Interview With NGA Chairman Jerry Marsala
Once a powerlfiter, Jerry Marsala transitioned into bodybuilding and now promotes several shows for the NGA. In this interview, Jerry gives us a behind the scenes look at what it takes to run a bodybuilding contest, and also discusses why it is important to ignore the steroid side of the sport, and support all-natural contests.
Muscle & Strength: Tell me about the shows you promote, and how you came to be involved with the promotional end of natural bodybuilding?
Jerry Marsala: Hi Steve and thank for the interview. I promote the NGA CAN/AM and Olympus. Both are 7 year drug tested bodybuilding, figure and bikini championships. I also help promote the NGA Northeast (run by Joe Christiano) in Rochester, NY.
After many years of competing I became more involved with the judging and organizational side of bodybuilding. I became a NGA and WNBF official and ventured off to run my own events in 1995. The CAN/AM was my first event and after great success I ran the Northeast that fall. According to Joe Christiano, I lost the Northeast name in a poker game to him and renamed the show the Olympus the following year. Funny thing is I don’t play poker. (Laughs)
The truth is Joe came on board and we decided to move the Northeast to Rochester.
Muscle & Strength: Can you give us a behind the scenes look at what’s all involved with putting a show together. How much time does it take, what are some of your greatest challenges, and what’s all involved with getting a show to come together so it runs smoothly?
Jerry Marsala: The planning starts one year ahead. You start with a date or a target date and then work on the entry forms and all publicity material. This usually is a hand full of hours a week. As the show gets closer the work load increases. Right now the CAN/AM is 5 weeks out and it’s like a second full time job. There is always something to do and work on. A good example is something as simple as pose down and figure walk music. If you have ever been to a show at the music screws up or just sounds terrible? That’s because the promoter didn’t do their homework.
I listen to each of the cd’s being used on the equipment that it will be played on the day of the show. I also have 3 back up cd’s for each section and a back up sound system. I pride myself in a well run show. The biggest challenge is the last few weeks. Most competitors enter the last couple weeks so now it turns into a second full time job with over time. Everyone get a trophy at my show and everyone gets to perform their routine on stage. We check everyone music the morning of the show so there are no mistakes. In over 15 years my shows have always started on time.
Muscle & Strength: How prevalent is cheating? Do you run into many athletes that try to fly under the radar at every show, or are athletes like this few and far between?
Jerry Marsala: It used to be an issue. In the past 10 years we caught a little over 60 people that failed the test. Due to this my events have set a good reputation that we will catch you so fewer attempt to try and beat the system.
I have had ones that fail the test, confess to using steroids, then go on to the message boards and complain. Unfortunately I cannot disclose their names, even though I have a signed confession from them admitting their guilt. One even went on a radio show and claimed he was natural when he admitted that he used his wife’s prescription diuretics. I still have his written confession.
The job of a promoter is to make sure the contest is drug free and everyone is tested. Its not a popularity contest. I take drug testing very serious.
Muscle & Strength: I want to ask you about figure and bikini. How long have you been running bikini competitions, and how much has the women’s side of the sport grown in the past 10 years because of these competition classes? Are there more women entering each year, or have these classes “leveled off”?
Jerry Marsala: This is our first year with bikini. Figure evolved from fitness and it has grown. It has grown so big that it took a bite out of women’s bodybuilding. But the demand is there and I think the female competitor enjoys it over bodybuilding.
Muscle & Strength: What appeals to you about the natural side of the sport?
Jerry Marsala: What doesn’t. (Laughs) I like the challenge of trying to be your best without the help of drugs. In the natural side there is no guarantee to grow and make gains. It is harder than the drug world and more honorable. It also sets a good example for our children.
Muscle & Strength: I want to ask specifically about the NGA?
Jerry Marsala: The NGA is the longest running natural organization. The NGA does not control its competitors and eliminates any politics you may experience in other organizations. The NGA is also very flexible with its promoters. Every promoter has different challenges in relation to where they live. The NGA works individually with its promoters that allows them to run the best show possible.
Also the NGA takes its drug testing very serious.
Muscle & Strength: Jerry, you mentioned that you were one of the first individuals to have a natural bodybuilding site on the net. Can you tell us more about that? When did you start the site, what was your inspiration in doing so, and is that same site still on the web?
Jerry Marsala: I am an electrical engineer turned teacher so I always had a strong computer background. I just put both my hobbies together (bodybuilding and electronics) and started to write a website using HTML code. At that time there wasn’t any web development software or even “Go Daddy”. Hosting a website was very expensive back then so no one was doing it yet. I wanted to allow competitors easy access to contest information. I also wanted to create a place where people can go to after the show and revisit it.
I hate to say that technology has passed me and now my site has the basics. I don’t have all the bells and whistles most have. It became very hard to run the shows, have a full time job, a family and keep up with the technology.
Muscle & Strength: Who were your bodybuilding role models when you were growing up, and when did you first start training seriously?
Jerry Marsala: I really didn’t have a “role model”. I was however fascinated by Arnold, Lou and guys like Mohamed Makkawy. I started out as a powerlifter. The week before one of my powerlifting meets I got really sick. I lost a lot of weight and got very lean. At the meet all the guys kept asking me if I was doing a bodybuilding show. I was actually really mad because I was a powerlifer not a bodybuilder. Well since I was halfway on the diet (due to all the weight loss from being sick), I decided to try my first contest. After that I was hooked.
I started to train really serious (powerlifting) my Senior year in High School. Bodybuilding was around 1988. We didn’t really have the type of knowledge there is today as far as training and diet. We just trained till we either puked or collapsed. Then we would do a few more sets. (Laughs)
Muscle & Strength: Is there anything that you feel young lifters or bodybuilders could learn from the way a powerlifter trains? And perhaps, vice versa…
Jerry Marsala: My old training partner and I would argue about movement techniques. For example, he would use more slow focused movements on the leg sled. He would point his toes out to help improve his leg sweep. I would try to lift as heavy as possible and focus on completion of the movement. I also preferred squats over the leg press. When we did a contest together I notice how improved his leg sweep was. So I decided to change the way I trained.
I think it is good to incorporate powerlifting movements in a bodybuilding workout plan, however bodybuilders are not judged by how strong they are.
Muscle & Strength: In a perfect world, where would you like to see the sport of natural bodybuilding in 10 years?
Jerry Marsala: I have a good answer for that. I would like to see more companies sponsor natural shows and not the drug ones. In order for that to happen, the people have to make a change. They have to support the naturals and not the drugs. If every natural athlete, or person for that matter, chose not to support the drug shows, then the supplement companies would shift their advertisement dollars to the naturals. It is simple supply and demand. That is my fantasy perfect world.I worry for my children. With all the drugs in pro sports how is a natural athlete suppose to make it? As a parent we need to guide our children, teach them what’s right and wrong. And yet I watch men walk into the gym with their 5 year old son to sell steroids. We have a Governor of the largest economic US state who runs a show that is full of drugs. I can proudly say that I am doing my part by running natural shows where everyone is tested.
natural athlete, or person for that matter, chose not to support the drug shows, then the supplement companies would shift their advertisement dollars to the naturals. It is simple supply and demand. That is my fantasy perfect world.I worry for my children. With all the drugs in pro sports how is a natural athlete suppose to make it? As a parent we need to guide our children, teach them what’s right and wrong. And yet I watch men walk into the gym with their 5 year old son to sell steroids. We have a Governor of the largest economic US state who runs a show that is full of drugs. I can proudly say that I am doing my part by running natural shows where everyone is tested.