Natural Bodybuilder Ben Graber

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Ben Graber: Focusing on personal goals

Only The Beginning

By Wayne Dominowski
SBA Editor

(SB) - Former prep wrestler Ben Graber knows all about hard work and the determination needed to be a winner. He learned that growing up on a farm in Luton, IA., where he rose early, did chores, went to school, worked out in the weight-room, came home, and was greeted by field work, seasonal hay baling, and everything else farm life requires daily.

Thanks to coaches like Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s Jerrit Munch who took young Graber under his wing and taught him how to train properly, consistently and safely, and later Clint Koedam, who motivated the prep grappler to new heights, Ben discovered that blood, sweat, and sometime tears, make up a champion’s edge not just in sports, but also in life.

He never thought what he learned in the weight room would translate into the demanding essentials of natural bodybuilding. Ben was a 5-footer at age 12 and at the time couldn’t muster the strength to bench press 45 lbs. By the time he was a freshman and weighing in at a soak-and-wet 98-pounds, he was bench-pressing 135-lbs., more than the average 150-pound athlete in the early prep grades. From there he and fellow classmates Tyler Derochie and Dustin Thelander teamed up and Ben’s progress and wrestling career advanced. The boys entered power-lifting tournaments together, and during that time Ben made his way to a second place finish against a full tier of competitors.

After graduating in 2012, he recounted, he continued to lift weights. “Unlike the past six years, I was not lifting for a sport,” he said. “I was lifting for myself. As a freshman in college, I experienced stress. I remember some days I felt as if a raging, thunderstorm was in my head. But as I picked up a dumbbell those thunder storms would become a clear, bright summer’s day. I loved it, and I began to lift weights every day. The weight lifting paid off. I gained 30-lbs during that summer, and in the power-lift I broke 300-lbs at age 18.”

That was then; this is now.

On Saturday, June 13, at Norfolk, NE., Ben entered his first ever natural bodybuilding contest, The North American National Bodybuilder Federation (NANBF) Max Classic. The day before, he underwent testing (urine and polygraph), a procedure the NANBF sanctions to eliminate steroid, HGH, and other body enhancement drugs.

Of course Graber passed.

He passed because his nutrition consisted of baked chicken breast, fish, complex carbs, protein shakes and yogurt. His workouts, which he described as “fun,” were a combination of training regimens -- everything from heavy, to moderate weight lifting days, to muscle-crashing, to high and low cardio, and to a strict procedure of adhering to training goals. “It’s not about bigness,” Ben explained. “It’s about developing muscle proportionately. In my case, I wanted to define my muscle groups, attain muscle separation, vascularity, and overall proportionate muscle development.”

“I won’t lie,” he said, “it’s a lot of hard work; but if you want to achieve your goal, any goal, that’s what it takes. There are no short-cuts.” No question about it, he added, his prep wrestling career helped immensely. “It prepared me, toughened me up, and laid the foundation for where I am today.”

It did indeed.

At Norfolk, Ben, age 21, was the youngest bodybuilder competitor taking the stage. In both the novice and collegiate class, he went up against seasoned bodybuilders, guys who were older, experienced, and more muscular. But he won. He took first place in the novice division and first place in the collegiate class. He did it with symmetry, a finely proportioned, sculpted body, and class. Not only did Ben have the physical tools to compete, but he demonstrated expert mandatory pose techniques, and later, a beautiful solo performance at the night show.

Folks, this young man did it all on his own. No trainer, no training partner, no help. He received coaching on nutrition basics and posing, but other than that, he did a lot of reading, a lot of checking, asking and studying, and tasked himself with steady, personal challenges.

“I felt confident when I went on stage,” he said. “Actually, I had run the posing through my head over and over again, practiced by myself looking in a mirror, and did my solo routine until I had it down perfect. By the time I went on stage, I felt like I was taking a test that I had prepared well for. I just did what I trained to do.”

Graber finished up his Associate Degree at Western Iowa Tech Community College, Sioux City, IA., and did so with a straight 4.0 average. He was accepted to St. Luke’s College, also in Sioux City, where he will work towards his Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing. He did it while working a full-time job as an auto-mechanic at Sears in Sioux City.

After his experience at the Max Classic, Ben said that he achieved what he set out to accomplish. “I’m happy,” he said, “but this isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning. I love this. It’s healthy, drug free, and I can realize my dreams.”

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