MARSHALL JOHNSON: 50’s Are The New 30’s
Interview by Ben Yosef
MARSHALL JOHNSON has been in the NATURALMAG spotlight for quite a while now, and deservedly so. This real life Superman made the list on our Top 13 Stories of 2013 countdown in December, coming in at number 6. Just off the heels of one of the most active seasons known to man, Marshall is not planning to let up.
I was very excited about the wonderful opportunity to interview this marvel of a man, as I was curious about so many things. The traveling, getting his physique to peak so many times in one year, his razor sharp conditioning, does he plan to match his activity (or even top it) in 2014? And, are 50’s really the new 30’s?
BY: What an incredible year you had. Reviewing the list of competitions you did in 2013, I am just baffled. And studying the photos from your shows has me in awe. Wow. Congratulations.
“Anytime you are traveling to hit the stage it is challenging just to make sure you have everything…”
MJ: Yes, we ( Susie Johnson and I) did travel quite a bit this year from coast to coast and points in between. We live in Leesburg Virginia which is about forty minutes from Washington DC and usually fly out of the Dulles Airport. I must say first of all a big THANK YOU to our friend Tami Jo who made traveling possible so that I was able to compete in all the shows. Without her it would not have been possible! Anytime you are traveling to hit the stage it is challenging just to make sure you have everything like certain foods, posing trunks, tanning products, hotel with a fridge, rental car etc. Also, the last bit of prep, like where you’re going to workout the last day or two if that is something you need to do. The other side of the coin and probably more challenging was Susie worked later hours and adjusted her schedule at work to be at every show to support me. Thanks sweetheart!
BY: When did your career in bodybuilding begin, and what got you into the sport?
“I did my first show when I was thirty-six years old…I was late to the game.”
MJ:I actually got started in bodybuilding as a result of doing an EAS Body for Life challenge. I always worked out and a couple women at the gym wanted to do the challenge and asked me to help them and I agreed. Then they asked if I would do it with them, to which I replied “absolutely not.” Reason being, it included cardio and at the time I believed no self respecting hardcore lifter did cardio. Well, with a little persuasion I agreed. After a month I was seeing a dramatic change and the guys at World Gym where we trained said, “Man you should do a bodybuilding show!” I got help and direction from a power lifter and bodybuilder named Steve DeBendittis with refining my diet, posing, and other details. I did my first show when I was thirty-six years old that same year. I think that was in 1996 and I was late to the game then also. I placed top five in the Body For Life Challenge and won my novice class in my first bodybuilding show. After that I was addicted to say the least!
BY: You would ultimately enjoy years of competing before taking a long break away from the stage. Why did you take that break and what brought you back?
“…she tapped me on the belly and Said, “Dad you’re getting fat…”
MJ: It was actually a short stint of competing compared to a lot of guys. My last show was around 2000-2001, so about four years or so. Life just took a different direction and even though I thought there would never be a time when I would not make it to the gym, it started happening. I got remarried and bought a house and then the busyness started with making our house a home that reflected our taste, from landscaping, to deck, to patio etc. Then came the Harley Davidson motorcycles and a return of love for riding and customizing our bikes. Since I was lifting very infrequently, it was during this time, around 2007, I said to myself, “I think I’ll hit the stage again when I turn fifty”. So, fast forward and I turned fifty November 21, 2010.
I didn’t think anything of it until we were visiting my daughter in Texas the following month for Christmas. While I was relaxing after a great dinner and desert, she tapped me on the belly and said “Dad you’re getting fat and don’t try to suck it in!” She used to be at all my shows and yelling “Go Dad!” from the audience. Before long the whole audience would be yelling “Go Dad!” Anyway, after dinner, everyone was having a great time talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves.
I went into the bathroom upstairs and took off my shirt and said “Okay Marshall, no sucking it in and trying to look buff, just let it go”. I did and was like, “Man you have fallen from fitness, no joke!”
“I…made my return to competition! All because of my daughter Tamara Johnson calling me out. I love you sweetheart!”
I reminded myself that I said when I turn fifty I would compete again, and lo and behold I was fifty! So, I got on the computer and targeted a show the following June and was hitting cardio at the hotel the night before we flew back home. I did the show in June and made my return to competition! All because of my daughter Tamara Johnson calling me out. I love you sweetheart!
BY: You are known for bringing a razor sharp package to the stage, front to back. What is the key to coming in so peeled, and does achieving this level of conditioning become more difficult with age?
MJ: One of the main keys for me is diet. What I eat, how much I eat, and when I eat it. I also incorporate regular cardio in my prep to dial it in, but it isn’t your typical steady state although I do that as well. I know a lot of the consensus out there now is that you don’t need to do cardio or it will make you lose muscle. Both can be true depending on how much you’re doing and if you are already extremely lean etc.
“Actually, the conditioning I have been bringing is superior to thirteen years ago.”
I have experienced that also and I have to really look at my physique objectively and make adjustments. However, now that I am in my fifties I find my body needs a little extra motivation to burn the calories as opposed to when I was in my thirties, plus I like to eat. My wife Susie Johnson says I haven’t met a food I didn’t like, true! Actually the conditioning I have been bringing is superior to thirteen years ago. So, is it more difficult with age? For me I don’t think so.
BY: Of the thirteen contests you competed in last year, which was your most memorable, and why?
MJ: I did a lot of great shows with great promoters and athletes this past year. The one that is the most memorable was the IFPA Yorton Cup that was held in Amherst Massachusetts in October. The show was run well and there was tough competition in every class! What made it the most memorable though, was the impromptu get together (after party) at a Nigerian restaurant that Moji Oluwa put together.
It was the first time Susie and I had Nigerian food which was great! It was like going to a friend’s mom’s house and having dinner! However, the icing on the cake was when we finished eating the lady that owned the restaurant came out and said “now we dance” and she kicked it off with some great Nigerian music! Moji chimed in and said, “Yep, that’s what we do.” Within minutes Chris Nsubuga, Bill and Kelly Matthews, Abraham Tchabe, Will and Terry Powell, Benny Mobley, Patty Oluwa, Susie Johnson and myself hit the floor! It was awesome and one of those times when you just had to be there! Great food, great time and more importantly great people! Oh, then we went a few stores up and had ice cream. Yeah buddy, it was the most memorable!
BY: What are your competition plans for 2014? I assume you will be defending some titles?
MJ: We are in the process of deciding which shows to hit in 2014. It will probably be six to eight of them. I started my competition season at the end of March last year, but I don’t plan on hitting the stage this year until August. So I won’t be defending my title in several shows that will take place before then.
I found that I was able to bring a great physique to the stage towards the end of the season, but it wasn’t my best. The thickness and some density, due to some experimentation with diet, was missing. I’ve got to have that to compete at an even higher level with the great competitors that I anticipate will be bringing some awesome physiques in every organization!
BY: Marshall, at fifty-three years young, you are besting athletes that are twenty to thirty years younger. What is your secret?
MJ: Hmmm….secret, lets see. I think it is realizing that age is, or can be, just a number. It becomes a mind over matter thing for me. Training heavy is great for a lot of the younger guys. I do find my joints cannot take that as much anymore and if I get an injury, it takes longer to recover. So I gotta train smarter and it becomes imperative then for me to find alternatives that work to give them a run for the money, pun intended! [laughs] Once I do then I give it 100% and more if possible to grow, define and refine those muscles.” I can’t” is not in my vocabulary and shouldn’t be in yours as a competitor or in life! NMI
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