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Building at 55

Posted: March 7, 2008 2:47 a.m.
Updated: May 8, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Bobby Yamasaki, a 55-year-old Valencia resident and former judo champion, poses with the first-place trophy he won at the NPC Excalibur Bodybuilding Championship in Culver City. It was Yamasaki's first-ever bodybuilding event.

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He's 55 years old. Once a judo champion, Valencia resident Bobby Yamasaki spends more time these days on weightlifting.

The soft-spoken man was training one morning and caught the eye of a former bodybuilder named Aram Nersesian who believed, despite never competing, Yamasaki could be a bodybuilding champion.

At 55, Yamasaki took the stage for the first time.

•••

- The words of Aram Nersesian
I met him in the gym - L.A. Fitness. The one on Copperhill and Newhall Ranch.

He was working out.

I've been working out for years.

I look at people in a different way than most people.

Some people go to the gym just to do something.

He was very methodical.

Very quiet and shy to a point.

I walked over and talked to him.

He said he was involved since he was very young - since he was in martial arts.

He had a good physique to start with.

I asked him, "Have you ever thought about bodybuilding? If you have, I'd like to give you some help."

Week or two went by and he said, "I'd like to try it."

Anything I asked him to do, he did it.

He didn't question it.

He wasn't skeptical.

A lot of people there knew me.

I had a gym in Burbank.

I was kind of known there already.

They knew I was a former champion bodybuilder.

I'm always there with my wife.

My wife and him are training partners.

Sharon.

He exercised correctly.

If you're in the business, you know who's doing it correctly and who's not.

And he didn't quit.

He went completely through a routine.

Some people talk and walk around for five minutes. They don't have that inner drive to succeed.

I just felt he had something extra.

I've known him for two years.

I first approached him six months ago.

I didn't realize how old he was.

I thought he was like 35.

Good skin, great body.

I didn't collapse or anything when he told me how old he was. I was like, "God darn."

There are a few lines around his eyes, that's it.

I'm 68 years old.

I train probably as hard as anybody does in the gym.

I used to bench press up to 500 pounds.

I dead-lifted and squatted 500 pounds in my mid-40s.

When I was 47 years old, I won Mr. America.

But I hurt my shoulder doing a heavy bench press.

Now?

Now I could bench press 275, maybe 300 pounds.

I keep forgetting how old I am.

I help people in the gym, men and women, if I see somebody doing stuff incorrectly, I have to say something.

I saw a lady doing something wrong and approached her and told her, "I can make a program for you."

My knowledge I developed over the last 35 years, reading and learning how the body works - kinesiology.

So in him, I saw just the desire, a real burning desire to compete. Now that he's been in one contest, it's really inspired him.

At the contests, there are a bunch of different categories, from teenage to Masters.

There are three groups of Masters - 40-, 50- and 60-year-old.

There must have been 1,500 to 2,000 people at the show Bobby competed in.

•••

- The words of Bobby Yamasaki
I was born in San Diego. My dad was a commercial tuna fisherman.

He was born in Redlands.

My mom was born in East L.A.

I started in martial arts at 10 years old.

I started lifting weights at 11 or 12. My dad wanted me to get stronger for judo.

As I got older, I started lifting more seriously in high school.

It's been consistent for the last 30 years. The only off-time was due to injuries in martial arts.

I'm 55.

I live in Valencia.

Basically, weight lifting was a hobby, something I liked to do.

Aram, I met him at L.A. Fitness in Valencia.

He talked me into doing my first show in December.

I never planned to go on stage. It's not part of my personality, but I'm a really competitive person so I thought I'd try it.

All through my weight training career, I've had tons of people that said I should compete.

I was the California state champion for the Masters division in judo in 2005.

I was the Junior Olympic champion and National Champion from 12 to 15.

I was competing at that level then quit for seven, eight years then went back to try out for the Olympics.

I beat the three-time national champion after three weeks of training.

But this big guy hurt my shoulder and my career ended in 1978.

•••

Bobby Yamasaki's new career began some 29 years later at the age of 55.

A former bodybuilding champion named Aram Nersesian noticed him working out at the aforementioned L.A. Fitness.

Yamasaki always kept himself in phenomenal shape, but never seriously considered competitive bodybuilding until Nersesian convinced him to.

Soft-spoken, shy even, bodybuilding was probably not the sport Yamasaki intended to enter.

As a judo marvel, he never showed emotion.
His lips never curved, up or down.

He took the stage Dec. 1 at the NPC Excalibur Bodybuilding Championship in Culver City, and kept that lack of emotion.

The welder for the Department of Water and Power knows for the next contest, he will have to show the judges a little personality.

But it mattered not on his first day of competition in bodybuilding.

Instead, he flexed and posed - muscles bulging everywhere, trapezius to his gastrocnemius.

Despite the intimidation he felt backstage because others competing were more bulkier, Yamasaki had something the others didn't.

His lean, ripped, symmetrical muscles impressed the judges there.

They didn't hold his 5-foot-7-inch, 149-pound size against him.

At 55 years old, Yamasaki accomplished something unique.

Working out five, six days a week , eating six meals a day - never sodas or juice or cheeseburgers - Yamasaki chiseled his body into a championship form.

He won the amateur event.

"Aram kept on telling me there's not going to be anybody with my physique there at my age, at 55," Yamasaki says.

"I kept believing him."

He'll likely compete in five more events this year.

"The thing is, he just works so hard and he's absolutely natural," Nersesian said. "He just deserves a little pat on the back."

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