Bodybuilders are masters in the art of refusing to act their age
Destiny threw Norman Spatz a curve ball when he met legendary bodybuilding trainer Jimmy Caruso in the gym two years ago … and he hit a home run. Spatz thought he was destined to be fat for life. Caruso, whose view of his own destiny is greatness, would have none of it.
Spatz, 63, an affable, bespectacled 63-year-old N.D.G. resident, went on to build a lean, healthy, muscular body that doesn’t befit his age.
“I think we have a vision of who we are physically and we accept it,” Spatz says. “I never thought that was going to change.”
But change is what one bombastic artistic genius of a giant, the diminutive 85-year-old man named Caruso, is all about.
“This wizened, gnome-like person came up to me while I was doing my bench press and said, ‘You’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong’,” Spatz remembers. Spatz bragged he could press 395 pounds. “So what?” Caruso responded. “Look at your chest. You have tits! The top of your chest is overdeveloped. You have a stomach.”
And so it began, Spatz’s incredible fitness journey driven by Caruso—a journey filled with lessons undertaken by two men who are absolute masters in the art of refusing to act their age.
When Spatz started training under Caruso in July 2009, he weighed 230 pounds and had a 38-inch waistline. This mindset was rooted in Spatz’s non-athletic past. Born in New Jersey, Spatz had developed a mild form of polio as a child, which might have contributed to a deformity in his ankles that required many operations. “I never played baseball, I didn’t run, and I could hardly walk.” Spatz’s condition resulted in a cerebral lifestyle that led to a career in education. Spatz is a writer, teacher, webpage editor, and walking-tour guide. He had started weight training in his 20s and discovered he was naturally strong, but that didn’t affect his weight. “I figured I was destined to be fat, but at least I was strong and fat.”
Then Caruso made his pitch at Gymzone in Décarie Square and Spatz came up to the plate.
“It was a summer project,” Spatz said. “I wanted to see what this elderly man could do.”
He had a successful track record dating back to the ’50s to prove it. Caruso is a bodybuilding pioneer, former gym owner, world-class photographer, trainer of countless bodybuilders—including Mr. Canada champions—musician, a self-taught visionary who brings artistry and passion to everything he does. “When I train someone, I expect results,” Caruso said. “If I don’t get results, I find a way.”
He found a way with Spatz, tailoring a weight training and nutrition program for him. “He approaches exercise in a sculptural way,” Spatz says. It wasn’t pleasant, but I couldn’t argue with the results.”
Spatz trains at least three times a week and for four to five hours. Nutrition is an integral part of the program, and one that requires as much discipline as weight training. “When I go to a restaurant I watch other people eat. It’s not worth facing the scale—or Caruso,” Spatz says.
Spatz once announced, much to Caruso’s horror, that he was going to attend a wine and cheese function. During the evening Spatz received a phone call from his trainer asking what he was eating.
“Jimmy, it’s a wine and cheese,” Spatz replied. Caruso told Spatz to pick the cheeses with the lowest fat content. “He was so determined, so focused, so insistent, but I was ready to go along for the ride,” Spatz says.
The journey has resulted in achievements Spatz never thought possible. He lost more than 40 pounds in two years and now weighs 187. He went from a size 38 to a 33. His systolic blood pressure went from 138 to 112 in a year, causing his doctor to do a double take. Spatz went from being ashamed of his body to being proud of it, though not quite used to it.
“At our core, I think we have a vision of who we physically are and we accept it. The chronological age doesn’t match how I feel inside.The unfortunate thing with people is that when they perceive they are old, they have to act old.
“My goal is to find a lifestyle that helps me maintain the shape I’m in. There is just too much that could go wrong when you get older. I feel what I’m doing is an insurance policy.
“I’m perfectly willing to give Jimmy the credit,” Spatz said. “I didn’t do this on my own. To have not only the discipline but the knowledge—I couldn’t do it.” A protégé’s success is a source of pride for Caruso. “It’s more important for me to get results than for them. I improve them no matter what.” As for getting old: “That’s for those who don’t have a goal.”