How Ron Noreman fought his way back from hip replacement surgery (in just five months) to win the 2010 NPC Empire States Masters Overall.
Ron Noreman is as much a bodybuilder as he's not a bodybuilder. A lot of guys fit their lives around bodybuilding. Sometimes to the degree that if something doesn't fit they don't make a concession; they live their lives in the gym and make as much a living as they can in and around their doing such things as personal training, diet counseling, contest prep, selling juice, webcam, or whatever it takes. Bodybuilding comes first.
Ron, on the other hand, is one of those guys who fits bodybuilding around his life. Given such a an idealistic stance on the reality of pursuing physique art to a competitive degree, it's hard to imagine that a husband, a father, a partner in a prestigious CPA firm. . . a CPA is one of only 200 in the entire country certified to practice in federal tax court. . . would also have competed in 45 bodybuilding shows over 20 years with no less than 35 first and second place finishes. In perhaps the most ardent portrayal of success in duality, Ron is no less a bodybuilder than he is anything else.
The 35 top placings over 20 years is just the tip of the iceberg. Guys, like Ron, who do well in their professional lives generally spurge on things mere mortals cannot. If I were wearing Ron's Prada shoes, I'd have a garage full of Porsches and Ferraris to play with. Ron, instead, has a 3,000 square foot basement full of gym equipment.
Such a description could be interpreted many ways. So let's be clear. I'm not talking about a damp, dusty, basement with some old worn out gym relics stacked in the corner. Quite the contrary. Ron's basement could almost be considered a bodybuilding museum of sorts. It's an impeccably clean series of nicely finished rooms with rubber flooring containing an amalgam of some of the best weight machines ever designed: Pendulum, Nebula, Cybex, AFS, Nautilus, Hammer; tons of plates (literally), fixed bars, and a rack of custom dumbbells that say "Ron's Gym" on the ends that go up to 150lbs. He called me the other day raving about the 12 new pieces of equipment he just got-- 6 of them for legs and hips. In the package he got six, vintage, first generation Nautilus machines in perfect working condition. To the bodybuilding aficionado, Ron's gym is every inch a garage filled with Porsches and Ferraris. And, like some guys with such a stable at their disposal, Ron drives them all- old school, hardcore.
I have been one of the very few, lucky, guys to have been invited to train in Ron's fortress of solitude. I did an article depicting one of our workouts that was posted here complete with photos my 10 year old son Max took. Suffice it to say that if you're of that old school hardcore mentality, training with Ron in his home gym is one of those refreshing experiences that you just can't get in a commercial gym. If you're as demented as we are, it's nothing less than a slice of heaven.
Post training, the assiduous attention to details continues in the gourmet kitchen upstairs. I've had the pleasure of rattling the pots and pans up there a few times and thrown together some incredible post-training meals with a litany of fresh and unique ingredients Ron procures from all kinds of places, not one of which being a run of the mill supermarket. The meal is, of course, topped off with a stack of custom recuperative goodies. Ron is a self-taught holistic nutrition expert who has created 10 antioxidant supplements that are still sold internationally. He pretty much leaves no stone unturned when it comes to growth and repair, and lives this lifestyle every day. Ron is, on all counts, a bodybuilder's bodybuilder.
With such an affinity for bodybuilding and the wherewithal to pursue it at a very high level, there is probably more than one internet moron who will ultimately state that if everything I just said was true, then how come Ron isn't a top IFBB Pro Olympia competitor? I hate dignifying such stupidity with commentary; however, the answer is germane to subject of this article. First of all, to Ron, bodybuilding has always been a hobby. Secondly, Ron is limited by the same thing that limits us all: genetics.
Despite 32 years of challenging his genetic limits, Ron is cursed with all the genetic traits of his grandfather who was a world cup soccer champion. He has HIS genetics but, unfortunately, none of his talent. While Mother Nature might not have intended Ron to be a soccer champion, she intended him to look like one, and therein lies the rub. He has unbelievable endurance like a world class soccer player, the drive and the dedication to his training and his "game," and the physique to go with it.
But, for better or worse, Ron fell in love with bodybuilding. By training and eating he forced his body away from the soccer physique he was genetically destined to have and into that of a competitive bodybuilder. But, he did so kicking and screaming. It was only because his mind was so strong that he could push his body to places where it probably shouldn't have gone. While I know Ron never lifted a heavy weight for low reps to feed his ego, the 32 years he thrashed himself to surpass his genetic limits into 45 bodybuilding shows with an impressive record, the wear and tear proved too much. You don't do what Ron did without paying a price no check book could tender. Yes, there were injuries, and then there was the recovery. In Ron's case his recoveries were no less stellar than the damage he did. And no recovery was as stellar as the recovery from his recent hip replacement.
In 2008 his hip started hurting when walking or riding a bike. Like anyone in tune with their body he did some rehab and many of the symptoms went away.... for a while. By 2009 his training for the upcoming bodybuilding season was really torturous. His hip hurt if he was doing anything other than sitting or laying on his back. It became beyond what physical therapy would help. Subsequent X-rays showed a hip joint with no cartilage left; it was bone-on-bone.
Ron was in pain 24 hours a day and developed a full time limp. Being the insanely focused bodybuilder (not necessarily sensible), he forged on. If he got enough blood in the area he could still train legs pretty hard and suck up the pain. I was with him training legs in his basement a few times watching him suffer through some of these sessions. It was no joke. If he got in the wrong position for even a second the pain seared right through him and it stopped him in his tracks. I can't really tell you why stopping the workout - or for that matter the entire season - never became an option. But, inevitably, this was something that was going to have to be fixed.
Ron had set of goal of competing in 2009. This was important to him because he had not competed since 2005 due to his divorce, getting remarried, and the birth of his twin girls.
Any sane man should have pulled out of the 2009 season because of the constant pain and aggravation of the injury, but Ron is one of those guys who, once he set a goal, he sees it through.
2009 was the first disappointing year of Ron's in 20 years of competing. Of course all the haters in the sport write you off after one disappointing year and forget that you have over 35 first and second place finishes in 45 total shows. Overnight they seem to loose respect for all you have accomplished. But, such folly is typical and you just have to ignore it and tuck it way in the back of your brain. It comes in handy later when you need motivation for a comeback, and there is nothing sweeter than coming back and winning, but for that elation there is a price.
Ron went under the skillful knife of a great surgeon named Scott Marwin and had his hip replaced. It was actually a hip resurfacing, a type of hip replacement surgery that does not require a significant amount of bone to be cut out making the repair stronger. That doesn't mean it was a walk in the park. I visited Ron the second day after surgery and brought him a much needed Starbuck's coffee and a huge filet mignon sandwich I had custom made at the gourmet grocery store down the block from the hospital. He showed me where they cut him and I nearly gagged. The scar was about a foot long! Yup, they took him apart alright - split that quad right down the side - and put him back together. Now came the inevitable second part of the journey - coming back.
Ron was very unsure of if he would be able to get strong again in the lower body. Not only had he just had his hip replaced, but in 2002 he suffered double complete quad ruptures training legs in his basement, alone, pushing to the limit on weights he was capable of lifting for reps. Both quads had to be surgically reattached. Dr Neil Watnik performed that surgery. He has put Ron back together probably more times than either of them care to remember. Ron came back from that horror and won the 2005 NPC Atlantic states masters overall when it was predicted by several doctors that he would probably never walk properly again, much less leg press 1000 pounds.
Having completely ruptured my patellar tendon I totally understand the balls it takes to push a set to the brink after you've already ruptured both quads going all out. It takes complete mind control and forcing yourself to face your worst fears. All you think about is it happening again. You think that because there was no warning when the injury happened, it just goes.
Exactly two years after he had his quads reattached, Ron forced himself to train legs in his basement, balls out - alone -and face his demons head on and he destroyed them. Now, recovering from the hip surgery, Ron found himself climbing the same mountain, except this time he was not going to wait two years to go balls out and compete again.
In such a quest you try to explore what you are capable of doing and not dwell on the negative. Whenever you can expand your capabilities you do it. Ron had the absolute belief that he could get national-level legs again, he just had to find the roadmap.
Every big problem is too overwhelming to fix all at once. You have to mentally break it down into 20 or so smaller, achievable, components. When you start solving the first set of components 10 more will pop up, but you continue to break them down into smaller issues with potentially more plausible solutions. Your body will go where your mind programs it to go. Alternatively, if you believe you can't do something your expectation will certainly be brought to fruition.
Rehab is scary but it's pretty well-controlled and monitored by able therapists. They never really push you too hard - certainly not as hard as we push each other in the gym; but, trust me, they still push. Mike Camp did unbelievable rehab work and had Ron on a bike one week post-op. Mike spotted Ron on 500 pound leg presses six weeks post-op and had him on a stair climber 10 days post-op. Mike is at the top of the food chain in his field, and I'm not downplaying for one second the immense contribution he made in Ron's recovery, but Ron needed much more than rehab if he was going to compete again.
The real mind control and overcoming fear after such a surgery comes the first time you face a real bodybuilding set with a challenging weight. You have to walk that fine line of caution by letting loose the intensity needed to push a muscle to its maximum, but not too much that you undo what you've already rebuilt. The body is incredibly resilient and in many cases heals stronger than before it was injured, but many bodybuilders are too weak to fully let loose again after they suffer an inexplicable catastrophic injury. For many, the injured body part will never be the same because they just can't find the will to push past the fear. Ron refused for that to be him.
Our good friend Eddie Perez - owner of the renowned hardcore establishment known as Valencia Gym in the 1980's - took Ron through all his real post-surgery workouts after rehab was finished. Eddie was a bodybuilding guru before we knew what gurus were and before everyone pretended to be one and wanted to get paid for it. He is a wealth of old school bodybuilding knowledge. As an attentive spotter who could gauge Ron's range of motion, Eddie helped instill in him the confidence to push all out, yet still held him back from doing too much, while keeping him rolling at a fast pace to recovery. Eddie brought Ron back to his old school training roots of the 1970s-1980 style. There is no doubt we did do some things better and harder back in the day.
Ron also set up and followed a very aggressive supplement regime to aid in his recovery. He used every bit of his holistic knowledge to set up supplement programs to heal and recuperate as quickly as possible. Every herb, mineral, super food, special protein and antioxidant involved in bone health, building blood cells, tissue strength, and fighting inflammation were utilized. I've seen Ron down hundreds of odd-colored capsules with every meal. The extent of this recuperative regime is vast and the subject for an entire article.
It took a roadmap to recovery that wound its way up a mountain of mind control, a stellar support team (including Ron's wife Nancy who not only supports this nutty and dangerous hobby of his, but actually brings him a Starbucks halfway through a workout when he's training at Bev's) and holistic nutrition to win the NPC Empire States Master's competition FIVE months after hip replacement. It's no less than incredible than it is inspirational. I hope Ron saves that map. It's something he should show his grandchildren one day.