I was born in a small town called Spartanburg, SC, with hopes and dreams of emulating bodybuilding legends like Robby Robinson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Roy Callendar, Frank Zane, Lou Ferrigno, and the great Bill Pearl.

I read everything I could about these great legends. I wanted to look like each of them—strong, handsome, desired by all the ladies. On every trip into town, I rushed into the drugstore to visit the magazine stand. It was there that I became inspired and educated about bodybuilding.

By the age of 16, I competed in my first bodybuilding contest, the Mr. South Carolina. There wasn’t a teen division at the time, so I had to compete in the open class. I didn’t even place, but I had a good time and was told I had great potential. Maybe I would’ve fared better had I worn real posing trunks instead of a pair of multicolored underwear from Kmart!

From the moment I hit the stage, I knew bodybuilding was my sport. My total focus was on finding ways to get better, learning more, and training harder. I went on to win the Mr. Palmetto and Mr. South contests, both of which took place in South Carolina, and three years later I was ready to make my first national quest by entering the 1979 AAU Teenage America.

I prepared for the show while working a job at an Ingles Markets store and cleaning the Nautilus Fitness Center in Spartanburg. I recall one Saturday carrying a customer’s groceries to his car and telling him about my goal of entering the Teenage America with zeal and excitement. I thought that he would share in my excitement with enthusiasm, but this wasn’t the case. He somberly told me not to get my hopes up too high. “There will be guys there from bigger cities in California and New York,” he said.

As I stood there pondering what he’d just told me, I thought about the words that had been stamped into my mind already: I can do and be anything I set my mind to. I have my father and mother to thank for that.

A few weeks later, that small-town teenage kid who no one had ever heard of captured the title. I proudly displayed my four-foot-tall trophy in the window of Ingles. The gentleman who was doubtful of my victory stood in awe of my accomplishment and the belief I had in myself.

It doesn’t matter where you’re from or your socioeconomic standing. Through faith, hard work, and God’s favor, you can do anything you set your mind and heart to. Even from a small town like Spartanburg!