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When you see a picture of Philip Ricardo Jr., or if you see him in person, you’re not only looking at a longtime bodybuilder, you’re looking at a retired United States Marine. There have been some people who saw him and may have questioned whether he’s still active. That’s because of the shape he has kept himself in for the stage and life.
“I take pride that I was in the Marines. So, I don’t want anybody asking ‘you were in the Marines?’ I want them to still see that Marine in me.”
Ricardo grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but he would eventually move to Chicago, Illinois. Throughout his childhood, he admired bodybuilders and he was a big fan of Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk.
“I always loved watching Bruce Banner transform into the Incredible Hulk,” he said. “I was in awe of Lou Ferrigno. I was in awe of him competing against Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
He also played football with high hopes of making it to a college team. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for him. After speaking with his father, they came to the decision that joining the US Armed Forces would be in his best interest.
“A Marine Corps recruiter came to our house. We talked, and we came to the conclusion that joining would be the best route for me to go,” he recalled. “For me being a physically active guy, I think that was the best challenge for me.”
On December 28, 1989 the 18-year-old Ricardo reported to his first day of boot camp, and that would be the start of a 21-year career as a Marine. Even though he felt like he was disciplined and structured at a young age, the first generation service member credited his time in service for helping him grow and evolve even more because of how he had to rise to challenges such as running 25-mile rucks and working various jobs throughout his time in service. He would be stationed in Japan at one point, and it would be there that he would make his way onto a bodybuilding state for the first time.
“On the base I was at, they had a competition that they called a Friendship Day competition. Friendship Day was when the Japanese nationals would come on base and see some of the equipment and things that were there. At the same time, they would host this bodybuilding show.”
Ricardo had already been training hard while he was there. So, he would enter that show after a show put his name in it, and he won the middleweight class. He said he lost the overall to someone who was shredded and had more stage presence. Nonetheless, Ricardo got bit by the bodybuilding bug.
“It was nice to get an individual trophy for what I did,” he shared.
As for Ricardo’s military career, he went over 17 years without being deployed overseas, but eventually Ricardo would be sent to Iraq in 2007, It was by choice, though, because he actually went in place of a co-worker who was an expecting father.
“I actually volunteered to take his spot and go over there,” he explained. “For me, that was a big deal because I had my own family obviously. I just felt like I had to do that and volunteer so he could be there for his family.”
Ricardo worked as a Special Operations chief on that mission, and he would be a part of two deployments before his career ended in 2011. While he was no longer on active duty, he continued to compete in bodybuilding competitions, and he would eventually get cast to be a part of a movie, “Generation Iron: Natty 4 Life.” Now, like Ferrigno who was in Pumping Iron, Ricardo was a part of a bodybuilding movie.
“I grew up with Pumping Iron. Every single movie that had anything to do with bodybuilding, I was watching it,” he explained. Generation Iron: Natty 4 Life featured former M&F cover model Mike O’Hearn and chronicled several bodybuilders throughout their prep for contests. For Ricardo, it was a highlight in a career that has spanned several years.
“I never thought in a million years that I would’ve had the career I’ve had, and it took until later in my career to have it. But God works in mysterious ways.”
Aside from training himself, Ricardo also works as a personal trainer. He sees himself as an advocate for fitness not only to his clients, but also to other veterans. He wants to be an example to show others that they need to focus on self-improvement for themselves as well as their families and friends.
“If it weren’t for bodybuilding, I would probably have more health issues,” said Ricardo. “This lifestyle has really helped me with my health, which I take seriously because I have family and kids. The last thing I want is to leave them early. I think those that served should take that same kind of mindset.”
Ricardo hopes that his story could be a positive example for the generation coming up as well. Teenagers coming out of high school have many options, but there is also a lot of issues they face that other generations may not have. Ricardo feels that a career in service would be beneficial for young adults now and well into the future. Aside from commitment to their homeland, it would be in their personal best interests.
“The Marine Corps truly changed my life. I got to go in and learn a trade that a lot of people just don’t get. I have friends in both New York and Chicago, and they’re in the same situations, just older now. They may not have decent jobs, but they aren’t as worldly or accomplished as you could be in the military. The military will teach you so much more that nothing else out there can.”
Follow Philip Ricardo Jr. on Facebook and on Instagram @ricardos_legend.