Don Ohmes, a mild-mannered accountant, had a fitness vision. He decided at age 64 that he wanted to compete in body building.
This summer he shared that dream with his personal trainer, mentioning his long-time admiration of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To Maida, his wife of 43 years, this was a revelation: Body building? Arnold Schwarzenegger?
"Getting on a stage in front of people? This is not really who he is," she says. "He is a modest person and shy. You have to get up on stage and have a brief on, or whatever it is."
Actually, it's a "posing outfit." Don bought his for $32 at www.cherrybombs.net. (I don't know why it's called cherrybombs and I'm not sure I want to know.)
Anyway, Don says, he had second thoughts about his muscle quest when his posing outfit arrived via mail.
"It came in an envelope," Don recalls, burying his face in his hands. "That's all it was in. I thought, 'Holy cow!'"
Posing costumes are so itsy bitsy that competitors must shave their bodies.
Don, who is 5 foot 8 and 175 pounds, has been retired since 2006. He lives in O'Fallon, Mo., and teaches accounting part time at Webster University.
He chose body building not because anyone was kicking sand in his face. He wanted to be fitter.
In 1994 he had angioplasty surgery after severe chest pain. He was 47. His brother had died of a heart attack at 50. His father had heart bypass surgery. Both his grandfathers were dead by the time Don was 2.
Maida says her husband has a steely resolve.
"I know how he is when he sets his mind to do something," she says. "He will do it. I'm just glad he has that interest and wants to take care of his health ... I want him to be around for a while."
Don says there is another reason he wants to stay healthy.
"I have a little bit of a problem with death," he says. Don served in the infantry in Vietnam.
"I had some real good friends who were killed ... I think about those guys at least once a night," he says.
Not everybody has a personal fitness trainer. The reason Don had one is that for several years he has competed in the Senior Olympics as a track sprinter.
His trainer is Nicole Dudas, who works at Emerge Fitness in St. Peters. She didn't bat an eye when Don told her of his new goal. She had trained other body builders. But Don was her oldest.
Dudas put Don on a strict diet. For four months he gave up two loves: beer and candy. He did most of his lifting at Gold's Gym on Highway K in O'Fallon.
He committed to his first competition, the 2011 Gateway Naturals Oct. 1 in the Fort Zumwalt West High School auditorium. He was one of more than 100 contestants, men and women.
Don had to pick a song for his one-minute posing routine. He chose "Hurts So Good," by John Mellencamp.
He practiced at home, with Dudas and at Gold's gym. But there was one thing Don just couldn't do for Dudas. She wanted him to point at a woman in the audience — any woman — at the song lyric, "With a girl like you."
"I can't act like some 20-year-old kid, because I'm not," Don says.
On the Thursday before the competition Don took a polygraph exam to ensure he was not taking steroids or human growth hormone. The test cost him $40.
The night before, he went to the O'Fallon hotel where many of the out-of-town competitors were staying. He got spray-tanned. "You have to take your clothes off and you are covered, but just barely," he says.
He was then "glazed" with an application to keep his $85 tan on.
In anticipation, Maida had bought black sheets for Don's spray-tanned body the night before the contest. Some of the tan does come off. He wore a long-sleeved shirt and sweat pants to bed. He says body-building guests at the hotel were told to bring their own sheets.
Don was nervous back stage on the day of the competition.
"It was overwhelming," he says. He thought of fleeing, especially after wandering into an area where many of the young female competitors — in their scanty posing outfits — were flexing.
"What am I doing here?" he asked himself.
His biggest fear was that he'd walk on stage and his music wouldn't start.
Fortunately, it did. In watching the videotape, Don chides himself for not smiling. In fact, he looks angry enough to shoot vaporizing death lasers out of his eyes.
Don was second of the five competitors in his division: males 50 and older.
He was handed a trophy, then ordered to provide a urine sample. This took 90 minutes. Body builders don't drink a lot of fluids in the days leading to a contest; the lack of water helps define muscle.
In describing the experience Don can't really say it was "fun."
"I felt a deep sense of accomplishment," he says. "And maybe people will think — 'This guy is 64 and he can do it. So maybe I can do it, too.'"