How much do I want to read more? 7/10
That summer had a miraculous effect on me. Instead of existing, I started to live. I was catapulted out of the dull routine
This thought made the hours of lifting tons of steel and iron actually a joy.
Every painful set, every extra rep, was a step toward my goal of winning Mr. Austria
I refined this vision until it was very specific. I was going to go for the Mr. Universe title; I was going to break records in power lifting; I was going to Hollywood; I was going to be like Reg Park. The vision became so clear in my mind that I felt like it had to happen. There was no alternative; it was this or nothing.
1 - Out of Austria
I WAS BORN INTO a year of famine. It was 1947, and Austria was occupied by the Allied armies that had defeated Hitler’s Third Reich.
There was no plumbing, no shower, and no flushing toilet, just a kind of chamber pot. The nearest well was almost a quarter mile away, and even when it was raining hard or snowing, one of us had to go. So we used as little water as we could.
In fact I was scared too, going out in the dark alone at age nine. There were no streetlamps, and Thal was pitch black at night. The roads and paths were lined with pine forests like the ones in Grimm’s fairy tales, so dense it was dark even in daytime. Of course we’d been raised on those horrible stories, which I would never read to my kids but which were part of the culture. There was always some witch or wolf or monster waiting to hurt the child.
One night I was walking on that path, keeping a close eye for threats in the trees, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a man was in front of me on the path. There was just enough moonlight to make out his shape and his two eyes shining. I screamed and stood frozen—it turned out to be just one of the local farmworkers headed the other way, but if it had been a goblin, it would have gotten me for sure.
I fought back my fear mainly because I had to prove that I was stronger. It was extremely important to show my parents “I am brave, he’s not, even though he’s a year and fourteen days older than me.”
This determination paid off. For the trouble of picking up Meinhard, my father gave me five schillings a week. My mother took advantage of my fearlessness to send me to buy the vegetables each week at the farmers’ market, which involved trekking through a different dark forest. This chore earned five schillings as well, money I happily spent on ice cream or my stamp collection.
Before long, it became the family prediction that Meinhard would be a white-collar worker, possibly an engineer, while I would be blue-collar, since I didn’t mind getting my hands dirty at all.
I had other ideas. Somehow the thought took shape in my mind that America was where I belonged. Nothing more concrete than that. Just . . . America.
I discovered I could buy dozens of ice-cream cones for a schilling apiece and then walk around the lake and sell them for 3 schillings.
Those early excursions outside of Thal fired up my dreams. I became absolutely convinced that I was special and meant for bigger things. I knew I would be the best at something—although I didn’t know what—and that it would make me famous.
America was the most powerful country, so I would go there.
It’s not unusual for ten-year-old kids to have grand dreams. But the thought of going to America hit me like a revelation, and I really took it seriously. I’d talk about it. Waiting at the bus stop, I told a girl who was a couple of years older, “I’m going to go to America,” and she just looked at me and said, “Yeah, sure, Arnold.” The kids got used to hearing me talk about it and thought I was weird, but that didn’t stop me from sharing my plans with everyone: my parents, my teachers, my neighbors.
I was so curious about the world that school wasn’t much of a problem. I learned the lessons, did the homework, and stayed right in the middle of the class. Reading and writing took discipline for me—they were more of a chore than they seemed to be for some of my classmates. On the other hand, math came easily; I never forgot a number and could do calculations in my head.
The discipline at school was no different from that at home. The teachers hit at least as hard as our parents.
It was a tough time all around. Hardships were routine.
My desire was to leave home in an organized way. Because I was still just a kid, I decided that the best course for independence was to mind my own business and make my own money. I would do any kind of work. I was not shy at all about picking up a shovel and digging.
One of my duties was to shovel great mountains of sawdust onto trucks that would take it away. I earned 1,400 schillings, or the equivalent of $55. That was a good amount in those days. What made me proudest was that even though I was a kid, they paid me a man’s wage.
I knew exactly what to do with the money.
2 - Building a Body
Our interest was more in girls. They were a mystery, especially for kids like me who did not have sisters
These were the same girls we’d grown up with all our lives, but suddenly they seemed like aliens. How do you talk to them?
We’d just reached the point where we were feeling sexual attraction, but it came out in odd ways—like the morning we ambushed them with snowballs in the yard before school.
We realized that if you wanted a girl, you had to make an effort to have a conversation, not just drool like a horny dog. You had to establish a comfort level.
During the very last week of class, I had a revelation about my future. It came to me during an essay-writing assignment, of all things.
I was picked, and he handed me the sports page. On it was a photo of Mr. Austria, Kurt Marnul, setting a record in the bench press: 190 kilograms.
I felt inspired by the guy’s achievement. But what really struck me was that he was wearing glasses. They were distinctive; a little tinted. I associated glasses with intellectuals: teachers and priests. Yet here was Kurt Marnul lying on the bench with his tank-top shirt and tiny waist, an enormous chest, and this huge weight above his chest—and he had on glasses. I kept staring at the picture. How could someone who looked like a professor from the neck up be bench-pressing 190 kilos? That’s what I wrote in my essay. I read it out loud and was pleased when I got a good laugh. But I came away fascinated that a man could be both smart and powerful.
Along with my new interest in girls, I was more conscious of my body. I was beginning to pay close attention to sports: looking at athletes, how they worked out, how they used their bodies. A year before, it meant nothing; now it meant everything.
Once in a while he’d hit a bicep pose for me, and it would look great.
Willi was friends with a pair of brothers who were really well developed. One was in university and one was a little younger. They were lifters, bodybuilders, and the day I met them, they were practicing shot put. They asked if I wanted to try, and started teaching me the turns and steps. Then we went up to that tree where Willi was doing chin-ups again. All of a sudden he said, “Why don’t you try?” I barely could hold on because the branch was thick and you had to have really strong fingers. I managed one or two reps, and then I slipped off. Willi said, “You know, if you practice this the whole summer, I guarantee you will be able to do ten, which would be quite an accomplishment. And I bet your lats would grow a centimeter on each side.” By lats, he meant the back muscles just below the shoulder blades, the latissimi dorsi.
From then on, I did the exercises with him every day.
Afterward we got to go backstage and see Vlasov in person. I don’t know how we got in—maybe someone had a connection through the weight lifting club in Graz.
It was an adventure, and I had a great time, but at age thirteen, I didn’t think any of it had to do with me.
A year later, though, everything was starting to register, and I realized I wanted to be strong and muscular.
How unbelievable he looked! He was known for having gigantic deltoid and trapezius muscles, and sure enough, his shoulders were huge. And he had the small waist, the ridged abdominal muscles—the whole look.
Then the girl who was with him put on her bathing suit—a bikini—and she also looked stunning. We said hello and then just kind of hovered, watching while they swam.
Now I was definitely inspired.
Our group fantasy that summer was that we were living like gladiators. We were rolling back time, drinking pure water and red wine, eating meat, having women, running through the forest working out, and doing sports.
“You have to build the ultimate physical machine but also the ultimate mind,” he would say. “Read Plato! The Greeks started the Olympics, but they also gave us the great philosophers, and you’ve got to take care of both.”
As I got to know him, I studied his whole routine. His day job was as the foreman of a road construction crew. He started work early in the morning and finished at three. Then he would put in three hours at the gym, training hard. He’d let us visit him so we would get the idea: you work, you make the money, and then you can afford this car; you train and then you win championships. There was no shortcut; you earned it.
Kurt and the others saw potential in me because in a short period of training, I grew and gained a lot of strength.
A normal beginner’s workout would be three sets of ten reps of each exercise, so your muscles just get a taste. But nobody told me that. The regulars at the stadium gym liked to trick the new guys. They egged me on so that I did ten sets of each exercise. After I finished, I joyfully took a shower—we didn’t have running water at home, so I always looked forward to a shower at the soccer stadium, even though the water was unheated. Then I put on my clothes and walked outside.
My legs were feeling a little rubbery and sluggish, but I didn’t think much about it. Then I got on my bike and fell off. This was strange, and I noticed now my arms and legs didn’t feel connected to me. I got back on the bike, and I couldn’t control the handlebars, and my thighs were shaking like they were made of porridge. I veered off to the side and fell into a ditch. It was pitiful. I gave up on riding the bike. I ended up having to walk it home, an epic four-mile hike. Still, I couldn’t wait to get back to the gym and try weight training again.
That summer had a miraculous effect on me. Instead of existing, I started to live. I was catapulted out of the dull routine of Thal—where you get up, you get the milk from next door, come home and do your push-ups and sit-ups while your mother makes the breakfast and your father gets ready for work—the routine where there was really nothing much to look forward to. Now all of a sudden there was joy, there was struggle, there was pain, there was happiness, there were pleasures, there were women, there was drama. Everything made it feel like “now we are really living! This is really terrific!” Even though I appreciated the example of my father with the discipline and the things that he accomplished professionally, in sports, with the music, the very fact that he was my father took away from its significance for me. All of a sudden, I had a whole new life, and it was mine.
In the fall of 1962, at the age of fifteen, I began a new chapter in my life.
Although I was still living at home, the gym in many ways replaced my family.
we learned the joy of inspiring each other, pumping each other up, competing in a positive way.
Soon life at the gym totally consumed me. Training was all I could think about. One Sunday when I found the stadium locked, I broke in and worked out in the freezing cold. I had to wrap my hands in towels to keep them from sticking to the metal bars. Week by week I would see the gains I was making in how much I could lift, the number of reps my muscles would tolerate, the shape of my body and its overall mass and weight. I became a regular member of the Athletic Union team. I was so proud that I, little Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in a club with Mr. Austria, the great Kurt Marnul.
I’d tried a lot of other sports, but the way my body responded to weight training made it instantly clear that this was where I had the greatest potential and I could go all out. I couldn’t articulate what drove me. But training seemed something I was born for, and I sensed that it would become my ticket out of Thal.
“Kurt Marnul can win Mr. Austria,” I thought, “and he’s already told me that I could too if I train hard, so that’s what I’m going to do.” This thought made the hours of lifting tons of steel and iron actually a joy.
Every painful set, every extra rep, was a step toward my goal of winning Mr. Austria and entering the Mr. Europe competition.
This story crystallized a new vision for me. I could become another Reg Park. All my dreams suddenly came together and made sense. I’d found the way to get to America: bodybuilding! And I’d found a way to get into movies. They would be the thing that everyone in the world would know me for. Movies would bring money—I was sure that Reg Park was a millionaire—and the best-looking girls, which was a very important aspect.
In weeks that followed, I refined this vision until it was very specific. I was going to go for the Mr. Universe title; I was going to break records in power lifting; I was going to Hollywood; I was going to be like Reg Park. The vision became so clear in my mind that I felt like it had to happen. There was no alternative; it was this or nothing.
My mother noticed right away that something was different. I was coming home with a big smile. I told her that I was training, and she could see I found joy in becoming stronger.
But as the months went by, she started to get concerned about my obsession. By spring, I’d hung up muscleman pictures all over the wall over my bed.
I’d bought soft felt-like matting, had it cut professionally, and glued the eight-by-tens on the mats and placed them on my wall. It looked really good, the way I had it all laid out. But it really worried my mom.
“Doctor,” my mother was saying, “all the other boys, Arnold’s friends, when I go to their homes, they have girls hanging on their walls. Posters, magazines, colored pictures of girls. And look at him. Naked men.”
“there is nothing wrong. Boys always need inspiration. They will look to their father, and many times this is not enough because he’s the father, so they will look also to other men. This is actually good; nothing for you to worry about.”
That spring she discovered how much things had changed. I’d just met a girl who was two years older than me who was an outdoorsy type.
At Mayer-Stechbarth, I was known as the apprentice who wanted to go to America.
This was my first time performing in public, so I was excited and nervous when I walked out onstage. I put chalk on my hands to keep the weights from slipping, and right away did a two-arm press of 150 pounds, my normal weight. The crowd gave a big cheer. The applause had an effect like I’d never imagined.
This time, to my amazement, I lifted 185 pounds—35 pounds more than I ever had before. Some people perform better in front of an audience, some worse.
The audience gave me strength and motivation, and my ego kicked in more. I discovered that I performed much, much better in front of others.