I’ve always been a keen sportsman and heavily into fitness, I had previously viewed the gym as a means to be fitter and stronger in my chosen sport at the time such as Rugby, Karate, Tri Athlon’s and Ironman events.

However, this does not answer the question of; How does one go from being a social club sports member to being on the national stage for bodybuilding? I guess I should start from the beginning of how I became utterly obsessed with keeping fit and healthy.

When I was 15 I contracted Lupus. Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. At the time I was taking a medication for acne and unfortunately this was very rare side effect. In fact, so rare that the doctor wasn’t aware himself that this could happen, I literally had better odds at winning lotto.

I was prescribed voltaren to help with the inflammation but unfortunately, I reacted to this as well. The voltaren stripped the lining of my stomach and liver away and I was I incredible pain. I remember having to prop my legs up everytime my little sisters would run across the floorboards as the vibrations would feel like knives stabbing at my ankles and knees. I was soon admitted to hospital where I spent the first few months on heavy pain medication while the doctors tried to diagnose the disease.

So there I was, a 15 year old kid who loved sport and being active who was now confined to a bed. I was in the arthritis ward and therefore the youngest by about 60 years. I was in a room with three other patients who changed often. My mum and sisters visited daily, however, mum worked, and the girls attended school, so it became an incredibly lonely and antagonising especially for a 15-year-old. I was constantly fatigued and could only stay awake for short periods of time.

After 9 months of being stuck in hospital I was discharged in a wheelchair, still in some pain and discomfort but the doctors had thought that this will pass over the next month or so. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the lupus came back with vengeance, I was rushed into AnE, the rest is a blur I just know the pain was intense. This kicked off another round of treatment and I spent another 9 months in hospital in the same mind-numbing environment. I was told that I would have to learn to cope with this pain as there’s nothing more they could do – a sportsman’s worst nightmare.

However, this time round the treatments worked. I think being slapped in the face with the harsh reality that I would have to live with the disease motivated me to believe I could get better and to show the naysayers that I will not be like this forever. I do believe that positive thinking is a powerful tool and we can achieve a lot with it. Finally, I was discharged (again) from hospital, this time for good. However, the treatments and disease had taken a huge toll on my body and also my confidence.

I left hospital very overweight (108kg) unfit and depressed. I had missed almost two years of school and lost contact with my friends, I didn’t want to go back and repeat two years of school, being the oldest in my class, and wasn’t motivated to do anything else. It took some stern/harsh but much needed words from my mum to finally get my act together.

I’d always loved the Army and it was a dream to be a soldier. I set my sights on achieving this, which meant I had to lose the weight and get to the required fitness level, I started to eat healthy meals, train at the gym and get back into running. Over the next 10 months I lost the weight and trained hard, I passed the physical and written tests and was accepted into the NZDF for a basic training. This was a huge achievement for me, but just the beginning of my passion for health and fitness.

After leaving the Army, I focused on events like Triathlons and training for my first Ironman event. This required hours of cardio training with very little weight training. I enjoyed running and swimming but biking always was my worst discipline. I completed an Ironman event in 2010 which was exhausting but I enjoyed every minute of it.

I started getting into lifting weights with more purpose and trying to grow some muscle. However, I didn’t really know how to train and had almost no idea about nutrition. I started training with a few trainers and learnt a lot from them about how to isolate muscle groups and what I should be eating and when. I was enjoying my training and making some progress, but it was all for fun and I didn’t really have any plans on competing in and bodybuilding events.

I never expected I would make the jump from lifting weights for fun to getting on stage in my undies and flexing my muscles to a crowd of strangers. However, in 2014 I did. The previous year I met a girl (now my wife and partner in crime) who loved the gym, she wanted to compete in a bodybuilding event. I said if you do it I’ll do it with you.

We had the help of an awesome trainer Maria Dunlop in Taranaki, where we were living at the time. Maria is a veteran bodybuilder and taught us how to do everything from our diet, peak week, how to apply the tan, and how to pose. If you are thinking of competing yourself, I’d strongly recommend getting help from someone who is experienced and can help you with the posing and peak week at the very least.

We completed our first regional event, NABBA Taranaki in early 2014, both winning our category for novice and qualifying for Nationals at the end of the year. We were both hooked. Ever since, we have been training and keeping to a strict diet apart from the odd cheat meal. Bodybuilding is a lifestyle and takes a lot of work and commitment. It’s not something you can just turn up to as it makes life socially limiting as you can’t casually go out for drinks or dinner whenever there’s something on.

Bodybuilding is a lot of fun and when you get up on stage after months of preparation it’s an awesome experience and a huge achievement. Having someone close, for me my wife, experiencing the same limitations and difficulties makes the world of difference. When one of us is craving a double choc caramel milkshake with a side of doughnuts, or not feeling motivated to go and lift a ton of weights first thing in the morning we help and coach each other to get back on the right track. My advice for anyone wanting to get up on stage is to talk to people who have experience competing and ask for help and to also fully commit to it, you need to be 110% committed otherwise you’ll be too quick to give up when you have to overcome the many hurdles to the stage.

Bodybuilding is no doubt a lot of hard work but with the right motivation and support it’s all made possible.  If the 15-year- old kid who was told he would never be able walk again can get up on the world stage, in his undies and flex in front of strangers, then anyone can achieve their fitness goals no matter what they are.

– Chris Brine

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