BALA G: THE WRIGHT STUFF
WORDS VANCE ANG | IMAGES GARY PHILLIPS
Evidently, the landscape of bodybuilding has experienced drastic changes within the last few years. As many hardcore purists would dry some of the changes, the same group of hardcore devotees would easily welcome the 212 division which is almost a throwback to the shredded conditions of more imposing physiques. One such competitor is our very own Gary Wright, the IFBB Pro who has become the poster boy for this division and one of the most popular champions on the circuit.
Undoubtedly, being Australia’s only 212 Pro garners both the adoration and the added responsibilities of that coveted title – one which even Gary himself acknowledges as something to savour and respect. “Being Australia’s only 212 Pro means a lot to me because it was something that was very hard to achieve” Gary asserts “I had to go up against the open guys originally; in my first Pro qualifier and the fact that I was able to compete against guys in my own structure…it proved to me I could be a good Pro.” At the time of being awarded his Pro Card, Gary had already beaten many of Australia’s top champions, consistently proving him as a force to be reckoned with. At Gary’s level, to be the best requires a special sort of athlete and equally special sort of human being. The amount of years that he has poured into this sport, the sacrifice, the discipline had all culminated into his Pro status – however years leading up to this point were validated by his progressively consistent achievements. Becoming an IFBB pro was all part of the natural progression for Gary; leading up to this event he admits that this was ‘do-or-die.’ In essence, Gary had made it his desire, and his mission to win his Pro Card and all that effort yielded the very result he was seeking. His momentous victory was a far cry from his first comp in WA many years ago. Coached in part by Ray Walton, the greener Gary already had people talking when they caught glimpses of this diligent aspiring bodybuilder in the gym. At the time many had assumed Gary was the guest poser!
Gary’s physique is unique in that is carries with it dimensionality and proportion to the highest order. His upper body is massive yet incredibly symmetrical and well proportioned, whilst the same can be said about his lower half as well. Strikingly complete in every facet, he hits both the front and back double biceps with such perfection that time and time again the audience becomes the most vocal and enthusiastic. Yes, he is that good. His routines ooze a unique cultural aspect that calls to the heart of indigenous history and storytelling, with Gary drawing from his own experiences growing up in Cape York amongst Australia’s aboriginal communities. “For me I am not just doing bodybuilding to be the biggest muscle guy” Gary says “I am using it for a greater purpose after I finish bodybuilding. And I have already achieved some of this by doing the educational programs and keeping the connection with people up north. It is important for me to blend indigenous islander culture with my background in the bodybuilding…it has never been done before. The whole idea is to create awareness of the rise of the waters up there and the impacts of global warming, they are losing their sacred sites and burial grounds.”
Using bodybuilding as a vehicle, Gary was given permission from the elders to use the traditional dress and song to present this message publically – one which was well received at the IFBB Pro Show at Fit-X 2013, with the imposing Gary adorned in traditional handmade Saibai Island warrior costume. In addition to the cultural roots and socio-political message, Gary’s connection to this history holds a deeper, self-motivating premise. “When I struggle with bodybuilding, or I am looking for inner power I rely back on that cultural heritage of stuff I have experienced and the issues of the people up north. Sometimes I need more within myself and recalling this heritage allows me to summon more power…perhaps being motivated by the plight of indigenous people around the world”
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In many ways Gary is a paradox; his affable and philosophical manner appears to be at odds with his despite fearsome look. Wright has proved time and time again that a quality 212 competitor can possess both the size and the class, his conditioning always matching his mass and vice versa. Wright himself is punctuated by many traits that the larger bodybuilding community admires; if it is not his tighter midsection it is his easy going manner; if it’s not his broad outlook on life it is his boulder like shoulders. Regardless, here is a champion that defines all aspects of that title. However, irrespective of success and the progressively impressive achievements Gary has not expressed a desire to continue for an extended time to merely win an Olympia. Rather, this 212 Pro has utilised his position and his knowledge to establish the aforementioned educational program. After his Pro Card win, Gary was awarded government funding which facilitated his own creation, implementation and delivery of his own developmental plan called ‘BALA G WARRIOR STRONG Indigenous leadership program’ – run in conjunction with the indigenous employment agency Mr Pathway. This successful initiative was hosted on Thursday Island, with Gary using his bodybuilding as an engagement tool to teach and mentor the Australian indigenous community. Despite all of his successes on stage and presence as an elite world class bodybuilder, it is apparent that Gary is incredibly proud of this educational initiative and one which he will continue to develop long into his career. “There is so much more in life that I want to succeed in. There is so much sacrifice in this sport, you miss out on so much (i.e. family, business etc.) since you focus on yourself. Delivering the program and seeing people grow from it was almost, if not more satisfying than winning my Pro card! I love bodybuilding because it is all about personal development, and seeing others develop makes me very happy.”
In his 20s, Gary took a devout interest in personal development and spirituality, self-analysing and self-actualising not just the athlete he could be but the person he would ultimately become. “In my own personal journey, there was all these little building blocks that presented themselves in relation to the indigenous community” Gary recalls “I thought that I could be that bridge between Australian and indigenous cultures, it had never been done before and this product was actually 15 years in the making. After talking to several people, I found myself sitting in front of a company that could help me secure the funding ($120k) and it all got started”
It is his holistic mindset fused with a structured, disciplined approach that yielded him success.
This success was not just limited to bodybuilding but also in working as a head of security at various nightclubs and as a stockbroker!
To reach Gary’s level of excellence is clearly no easy feat, with much time, discipline and effort poured into their training methods. Instinct and intensity are axioms that resonate in Gary’s philosophies, with such methods espoused by greats such as Dorian Yates with true muscle growth only coming through adversity. Though some injuries have required levels of ingenuity and modification, Gary is still a proponent of the ‘blood and guts’ style too as Gary says, get that “dense hard look that Dorian got.” For readers seeking to gain mass and etch definition like Gary take note – the key is consistency. “It is important to keep training” Gary states emphatically “The ones who get out of shape and fluctuate are the ones who can’t keep the lifestyle; and the lifestyle is the food and the training, whether you are bulking, you train, you cut you train. I think a mistake guys make is that when they are cutting they don’t try to keep the weights heavy and the sessions intense. I was speaking to Josh (Lenartowicz) recently about how he structures his training, going up and down certain rep ranges…each weeks he works with strength based stuff. I never keep a training diary because its changed over the years…I was much stronger in certain lifts when I was younger due to my joints and tendons; these days I control the weight better and the technique has changed as well.”
Recollections of the past provide some indictment on the changing state of gym culture as Gary recalls “I remember when guys would deadlift 4 – 5 plates for 10 – 12 reps and it is what we did every week…we weren’t doing one rep and then filming it, and then making a big deal about it like everyone does now…the gym culture has changed over the years.”
As a drawcard wherever he is, it was no surprise that Gary Wright has been sponsored by numerous big name companies including the likes of GASPARI NUTRITION and GEN-TEC. Most recently however, Gary has scored a lucrative deal with BIGBOYZ, whose designer supplements have taken the industry by storm. Owned and managed by the behemoth AJ Wilson, Gary has endorsed a best-selling line of their supplements known as the ‘Gary Wright Signature Series.’ Speaking of this lucrative deal Gary says “I always like the face to face contact, I like that energy. AJ Wilson and I clicked early on; in the early stages he didn’t know what sponsorship was, and I guess I educated him about it. The clincher was that he gave me a set of products to try. At the time I was 112kg and I wanted to be 115kg, but could never seem to break past 112kg. After taking AJ’s products my weight just kept going up and size kept going up, and I hit 115kg! I laughed when AJ said I would get to 117kg, but I got there and the scales kept going up! This is what bodybuilding is all about! You get bigger, you get stronger, you lift heavier weights…you therefore build more muscle. So when I got to 120kg at my height (5” 4’) people couldn’t believe it! BIGBOYZ products are incredible! The products are tested, high quality and high grade. To be the best in this sport, you need the support and I am so fortunate to have AJ Wilson and Big Boyz behind me. They have supported me in all aspects from flights to fees, AJ and his team are amazing”
But behind any great man there is an even greater woman that is his everything, ensuring his focus is undeterred as well as his manners being in check. For Gary, that person is Emma Gayon (herself an IFBB Figure champion) who Gary cites as a major influence “Being more in the public eye means that I have to watch what I say, do and post up on social media…when I have people (especially young kids) looking up to me it is important I carry myself in a certain way. That is why I have the lovely Emma to edit anything I say or do, in case it is too savage! She has been there from the start, she has seen my biggest lows and biggest highs…I would not be as good a bodybuilder without her support.” Within this sport it is evident that the ideal other half is not only someone who understands the athlete but the demands of bodybuilding as a whole.
A month prior to the New York Pro, it was evident that Gary’s own sense of self-actualising and warrior style philosophy were heavily inspiring his mindset “The New York Pro is a show I have said I always wanted to do” Gary says “I have always had a fascination about the City, if there is a comp that is hard I want to do it. I want to compete against the tougher line-ups and face a real challenge. Tony did try to get me into the Arnold Classic (which is generally reserved for the more well-known stars) but it just turned out that the NY Pro was the next one in line for me.”
Our Gary tied 16th with 11 other competitors at the NY pro with a total of 26 in the line-up but only 15 going through to the night show. With Ronny Rockel traditionally an open competitor who made his pro debut in 1991 competing in his 78th bodybuilding show fasting for 3 days with no food just to make the weight. This is now becoming common practice with taller open competitors; squeezing down on no food to enter the 212 division and giving them huge size advantages on stage against the smaller genetically structured 212 pound athletes the category was designed for.
Loving the quietness and stillness of the night, it is not a rare sight to see Big Bala G training in the wee hours of the morning at Doherty’s Gym in Brunswick. It is perhaps in this solitude that gives Gary time to reflect and think about the sport.
“I think it’s a shame that within this sport, guys and girls in the sport can be so “negative” towards each other ” Gary says “It’s this whole status thing, we (bodybuilders) are such a small group of people, such a minority in society we should really stick together and be more supportive of each other. I entered the industry trying to be friendly to everybody but I found out that is not how it works. Putting out negative energy towards other competitors for your own ego doesn’t help anybody.”
Gary’s willingness to help others has made him one of the more popular Pro’s this country has produced. He has been consistent and incredibly diligent in his efforts, and speaks with both passion and intelligence when discussing this sport. Evidently, his success on stage is a vehicle for him to pursue those altruistic goals and motivate others. As a role model to many up comers, Gary offers these sage words of advice:
“You are locking yourself into a (bodybuilding) lifestyle for a long time, you got to be able to handle the ups and downs…it is a sacrifice, to build your physique you have to fucking train hard – there is not one way, you got to open yourself to as many different ways as you can. Biggest thing I can say is don’t think you know it all yourself, I have been training for 21 years and I am still learning things off guys that are 19. The best place to spend your money is not on drugs, but rather invest on working with people that might teach you something.”