He can be seen sweating and pushing through pain and the nagging voice to stop, to just do one less rep. He won’t. There is always one more rep.
Hodges, a 37-year-old Clarksville native, is a natural bodybuilder who faces struggle and pain every day as he works to polish his body to perfection, a body that, along with his mind and spirit, wasn’t always where he wanted it to be.
“Alcohol just kind of took over my life. I just started drinking and partying out of high school, and it was fun then, and after two or three years, I tried to quit, and I couldn’t quit. I kept drinking, and I started having seizures, because I drank so much. So at 27, I was just a rock-bottom drunk living on the streets up in Clarksville. Nobody wanted to be around me, and I really couldn’t stand to look in the mirror, because I was just ashamed of what I had become,” Hodges said.
After numerous attempts to quit drinking and a fear he would end up in prison or dead before 30, Hodges checked himself into rehab in Lebanon in 2007. After completing several months of rehab, he was afraid to return to his old friends for fear that it would mean returning to his old lifestyle. As a former high school wrestler and someone who practiced basic fitness, he decided to go back to one familiar habit.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something with all this free time – I’ll start going to the gym again,’” Hodges said.
“I was wrestling in high school, and I was really blessed I had a good wrestling coach. He was an old Army drill sergeant, and he was from Fort Campbell, and he taught me how to work out right,” Hodges said. “He told me from the get-go, he said, ‘I want you to watch these guys using steroids and watch when they come back next year.’ He said ‘Don’t you use nothing’ Cause he saw something in me then, cause as soon as I started working out, I just shaped up.
“I never set out to be a bodybuilder, but after I started working out, and I quit drinking at that point for about two years, and people would ask me all the time, ‘Do you compete?’”
Hodges would tell them he used to wrestle and play baseball in high school without realizing that they meant as a bodybuilder.
“Really, that’s what saved my life,” Hodges said. “God kind of spoke to me through those people”
Hodges started taking bodybuilding serious in 2009 and competed in his first show in Florida where he came in second place in the novice category at his first show. Due to finances, Hodges competed once a year and trained himself with no coaches or dietitians, things that many bodybuilders feel they need to succeed.
“I thought ‘Hey, that’s pretty good. Maybe I can find something I can aim for.’ While I was down there, I saw some pros. It was an amateur-pro show, and I was 27 or 28 then, and I saw some guys in their 40s, and they looked immaculate. I thought, ‘That's what I want to do.’ So with God’s help, I went for it. I’ve quit jobs because it was interfering with my gym time. I’ve left girls. Friday and Saturday nights when everybody else was out, I was in the gym pushing weights,” Hodges said.
Hodges is a dedicated natural bodybuilder, which means he only competes with other bodybuilders who are clean of any performance-enhancing drugs or steroids.
“I take a lot of pride in being natural, and that’s one reason I’m where I’m at today, because a lot of guys use performance-enhancing drugs, and it scars your muscle tissue right from the start. So that’s why you see a lot of them, they’re big names for seven, eight, 10 years, then you don’t ever hear from them anymore, because they’ve destroyed their bodies. Whereas, if you’re natural, you’ll always keep what you gain, so that way when you get in your 40s, which is when men peak out, you can actually have a lot of muscle,” Hodges said.
Hodges’ hard work finally paid off in July when he won his first Pro Show in Chicago and won overall best bodybuilder and best poser, a move that put him on Team USA, the collective pool of competitors from which they choose Olympic athletes.
The struggle isn’t over for Hodges, though, who has had wages garnished and fines levied against him from a traffic accident in 2001. Hodges had paid his debt down, only owing a little more than $1,000. But after he entered rehab in 2007, he was focused on survival and getting sober, putting all else to the back of his mind. As he healed and focused on working out, that money was building back up with interest, totaling to nearly $30,000.
“When I’m training and I think that I don’t have one more rep in me, I think about that and I get that extra energy and it fuels me to keep going,” Hodges said.
Due to the fines, Hodges was forced out on the streets and has lived in his silver 1998 Chevy S-10 pickup truck for the past few years.
“It’s been a hard road,” Hodges said, “but I knew that if I could get my pro card and get onto Team USA, that could help me to get that all taken care of. Getting on Team USA wasn’t a bed of roses. I’ve sacrificed just about everything to get here.”
While many people may see following a dream even in the face of homelessness crazy, Hodges sees it as an opportunity to see what really matters and an opportunity to focus on his goals and nothing else.
“People will say, ‘Oh, my God, you’ve been living in your truck?’ Well, really, that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, because it brought me closer to God and showed me what’s important in life. Really, it’s just your relationship with God and your body, because everything else can be gone just like that.
“I’ve had people kind of make fun of me over the past few years about being homeless. Someone will crack a few smart remarks, and I tell people today that I’m not homeless. I’ve got a home in heaven, and I’m just waiting to get there.
“Through my story, it proves that God’s in my life, because I’ve done it with pretty much nothing,” Hodges said. “One of my biggest fears in life was never having anywhere to go. When they did that to me, it ones of the best things that could have happened, because it showed me that a house and a car, a phone and clothes, it can all be gone just like that. It showed me that your body and health is all you have. They took everything I had – bodybuilding was the only thing they couldn’t take from me. It was like God was showing me, ‘You just keep doing this, and I’m going to reward you.’”
Discipline is a theme in Hodges’ life from the undisciplined years fueled by alcohol to the image of discipline that is show in his physique. That discipline may be able to be seen to some degree when you see his physical shape, but the true image of discipline is under the skin and inside the mind.
Hodges learned quickly bodybuilding wasn’t going to pay the bills and so he became calculated and frugal with his money, even eating the bare minimum to sustain his physique and health.
“I learned that you can bodybuild on tuna, peanut butter, oatmeal and green beans,” Hodges said. “Where most guys have supplements and eat chicken, brown rice and asparagus, I learned that you can do it with the bare essentials. It’s hard to eat tuna, oatmeal, peanut butter and green beans for three or four months at a time, but I realized that If I wanted it, I had to eat that and nothing else.
“It's hard to get to 4-5 percent body fat. When you get to 6-7 percent, you stay hungry all the time; your strength drops dramatically; you start to get headaches. So when you get to 4-5 percent body fat it’s tough to not go get a cheeseburger cause your mind is saying ‘Give me, give me,’ but you’re having to fight those hunger cravings.
“When you get down to such little body fat that your body is going to start eating itself for energy, it hurts. Your joints hurt, your body doesn’t have any cushion, it hurts to walk and that’s a side bodybuilding that many people don’t ever see. They see the guys on stage who look good and healthy, but really they’re mentally and physically exhausted. It’s a spiritual experience because you think, ‘God, I can’t do this,’ but then God always gives me the strength to do it.
“Bodybuilding is a lot of discipline. Working out five, six days a week, eating disciplined, and posing disciplined – so bodybuilding isn’t just working out in the gym then getting up on a stage to look good – it’s a lifestyle.”
For Hodges, bodybuilding is not just a sport or hobby, it’s also an art and a spiritual practice.
“Your body is God’s temple, and a lot of people in today’s society are chasing a job or money or a nice house or car, but if you take care of God’s temple and treat it the way he wants you to treat it, he’ll take care of everything else around you. And that’s why I say that bodybuilding is a spiritual process. It’s an art, because when I get on stage, a lot of people think it’s like the meathead stereotype. You get on stage and show your muscles. But really, in natural bodybuilding, you can see God’s pyramid in its most immaculate form. He designed every muscle for a specific reason, and that’s a beautiful thing. So when I walk on stage, it’s not that I’m trying to be macho and a show off. I’m showing what God created,” Hodges said.
Like any art, it takes practice, a lot of failure and patience to become proficient and see results.
“Really, it’s not in the weight you push. It’s in the reps, in your technique and going to failure, and over a period of time, the more muscle you get the more weight you can push,” Hodges said. “Bodybuilding is about taking each muscle to failure. It’s not about the weight, but it’s about the reps and the techniques you use to get there. I can get just as good a workout with 20-pound dumbbells as I can with 100-pound dumbbells. But the trick is to think about what muscle you want to work and just work that muscle. You don’t cheat. It takes years to get natural muscle built.”
Most of Hodges’ time is spent at the Anytime Fitness in Lebanon, where he has found a place to fit in and grow, a place where he’ supported in the pursuit of his dreams, especially with the support of the gym owner and Hodges’ sponsor Joe Prokott.
“Over the years, people have told me that I’m just wasting my time that I can’t make a living doing bodybuilding, and I’ve had people making fun of me. But, you know, I’ve always kept that out of my focus, and I’ve focused on what I thought was right.
“I’ve been lucky. The gym, they let me come here for free. They sponsor me. I’ve been living out of my truck, and I don’t really make any money, but they make sure that I don’t go hungry. I clean around here and do free assessments for them, and they pay my way through shows. It’s a blessing,” Hodges said.
Since July, Hodges prepared for his next show, Natural Olympia, in November in Las Vegas, and he hopes to compete with Team USA in Greece and Australia in 2019. Hodges said whatever the future holds, he wants to use his physical ability to help better himself and his community.
“I don’t even know if it’s hit me yet. It’s just so big, and I’ve worked so hard. It’s just like I’m just thinking, ‘What’s next? What’s God going to give me next?’” Hodges said.
And while he currently has a posing coach and a sponsor to help him to get to more shows, Hodges knows the struggle, both inside and out, isn’t over and the journey never ends. He knows he’s got at least a decade still in him, a decade that won't be counted in months or years, rather in reps and miles.