By Jason A. Smith
A Henry County firefighter recently got a chance to show off his physique during a bodybuilding competition.
Firefighter/paramedic Doug Clark, 44, of Morrow, said what began as a hobby has, over the years, become an "obsession."
On Saturday, he participated in the National Physique Committee's Atlanta Bodybuilding & Figure Championships. In the competition, held at the Clayton County Center for Performing Arts, Clark placed second in Masters Division - for ages 35 and up - and fourth in the Open Heavyweight division.
Clark said he had "nothing to lose" by signing up for the competition, particularly since he won in both categories last month, during the NPC's Atlantic USA championships in Norcross.
"I thought, since I was somewhat close to being in shape, I'd jump in," said Clark of Saturday's contest, his 20-inch biceps and 53-inch chest nearly bursting through his fire department uniform at Henry Fire Station No. 7. The wins qualified Clark for a national competition, to be held in Atlanta in November.
Clark, who grew up in the Atlanta area, said his current lifestyle is vastly different from that of his days at Hapeville High School, where he graduated at a mere 134 pounds.
He then joined the Marine Corps, but said even the military did not bulk him up to his satisfaction. "When I ... got out of boot camp, everybody else had lost weight," Clark explained. "I gained weight."
After being in the Marines for six years, and working for the United States Postal Service for 10 years, the firefighter said he needed a change of pace. Soon afterward, he was drawn to a career as a firefighter.
"I was always interested in [emergency medical services] and first aid, and the excitement of hearing the fire trucks go by," Clark said. "I was in fair condition, and was hired on with the Hapeville Fire Department."
He continued to dabble in weight training over the years, while working in Hapeville as a firefighter, EMT and paramedic. Then, about five years ago, Clark joined the Henry Fire Department. However, Clark continued to gain weight while working as a firefighter. At his heaviest, he weighed 260 pounds, which occasionally made breathing more difficult. "I was getting out of the shower one day, huffing and puffing, and I thought, 'Man, I have to do something,'" he said.
Although his professional life was flourishing at the time, Clark said his personal life provided the motivation he needed, to increase his bodybuilding pursuits. "I'd been lifting for probably six or seven years, but going through a divorce, I needed something to take up my time," Clark noted. "I started going [to the gym] more and more, and seeing more and more results."
In addition, Clark began taking a fitness course through International Sports Science Association, in an effort to learn more about nutrition and other aspects of bodybuilding. "It covers everything from molecular structures, to actually putting your hands on the weights," he said. "Once I learned that, and added that to what I was doing, the muscularity came through, and the fat went down."
Clark said his co-workers at the fire department began to take note of his metamorphosis, and started asking questions about his diet, which includes low-fat foods, lean meats and "lots of vegetables."
One of Clark's fellow firefighters , Shawn Pattillo, has worked alongside Clark for the last two years, and said he admires his co-worker's dedication to a healthy lifestyle. "His eating habits are pretty good," Pattillo said. "Not a lot of people can eat brown rice."
In addition, Pattillo said results of Clark's weight training and conditioning are visible when their firefighting team is called to respond to an emergency. "His exercise routines help him physically when he's out on a fire scene, or out dealing with patients," Pattillo explained. "I'm sure it's helping with the stress of the job, in general."
Clark said his bodybuilding experiences have changed his life for the better, and have given him a desire to pass his knowledge and passion to others. To that end, Clark owns a business called Pro Fitness, in which he trains and educates people regarding diets, nutritional supplements and weight training.
"[Bodybuilding] has changed my life," he said. "I remember how I used to feel, and now ... I have more energy. I think I would like to share that with others."