slice of bread fulfills my carbs for the day, so I can't have that. It's just trying to stay on track."

Keeping to such a strict diet is challenging for Garza, but he tries to stay motivated by watching videos of his favorite bodybuilders. He added he gets motivation from videos and talking to other people about the challenges and rewards of bodybuilding.

Despite moments like having to turn down a night at the bar with friends to prepare meals or work out, Andruschkevich said he notices Garza's motivation.

"He's very self motivated," said Andruschkevich. "It's a little contagious because you see the enthusiasm and can't help but feed off that."

Despite the early morning cardio, strict nutrition plan and tough work outs, Garza stays motivated, looking to his competition in June. Andruschkevich said he's impressed with Garza's progress and that he's made a big transformation.

Garza has gone from the weak, skinny high school student to an injury doctors said would prevent him from using his back, to deadlifting 550 pounds and squatting 600, to getting leaner for a bodybuilding competition. After all of this, Garza had a bit of advice for anyone looking to get into better shape.

"Stick to your guns. If you want it bad enough, you can get it. Nothing is impossible as long as you strive to do it. There will always be people who tell you that you can't do it. You're too small, you're too x, you're too this, you don't have this, you don't have that. If you want to look better for the summer of 2015, if you want it, you can get it."