Published on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 19:42
Written by Corey Young
An Exclusive Interview With Anthoneil Champagnie: Against All Odds
To call this a comeback story wouldn’t be accurate. What do you call it when at every turn road blocks keep forcing you to find alternate routes? If your name is Anthoneil Champagnie you call it life. His is a story that’s so incredible, it almost seems like one of those terrible Lifetime movies where you say to yourself “There’s no way that all of this can happen to ONE person.” In the case of Anthoneil’s life however, the facts are better than the fiction. Anthoneil recently sat down to talk with me for an Rx Muscle exclusive on the details of his incredible life.
Q.) You were born in Jamaica and later, with your family, moved to Brooklyn. For those who don’t know that can be a tough place to grow up. Describe what it was like growing up in that type of environment.
A.) Actually we moved around a bit before we even got to Brooklyn. When we first came to America we initially moved to Texas, then Florida, and eventually we ended up settling in Brooklyn. As a kid I was teased a lot, mostly because of my accent. That and the fact that when I came here I was in third grade, but they said the Jamaican schools weren’t as good as the schools here and I was brought all the way back to first grade. Eventually they realized that they made a mistake and moved me back to third grade, where I belonged, but the teasing never stopped. I got into a lot of fights because I was being bullied. I was an honor roll student that came from a very religious household so this was all really hard for me to deal with, especially as a nine-year old kid.
Q.) At what age did you start lifting weights?
A.) I actually started really young. My dad bought my older brother and I some sand weights when we were kids and my brother would talk me into working out with him even though I really didn’t want to. I first got serious in high school when I joined the football team. My body responded pretty well at first and it gave me a something to do that kept me off the streets. I always tried to stay involved in sports so I wouldn’t get caught up in that lifestyle. I actually enrolled in summer school every year just so I could go to the gym. My grades weren’t bad but I knew if I wasn’t at school I wouldn’t have a place to train. That actually allowed me to graduate high school in three years.
Q.) After high school you attended the C.W Post Campus at Long Island University. You went there on the promise of a football scholarship but when you showed up the coach told you that he gave away your scholarship to another athlete. What was that like? Where did you go from there?
A.) This is actually another crazy story. After high school I went into the Navy for a few months. While I was there I was tested and qualified to become a Marine but that really wasn’t something I wanted. They tried to convince me to stay but I eventually ended of getting an honorable discharge. From there I went to Essex College in Maryland, but things didn’t really work out. After one semester I decided to come back home and transferred to a local community college. I still really wanted to attend a University so I applied to Utica in upstate New York, but I got denied. I got in contact with the coaches at C.W. Post and they offered me an opportunity to play for the team, but when I showed up for the spring semester I was told that they gave away my scholarship but if I could find a way to pay they would see if they could do something for me the following semester. There was no way that I could come up with that kind of money then so I turned around and went home without ever unpacking my stuff. I came home and worked a few jobs before I ended up becoming a trainer at Bally’s. After a few years there I was promoted to Director of Personal Training and started making good money.
Q.) Let’s fast forward to 2006-07 when you started to make a name for yourself in the sport. In 2006 you won the Eastern USAs. The following year you make your first appearance on the National scene and take 6th in the Heavyweight class. At this point did you think becoming an IFBB pro was a possibility for you?
A.) Honestly I really didn’t give it much thought. I remember being backstage at Nationals and thinking that those guys were huge! I was walking around checking out guys like Brandon Curry and thinking there was no way I could stand next to those guys. I did end up taking 6th in the class and at that point I talked with Fakhari Mubarak, who I was working with at the time, and he let me know that I did pretty well. As far as turning pro though at that point it wasn’t really something that was on my radar.
Q.) After that the next few years of your personal life got pretty turbulent. You had some domestic issues with your then girlfriend, your older brother died, your best friend died, and you eventually ended up losing your apartment and were forced to move back with your Dad. What was it like to go from such a high peak to such a low valley in a short period of time? How did you manage to pull yourself back together personally and professionally?
A.) Things were so hard for me for a while there, people really have no idea. I can’t even tell you how many times I went to jail from fighting with my girl. I lost everything. I went from having a family and waking up next to my son everyday to only being able to see him when she would let me. I felt so bad about moving back with my dad some nights I just couldn’t bring myself to go back there. Those nights I would stay with my mom sometimes, but that made me depressed too. I spent a lot of nights just sleeping in my car because I was too ashamed to ask my parents for a place to stay. To be completely honest, I even thought about suicide. Things were so bad that I just thought they would never get better and that my life was worthless. Every time I started to have those thought I would end up thinking about my son and what he would think of me. I could never imagine not being a part of his life and it was him that really motivated me and kept me from going over the edge.
Q.) During those dark times was the gym a salvation for you?
A.) Other than my son all I had was working out. I couldn’t fail because there were so many people who looked at me as having a chance to achieve their dreams and if I failed myself I’d also fail them. There were so many people who made sacrifices for me during this time when I could barely pick myself up and I didn’t want to let them down. I’m being honest when I say that every day was a struggle. I mean every single day. I would have to tell myself that if I could just get through this next workout, this next set, this next rep, things would get better. Every day was a battle against myself where I was just trying to get stronger in and out of the gym.
Q.) Talk about your relationship with Oscar Ardon and what he’s meant to you.
A.) Oscar really helped me turn my life around again. Not just Oscar but others too. I would look at someone like Kai Greene who came from a situation where he literally had no one and was still able to accomplish so much. The same thing with Dexter Jackson, someone who struggled but was able to win a Mr. Olympia. Oscar was a real mentor to me. He taught me so many lessons. He taught me that successful people use failure to help them master their craft. Every successful person had failed at some point in their life but they use those failures as lessons to help them achieve success.
Q.) Let’s jump ahead to this year. After everything that you’ve been through talk about what it was like to have your life come full circle and finally earn your pro card.
A.) To be honest I feel like I still have a long way to go. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I know that I haven’t earned anything as a pro yet. I’m not making any excuses about going through hardship because no one cares. I’ll do whatever it takes to be successful. When my son was a baby I would take him to the gym with and drop him off at the daycare there. If his diapers needed to be changed I would stop what I was doing, go take care of him, and then go back and finish my workout. I refuse to let anything stop me from being successful. During my prep for Nationals, New York got hit by hurricane Sandy. I knew that this was the biggest show of my life and that I couldn’t let anything stop me from doing what I needed to do. I called the gym and they told me that if I could find a way to make it there that they would stay open. I didn’t have a car or a ride so I walked through the storm. I remember seeing trees bend from the wind and watching things blow down the street, but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I walked there, and when I was finished, I walked back home in the pouring rain and wind because that’s what it took. I knew that I couldn’t miss one day, one workout, one meal, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
Q.) If there’s one lesson that you’d like people to take away from your story what would it be?
A.) There’s a quote by Eric Thomas that goes “At any moment you can sacrifice who you are for what you’ll become.” If you want to achieve anything in this life you need to have tunnel vision. There are always going to be obstacles not matter what you do but you can’t ever allow those things to get in your way. I overcame everything but death to get here and it was because I didn’t give myself an option B. There was only ever option A, and that option meant success.
Q.) Last Question. Hypothetically imagine you’re coming offstage at Nationals and you see a desert table with one donut left on it. Just as you go to reach for it Brian Yersky grabs it and lets you know that this donut belongs to the champ. He gives you the look and you know that it’s getting ready to go down. Who eats that donut?
A.) He does. If he really wants the donut that bad he can have it, I’ve done enough fighting in my life. But, if you would’ve said trophy, there’s no way in hell he’s taking that thing home! He would have to bite off all of my fingers and all of my toes to try and stop me, and that still might not be enough!
As people we tend to get easily caught up in our day to day lives without ever taking time to appreciate how good we actually have it. Most of the time we don’t slow down to appreciate things until we see or experience something tragic that makes us reevaluate what’s really important to us. As the old saying goes pressure either busts pipes or it makes diamonds. In Neil’s case, Nationals was his time to shine. Thinking back on the story he told me about how he went out into hurricane during his Nationals prep really serves as a metaphor for his life. He faced the storm head on. He didn’t know how he was going to make to or from. All he knew is that he had to make it. And he did.