It took Mike Ives 30 years of training to win his first bodybuilding competition, in 2004. He won another this month, at 56 years old.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Mike Ives slips off his shirt in his mobile home’s living room, flexing and posing and slapping his abs.
“Not bad for 56,” he says. And he isn’t lying.
A half-century old, Ives has competed in 56 bodybuilding shows in his lifetime — 51 of which since 2000. To stay in shape, he does 500 sit-ups and 500 shoulder twists daily. And earlier this month, he won first place in the Masters Over 50 Division of the Gator Classic Bodybuilding Competition, at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center.
“I didn’t fall to my knees; I didn’t cry,” he says, of being handed the trophy at the April 20 event. “I acted like it was no big deal. But it was.”
To get to where he was that day — besting another bodybuilder who’d beaten him at the same competition the past five years — Ives had to struggle. But then, he was used to struggling.
At 15 years old, Ives got both of his arms caught in a machine meant to crush paper into blocks. The baler drug him into it, where he moaned and bled for an hour before someone finally found him.
‘I went to heaven,” Ives says, staring off into his kitchen. “I watched my whole life flicker. … You know what infinity means? Infinity means forever. That was the kind of pain I experienced.”
He says that when the doctors examined his arms, they claimed it was the worst crush injury they’d ever seen. They wanted to amputate. But Ives’ father resisted.
Up until this point, all Ives ever wanted was to be a drummer. But he lived in a Philadelphia ghetto. And after his father’s alimony checks dried up, he and his brother quit school to help their mother, who was working two jobs, pay the bills.
That’s when he got the position at the paper factory — $1.90 per hour. After the injury, he was put on disability. But sitting at home, not able to play outside or earn his own money, it made him feel powerless, “like some kind of vegetable.”
So he bought a couple dumbbells.
Ives didn’t place in his first bodybuilding show, when he was 21, and he remembers crying in the car on his way back home. That night, he had a dream that would haunt him for decades — him onstage, being awarded a shiny, first-place trophy.
It wasn’t until 2004, though, at a Mr. Daytona competition, that he got to experience that moment for real. His first first-place win.
“The 30-year dream finally came true,” he says.
Take a step inside Ives’ 20-foot-by-60-foot trailer and it’s hard not to notice the clutter. Some rooms are filled with exercise equipment, home improvement supplies, piles of sneakers and stuff. Others are crammed with trophies.
He hasn’t had a house guest in nine years.
Sometimes, he says, his living conditions disgust him. Working the kitchen at Signature HealthCare, he admits he doesn’t make much money; then again, he’s never been too big on material things. He drove the same beat-up 1987 van for years before it died on him two weeks back, right before his back-up scooter conked out and he had to use money meant for visiting family back in Philly for new wheels, something stable enough to get him to bodybuilding competitions across Florida.
“It’s not much, but I thank the Lord that I have what I have,” he says, talking of sacrifice and success.
Ives knows that his life — just like his body — is a work in progress.
“This all came from trial and error,” he adds, motioning toward his torso. “It came from the wisdom of the years.”
Ives has never taken any formal physical fitness classes. He doesn’t believe in training certifications. He’s a doer. When he was short on money years back and moved into his mom’s heater-less attic up north, he would fill milk jugs with hot water before bed and hold them against his blankets to keep warm. To stay disciplined, he’s eaten the same three dinners nearly every night the past 13 years (rice with 89 cent tuna, sometimes chicken or turkey, depending on budget). He doesn’t count calories; he looks in the mirror or gets on the scale.
And when the doctors told him not to exercise after his injury, he ignored them. He saw results through weight training. And results meant he could support himself; they meant he could get off disability, regain control and begin to dream again.
“You’re a fighter,” he’s gotten used to telling himself all the times he thinks of quitting. “I guess my fire just burns brighter than some people.”
Ives was diagnosed with skin cancer back in 2005 and got “parts dug out of” his body to make it go away. Since January, he’s injured himself seven times. His mom is currently in the hospital — broken bones, emphysema.
He realizes he is getting older.
“I know it’s coming to an end,” he says of his best days on the competition circuit. “But I’m still going to keep my heart and soul into bodybuilding. … Every time I get up on stage, I’m still the living the dream. … The Lord has blessed me. Believe me.”