Gerald Allen of Durham is 5 feet, 11 inches and 219 pounds of solid muscle – and he has a trophy to show for it.
“And as nice a guy as you will ever meet,” said Walter Newton, an admirer.
Allen, whom most people know as “Bo,” has the best build in North Carolina – so says the state branch of the National Physique Committee, which awarded Allen top prize at its 2012 championships in April.
Bo Allen is also 45 years old. According to his trainer, Maitland Nance, he’s the oldest man ever to win the “Mr. North Carolina” title.
“It’s amazing what this guy has accomplished,” said Rodney Allison, another admirer.
“It’s always about the dream,” said Allen, “and it came true.”
Allen has been lifting weights for 20 years, but only started bodybuilding competition in 2006 on Nance’s suggestion. Nance, 73, is a past Mr. North Carolina himself as well as a five-time national champion, and was training clients at a Durham gym where Allen went to work out.
“I caught myself coming in early so I could listen to him and let him teach me some things,” Allen said. The notice was mutual.
“I recognized this really good physique and I said, ‘You’ve got a lot of potential,’ “ Nance said. Allen knew nothing about competitive bodybuilding but was willing to try it out, and Nance said, “Well, I’d like to train you.
“He won the first show I trained him, and he’s been winning ever since,” said Nance, who now owns Maitland’s Method, a personal-training gym on Ninth Street. Allen works as a trainer there, and a shelf along one long wall is filled with trophies he’s brought home over the past six years.
He won the state “Masters” – over 40 – heavyweight title in 2011, along with awards for Best Back, Best Arms and Best Chest.
“But they didn’t give me the overall,” he said. “I took it as a motivation. ... I wanted to go back bigger and stronger and go back to win the whole show. I just felt like my accomplishments weren’t completed until I became the official state champion.”
Allen was a star in football, basketball and track at the old Durham High School – now Durham School of the Arts – in the 1980s. He said he never lifted weights then, just relied on his inborn abilities. After high school, though, he encountered some “mishaps” in the forms of a drug habit, arrests and prison. Then he took up bodybuilding and he said it changed him.
“I found weights were my recovery,” he said. He’s been clean of narcotics 20 years, and unlike many bodybuilders he’s never taken steroids. “I started trying to live productively. I got married, started a company ... as well as the fitness training.”
Allen and his wife, Tilda, own New Horizon Services, which provides aid to people with mental disabilities and substance-abuse troubles. He’s a member of the Southside Church of Christ, and offers his own story as encouragement for addicts and prisoners. As a bodybuilder, he has sponsorship from two nutrition-product companies.
“Anything I have won and accomplished is a blessing,” he said.
Allen said he spends an hour to an hour and a half a day working out, following a different regimen to build different muscles each day six days a week. Sundays, he rests and prepares his meals for the next week: chicken, fish, sweet potatoes, vegetables, fruit – about 3,500 calories a day, in seven small meals every few hours.
Also water: about seven gallons a day when training for a competition.
“If you don’t have 85 percent of your time to bring to this sport, don’t do it,” Allen said. “I spend all my time doing this when I’m not working. ... It’s truly a lot of work, and time, and discipline. ...
“It’s a craft, it’s an art,” he said. “Bodybuilding is ... a symmetry of beauty, and you want to bring it all together for one time, for one night.”
Next goal is a national title, but not until next year. Allen said he competed in four shows last year, and now he’s taking a year off to rest his body.
“It took a toll,” he said.