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Tutorial Trip: Muscle Make the Man?

Fifteen students in Professor Shamira Gelbman’s freshman tutorial traveled to Beach Grove High School last Saturday to attend the NPC Natural Circle City Championships, an annual bodybuilding competition run by the Scientific Exercise Training Team collective.

Professor Gelbman and freshman tutorial class.

Dr. Gelbman’s tutorial is called “Bodybuilding: Does the Muscle Make the Man?” and the students in it are examining the history of bodybuilding since its origins in late nineteenth-century strongman spectacles and grappling with several controversial issues related to the practice of bodybuilding and its role in contemporary society. The trip to the Circle City Championships helped kick off their studies by providing an opportunity for hands-on engagement with bodybuilders in a contest setting just one week into the semester.

As first-time bodybuilding show attendees, the students had a lot to take in. “At the beginning I had started to kind of feel weird watching it,” Conner Marshall reported, “but it became more understandable as it went on.” For Riley Lefever, the individual posing routines especially drove home the commitment bodybuilders bring to their sport: “You could tell through their passion all the work that went into preparing for just one competition.” Yan Wu, who was already a bodybuilding fan before coming to Wabash, had never before attended a live bodybuilding event. “I have watched many videos about bodybuilders,” he said, “This show gave me a more exciting experience.”

Class with competitor Darnell Griffin

Between the morning “Prejudging” and evening “Finals” events, the class headed to Downtown Indianapolis for lunch, a run up to the observation deck of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a quick trip to the Circle Center Mall, and a chance encounter with Jon Pactor ’71. They used this time to discuss and reflect on what they had seen at the morning show. Deryion Sturdivant, for example, remarked that he had “never realized how strenuous bodybuilders’ routines on stage are,” and Conner Marshall pointed out that “[while] some of the female divisions had the poses of bodybuilding, [it seemed] more like a pageant set-up for the females.” Many were impressed with the Masters age-class bodybuilders, especially the two “sixty and over” competitors, which they had not expected to see.

For most, the highlight of the trip came at the very end of the day, when Darnell Griffin, an Indianapolis-based bodybuilder who won the men’s overall championship title, agreed to pose for individual and group pictures with the class. Griffin caught not only the event judges’ eye, but the students’ as well. “The other competitors were defined and some were big to an extent,” Michael Rynkiewich said, “but none close to Darnell.”