Gerald Campbell is giving up his career as a fitness instructor and going full-time into bodybuilding before his next birthday.
He turns 80 in October.
“I’m retiring from that because my wife and I want to travel more while we still have good health,” Campbell said. “Another reason is that I can’t work out myself as much as I need to for heavyweight bodybuilding.”
Campbell’s goal before his birthday is to bench press 280 pounds. That’s 115 pounds more than his weight of 165. On Saturday, he bench pressed 245 pounds, breaking his own record, at the Texas Push/Pull Showdown in Mesquite.
“I tried to do 260, but I couldn’t get it past halfway up,” Campbell said.
He’ll try again for that 260-pound mark in the July 26, world-qualifying Dallas Southwest Regional Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships competition in Irving. Then comes 280.
Anytime Campbell lifts more than his personal best he breaks a record, said Bryan Dobson, Campbell’s trainer and owner of Metroﬂex Gym in Fort Worth.
There are only a handful of people in the world at Campbell’s age and weight who are capable of a bench press anywhere near what he can do, Dobson said.
“He’ll be in the top of the 165-pound weight class in Masters 70 plus,” Dobson said. “For his body weight, the weight he’s lifting is competitive with 20-year-olds.”
Dobson describes Campbell as “phenomenal,” and he isn’t alone in that opinion. The 140 or so people Campbell trains at Hurst Senior Center and Euless Family Life Center compare him with Jack LaLanne, a pioneer in personal training whose innovative techniques and equipment, and a 34-year run on TV, helped earn him the title Godfather of Fitness.
The woman destined to take Campbell’s place in front of those seniors, Hurst resident Tricia Whitlock, 41, thinks he’s the new Godfather.
“When he started training me, I was struggling to keep up with him during abdominal exercises, even some of the flexibility exercises that he does,” Whitlock said. “Gerald’s just amazing. His eyes are bright and his mind is quick. He’s a very good role model for me.”
Michelle Varley, 45, Hurst Senior Center’s activities coordinator, said Campbell is a huge asset that she and the seniors will miss.
“He helped develop our fitness programs,” Varley said. “He’s just very passionate about everything.”
Just like LaLanne, Campbell has been on a personal fitness crusade since he was 15.
“My buddy, Bobby Risinger, and I bought some weights at a garage sale,” Campbell said. “We set ’em up in my garage. We didn’t know anything about it, but we started lifting weights and learning the proper way to do it.”
The friends worked out together for three years, until “Bobby went in the Air Force, and I didn’t,” Campbell said. “So I kept working out.”
Campbell — who made his living selling insurance, before he retired at 65 — also became a personal trainer in his late teens. Soon afterward, he gave up weightlifting and took up running.
“I like running because it builds up the heart,” Campbell said. “If the heart don’t work right there isn’t anything going to work right.”
Campbell said his wife of 45 years, Dolores, also is a runner.
“We used to run 10 miles a day together back in our 40s and 50s,” Campbell said. “I would run 10 miles in the morning and another 10 with her after work. One year I logged 3,600 miles.”
Campbell said he kept running well into his 70s, “because old age was chasing me and I wanted to stay ahead of it.”
After 14 marathons — his best time was three hours and 10 minutes when he was 44 — and seven 50-mile races, Campbell decided to give his feet a break. But old age hasn’t gained that much on him, because he started power lifting again about 30 years ago.
“I don’t think working out adds years to your life, but it adds quality,” Campbell said. “As long as God keeps me healthy I want to have good quality of life. I don’t want to walk with a cane, or a walker or be in a wheelchair.”
Power-lifting competitions are about pushing himself, Campbell said.
“In competition you’ll always do more than you will by yourself,” Campbell said.
And while he does want to set records, he isn’t looking for immortality through record books.
“It’s not records for publicity as much as it is for other older people to say ‘That guy did it. By cracky I think I might try to do it.’ ” he said.