Champion Body Builder Balances Military Career
Stars and Stripes | Dave Ornauer

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Most competitive bodybuilders engage in that activity full time, throwing themselves into weight training while counting calories and carbohydrates as much as they do dollars spent on traveling to events.

Rare, though, is the career GI who is employed full-time in defending the country while finding space on the mantle for bodybuilding championship hardware.

So how does Leo Ingram, a Navy Chief Petty Officer stationed in Hawaii, balance serving Uncle Sam with building body beautiful?

“You prioritize. The military career always comes first,” said Ingram, 37, an Atlanta native assigned as an engineer at Pearl Harbor Naval Station's shipyard.

The 2005 All-Armed Forces champion and 2006 USA North American amateur champion spoke with Stars and Stripes on Sunday before the 12th Far East Bodybuilding Competition at the Foster Theater. About 800 spectators cheered on 47 competitors and Ingram, the event's guest poser.

“Balance comes naturally to me,” Ingram said. “Doing this and serving 19½ years in the Navy, you have to find a balance, or you will never be able to accomplish anything.”

Ingram first hit the competitive amateur circuit in 1993, when a friend with whom he was stationed in San Diego convinced Ingram to join him in the weight room while the friend trained for a competition there.

“That inspired me,” Ingram said. “I said to myself, ‘That's something I could do.'”

Months later, Ingram found himself taking second place in the All-Armed Forces competition, “and I've been doing it ever since,” he said. “We all choose our hobbies in our lives. This just happened to be mine.”

Ingram parlayed that hobby into entries in nine amateur competitions since 1993, winning five of them. He took a break after being assigned to Japan from 2000 to 2004, then hit the circuit again in 2005 after transferring to Pearl Harbor.

His North American gold medal earned Ingram his professional card; he said he plans someday to compete in worldwide events such as Mr. Olympia.

Sculpting that muscular body takes far more than simply lifting a few barbells and learning how to flex, Ingram said.

Even when not training for an event, which takes months at a time, Ingram says he spends 90 minutes of each day in the weight room, and four hours when preparing for a contest.

A competitor's diet revolves around “lots of protein,” Ingram said, while ingesting “moderate” amounts of carbohydrates and fats.

Beyond performing the side- chest flexes, lap spreads and double biceps, a bodybuilder must shamelessly sell him or herself to the audience, Ingram said.

“You have to command the stage. The audience can see if you're comfortable or not,” he said, adding that in his first few competitions, “I was nervous, didn't really know what to expect. But you get used to it. It grows on you.”

All the while, Ingram must remain proficient in his military duties, which involve repairing and maintaining diesel engines and hydraulics, among other tasks.

But being a bodybuilder fits well with the military's growing emphasis on being physically fit, and Ingram feels that just about anybody can vie to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There's a lot of benefit to it,” Ingram said. “You're treating your body in a beneficial way, doing things that will help you live longer. Anybody can do it. It's just a matter of doing it.”