The guy I interviewed most recently, I haven't actually met yet. An old friend of mine turned his life around, from overeating and being generally sedentary to really becoming focused and "fuck-off" strong, and in his stories I noticed a guy helping him. I followed him and his own stories of grinding at a hardcore gym near me. We exchanged messages and he agreed to let me interview him. I've not had a bad experience interviewing anyone yet but Stephan in particular was such a nice guy, and impossibly dedicated to his craft. I wanted to interview a bodybuilder for a long time, there are some psychological elements of that group of people that intrigued me. From their perceived "meat-head" image to the impetus for such a dramatic physical change, and Stephan disclosed to me everything I sought.
Rory - What stage are you in your training, now?
Stephan - At the minute I'm taking a year off competing, and focusing on gaining size where is needed, polishing out a few bits and bobs that need working on and then starting prep again end of the year for early 2021.
Rory - Awesome. I really enjoy lifting but I keep getting injured.
Stephan - Yeah injuries keep holding me back myself, for instance about 6 weeks out of my competition last year torn ligament in my ankle which had never properly recovered since.
Rory - It’s just one of those things I guess, isn’t it. Par for the course. Anyway, first off, can you please tell me a little something about you. Name, age, where you're from etc.
Stephan - No problem, well my name is Stephan Carrick. (Actual name is Stepan Titorenko, I changed it as it doesn’t lead to as many questions) I'm 24 and originally from Russia, moved here when I was 8-9 years old and am currently living in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire.
Rory - Thanks, Stephan. I know you're a competitive body builder, have you always been an athletic person?
Stephan - No. To be honest I never was what you'd consider a big person, in fact I was always known as the skinny kid throughout school. I mean I was strong as I was an active child, doing the standard kid stuff - playing outside etc (or what was standard back in that time at least- nowadays it's all about the TV /desktop screen).
But no, was never a big eater and pretty sure spent my entire time at school & college at below 11 stone. But did always want to be, involving myself in different sports throughout school, I just never really found what I both enjoyed and was above average at.
But yeah I always loved sports and being active, participating more than anything, I was always picked middle when picking out teams for anything.
Rory - That sounds about right. I was never particularly gifted athletically, but I was lean, strong and fast so I got picked about middle. Aside from body building what sports held your attention more than any others?
Stephan - As in I didn't shine out like one of them kids, we all know the "guy who played football" or the "rugby guy" etc. and I was like a meh.. 'middle okay guy' here and there. I was into football in primary and secondary school, playing as a goal-keeper for a few teams and for a school team back in the day, but had not been interested in it since. I think I only did it because I thought it was the norm, where in actual fact I was never really interested in following the sport, following the crowd really.
At this moment in time however apart from bodybuilding, no sport held my attention for than a short period of time.
Rory - That makes sense. I always messed around with football but gravitated towards basketball because it was different. I never enjoyed football "lad" culture.
Stephan - Yeah I think it is very much a "lad culture" especially when you’re younger.
Rory - What was it about bodybuilding that attracted you in the first place and kept your attention?
Stephan - I was always fascinated by actors such as Stallone and Arnold when I was young, I grew up watching classics like Terminator and Rambo etc and to this day I’m into my movies so seeing these larger than life guys was always inspiring to me, but never really thought anything more if it.
It wasn't until I was in my teenage years and seeing guys around me gaining muscle was it that I decided to join the gym, and at that time I got into trouble with the police a lot due to 'anti social behaviour' such as smoking weed drinking and generally dick head behaviour.
Going to the gym was a way to focus my attention elsewhere and kind of deterred me away from that lifestyle.
When younger I suffered A HELL of A LOT from low self-esteem due to various factors such as acne, low weight, being foreign. Going to the gym I thought was my way to gain enough muscle on my frame to not have arms smaller than my female friends.
What's kept me to it was the fact that I'm always learning, it's one of the few sports that's so varied in style and what works for some and not others ..that you're forever finding out something new.
And also there's something comforting knowing that you literally get out of it as much as you put in, so slowly I've been adjusting my lifestyle with diet, training, quitting smoking and drinking along the way to help the progression. Plus I stuck to it as "muscle-dysmorphia" turned out to be a real thing.
Rory - Is muscle-dysmorphia a kind of gym term for the body-dysmorphia that bodybuilders feel?
Stephan - Kind of reverse anorexia, so the scales may say one thing, yet I still feel like the same skinny lad that started the gym way back when.
Rory - I think that's almost made a joke of, that classic meme of "Once you start lifting seriously you will feel small every day of your life".
Stephan - Agreed, I mean people do laugh about it, but honestly, it is the case. Sad really considering I know for a fact that I'll never really be happy with my body image.
And maybe that's spurred on by social media etc. But I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to.
Rory - I totally agree. I don't know if it's most addictions but a LOT of addictions damage your physical health, not improve it. But any addiction by definition isn't good.
I think everyone's self esteem wavers from time to time but how would you say your self esteem is now, following your transition to body building?
Stephan - Well my weight yo-yos nowadays based on time of the year and whether or not I'm in bulking or cutting phase, the difference in 6 month can be a difference of 5 stone. And obviously it does have an impact mentally going from one extreme to another, which is where a lot of people in the sport struggle e.g coming to terms with such transition, where unhealthy "relationship" with food develops as your seeing your body naturally go back to the normal healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) body fat percentage.
And yeah every time, my mindset goes from "you're a skinny bitch" to "you're a fat fuck" within that shirt time frame.
Like right now my weight is at its all time high and I'm still ploughing through it. (In terms of the sport) its a necessary evil for progression something you have to come to terms with and accept.
Rory - I totally understand. I've dabbled in [bulking and cutting], but that was a while back. It's got to the point where my weight is unhealthy. My joints are taking a hit.
Does what you described occur a lot in the body building community?
Stephan - Been there done that, as I say, naturally quite a skinny guy. In NHS terms I'd be classed as severely obese based on weight and height so dragging this excess weight around putting my body through extremes means I have to take extra precautions with a lovely assortment of daily vitamins and pills.
In answer to your question, there are a certain few, I think the whole "put yourself down" I've only seen with a few people, really depends on the person, but it's more common than you think.
The whole bodybuilder ego is complete and utter bullshit though, most lads I've met into the sport are the most genuinely humble and down to earth people.It's the few bad eggs that spoil the bunch that gives the rest of a bad name.
Like the common misconception is that we are all angry and violent people, which is actually why I did my post about the subject because my girlfriend (who works supporting victims of domestic abuse) her colleagues judged myself due to me being a competitive bodybuilder without ever meeting me, I fell into that "category".
Rory - Well I've never met anyone who really works at being a body builder. I've met 100 guys who like a big chest and big arms. Myself included it must be said. I think a lot of the outside perspective as well, accurately or inaccurately is that that's what steroids are used for mostly. Almost as a shortcut, I guess? Or the use of them was out of insecurity to get to the next level. I guess being in that scene you may have encountered some people who have used them, before.
I've thought about it myself to help recover easier, I'm so injury prone, but I guess mine was also a little born out of insecurity.
Stephan - It's all about being what you and the judges perceive to be the most complete package.
And yes definitely, of course from what I know and who I've talked to steroids are as common as any drug, even more so than the likes of cocaine etc more so than what people think for definite.
And yes a lot use due to the common belief of it to be a "shortcut" or a magic pill that gets you super muscly super quick, in actual fact I can put 10 normal lads from a leisure centre in a line to point out who is and who isn't and in all honesty, even with my experience I would probably be wrong.
People quote studies etc saying muscle growth this and hormones that, in actual fact a lot of lads who take steroids ..you'd never believe set foot in the gym.
And some natural guys are not only out-lifting but beating 'enhanced' guys. Why? Genetics, discipline & consistency with diet training (amongst others).
And yeah top level guys are all on steroids, that's not even a question, but even without the steroids those top level guys would be better than 99% of the population due to their mindset.
Rory - I totally agree. It might be controversial but I don't think all steroids should be illegal in sports to a point. All the big supplement companies sell things that try and get as close as legally possible to what steroids do. Why is this set of supplements over here that apparently increase testosterone acceptable but "PED"s aren't?
Are you naturally very dedicated and prone to staying on course with things or do you have to get yourself into a particular mindset?
Stephan - End of the day it should be up to the person to do, like everything it's the individuals choice. Anything can be dangerous if abused at the end of the day if educated and with proper precautions in place it's up to the person, because they probably won't work.
The only reason I've stuck to it for so long and will keep sticking to it, is because I enjoy the sport. I like seeing results learning constantly about different methods, more in-depth knowledge on certain aspects of the sport, listening to other people opinions and seeing progress by application of these factors.
I think the mindset comes depending on the person themselves, why certain people stuck to the gym and why others don't, it's what it means to them, and for me it's not about losing a couple of lbs ready for summer, it's the reasons mentioned earlier.
Rory - Yeh I get you, buddy. I think the mental side is 95% of success.
You eluded to me outside of this conversation when we spoke about mental health that you don't feel you've struggled as much as some, that episodes were short lived and more to do with having no-one to turn to. Can you tell me a little bit about that please.
Stephan - Yeah well as I said to you in our previous conversation, mental health I wouldn't go as far as say I've suffered with such as it's one of them things that's hard to classify and hard to rest etc a grasp on.
Like I HAVE gone through difficult times, times where I was so down I felt like I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to, overthinking the littlest things whether it be about myself, relationships, family, friends, work etc. But such episodes I believe to be the norm with everyone from having conversations with friends dealing with difficult issues in the past.
As hard as it is, it's about finding positives in a time that seems to be filled with anything but.
Rory - I believe those things can be normal, yes. You get stuck in these little cycles of things. That's how almost all of my mental illness manifests itself, overanalysis.
Do you mind me asking what the circumstances were around why you felt you had no-one to talk to?
Stephan - I think it's because people including myself get so involved with work, families etc it's hard to find the time to just sit back, take time and discuss certain aspects of your life with people. Either you believe that the problem is not big enough to matter to others or simply put you find yourself not reaching to people who may understand as to not become a burden to them and inconvenience, we all dealing with out own stuff concentrated on our own problems after all.
Rory - I understand. I think it's a difficult tipping point to identify. I think everyone has moments like that, and to a degree we have to consume those moments and move on. But there are times that we need to reach out for our own good
Do you have a picture of where you'd like to see yourself if a few years time?
Stephan - Well at this moment in time my next main goal is to focus on getting out of the current job that I'm in and focusing on a career in the thing I want to do and I'm most passionate about which is fitness and helping others, even if it doesn't pay as well as my current job I'd be much happier.
And in terms of personal goals, what my aim is at least get close to the IFBB pro card, however that may be just wishful thinking on my part.
Rory - Can you tell me a little bit as to why you think it's wishful thinking? Specifically what you lack compared to the IFBB pros?
Stephan - Genetics essentially, personally I don't believe i have the best genetics for the sport. The sport is all about proportions symmetry, aesthetics & shape. And certain aspects of my physique that genetically speaking ain't great for the sport. My waist is fairly thick for example even at a low bf therefore throws the whole proportions and shape off completely.
Rory - Does that depend on what class in which you compete? People like Dorian Yates was thick all the way through haha
Stephan - Yeah pretty much anything but bodybuilding classes look for a small waist when judging a physique.
Damn straight he was, again not the best genetics but an absolute legend in my eyes, the sheer discipline the intensity of the training meant he was beating guys with just sheer mass.
Rory - He's a very introspective, self conscious guy, too. I've seen him on a few podcasts.
Stephan - Yeah I'd love to meet him one day during a seminar or something.
Rory - Are there any people outside of the sport that you admire or look up to?
Stephan - Certain qualities I admire more than anything, I wouldn't say there is one single person I look up to more than anything.
But admiration towards certain qualities of certain people such as kindness, honesty, selflessness, bravery, dedication, hard work etc.
Certain people obviously have more than one of such qualities and I have more time for people like that.
Rory - So are these people you are close to in your personal life or more in the public eye?
Stephan - I gravitate towards them people more in my personal life as well as admire such individuals in the public eye.
Rory - Can I have some examples of public people? There's a bunch for me. A guy called Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, kind of a hero of mine.
Stephan - Leonardo DiCaprio, he's very conscious about environmental protection. Keanu Reeves. He's very generous and humble. Tom hanks - a lot of charity involvement. Steve Buscemi. Especially his actions during 9/11.
Rory - I'm unaware of what Buscemi did, I'll look it up.
There you are buddy.
Rory - That's amazing, I love seeing stuff like that. I'm quite discerning now. I try and expose myself to as much positivity as I can, so it takes something truly exceptional to make me sit and and say "Holy shit, that's incredible", there are a few though.
Stephan - It sure is, yeah it's just one of those stories that don't get much attention yet just something so positive in an awful time.
But yeah I mean there always be negativity in the world, that's just standard it's really on the person on how they deal with it at the time.
Rory - I think you're right for the most part, I think if you're continually exposed to negativity it can bring you down. That's why I actively try and be around positive folks.
Stephan - Oh most definitely, grinds you down eventually at the end of the day, gotta see some light to get through it all.