When Rich Piana left humanity behind

If you are not familiar with bodybuilding, then the name "Rich Piana" will not mean one damn thing to you. And even if you are familiar with it, his was not exactly a household name among followers of the "sport".

However, those who know of, or met, him, know that he was a straight-talking, honest (for the most part, I think) guy who told it like he saw it.

And, a bit over a week ago, Rich Piana, who was very open and direct about his usage of anabolic steroids, growth hormones, synthol injections, and other "supplements" to enhance his physique, died.

There is now plenty of rumour and speculation flying around about exactly how he died, and much of it centres around the fact that 20 bottles of testosterone and "a white powder" were found in his home after he collapsed while his girlfriend, Chanel Jansen, was cutting his hair.

I have no interest in examining those rumours or casting aspersions upon the character of a dead man- particularly one who generated as much controversy, and changed as many lives, as Rich Piana did. The fact is that he is gone, so perhaps it is best left to the woman who loved him to explain what happened:

I have to admit, that was very difficult to watch. Chanel's grief and pain is quite raw, and it is obvious that she truly loved the man who passed.

I am truly sorry for her and for Rich's family. Their loss is immeasurable and my heartfelt condolences go out to them. As I said, I'm not going to hate on Rich Piana; I do not believe in speaking ill of the recently deceased, unless they well and truly deserve it.

I do, however, want to make clear my objections to enhanced bodybuilding in general, on principle, because of its long-term health implications.

Now let's be straight about one thing: there is precious little evidence linking steroid usage alone to all of the horrible side effects that the mainstream media would like you to believe will result from it.

The media would like you to think that steroid usage will lead to kidney failure, heart disease, cancer, liver tumours, and of course the ever-present boogeyman of "roid rage". The media, as usual, fails to understand the subtle differences between low-to-moderate usage over short- to medium-duration cycles or periods, and extreme usage over very long periods.

Taking synthetic testosterone and its derivatives for very long stretches of time very likely does do great damage to your body. I don't doubt that. You cannot constantly inject foreign substances into your body that are designed to replace the, perfectly natural and normal, hormonal production of your organs, without long-term consequences.

You certainly cannot get away with doing it on the level and at the scale that professional bodybuilders do. At some point, all of those drugs are going to have an effect.

Part of the reason why I dislike bodybuilding as a way to get fit and strong is the fact that, even at the relatively amateur level, one still must take considerable amounts of drugs in order to make any headway. I do not regard this as healthy or sensible.

Now, one might ask, by what right can I say that it's a bad idea to take drugs? This is a reasonable question. After all, I take 50mg of DHEA every day, which is a naturally produced, heavily researched, and perfectly legal androsterone that you can buy at your local pharmacy with ease. I also take daily doses of fish oil, cinnamon, turmeric, iron, multivitamins, and glucosamine with chondroitin.

So one could argue that I am anything but drug-free myself.

There are two points to note here.

First, I am not a competitive bodybuilder and am not interested in becoming some sort of aesthetic god; I look like what I am, a reasonably big and pretty strong young guy who looks a few years younger than his actual age.

Second, I do not take DHEA for performance enhancement; those dosages are minor and don't seem to have any anabolic effect at all; I spent 5 months in London without consuming any DHEA a couple of years ago and noticed no decrease at all in my overall strength and power.

Now, as far as bodybuilding goes, I actually do not recommend it as a way to get strong and fit. I do not regard obsessing over one's physical appearance as healthy for any young man, yet that is precisely what bodybuilding is all about.

Most of the time, I do not presume to tell others what they should, and should not, do in terms of getting strong and healthy. I am a firm advocate of and believer in the idea that a strong mind needs a strong body to achieve its full potential. There are many ways to achieve such a state, and since I practice what I preach, I make use of two different methods simultaneously.

Any masculine man or feminine woman should find what suits him or her best- whether it be weights, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, martial arts, bodyweight training, yoga, whatever- and stick to it.

I make two exceptions for this rule.

The first, of course, is CrossFit, which I wouldn't actually have a problem with if it wasn't so retarded in its principles and methods.

And the second is bodybuilding, because it is not a sport but is performance art instead, and because it promotes a truly unhealthy obsession with looks, size, and status.

The best-known bodybuilders out there today are not aesthetically pleasing, the way that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney, or Frank Zane were; those were men who, in their prime, had well-proportioned, strong, statuesque figures that marked them out among their peers. Today we instead have the "freak shows"- the guys who are all about mass and size, and to hell with looking "aesthetic".

Rich Piana will go down in history as one of the men who prized size and mass above aesthetics. And, hey, that was his choice. He lived by it, forged his own path in life, made a hell of a lot of money out of his reputation and his particular "style" of bodybuilding performance art, and changed a lot of people's lives for the better.

Nonetheless, heed the lessons from his life as well.

Heed the fact that he was taken in by a beautiful face (and, let's face it, a very nice pair of fake boobs) and married a woman who turned out to be very different from the one he fell in love with.

Heed the fact that he had to take a lot of drugs in order to maintain that physique of his.

Heed the fact that obsessing with your physique and your looks is not healthy for you in the long run. Take the positive lesson from Rich's life, and forge your own path in life. Don't let yourself be defined just by your physique, or your bank balance, or any one specific aspect.

A life that is well-lived is one of balance and inner calm. A man who seeks this balance actively may not ever find it- but he will make himself a far better, more well-rounded, and more interesting man in the process. So seek that balance, and let that quest change you for the better.


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