Many will say the moral of the story of Collin Clark, a competitive bodybuilder with Down Syndrome, is that "you have no valid excuses for not incorporating your passion into your life." And that is how I came across this remarkable and inspiring story; via the stereotypical; righteous rhetoric of those who identify as bodybuilders and love to shame the world for not having the same work ethic as themselves. Collin Clark's passionate pursuit of a competitive bodybuilding physique is the latest rallying cry for those who think everyone ought get off their ass simply because "Collin has obstacles and he did it, so why can't you?"
Well, I can't say that interpretation is entirely unfounded. We all need to better incorporate our passions into our lives. Collin's example of bodybuilding is apropos to the rallying cry of "put down your excuses." Yet I can't help think there is another, less personal and more profound perspective that this example offers us as the story travels around the internet and pops up on sites everywhere.
The approach Collin Clark makes towards bodybuilding is a compelling example of how we all may be seeing bodybuilding all wrong. When compared to his perspective, the way we commonly represent the sport seems more a result of spoon-fed marketing concepts than a satisfactory definition of the pursuit.
Commonly, we see bodybuilding as the pursuit of a specific ideal; of an image. We see bodybuilders (generally) as those people aggressively morphing their physical shape to best match a set of standards based on an imaginary vision. While we individually all hold that we are exceptions to this rule, there is no denying that the general gestalt of bodybuilding – especially in it's competitive form – is about people trying to become something other than what they are, at least in shape. It's a commonly exemplified as a denial of what we are, not as an embracing of what we love. But that is how Collin embraces it; as an expression of things he loves, and in no quote I have yet heard has he suggested it is about not being who he is.
Collin is not trying to "not have down syndrome" by pursuing competitive bodybuilding. He is not trying to transform into something he is not or gain some shape he doesn't yet possess. Should change happen, it is ancillary to why he loves the work. He is just being a bodybuilder. And he has down syndrome, too. He is just Collin Clark. And there is nothing about how he understands bodybuilding that suggests he should do any more than pursue the work of his passion.
Think about that for a sec. This all suggests that "successful" bodybuilding may not be what we all typically believe it is. There is nothing about dedicated work of bodybuilding that suggests we ought be seeking something else. That is just not in the definition of the practice. Through Collin Clark we can see that fact clearly and vividly; he is showing us how his "gains" and "transformations" are not the result of pursuit of something beyond him, but rather the result of celebrating something within him. The sport of bodybuilding, apparently, is not about a quest for an ideal shape after all, it seems. When boiled down to it's practices – the way Clark represents it – bodybuilding becomes something far less about self gain, and far more about self giving.
And we have to stop making excuses for bodybuilding, and just accepting that "it is what the world says it is." Collin Clark did not let that excuse halt him, and instead makes the pursuit his own. He finds passion in having a purpose, and that purpose happens to be the work of bodybuilding. The challenges Clark may face as a bodybuilder with Down Syndrome are not represented as obstacles which deteriorate his progress towards achieving some ideal. And that fact says a lot about Collin, but perhaps says much more about bodybuilding. When we look at this sport through the filter of Clark's work, bodybuilding becomes something about your character, not your physique.
Collin proves that, in truth, bodybuilding is not about who gets the best results, but perhaps about who finds the most joy in the practice.
But, of course, we are far down the rabbit hole; we can't change the widely held idea that bodybuilding is about "getting something else other than what you got." It will continue to be seen as a quest for an external ideal rather than a practice of personal fulfillment. Not to mix metaphors, but we just can't put that genie back in the bottle. Especially because there is an industry that relies on bodybuilding maintaining that idea, and works hard to promote this version. We are stuck with an idea that this sport is about the destruction of one identity for the hopeful acquisition of another.
But Collin is not making excuses; he is not letting what the world says define him or his passion. Collin is just not doing what we all typically consider bodybuilding.
He is doing something better.
And it is something we can all do, too.
Collin's version of bodybuilding seems to be about honoring himself, without prejudice and vain comparison. It's about being proud and excited for what he is, no matter what that means. He is thrilled to be a bodybuilder, and he is fulfilled by engaging his passion. And he makes no excuses about that. It is not about whether he has met a standard set by an industry. For Collin, it is all about welcoming passion into his life. And that is what "makes him" a bodybuilder.
Maybe we can all learn from this other lesson taught by watching bodybuilder Collin Clark. Specifically, that no matter what your goals are, do not let them steal from your love of the work; do not let the pursuit of prizes rob you from he riches of the journey. Being who you are is not the result of what you are, but the result of what you do.
Even if who you are happens to be a bodybuilder.