Albany’s Pete Williams, 26, poses on stage during the finals for the men’s heavyweight division last weekend in Atlanta at the Georgia State Bodybuilding Championships. Williams, who was competing in the event for the first time, not only walked away as the heavyweight champ, but he was named “Mr. Georgia” — an honor given to the bodybuilder that has the best physique for all weight classes. (Doc Neeley/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY --- Most aspiring athletes with grandiose dreams of making it big ultimately realize that success takes time and dues have to be paid.
Pete Williams never got that memo.
The 26-year-old Albany native, who went to the Georgia State Bodybuilding Championships in Atlanta last weekend and came home with the heavyweight crown and the coveted title of “Mr. Georgia” — given to the competitor with the best overall physique among all weight classes — isn’t shy to admit he has the biggest of goals for himself, despite being a newcomer to the sport.
“I want to be ‘Mr. USA.’ No, make that ... I will be ‘Mr. USA,’ ” Williams dead-panned during an interview with The Herald this week, making it clear he was as serious as his 20-inch biceps. “My dream when I first started bodybuilding in 2009 was to be Mr. Georgia. Well, I did that — and now it’s time to go that next level.”
Going “next level” is the only way Williams knows how to do things these days.
The Westover alum didn’t play sports in high school and was — if anything — the opposite of your prototypical jock.
In fact, as Williams tells it, his lack of interest in sports actually kept him from graduating on time.
“Man, I used to be a pip-squeak,” Williams said with a laugh about his one-time 5-foot-6, 140-pound frame that is nothing more than a distant memory now. “I just didn’t enjoy physical activity. I didn’t even graduate on time because I hated dressing out for P.E.
“Yup, that’s right — I failed P.E.”
These days, Williams “is a superstar in the making,” according to his trainer and 1995 U.S. National Bodybuilding Champion Don Long.
“He definitely has the potential to go all the way to the top,” said Long, who retired from the sport in 2009 and now trains aspiring professional bodybuilders in Jacksonville, Fla. “We’ve only been working together a short time, but when he told me he’d only been seriously into bodybuilding for something like three years, I couldn’t believe it.
“To be 26 and have his physique after such a short amount of time is amazing, amazing progress.”
In the summer of 2008 at the age of 21, Williams was casually playing basketball with some friends one afternoon at the YMCA when the court was closed for repairs, leaving him searching for something to fill the time.
“I walked into the weight room and gave it a try,” he said. “Five years later, I haven’t left.”
Williams now stands 5-foot-11 and weighs — at his heaviest — 268 pounds with those massive aforementioned biceps, 31-inch quads and a 28-inch waist wrapped around just 4 percent body fat. He works out seven days a week, 365 days a year, running 14 miles a day — seven in the morning, seven in the evening — with weight training sessions filling his afternoon that work each muscle throughout his immaculately sculpted body.
Oh, right, and then there’s his diet. His crazy, crazy diet.
“I probably eat nine meals a day — lots of meat and protein shakes, vegetables, fruits, brown rice, almonds, stuff like that. All healthy, all the time,” said Williams, who is a grocer’s dream, spending about $200 a week on food just for himself. “When I started bodybuilding, I had to dedicate myself to a clean lifestyle: no parties, no drinking, no smoking.
“To be honest, I basically live like a monk. I’ve had to give up living like a normal 20-year-old to chase this dream. And I won’t stop until I get there.”
Long says extreme sacrifice is what it will take.
“Once he starts working with me on a more regular basis after his next competition in three weeks, I’ll get to really know Pete and see if he has that championship spirit,” Long said. “And by championship spirit, I mean you have to be more disciplined than ever before. You have to pretty much eat the same thing every day, you have to rest, you can’t party. Once you become a champion, that’s when you’ll have more freedom.
“If you look at all the great champions in their sports — Michael Jordan (in basketball) or Tiger Woods (in golf), for example — they worked so hard to get to where they were before they were able to relax and enjoy the luxuries that come with success. That’s the road Pete’s on now.”
Williams, who won the first bodybuilding competition he entered a year ago at age 25, said his goal is to look “like a Greek statue” — and leg-pressing 1,200 pounds, throwing down 50 chin-ups and sweating through 300 abdominal reps a day has him well on his way.
But as for Williams’ goal of becoming “Mr. USA” or winning a national championship — competitions he qualified for by virtue of his “Mr. Georgia” title last weekend — that won’t happen this year.
Even as fast as he’s risen in the sport, Williams is the first to tell you, “I’m not ready.”
“I could’ve gone last year when I won the Coastal Bodybuilding Championships in Gwinnett, but I felt I still needed some improvement,” said Williams, who works part-time as a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness and at GNC in the Albany Mall in between training for events. “A lot of guys just go from show to show and these judges see them and they’re not improving. In fact, they’re getting worse.
“I want to be that guy who (breaks onto the scene) and turns your head, but the next time you see me, I’m even bigger, even better than I was before.”
That’s where Long comes in.
The former national champion has worked primarily with Williams these last few months on his diet — improving an already strict regimen —but Long says he’ll really be able to assess how much work Williams has left before he can burst on the scene at nationals when they work together for countless hours in the coming months.
“It didn’t surprise me at all he was able to win ‘Mr. Georgia’ in his first try. I knew with his physique and condition, he would be tough to beat,” Long said. “But winning in Georgia or any other state and competing on the national level is very different. Just because someone wins state doesn’t mean they’re ready for nationals and (to) turn pro.”
Williams lives modestly and doesn’t receive any money for his victories in competitions at the moment since he still competes with amateur status, but that label will be shed the moment he steps on the national stage and starts competing with the big boys.
“Being that bodybuilding is what I want to do with my life, I want to make sure I don’t get ahead of myself. I’m only 26, and hopefully I’ve got a long time in this sport,” Williams said. “Right now, I’m living off my part-time jobs and the folks around town who sponsor me and believe in me. My manager at GNC, for example, has been great, giving me the time off I need to compete and train.”
Long, who helped train 2012’s “Mr USA,” Darron Glenn, added he liked that Williams wasn’t being overzealous and trying to reach for too much, too soon.
He said that while 2013 may have been Williams’ breakout year, 2014 is when he expects his star pupil to break through.
“Absolutely it’s the right call (to not go to nationals or the ‘Mr. USA’ competition this year) and wait until next year,” Long said. “He has to learn what it takes to be a full-fledged professional, and I know I can teach him what he needs to know.”
Williams, who sought out Long’s help in an effort to take that next step in his career, also works locally with kinesthesiology specialist Kory Hammonds, as well as local bodybuilder Emily Ingram. Williams calls Ingram’s experience and wisdom “invaluable” and Hammonds his “mentor and teacher.” And, of course, none of his success in those bodybuilding contests would be possible without his local sponsors.
“Robbie Sifford, the owner of Solo Archery; W.C. Webb, the owner of Parlor Boutique; Anytime Fitness in Leesburg; Steven Holloway, owner of Modern Gas, and Southwest Georgia Fitness in Americus — these are all people who believe in me and help me any way they can,” Williams said. “Whether it’s a little money or workout gear or food, they give whatever they’re just good people who give whatever they can, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
And now it’s up to Long to lead Williams the rest of the way.
“This guy can go straight to the top of this sport and be a top professional as long as he puts his whole heart in it. If he lives the way we lived, works as hard as we worked and does all the things necessary, there’s no doubt he can achieve his goal of being ‘Mr. USA,’ ” Long said. “He seems dedicated to being No. 1.”
And if there’s ever a lapse in that desire, all Williams has to do is think about that 5-foot-6, 140-pound “pip-squeak” who used to loathe the first sign of sweat.
“A lot’s changed since those days,” Williams said, before adding with a laugh: “That kid doesn’t exist anymore.”