On my childhood and family background…
I was just a regular boy with average grades and no clue about what I was going to do with my life.
My older brother, Kurt, and I used to fight a lot, as kids do. My mother Susanne worked as a secretary for 25 years before she retired from the company, which initially hired her. Talk about loyalty;... Most marriages do not last that long. My father Otmar worked for the Austrian Government as a train conductor. My Dad made sure that there were no free loaders riding on the Austrian trains. He told me that he loved his job for two reasons: (1) he was able to retire when he reached 55; and, (2) his secured pension plan allowed him to retire at his ending salary rate after he put in 25 years. Good reasons.
The beginning of my bodybuilding career and the foundation of my life…
I learned the “secret of steel” when I was 15 years old at a small gym in Vienna. "Alfi's Gym" was a gym unlike any other. The facility was located in a basement and had no windows, which meant no ventilation. I can smell the sweat now as I reminisce about it. Besides being smelly, it was also poorly equipped. But the smell and the cheap equipment did not keep my muscles from growing. I used to be the first person to walk through the gym doors every morning and the last person to walk out every night... Actually, I had no choice; I had to clean the gym after closing. That was how I earned my gym membership. I would have done almost anything for that gym membership.
My training goal was simple: to work out as hard as I could and harder than everyone else. If I did this, I thought, I would be better and stronger than everyone else, mentally as well as physically. Mentally, the intensity of my workouts exercised my discipline and unshakeable will power. Physically, everyone noticed my muscularity with double takes. Most people want to blend in. Not me, I still love it when people notice my muscularity and comment on how strong I must be. In achieving my training, I have shaped my body, my mind and my entire life.
My mother wisely supported my newfound "love." Too bad my father hated it and did everything he could to discourage me. He often ridiculed me and said things like, "this stupid weight lifting will get you nowhere in life." "Soccer, tennis, skiing, those are the moneymakers," he would repeatedly preach. Obviously, his negativism did nothing to thwart my drive. I am an Aries and as hardheaded as a steel plate. His attitude was no match for my very thick skull!
While I was under physical construction…
I graduated from hotel and restaurant management school when I was 19. Shortly after my graduation, I accepted an offer to work for an American cruise line, as it was a great opportunity for me to see the "world"! Well, actually, the ship, "The Regent Sea" departed from Vancouver, traveled all the way to Juneau, then to LA down to Acapulco, Barbados, Rio de Janeiro and finally sailed to Jamaica and along the Caribbean. Because my English skills were poor and I had a thick accent, I began as a busboy. Three months later I was promoted to waiter and before I knew it, I was an assistant Matr'e de. It’s amazing what smiling a lot and working hard can do!
Unlike the "Loveboat," the Regent Sea cruise staff ran a pretty tight ship. My day began at 5:30 am and did not end until 2 am with approximately one hour and a half break in all. Cruise ships are notorious for over-feeding passengers and this ship was no exception. There were so many meals for which to prepare; this was the reason for my slave-like schedule. After the exhausting workday, most of the crewmembers headed straight for bed and I headed for the gym. The gym door was always unlocked because I bribed the cleaning steward to leave it that way. So while others slept soundly on their full bellies, I trained until 3 every morning. Because my body developed quickly, achieving more results became my addiction. I was never too tired to make my muscles grow more. After a year of this rigorous schedule I disembarked my "Loveboat" and returned home to Austria.
Once home, I begrudgingly resumed my boring work routine in the hotel industry until five years passed and I could no longer tolerate the boredom. I wanted to maximize my potential and go where I always dreamed of living. So I challenged myself by bravely leaving my family and the safe, familiar surroundings of Austria for the sunny beaches of California. My "friends" and family members tried to dissuade me with pseudo warnings that America was no longer "The Land of Opportunity,” that it was a bad time to move, and that other people who left Austria in search of a better life, returned in three months time because they could not secure employment.
No one I knew encouraged me. Perhaps my "friends" were envious of my courage because they wished to change their lifestyle but were afraid. Perhaps my success would make them feel even worse about their inability to face their dreams and fears. Whatever their reasons, I didn’t have time to care, nor did I. On January 1, 1995, I packed two suitcases, one full of dreams, the other one stuffed with some clothes and I moved to California.
How excited and relieved I was to be the Captain of my own Ship, navigating myself into the unknown future ahead to meet my destiny – the dreams I had tucked away deep within my heart.
Upon my arrival I immediately mapped the road to Venice, the legendary "Mecca" of bodybuilding. But, in order to get there, I had to buy a car. So, off to a car auction I went and spent most of my savings on a white Merkur, which was my first car in America as well as my first home. To most, this would be an embarrassing fact; however, I am proud of my survival skills and determination. Anyone else in my position probably would have moved back home to Austria. Not me. I “lived” or parked at the beach, fell asleep to the sound of the ocean and awoke to the ocean view and refreshing sea breeze. From there, I’d leave to train at Mr. Joe Gold’s World Gym, where the old time bodybuilders live forever.
Determination is worthless without a good plan…
During my first thirty days in California, I strategically accomplished the following:
Found a way to make money $$
What a dilemma – I needed money, but without a work permit I could not lawfully work and be taxed like everyone else. After observing the L.A.P.D. helicopters searching for criminals on a nightly basis, a thought came to me - for a small “donation,” a buddy and I would paint the address numbers on the rooftops of homes as added protection when police in the airship directed ground troops toward the bad guys. We actually had a steady flow of clientele from this.
On the weekends I worked the Venice beach boardwalk. For $3.00, tourists could have a Polaroid of me posing with my shirt off, of course. At the end of a hard day of posing, I’d celebrate by taking my day’s earnings and buying a whole roasted turkey, which I easily ate by myself.
Besides numbering the roofs of housetops and posing, I personal trained at $30/session. After some time, I had to raise my rates in order to build my clientele. At $30/session, prospective clients chose more expensive trainers over me as they thought I was cheap and probably unqualified.
Found suitable shelter.
From personal training, I was able to move out of my “beach house” but not because I could afford to move. One of my clients offered to have me as his roommate in exchange for my training him 4 times a week. This client certainly was able to pay my training fee, but his unique offer came from knowing my living situation, which is why this client is, to this day, one of my dearest friends. Thank you Robert.
Acquired my "Green Card".
One day at the gym I ran to the aid of a man who needed an emergency spot because he was struggling with his weights. He thanked me for the rescue, gave me his business card and invited me to his office. After reading his business card, which read: Joseph Feldun - Immigration Attorney, I made an appointment to see him the following day. After explaining my legal situation to Attorney Feldun he said he could help me. I could not pay him with money so I bargained for his legal services in exchange for my personal training him. I got my green card and he got in fantastic shape. Joe still looks great.
Met the one person who has always motivated me in the sport I love: "The "Master Blaster" Joe Weider.
After years of dreaming about meeting Mr. Joe Weider, the day had arrived to do just that. I found the address to his office and off I went without an appointment, hoping he would be there. The first question from the receptionist at Joe’s large office building, which was adorned with stunning artwork was, “Do you have an appointment to see Mr. Weider?” I tried to look as sexy as possible and charmed her into allowing me to go upstairs and see him. Before I knocked on his door, I suddenly felt faint and nauseated from my nervousness. It took every bit of my fast-fading strength to knock on his door and when he answered, I couldn’t find the words to even tell my lifelong mentor my own name. He smiled and tried to relax me by reminding me that he is human like everyone else and since that day, we have maintained a relationship in which he is my mentor and my friend. This is one of my favorite memories. Today I still am a contracted Weider athlete and believer. The Weider way is the only way.
Enrolled at Santa Monica College…I was told that my English needed improvement, go figure.
I took English, speech, business and theater-art classes.
From Bodybuilder to Actor…
The rest is pretty much history. Bodybuilding competitions became my hobby and passion and acting became my livelihood and my other passion. Just as I trained for bodybuilding competition, I trained for acting opportunities. Before landing some major commercials and my role on “Son of the Beach,” I was rejected so many times after so many auditions. Again, I am very grateful for my stubbornness. Thank God I never gave up on myself; or my desire to do what I want, without settling for anything less. Had I not taken the risk, I would not have tasted the glory and I would have still been in Austria fantasizing about what might have been from a lonely hotel lobby.
I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of your surroundings. You are the average of your 5 best friends! Success is about teamwork. Finding the right team is as important as remaining a positive attitude at all times.
Hopefully my hardships and triumphs inspire you, for this is why I have shared them with you. Do not compromise your dreams. Protect your purpose in life and one day it will protect you.