Each January, gyms overflow with fledgling fitness fanatics, eager to hone perfect six packs – or at least lose spare tires.
By February, those same wannabe gym rats are gone, worn out from their flirtation with exercise.
They should meet my dad, Jim Arrington. Since age 15, he’s been a dedicated bodybuilder. For more than half a century, he’s worked out at least three times a week.
Now, he’s in the 2017 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest professional bodybuilder.
His fitness accomplishments are inspirational – even on this Super Sunday celebrating a different muscle-fueled sport.
Jim doesn’t just pump iron; he competes and wins. In 2016, this great-grandfather won the International Federation of Body Builders Pittsburgh Pro Masters Championships, age 70 and up division, for his 16th career victory and first as a pro at the national level. He turned 84 the next day.
In Pittsburgh, Pa., hundreds of bodybuilders and fans cheered wildly as Jim posed on stage, flexing his pecs and biceps for the appreciative audience. He posed despite a left hip injury that made it painful to walk.
“He’s freaking awesome!” said Roxanne Edwards of Brooklyn, N.Y., herself an accomplished pro bodybuilder and physique competitor. “He’s a rock star. He walked out on that stage and did his thing. This is what it looks like when you never give up.”
That injury led to a hip replacement in November, but Jim was back working out two weeks later.
More seniors are bodybuilding and competing. According to Bodybuilding.com, mature bodybuilders – ages 50 and up – represent the second fastest-growing demographic for the sport, trailing only men ages 25 to 45.
“That’s my favorite group, age 70 and up,” said longtime promoter Gary Udit after the 2015 nationals. “That’s the one group that blows people away the most. They’re so remarkable.”
Such conditioning takes focus, drive and dedication, Udit said.
“The key to my success is being in the right place at the right time with the right attitude,” Jim told a television host in Pittsburgh. “Be positive, not negative. In anything, you score a lot of points with an upbeat frame of mind.”
That positive attitude has carried him a long way, in and out of the gym. A former salesman, he’s become a YouTube sensation with dozens of workout clips and interviews. Several videos have more than 100,000 views. His advice is relentlessly positive.
“I never say anything bad about another bodybuilder,” he says. “We’re all trying to do the same thing – get better. We want to be the best we can be, so why should I criticize? Instead, be supportive.”
Ironically, he retired in his early 60s from his day job because his bosses felt that younger salesmen made a stronger impression. That was OK with Jim; it meant more time to work out.
A sickly child with asthma, Jim discovered bodybuilding as a teenager. He saw the Charles Atlas muscle-building ads on the back of a magazine and that inspired him to take up weights.
“My nickname was Skinny Bones,” Jim recalls. “When I started working out, I was 5-foot-8 and weighed 115 pounds. I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. By college, I got up to 150 pounds.”
More than six decades later, he weighs just under 160 – all muscle, no fat.
His career as a competitive bodybuilder started late. Living in the bodybuilding haven of Venice Beach, he never felt he was “big” enough to go up against other regulars at the original Gold’s Gym, where he still works out.
That all changed in 1978. At age 45, Jim made his debut in the Mr. America Over 40 contest. Out of 15 participants, he won the title as “Most Muscular” and placed second overall.
Jim became a regular at Venice’s Muscle Beach contests, competing summer after summer. When Venice celebrated its 100th anniversary with a 2007 parade, Jim represented “Physical Culture” on the community’s official float.
Eventually, Jim stepped up to win national amateur competitions and earned “pro card” invitations. At age 83, he finally accepted.
Jason Ellis, a longtime fitness photographer, alerted Guinness to Jim’s record-setting potential and followed through with all the necessary documentation. Personally, he finds inspiration in Jim’s commitment and results.
“(Jim) is proof that it is never to late to start working out and taking care of your health,” Ellis says. “It will add quality and longevity to your life. The sooner you start, the better.”