Ephraim Gudgeon wants to be a professional bodybuilder and a competition in Canada in less than three weeks may give him that chance.
But he has to win the wheelchair division at the Toronto Pro Supershow to earn his International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness pro card.
The winner of the amateur contest on May 31 and June 1 will get to compete at Mr Olympia and other events.
Gudgeon, 26, who helps to run a gym in Gisborne, is confident he can win in Toronto.
“I’m not going for the experience,” he says.
“I enjoy challenging myself. I’m really excited; I can’t wait to get on that stage.”
Gudgeon is the 2017 wheelchair bodybuilding national champion in New Zealand.
A competitive swimmer in his youth, he took up bodybuilding after an accident left him paralysed from the waist down.
Gudgeon jumped into the water at Omanawa Falls near Tauranga on Waitangi Day 2017, fractured his T12 vertebrae just above his hips and damaged his spinal cord. He hit water only but knew instantly he was not OK.
“It felt like concrete,” he says.
“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t really feel anything in my legs.”
He has watched footage of the incident many times. His wife, Arian, filmed it. They never deleted it.
Gudgeon says he cried for “days and days” in hospital.
“I was sad but never once did I feel that life was over.”
He was not feeling sorry for himself; rather, he was adjusting to the fact that life would be very different, he says.
“I knew I would still do other things.”
He decided to give bodybuilding a go to stay positive and active.
“Before my accident, I enjoyed following bodybuilding. I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger, training videos and Mr Olympia competitions.”
Accident didn't stop him from aiming highHis accident was in February 2017. He got out of hospital in April that year and entered the nationals in November and won.
“I enjoyed that and decided I wanted to take it to the next level.”
He won the National Amateur Bodybuilders’ Association East Coast Champs in Gisborne in September last year, although he was the only competitor in his division.
Gudgeon says his wife has been immensely supportive. He credits her with helping him to stay driven.
The accident happened only a few months after the couple married.
Gudgeon needs help to shower, he has no control over his bladder or bowel and his wife helps prepare his meals.
He and Arian manage Any Time Fitness Centre in Carnarvon Street, although he describes himself as a volunteer.
Going to the gym helps him feel “normal” and keeps his mind busy.
He has paid work at Turanga Ararau, making sure youngsters who want to go to police college get up to the required level of fitness.
The trip to Canada will cost thousands of dollars — expenses include airfares for the couple and accommodation.
They will arrive a week before the event, which will allow Gudgeon time to complete his preparations in Toronto, such as cutting down on water.
He has a Givealittle page to help meet costs.
Gudgeon eats a lot of fish, chicken and eggs — clean sources of protein.
His younger brother Jarom helps him train.
A typical weekly routine might go like this: Monday, working on his chest; Tuesday, his back; Wednesday, shoulders; Thursday, chest; Friday, back or shoulders; Saturday, arms — triceps and biceps. He also does a cardio workout each morning. Sunday is his rest day.
Before his accident, Gudgeon was a personal trainer in Hamilton.
He sometimes misses how things used to be.
When he was at high school, he was part of a dance crew that won a bronze medal at the international hip-hop championships in Las Vegas.
He represented Waikato in swimming and was ranked in the top five swimmers in New Zealand throughout all his teen years. But he decided not to return to the sport to push for a spot in the Paralympics, preferring to try something new — bodybuilding.
He finds going to the gym therapeutic and he is grateful for the ongoing encouragement of friends and family.
Gudgeon believes he will be able to walk again one day.
He is now able to control his lower abdominal muscles.
He can extend his left leg out straight but has much more feeling in his right leg than the left.
Gudgeon hopes to inspire more people with disabilities to train.
“You can still have goals, be fit and healthy and have fun.”