Larry Smith, a shipping and receiving clerk at Neighborhood Health Association, doesn’t just lift packages. He lifts weights—185+ pounds of them on a regular basis—as a competitive bodybuilder. Now, after a two-decade hiatus from the sport, Larry is getting back into the game.

Building a Beginning
Larry’s journey into bodybuilding began in 1985 as a young recruit in the Army. He’d just completed basic training when his squad leader encouraged him to lift weights in the gym. It was more of self-test than anything else.

“Before basic training, I felt weak and could have never lifted 185 pounds,” recalls Larry. “But I pushed and lifted that weight, and was hungry to keep lifting. I felt like I could conquer the world. I lived the Army’s motto, ‘Be all you can be.’”

Larry quickly found a bodybuilding trainer who taught him that in order to properly compete in bodybuilding competitions, he didn’t just have to build muscle and work out, he had to keep a healthy, balanced diet. Larry remembers the first “lean” meal his trainer invited him to. It consisted of a big, leafy salad and a side of plain tuna.

After adapting to the new diet and exercise routine, Larry competed in his first bodybuilding championship, followed by another and another. He even competed and placed 2nd in his weight class at the Armed Forces Bodybuilding Championship representing the Army and competing against men in the Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Larry left the military, and returned home to Toledo where he continued to train and compete in various state, regional, and national bodybuilding competitions. While Larry loved the sport, and challenging himself and what his body could do, he became discouraged while competing against other men who used performance enhancers. Larry discovered competitions that tested for steroids and placed well in his division. But eventually, he grew disenchanted with the sport. His wife, Tedra, became pregnant, and Larry quit bodybuilding and became a delivery driver for 20 years to support his family.

A Sedentary Life
From 1996 to 2008, Larry didn’t bodybuild or work out at the gymHe drove a van across the country as an expeditor.

“I got completely out of shape,” Larry says. “I couldn’t run a quarter of a mile without getting out of breath. I couldn’t tie my shoe without having to sit down and pull my leg up on the chair.”

It was discouraging to the people who Larry used to help train at the gym to see him out of shape. But what worried him the most were the health issues associated with his non-active lifestyle. Larry recalls feeling the early stages of pre-diabetes in his body: the numbness in his feet, high cholesterol readings, and puffy, irritated skin.

Larry began working at NHA in 2009 when he was inspired to get back into the gym. After several talks with other people who knew him as a bodybuilder, and his now 20-year-old son who wants to work out with his dad, Larry decided to make a bodybuilding comeback. After a few setbacks, including a car accident, he’s finally at it again, and this time, it’s a family affair.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith
This spring, Larry plans to compete in his first two bodybuilding competitions in 20 years. At 52-years-old Larry is competing in the Ohio Natural Bodybuilding Championship on April 1 in Cleveland. He is adamant about competing in the open competition against others in his weight class, including competitors 20 years or more his junior.

“I’ll be competing against the best of the best,” Larry says. “But most importantly, I’m competing against 32-year-old me. It’s really my comeback.”

And on April 22, Larry and his wife have registered to compete in their first couples’ bodybuilding championship together. The Natural Physique Association based in Missouri welcomes both men and women.

For nearly 20 years, Tedra was in better shape than he was. When Larry was competing in his bodybuilding championships, she supported him by doing similar workout routines and keeping the same diet. She continued to practice and teach aerobics throughout the years and longed for the day where she and her husband could compete together.

“This whole experience has been a life-long journey,” Larry says. “You’re never too old to accomplish something. You’re never too old to get healthy.”