Rhode to Redemption

Shawn Rhoden’s promise to himself after a hard-fought loss at the Arnold Classic? This ain’t over. *Note: Shawn placed 3rd at the 2014 Olympia.



If Wolf was a worthy contender, to match up against a three-time reigning Olympia titlist in Phil Heath is another level entirely.

To those who remind him that toppling a three-time incumbent is nearly impossible, Rhoden isn’t fazed. After all, much about the road to his current position near the pinnacle of the sport hasn’t been easy.

As a teen growing up in Jamaica, he never even really saw a dumbbell, much less lifted one, as he pursued his soccer dreams. It wasn’t until 1992, two years after relocating to Washington, D.C. with his family, that Rhoden discovered bodybuilding. He went on to finish second in the 2001 North Americans and Team Universe, and was looking forward to vaulting into the pro ranks in 2002 when food poisoning knocked him back to 14th at the 2002 NPC Nationals.

When he

returned home from that show in Dallas, his world suddenly spun out of control. His 58-year-old father, Lloyd, was stricken with Stage 4 cancer. When he passed away mere months later, Rhoden withdrew from bodybuilding and the world at large. He started to drink heavily, and the physique he worked so hard to build up over the years fell into disrepair.

Spiraling downward, he hit bottom when finding himself in the hospital—he went in because of blood in his urine, and ended up being admitted with a liver, kidney, and urinary tract infection.

The wake-up call shook him from the months of addiction, and he quit, cold turkey, as he’s proud to admit today. Still, the absence of his father, his most ardent bodybuilding fan—who used to tote around a homemade VHS tape of his son competing to show friends and acquaintances—robbed him of his spirit. He walked away from the sport for six long years. It was only after a $1 bet with a friend after he boasted he could come back and win one more show that Rhoden touched iron again.

In 2009, Rhoden won that bet, with a heavyweight and overall victory at the 2009 North American Championships. Suddenly, he had a pro card and a decision to make.

His first professional bout was the 2010 Europa Super Show. It didn’t go well, as he carded a 16th, lost in a bulging lineup of 26. But, much like this year’s Arnold Classic, that result spurred him—he couldn’t be pried away now, not with so much to prove to himself. With the help of a nutritional consultant, Dave Kalick, he returned to the Europa one year later and claimed third, nabbing a coveted Olympia invite in the process and turning that into an 11th place finish in 2011.

The next year, however, began with a thud. He was fourth in the season-opening Flex Pro, followed by that also-ran Arnold debut. Enter the two guys who would transform his career.

“I tell people that’s the best investment I ever made,” Rhoden says of hiring Aceto and Glass. “I had in Chris the greatest mind in bodybuilding, in my opinion, and Charles...I call him Yoda, he’s been doing this so long. These guys are old school, their wealth of knowledge is unbelievable. They see my vision as to where I want to be.”

Together, the triumvirate will assemble once again this year in Los Angeles for Rhoden’s contest prep (in the case of Aceto, figuratively, as he calls in from his home base in Maine). And this year, Rhoden vows, he won’t spread himself too thin with travel beforehand, as he did when dog-earing his passport in 2013.

“Last year, I did about 16 countries,” he says. “I was on the road from January all the way up to July, and didn’t have as much time as I wanted to get ready for the Olympia. This year, I’ve booked a bare minimum of appearances.”

The additional time could make a weighty difference. “Last year I arrived in California at the end of June and ended up putting on 14 pounds for the Olympia. This year, after [making a guest appearance at] the Pittsburgh Pro May 3, I’m going to start beating the hell out of this body to get ready for the Olympia. I’m very happy, and I already feel refreshed just thinking about it.”

The strategy is simple: More of the same, with an even more ferocious focus than he’s ever mustered. At age 39, after all, he knows the time is now. “Everyone always asks me what I need to improve on for my next show,” Rhoden says. “My answer is always the same—everything. I told Chris for this show, we have to make a statement. I want to make this a coming-out party. And when I say that, I want it to be jaw dropping, head shaking, what the hell did I just see? kind of a party. We want to surprise a few folks.”

With his calendar duly marked on Sept. 19–20, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV, Rhoden has one picture burned into his mind, a moment that will represent the culmination of all the work, past and present, he’s put into his chosen endeavor. “No disrespect to anyone, but I feel as if there’s one person I need to eye and that’s Phil. I’m gonna go for it. To beat him, I just need to continue to improve these coming months, and then I want to stand next to Mr. Olympia himself. Click HERE for the 2014 Olympia comparison gallery.

“When the opportunity does come for us to be called out and be judged at the same time, it’ll be a fair comparison,” he concludes—rather confidently, it should be noted. FLEX