As editor of Strength Central, it's my goal to promote the athletes who participate in the strength sports to include strongman, powerlifting, Highland games, arm wrestling, Olympic weightlifting, and, yes, CrossFit.
I'm including Steven Whang - a bodybuilder - as an interview under "Strength Athletes" from the perspective of spiritual strength. What is the athlete's mindset? What does it take to achieve a fulfilling life? Many believe one component is spiritual health. For some, that means organized religion and for others it's an outlook of kindness and letting God work through them.
Is there a force that can assist you achieve more than you could achieve on your own? Dave traveled to Brazil to enjoy the serenity of medium and "psychic surgeon" João de Deus aka "John of God".
We (coming from a wealthier country) impose our own views of what happiness is on other cultures. Because the Brazilian people in Abadiânia have never lived in extravagance, they do not require it to be "be happy" (a very relative term considering there are many rich people who are miserable).
Likewise, bodybuilder Steven Whang traveled to Kazakhstan where he helped people who have never lived in extravagance, doing God's/missionary work, building basketball courts, houses, schools, etc. for unfortunate children. Provo82 recently posted a thread on Rx Muscle Forums praising Steven for his selfless acts on behalf of children in Kazakhstan. Much praise to Whang on his kind efforts and congratulations to him on sticking to his diet while traveling and doing his volunteer work.
Let's learn more about this 23-year-old athlete, engineer, and spiritual man. Whang, an all natural athlete, is three weeks out from the NPC New Jersey State Open Championships on August 16.
Q: How were you introduced to weight training?
A: I was the 105-pound skinny guy in high school that wanted to be like Bruce Lee. At first, I thought all I had to do were push ups, sit ups, run, and eat very little to get ripped. I did lose weight, but not in a good way. I read that Bruce Lee incorporated weight training and proper nutrition into his regime. That was when I was first introduced to my weight training by my best friend, Seung Shin. It was "back day" in 2009; I was doing low pulley rows. And for some reason, when I kept pulling, my mind zoned into a different world. That's when I realized that, this is it. This is my hobby and this is what I want to do.
Q: How old were you when you were 105 lbs. and what is your height? You mention later that you reached 200 lbs. That's a tremendous leap! Kudos.
A: Thank you! I was 105 lbs. my freshman year in high school and 125 lbs. by the end of my senior year in high school. When I got more serious about bodybuilding, that's when I worked hard to get to 200 lbs. from my freshman year in college to 200 lbs. my senior year in college. Of course, there were many struggles and plateaus, but by persevering through many trial and errors, I made it.
If you truly believe it mentally, your body will physically find a way to make it happen. A lot of people tend to give up after not seeing results within a couple of weeks or even months. It took me five years to get from 125 lbs. to 200 lbs. There are no shortcuts to success because anything worthwhile will have many long and difficult roads. When things don't work out, try something new and don't give up.
You have to be willing get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself with things you have never done before. Think about it, if you're doing the same thing over and over again, that is not in progression. That later in life won't be any different. Failure is temporary. Giving up... now that's permanent.
Q: How did you become involved in missionary work?
A: I became involved in missionary work through my church. I am 23 now. Even though I attended church my entire life, I wasn't a true believer in Christ until I was 21. Although I don't often share this with others, I feel like this is something I shouldn't be keeping to myself. This may sound weird, but ever since I can remember, there was a vision or dream that always stuck with me. I was angel in heaven with millions of others angels surrounding a cloud that showed my life. I heard God say, "Whoever wants to be Steven, step forth." I looked around, took one step forward, and woke up.
That was when I found one of my favorite quotes:
"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I went to Kazakhstan this year because I felt as if God was telling me to keep my prayers and show that I love him through my actions. That is true, actions speak louder than words. I am not going to force the gospel down anyone's throat. What good would it be to love someone with a gun pointed to your head? That is why we have a choice.
Q: What is your denomination or religious congregation?
A: Christian denomination is Methodist. More than that, I just put my faith in Christ and He gave me the free will to believe in Him or not. It's more of a relationship than a religion. I've tried it my way and that didn't quite work out. I get that sometimes you will feel like you're talking to a wall, but He will answer in many different ways. It may be through scripture, songs, people, etc.
The answers can be: no, go, or grow.
"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." – Romans 5:3-5
God is the one that sees the whole picture. To me, God is a torch in a dungeon that never burns out. I may not see the end of the tunnel, but He gives me enough light to take one more step forward.
Q: Did you participate in sports as a student?
A: As a student in high school, I tried many sports such as: cross country, track, basketball, baseball, and wrestling. In college, however, I didn't play any sports because fitness and bodybuilding was my hobby. It helped me focus, stay dedicated, and build a stronger mindset. God gave everyone a powerful tool, the mind. To me, my body is a temple. The gym allows me to connect my body to my mind. Doing God's work allows me to connect my mind to my spirit.
Q: How did you turn your focus to physique competition?
A: I turned my focus to competing because why not? It's what I love to do on my spare time. It's like a writer publishing a book; a painter opening an art gallery; a musician playing at a concert; etc. Everyone has different passions. Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, "It's no stranger than me getting into a car and trying to go a quarter mile in 5 seconds. That to me is strange."
Q: Awesome response (and great quote by Arnold). So, how many times have you watched Pumping Iron?
A: I've watched Pumping Iron three times and Generation Iron two times and many more to come.
Q: What is the competition you're currently preparing for?
A: I competed in my first show on my own last year in 2013. This year, I wanted a coach that was well experienced that can help me push past my knowledge and limits. I am now going to compete in two shows: NPC New Jersey State Open Championships on August 16, 2014 and Westchester American Natural Bodybuilding Federation on September 6, 2014.
Q: What are some of your other interests?
A: Some people ask me why I didn't get a degree with a fitness background. Well, I have other interests, too, like Engineering. I have a bachelor's degree in Engineering and it has really changed the way I think.
Besides, you can in a way combine the two. With your favorite dream car, wouldn't you want to put in all the best options such as engines, high grade octane fuel, proper oil changes, etc.? Why not do the same for your body? Your body is a vehicle that needs proper nutrition.
Q: How did you begin working with Phil Provenzano (aka Provo82)?
A: I was first introduced to Phil by a friend and aspiring bodybuilder from college, Joey Gainer. When I first approached Phil, I told him that I would start competing after I get back from Kazakhstan. However, God is good. It's amazing how things just mold together when you do it for the glory of God.
"Commit your work to the Lord and then your plans will succeed." Proverbs 16:3
Phil is an amazing coach and made it possible for me even while I was doing God's work in Kazakhstan. He walks you right through it and makes it stupid proof. He creates the plans and tells you to do this and eat that. That's it. You just have to follow through.
It's good to have someone that is more experienced to have the extra eyes and knowledge to critique you. Even Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, has a coach. A lot of trainers today look like they need a personal trainer, yet Phil competes himself and practices what he preaches. Bodybuilders tend to be degraded as a "meathead," but Phil destroys that stereotype. He skips the "broscience" and troubleshoots every task at hand with precise knowledge and information. He accounts for creating the best you, health, and safety while shooting for the win.
Q: Is your family supportive of your bodybuilding efforts?
A: I am grateful to have such wonderful parents. They gave me everything that they had and spent nothing themselves before their loved ones. No matter how much of a brat I am, they love me unconditionally and give their blood, sweat, and tears until they know firsthand that I am safe and settled. Even if you're mom or dad didn't claim you, you are still special.
"Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close." Psalm 27:10
Not everything will go according to your plans, but I believe that God has a plan for each and every one of us. It's so easy to blame God for our hardships; but it's a choice to let those hardships get the best of us. We need to use them as experiences and learn from them. Do you know what it would be like if God answered all our prayers? Not good. If you fall down, the question is what are you going to do about it? Don't just sit there and blame others for sympathy. Use that energy to get up, let the past go, and grow.
Q: What does it mean to you to do generous acts for those less fortunate than yourself?
A: "Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different." – Bruce Lee.
You don't have to be a pastor, missionary, or even be in community service to show an act of kindness. This doesn't necessarily mean we need to cross the sea, but certainly there a people around us every day that we can show acts of kindness.
While there are soldiers out there who made a choice to fight for our freedom, is taking 5 minutes and $5 really sacrificing that much to help the less fortunate living in the streets? I believe that everyone has their own paths that God has set before them, but they have a choice to follow that or not.
Q: What motivates you to take these actions?
A: The lyrics from the song, Do something by Mathew West pretty much sums it up.
Q: Where do you normally train?
A: I normally train at New York Sports Club or Power House.
Q: How do you work around traveling, maintaining your workout and diet program?
A: The 5 P's: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
Q: What's your favorite part of bodybuilding?
A: My favorite part of bodybuilding is the mindset that anything is possible. As Ronnie Coleman would say, "Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder but don't nobody want to lift no heavy-*** weights!"
What I'm going to talk about isn't just about bodybuilding. Whether it is physical, mental, and or spiritual, if you constantly put limits on everything you do, it will spread into your work, your relationship, and your life. The moment you tell someone that the sky is the limit is that same moment you destroyed their dreams of becoming an astronaut.
"There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them."
– Bruce Lee.
Q: What's your least favorite aspect of the sport?
A: My least favorite part about the sport is the way people perceive the sport of fitness and bodybuilding. Either their first thought is "meathead" or "steroids." They just have no clue what they are talking about.
It's more than just "lifting things up and putting them down." It's an art and a science. Sure mass does come into play, but you also have to have a combination of classical symmetry and proportion. Nothing looks sillier than a big upper body and chicken legs. Bodybuilders use weights and nutrition as tools to build muscle tissue as clay to sculpt a masterpiece.
Overall, if people want to be cynical and negative about me or the sport, they can think what they want because I don't care. Their perception of me is not my reality and I'm not living my life for them.
Q: Did you have any role models or mentors as you became involved in bodybuilding?
A: As a mentor in general, I would say my Pastor or now Reverend, David Ahn. To me, he is not just a mentor and pastor; he is also like a brother and friend.
Q: What would you encourage others to do to become better athletes?
A: I am not telling anyone to compete or that bodybuilding is the way of life. Everyone is unique in their own way. Meaning, there is no perfect program or perfect meal plan. Everyone has different body types and fitness goals, so find one that fits you. If you're training for a marathon, you don't want to be training like a bodybuilder.
Bodybuilding and fitness is my hobby and passion. When you do find your passion, don't let anyone tell you that you can't. I have been told my whole life that I can never get big because of my genetics and ethnicity. That was by their rules, not mine. After 5 years of being hungry for success and striving for what I believed in, I was able to go up to 200 pounds.
Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. If you're doing it to just impress, you will most likely fail. You have to build a strong foundation because if you take those praises out of the equation, everything you've built will fall and will be nearly impossible to recover from.
Whatever or whomever you love, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. With passion, you will learn to accept fear and failure as a teacher to persevere and do things that others won't.
Q: You mentioned ethnicity. What is your ethnicity?
A: I am Korean-American.
Q: What would you recommend to someone interested in making the world a better place?
A: Strive to constantly better yourself in a humble matter. How can you help others if you can't even help yourself? First know that you're not perfect, I'm not perfect, and nobody is perfect. There is nothing you can do to earn grace because it was already given to you whether you like it or not. You will fail many more times than you will succeed, but it's the will to persevere and get back up one more time than you have fallen.
"I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed."
– Michael Jordan.
Like I said, I'm not telling anyone to do bodybuilding, but there should be no excuse for anyone to just be healthy. You can't control the quantity of your life, but you can control the quality. CEO of Beachbody, Carl Daikeler, created great programs like P90X and excuse-busting programs that are less than 30 minutes. I know because I did the programs myself and was on the infomercial for P90X.
I can't stress this enough: Nothing great is going to just be handed to you. You have to work for it. You have to take responsibility for your actions because applying the right actions can make your dream a vision for your future. Even with the best coaches in the world, if you don't put in the work, the results won't show.
"Doing things that you're supposed to do. If you're going go out and drinking Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, don't complain at me when your results aren't there. Don't tell me your program sucks. Your program is just fine; you suck."
Q: How can people contact you? Are you on Facebook or do you use other social media?
A: I just use Facebook, but people can send me their Facebook information to my email at [email protected] if they have trouble finding me under Steven Whang.
Steven, thank you for sharing some of your story. I wish you success in your two upcoming competitions and in life.
Discuss this interview @ http://forums.rxmuscle.com/showthread.php?127995-Steven-Whang-Bodybuilder-Engineer-Missionary
And check out all the athlete profiles @ http://www.rxmuscle.com/strength-articles/athlete-profiles.html