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Bodybuilder hopes to inspire with show focused on pumping iron

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The gruelling hours pumping iron and pushing the body to its limits. The extreme dedication to eating low-fat, high-protein foods.

And then the compulsion to show off the results: chiselled, bulging, oil-slicked muscles that may seem cartoonish, even freakish, to the average person.

It will all be exposed in a new reality series about Canadian bodybuilders set to film in Winnipeg this fall, says Ontario-based filmmaker and show creator James Hergott.

Hergott, a bodybuilder himself, says his goal in creating the series is to shed light on bodybuilding, an industry plagued with controversy. (The controversial issues range from steroid use to the practice of dehydrating the body before competition to enhance one's physique.)

He says the bad rap is unfair and that the public should focus on the mental strength bodybuilders muster in order to achieve their goals. He hopes his series will encourage everyday people to reach whatever fitness aspirations they set their minds to, regardless of circumstances.

Many of the show's stars, he says, have overcome adversity.

"Some of (their bodies) are just insane," Hergott says during a phone interview from his home in Cobourg, located 100 kilometres northeast of Toronto. "They didn't start out that way. That's inspiring to people.

"It really comes down to the choices that you make. There are certainly people who I've seen lose 60 pounds, or mothers of multiple kids. Whatever the case may be, they face the same challenges that everybody faces."

Hergott has enlisted the help of Winnipeg pro bodybuilders Darren Mehling and his wife Christina to train contestants on the show.

The pair own Freak Fitness, the name of their training and coaching business designed mostly for people interested in bodybuilding. Hergott said he contacted the couple because of their stellar reputation in the industry.

"I would consider (Darren) one of, if not the top trainer in Canada, certainly in terms of the amount of people that he has had success with in terms of turning pro or in terms of wins," he says.

Sixteen reality show contestants have been cast so far, most of them from Winnipeg. Hergott hopes to discover more people this week and urges those interested to contact him by email (

The goal of the show is to watch contestants train, explore their personal lives and see them compete and hopefully win pro status, the holy grail for most bodybuilders.

Hergott says he had initially planned to film his series in several Canadian cities. He ended up choosing to film mostly in Winnipeg owing to the high number of residents interested in appearing on the yet-untitled show.

Apparently River City is a hotbed of bodybuilding talent.

"I don't know if it's because the cold winters or whatever it is, but there just is a lot of really successful athletes out of Winnipeg... really good personalities with great stories," says Hergott.

Although Hergott hasn't nailed a distribution deal for his upcoming series, he's confident the show will air on the web, television or both. "I am a believer in getting things going and changing to adapt to the process," he says.

He notes that he helped bring Generation Iron to big screen -- and now to Netflix and ESPN -- in much the same way. The 2013 bodybuilding documentary narrated by Mickey Rourke features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno.

Darren Mehling, who resides in Winnipeg's downtown, says he looks forward to helping the world understand bodybuilding, a sport that has brought him so much satisfaction.

"We can't guarantee that everyone on the show is going to be a winner," says Mehling, during a phone interview from Pittsburgh, where he and his wife are two of 11,000 contestants in a bodybuilding competition.

The Steinbach-raised former 335-pound strongman competitor -- who has lifted 50,000-pound trucks -- says the cast will see more than their bodies transform. "It's going to change their lives in many other ways," he says.

Mehling met his wife Christine while working at Manitoba Lotteries Corporation several years ago

In eight months, he lost 125 pounds in order to win his first bodybuilding competition. Around the same time, Christine achieved pro status.

"We knew that if we could succeed at that, what else could we succeed at?" he says.

Those on the reality series will ask themselves the same question.

"They are going to change careers," says Mehling. "They are going to get out of relationships that have not been good for them. That's the really cool thing you're going to see. Not just the winning on stage. It's the positive impact it has on everything else in their life."

Winnipeg financial advisor Trina Burns, 38, has agreed to appear on the series. The St. James mother of four is excited to show viewers the inner strength bodybuilding has brought to her life.

"It's an opportunity for people to get a closer look at what we do," she says. "I know there are a lot of assumptions about why we do what we do or the decisions that we make or the lifestyle that we lead.

"I'm just like anybody else. I'm just a busy mom. I've got other responsibilities and priorities in my life other than competing. Competing is a complete joy for me, but it comes with a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice.

"I'm just girl. I'm just a mom. I want people to see the human side of what we do."


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2014 C3


Updated on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 6:47 AM CDT: Changes headline, replaces photo

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