Promoting healthy, drug-free bodybuilding and fitness across Canada
By Cheryl Long
There aren’t many 12-year olds who choose to spend their spare time pumping iron, but Mathew Park wasn’t your average preteen. And today, he continues to live life outside of the box as the president of a Canadian association dedicated to drug-free bodybuilding and fitness.
Park grew up in the small hamlet of Acadia Valley in southern Alberta, where the nearest fully functional training facility was located 90 minutes away. Unable to find a nearby facility but determined to one day participate in a bodybuilding competition, he spent hours exercising in a workout shed built by his uncle. His dream was realized a few years later at the age of 17 when he entered his first competition, but the experience turned out to be an eye-opener. There was no drug testing and no doubt that some of the participants had used performance-enhancing substances — and Park came in last. Over the next few years, he signed up for shows that advertised drug testing for participants, but it was evident that the claim was purely for marketing purposes.
Armed with an education in personal training and motivated by a passion to see bodybuilding and fitness become a drug-free sport, Park launched International Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness Federation (INBF) in Canada in 2008. His aim: to organize and hold bodybuilding and fitness shows that would even the playing field for athletes who didn’t believe in using banned substances to achieve their goals. That same year, after two years of concerted effort and planning, the first INBF Canada show was held in Edmonton where 19 athletes competed in front of an audience of 200. It was both the realization of Park’s goal and the affirmation that there was room in the sport for drug-free competition.
“Our mission is to inspire, empower and educate athletes to live that healthy, natural lifestyle and to prove themselves naturally in that process, and that’s where our platform for competition comes from,” Park said. “We provide a platform to allow those athletes to compete naturally, but to do that we also do a lot of social media, videos and education on our online forums.”
INBF Canada is part of worldwide federation
INBF Canada is an affiliate of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF), which was founded in 1989 to promote drug-tested, professionally – produced bodybuilding events worldwide. Last year, the WNBF and its affiliates held over 20 international events in nine countries and 30 events throughout the United States, providing thousands of professional and amateur athletes with the opportunity to compete in a fair arena. INBF Canada is upholding those same principles in Canada, striving to help natural athletes work towards personal excellence and then prove themselves on stage. They are the only federation in Canada that requires each athlete to pass a polygraph test attesting to his or her drug-free status before entering any competition, followed by the testing of all winners through a supervised urinalysis.
“Our biggest goal is to really keep growing this natural movement across the country,” Park said. That means adhering to a set of strict testing standards, operating with ethics and integrity, encouraging fair, non-political judging and working to dispel some of the rumors that surround the sport. The use of banned substances to achieve results is one of the most prolific rumors, but there’s also the misconception that bodybuilding requires a commitment beyond what most people can manage. Instead, it comes down to patience and persistence.
“A lot of our athletes are in business, own a business; they are in oil and gas, they are office workers and corporate, a lot of them are moms and dads, a lot of them work in office buildings. People think these are all jocks; totally opposite. Close to 50 percent have kids and are married or in a relationship. We have a lot of family coming to our events.”
Their target market is a wide one, ranging in age from 18 to 70. The most popular division is bikini, figure and men’s physique, which attract women and men between the ages of 20 and 50, Park said. Some competitors train at a gym while others work out at home, and anyone who can devote about an hour a day, six days a week, will see a substantial change in their health and fitness levels.
“People always ask, ‘Who can compete in a bodybuilding show, who is eligible to compete, can anyone compete?’ The answer to that question is yes, anybody can, if you have an actual desire or passion to prove yourself naturally; if you have a desire to prove yourself for yourself and you want to accomplish a goal drug-free… Some people just compete one time in their life and that’s it, it’s off the bucket list. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a nurse, a doctor, a construction work, a senior, a teenager, anybody can compete,” Park said.
Competitions held across Canada
Currently, INBF Canada holds shows annually in major cities across Canada, including Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal. The polygraph testing that INBF Canada uses is “99.9 percent foolproof”, Park said, and the number of “fails” has decreased over the past few years as competitors realize that they’re unlikely to beat INBF Canada’s test. The adherence to legitimate drug testing has helped to build a growing roster of competitors dedicated to natural bodybuilding and fitness, despite the fact that the use of banned substances is still prevalent, Park explained. Whether it’s steroids, growth hormone, prescription diuretics or blood doping, the use of drugs within the sport is still a concerning issue and one that can have a serious, if not fatal, outcome.
Committing to a natural lifestyle is only part of INBF Canada’s mandate. They also encourage a sense of teamwork and family within the organization, while supporting the passion and dedication needed to reach competitive goals in a non-political arena. “We promote the positive benefits of the natural side more than we promote the negative,” Park explained. “You’re going to have a longer lifespan; you’re going to have a longer career. Typically our athletes compete for 15 to 25 years. When you’re an ‘unnatural’ athlete, usually you retire in your late 30s, early 40s. We’re just starting at that time.”
The atmosphere is a supportive one. Prior to each competition, contest preparation camps help competitors of all ages and levels with their posing, stage presentation, tips on what the judges are looking for and what to expect on show day. Photographers are available during the show to capture the culmination of each competitor’s efforts, which for some can be life-changing.
Results can be life-changing
“A lot of these athletes come from major transformation, like women who’ve lost 100 pounds to one guy who has one prosthetic leg who competes. We have physically challenged athletes, we’ve got dads who were in industry and trade for 20 years, moms who take care of the home and kids, and they just want to be inspired to live a healthy lifestyle and decide to compete as a means of a goal to reach for,” Park said. “It gets pretty emotional with people. That’s where the inspiration of them inspiring other people attracts more people to want to come and compete.”
For Park and the INBF Canada team, seeing people transform their lives is the reward. “We have a team of 18 people and all of us have similar values. They do it because they love it; we have a passion for this. That’s why we do what we do.”
INBF Canada is dedicated to growing the natural bodybuilding and fitness movement, Park said. For more information about the benefits of natural bodybuilding and fitness or to learn how to sign up to compete for an upcoming competition or contest prep camp, visit www.inbfcanada.com.