The Never-ending Crusade of The Planet’s Leading Superhero

When I first see him in the Greater Columbus Convention Center he’s surrounded by an entourage—a motley group that includes Jim Lorimer driving a yellow cart and two aging Hollywood producers who want to build a reality TV show around his festival, only 47 days away.

Passersby look with furtive glances and unhinged jaws, often doubling back to ask one of his cohort the only question there is to ask—Is it him? It is, it’s really Arnold, kidding with strangers, stopping for a picture, fighting off a cold, and nodding slowly as he scans the space. His hair is thinner, the lines creasing his face deeper, and his walk hindered by “every surgery you can think of” from the weightlifting, the stunts, and the skiing accidents.

We sit in a hallway outside the Convention Center administrative offices, and he smiles and says, “So tell me everything,” to which I laugh and reply, “I think that’s what you’re supposed to do.” So he does, effortlessly and in detail, for 11 minutes and 56 fleeting seconds, and then he gets up and says, “See ya, bye-bye. Be good.” And he is gone.

Okay, so what originally inspired you to start the Arnold Classic?
The Arnold Classic evolved out of the Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe and Mr. International and Ms. Olympia and Ms. International—all those competitions. We held those competitions for years here in Columbus, and then the International Federation of Bodybuilding told us that we cannot just have the competition
every year at the same place, that it has to travel around the world, which we understood. But we did not want to give up holding the world championships here, so what we did was we created the Arnold Classic, and it gained a world championship title that is on the level of the Mr. Olympia competition, and so we decided to have this competition every spring, and the Olympia is every fall. So this way we stay six months apart, and we support each other, and we—without any doubt—are the number one competition.

You probably could have started it just about anywhere. Why did you pick Columbus?
Well, I think it is my loyalty to Jim Lorimer … because [the Mr. World competition] was so well run here in Columbus at the Veteran’s Memorial, and Jim with his partner [was] responsible for that, I told him that as soon as I’m finished competing, I will call him and I will form a partnership where we’re gonna host the events, the world championships, here every year. And so that promise I kept—as a matter of fact in two years from now, in 2016, we will have our 40-year anniversary of holding world championship competitions right here in
Columbus, Ohio.

But number two, I think one should never forget that there’s no place like Columbus when it comes to the volunteers. We have thousands of volunteers working on this competition, and you won’t find that in other cities like that. So that’s what makes the competition so extraordinary.

It evolved from your background as a bodybuilder, but it’s grown so much bigger than that. Why did you include so many non-traditional events?
For us it’s all about selling the idea that fitness is fun and that it doesn’t matter what you do—you can participate in track and field, you can participate in the pump and run, you can participate in a bodybuilding competition, in power lifting, whatever, fencing, whatever, as long as you do something every day, you’re gonna stay fit. So that’s the whole message here is fitness, and it is part of my fitness crusade, because I have been on this crusade for the last 40-some years, and I want to promote fitness all over the world.

What is the most important piece of fitness advice you’ve learned over the course of your career?
You’ve got to make it as part of life, like you sleep, you eat, you have sex, you go to work. All of those things we consider as normal, natural part of life, where if you include exercising in that and say, “I don’t think the day should go by or the week should go by without any exercise,” I think you will be home free. I mean, just if you make that change and if you just talk yourself into that, that you need to go and exercise every day, and then to have a vision of where you want to go. What is your goal—“I want to trim down weight, I want to be stronger, I want to be more muscular”—what should this body look like?

How has your personal fitness and exercise regimen changed as you’ve gotten older?
I’m still doing my weight training every day, and I’m still doing my cardiovascular training every day, and what changes is as you get older and you find injuries popping up, you then have to work much more around the injuries … but the good thing about it is that in the early days we only had the weights, we didn’t have the machines that isolate certain areas. Now we have a machine for anything and everything.

That’s what I think our whole fitness crusade is all about is to make it really accessible for anyone … and to also break through the stereotypes of, “Okay, exercising is no good, and it makes you dumb if you want to work out, and it slows you down. It’s bad for your heart and bad for your bones and all this.” Now, of course we see the great breakthrough in hospitals that they have rehab training centers with weight machines and resistance machines and everything, and everyone now talks about the importance of weight-resistance training to stimulate your body and your muscles and to keep the body fit. So I think that we have done a great job with our crusade, but there’s much more to be done. It’s never over.