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Mike Matarazzo’s second chance: wisdom for those who have a first chance.

10 December 2009 8 Comments

Mike_MatarazzoOn December 8, 2004, Mike Matarazzo, at the tender age of 38, gained newfound wisdom, primarily because he realized he was alive after having undergone triple-bypass heart surgery. It’s beyond our power to imagine the emotional devastation from that event, just as it’s beyond our power to express our gratitude that this lovable bodybuilding immortal is with us still. Less than three weeks after his surgery, FLEX spoke with a recuperating Matarazzo [“Facing the Future,” March 2005]. Three months later, we spoke with him again, for a closer perspective on–well, his life.

MIKE MATARAZZO: I had a couple of setbacks. At one point, I had some fluid in my lungs, and I still feel really drained. Other than that [as of early April], I’m driving again, I walk three or four miles a day on a treadmill, I’m hitting a bag, and I’m just barely starting to lift weights, very light, super-high repetitions. My surgeon told me it would take at least a year before I’m back to 100%. For now, I’m very limited, and I don’t need a doctor to tell me that. I feel extreme soreness and pain in my chest and shoulders, and I still hear my chest cracking, so I have to be careful. I get aggravated on a daily basis, because I want to do more, but I’m also aware that I have a problem, so mentally it plays a lot of games on me.

Fear?

That’s the biggest thing. I never before thought about death or even injuries. I always thought I would age gracefully, like everyone else in my family, and I thought my bodybuilding lifestyle would allow me to be healthy and active for an incredibly long time.

This whole thing–it makes you doubt yourself, and I’m a pessimist as it is. I tend to dwell on the bad. I went to see my surgeon in the middle of March and I asked him, point-blank, “Doc, do I have to continue seeing a doctor for the rest of my life, or can I just take my chances and get on with my life, the way it was?”

He looked at me and said, straightforward, “Mike, you didn’t have your appendix removed. I know you feel good right now, but, yes, you’re going to have to see a doctor for the rest of your life. You’re going to have to be on medication for the rest of your life. You’re going to have to have a stress test every six months for the rest of your life. You’ll have to have an echocardiogram once a year for the rest of your life.” These are things that, before, were totally alien to me. That alone has really depressed me. I now feel as if I’m on a leash. I have to check in with someone regularly to make sure that everything I always thought was OK might now need some maintenance.

MikeMatarazzo-MMI-Unk-508Shouldn’t everyone take that precaution?

Sure, and I did. I’d get a clean bill of health, and the doctors would joke, “What are you doing here?” But these things sneak up on you. I used to believe that I was 100% healthy, but those days are gone, and I’m angry, because I did it to myself.

How?

Oh, god, where do I begin? I’d have to say that everything that led to my heart problem began the minute I started getting serious about competitive bodybuilding. In order to get bigger, I’d eat five, six, seven pounds of red meat a day, no vegetables. And I’d stay away from fruits because of their sugar.

Worst were the chemicals. I have so many memories of being alone in a hotel room the week, five days or two days before a contest, and doing unspeakable things to my body–steroids, growth hormones, diuretics–anything and everything that we as bodybuilders do to achieve a certain look. The greatest danger, though, is that, while dieting and training stay the same through the years, there’s a compulsion to experiment more wildly with chemicals. Every day, guys are on the phone asking who’s using what, where are they getting it, how are they mixing it? There are guys out there who are being paid big money by pros to mix special concoctions for them. I remember being all over the world, a few nights before a contest, putting chemicals into my body, knowing I was hurting myself, but I did whatever it took to attain a “look.”

If I could go back in time, those things never would have happened. I would have gone back to driving a truck. I have no doubt in my mind that the primary cause of my problem–the biggest thing–was the chemicals. It was the steroids, the growth hormones, the diuretics. We take Cytomel to lose fat, knowing it’s an incredibly powerful thyroid drug, and that’s only one of the many, many drugs out there taken by everyone, from amateurs to the highest level in the world.

I wouldn’t in a million years change a lot of the aspects about bodybuilding, but that’s the one aspect I’d discontinue if I had a second chance.

MikeMatarazzo-EMMI-RickShaff-482What should those who still have a second chance do about it?

Put it away. Only a handful of men on this entire planet make barely a decent living at bodybuilding. I happened to be one who did for 15 years, but I probably took 20 years off my life. No amount of money in the world is worth that. I’d rather go back in time and get a nine-to-five job and live to a ripe old age, like my grandfather.

There’s no way you can do those things and guarantee safety. It’s impossible. Furthermore, I was on the lighter end of the scale of doing things to myself. I had opportunities to do a lot more to myself chemically, but I didn’t; yet, I still got hurt. I never did insulin, but guys these days are doing insulin like it’s water. Some take a shot with every meal. That’s insane, and it’s the luck of the draw whether it’ll [hurt] you or the next guy.

I took that gamble and lost in every way. Physically, I’m completely limited. Financially, I’m pretty close to ruined. Emotionally, it made a guy like me–whose only fear in life was the loss of my mother and father–afraid of every little ache and pain. I’m afraid I’m not going to be here to enjoy another sunrise, or enjoy another day of laughter with my fiancee, Lacy Porter, or the elation of our wedding in August–all those little things people take for granted. That wears on me.

It has affected my whole life, so to all those guys who are on an eternal quest to have 21″ arms and 20″ calves, and who are so vain about their never-say-die attitude, I say, “Change your attitude.” Worry about keeping that body of yours as healthy as possible, because it’s going to have to last you not just through your next contest or to the end of your bodybuilding contract, but for a long time. And a long time for a human being is nothing. It goes by real quick, even quicker when your health is gone and you have nothing to stand on.

Is there any optimism in your life at the moment?

Yeah, I’m still here. Beyond that, I have to take it day by day. I can’t formulate a plan, because I have to attend to everything that basically caved in on me this past year. It’s been devastating, and I still have many months ahead, in which I’ll have to work through that rubble. I’m 38 years old, but if your health starts waning, time is not on your side.

Is there a glimmer of confidence left?

All my life, my confidence always came from my physicality. I was a boxer, and that gave me confidence. When I became a bodybuilder, just being able to step onstage, go to the gym, battle myself and push myself further than I ever thought possible built lots of confidence. But no matter how strong you are mentally, when you take away that physicality, and you look in the mirror and feel the way I do right now, it just zaps you. It’s taking awhile, but it’s coming back.

MikeMatarazzo-MMI-Unk-509That physicality was an effect, not a cause. A deeper strength enabled you to build that physicality in the first place.

I’ve said the same thing to myself: where did I get that push to get myself to do a certain thing or look a certain way? It had to come from within, and it’s still there. Many times, when I was in the hospital, that little voice in the back of my head said, “Get your act together. Get the hell out of here.”

You have tons of fan support out there.

I want to say this from the bottom of my heart: I can’t thank the people out there enough for their cards, letters and get-well messages, and especially the people who have been trying to help me out financially. It’s been incredible. It’s really touching that people who don’t have a lot of money are scraping together whatever they can to send to me. I’ve received letters from people in the armed services, who don’t make a lot of money, but they send $20, $12. It’s just great, it really is. And it’s really nice when they tell me they’ve been following me in FLEX since 1991. They say, “You’re more to us than just a good bodybuilder.” What an honor that people are remembering me. It has brought me to tears many times. I can say I truly feel honest love and affection for all of those who have kept me in their thoughts and prayers, and I hope they will continue to do so. It’s an incredible lift for me. I just want to say a huge, huge thank you to everybody.

FOR MORE OF THE LOVE OF MIKE

Mike Matarazzo is facing some hefty medical bills. As someone who has brought a lot of pleasure to a generation of bodybuilding fans, he is worthy of our support through these difficult times. If you want to help Matarazzo and are able to make a donation to his medical fees, please send your donation (check made out to Mike Matarazzo) to Mike Matarazzo, c/o FLEX magazine, 21122 Erwin Street, Woodland Hills CA 91367.

INTERVIEW BY JULIAN SCHMIDT

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8 Comments »

  • fred said:

    Mike: I have just read your truthful confession and i feel more bodybuilders should be just as truthful as you but probably won’t until it happens to them. I am now 54 and did my share of training WITHOUT drugs but ate the same way as you with about 6 whole eggs a day combined with protein in a blender, plenty of red meat, etc. i had limited potential and certainly being drug free i never looked like a star but who knows what a star would look like being totally drug free, certainly they wouldn’t have 20 plus inch arms. Just watch the movie pumping iron and see what they ate when they had that shot with guys eating 6 whole eggs, steaks, hamburgers, etc. ALL HIGH CHOLESTEROL!!!!
    Mike i had a 4x bypass at age 46 and i understand what you mean about life but i was so surprised since i felt perfect just before it happened and then in the hospital i got the cath. and they told me i had at least 3 blockages, i was astounded. I also used to do some running and since you were a boxer you understand about the value of aerobic training, it is very important and more important than building big muscles which means little concerning self defense, a boxer needs amazing stamina not heavy 20 inch arms so every sport has necessary things. Mike, i was fortunate i had one of the finest Surgeons in NY and probably in the Country operate on me and i still send him an e-mail every so often letting him know how much i appreciate what he did for me, i also have an excellent cardiologist and she really likes me due to the fact that i changed my diet immediately which i am sure you needed to do and i am also sure you need to lose some weight which includes muscle, my cholesterol is now 129 with 10 mg of lipitor if you wish to compare #’s? Also important is the “bad” cholesterol and the ratio and i am close to a full vegan, i drink soy milk, eat the soy burgers, etc. all are necessary for a lasting recovery not just the operation and go back to business as usual.

    Mike, you can forget about competing again, #1 your Doctor won’t allow it and #2 you now understand what got you where you are in the 1st. place, high cholesterol and lots of drugs.

    Mike, i really wonder when a “normal” person picks up a muscle magazine do they even realize to a small extent the amount of drugs guys take to look like that just for a few days? i now do some long cycling in the summer which is great cardio and a few 5ks a year, i can ride 80 miles without a problem and that is a great leg and calve builder,those serious cyclists have the same stamina or better than a marathon runner and if you have interest you should study up on VO2 max and the bruce protocol treadmill test which is the treadmill test, developed by a Doctor. Whether it’s the echo stress or nuclear treadmill they all are the same 3 minute cycle and incline increase, the bruce protocol is also used for lung testing. VO2 max is basically a measurement of your cardio endurance and it has nothing to do with squatting 500 lbs, you can find the bruce protocol on the internet and going by your age and time on the treadmill you can figure you VO2 max, they cross reference it to see how you stack-up+ endurance athletes do they best, not powerlifters because it requires running after then 4th cycle and at that high angle running gets difficult very fast which is the entire concept, the heart is supposed be raised to it’s maximum beats per minute and then when you poop out they take you off. i now get the echo stress which is even worse because i need to exhale and hold while they take the pictures and they only have 60 seconds to do so after the test so they take me off a little early so i can breath. Mike creatine is accepted by my doctor and i now take for prescription drugs, lipitor, metoprolol which is for blood pressure, altace, plavix which i am sure you take so now you still take plenty of pills but they are to keep you alive along with a good diet and AEROBIC exercise. I do belong to a gym but the 1st. thing i do is cardio and the cycling has given me some pretty strong legs, at least for leg extensions but as my heart doctor told me aerobic is better than anarobic and i listen to what she says, i respect her and need to listen if i want to live so Mike i think people need to realize the CRAP they put into their bodies and serious bodybuilders are steroid junkies not to put the sport down but let’s be honest, all for a few days a year, is it really worth 20 years or more of your life. If you do some research you will see much info. about bodybuilders dying at early ages, Denny Gable, Paul Grant, both in pumping iron and numerous others, it’s an addiction, mental because they don’t want to lose the size and physical also and also necessary to compete in even the lower levels.

    mike on the positive a great bodybuilder kalman Szkalak who retired became a very good cyclist and eventually lost his huge upper body, i am sure you remember his massive size, he competed against mike Mentzer and i remember seeing him in the magazines about the same ago as me when i was benching 300 lbs he was probably doing 450 so lst. but not least is the physical potential factor which i am sure you are well aware of so it needs no explanation.

    Merry Christmas Mike, i am happy that you survived you operation and hopefully you made the necessary changes to eliminate any future problems for many years, if you wish to contact me send me an e-mail, we certainly have things in common.

    Frederick A. Bock

    frederickbock7@gmail.com

  • Drew freemont smith said:

    Hi Uncle Mike its Drew and Evan Smith,Garrett smiths sons I wanted to know how you were doing?And if you could send my Dad some pictures of you when you were body buildering.So we can hang them in my room with our other pictures of you working out? love you!look for you on facebook.com

  • Nicko Caro said:

    Hi Mike,
    I know it’s been some years since your bypass, and just like you, I had great genetics so I used much smaller dosages of gear than others, however I was big, big I mean competing at 117kg and getting to 133kg, if someone gave me something….anything to grow, I’d take it, I’d look in The mirror and thougt I was never big enough, then I stopped bodybuilding….1 year later starting training, natural, cardio but….it was too late, 2 heart attacks in 3 days and still didn’t go to the Dr…I was invincible so I thought, now after triple bypass, and with a 3 year old daughter I want to grow old…will I ? I doubt it, I’m now 44 and although feel great, I know I’ll never see my daughter marry or have children.

    It’s a Shame I wasn’t aware of my true self worth when I was younger, now if I don’t have 23″ arms or even 19″ arms, I’m twice The man i was, for the simple reason I’m at peace.

    You were an inspiration during my recovery in hospital..thankyou!

  • Guy G. Cenname said:

    Hello Mike: Over the years I have watched you work out, compete in your competitions, and become the man and person you are. I am now 49 this past Feb.8, 2013. I can somewhat relate to what you went through. But to have surgery that you had, well – there is a God that wasn’t ready to see you yet.I almost saw God on 11/17/10 when I was at Kaiser Med Ctr on Sunset Boulevard near my home, which is in Los Feliz nearest Los Feliz & Riverside Drive. While I was in the observation room, I fell asleep & went into CARDIAC ARREST. When I came too because of the first electric shock from the Defibrillator, I heard the Doctor say, “WE’RE LOSING HIM”!!! I was swear of what was happening to me and I tried praying out loud my HAIL MARY’s. I couldn’t say one completely!!! My departed Mother came to me as I was dying and she was mad at me!!! SHE TOLD ME NOT TO DO THIS TO MY FATHER TWICE, since he is still alive at 81 this year. I felt my blood pressure dropping and I felt myself dying on he bed. As I was on my left side, I looked over to my right side of my body, and saw MY SPIRIT leaving my body upward in a grey swirling mist or cloud. Then I died!!! They gave me a 2nd shock and again I came back. Today I am still alive. I have Congestive Heart Failure, and when I do try to work out, I don’t have the energy as I used to. When I do, I get winded and then I feel the pressure build in the middle of my chest where my heart is. I also have to start watching what I put into my mouth. I have to watch sodium. Indo not cook with salt. I use pepper which is better anyway. If you are still in Los Angeles, maybe we could go hiking in Griffith Park as buddies, if you would be interested. I would like to help you out with regards to getting your heart back to normal. I watched you many years and felt that we that could help one another out, so our hearts an heal and we can still be around for many years to come. My email is Cennameguy@yahoo.com. If u send me a message, I would respond back. Take care of yourself and realize that it wasn’t your time yet. I would like to consider you a friend. Sincerely; Guy Cenname of: 3400 Lambeth Street, Los Angeles, Ca. 90027.

  • jason cocannouer said:

    Miss ya cousin hope to visit soon

  • Mike Matarazzo Talks About Drugs In Bodybuilding - Anabolic Steroids Discussion and Bodybuilding Forum said:

    […] Mike Matarazzo Talks About Drugs In Bodybuilding – Today, 04:10 PM https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=806802176031813 Very interesting interview back in 2004 Mike Matarazzo […]

  • Ray said:

    R I P. so sad to hear of his passing. was inspired to take up body-building in the 90s. Thanks for the inspiration and the Warning given on this article.

  • Graham said:

    Mike..it was just the other day o thought about you because i was wondering about the big bosybuilders whome i was wondseing what happened to them..for me….ur a hero and walked the walk…no one can take that from you..and given the choice…i wud do the same….so no one has the right to knock you down…but ur advice is taken on board….let the individual decide if its worth the gamble..as las vegas disna show that sign lol x

    And given

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