From Campus to Competition
The Relentless Journey of Bodybuilding Legend Shawn Ray Among Titans
Upon attaining my Pro Bodybuilding qualification back in 1987 while still at University at Cal State University of Fullerton in California and trying to find my calling in life, I made the executive decision to pursue the Sandow Trophy, mind you I was only 22 years young and had very little knowledge on how to monetize my career path.
Looking back, I can honestly say I have zero regrets. None of my family or friends could wrap their heads around how I’d survive this life without a degree, direction, qualification, or a real job? I thought then as I do know, if I can get paid for doing something I love, I’ll never work a day in my life. Although to many this may sound cliche but to me it was my life’s experience. I chose to drop out of the safety net of attaining a college degree to pursue the competitive and sometimes destructive path of a world class bodybuilder!
In 1988, I entered the professional ranks as a pre-contest favorite at a show called “Night of Champions” held in New York City u set the bright lights and the camera lens of Flex, Muscle & Fitness, Ironman, Muscle Mag International, Muscular Development Magazine and more! My efforts landed me in 4th place with a Mr. Olympia qualification spot later that year in Los Angeles, California where I could finally battle for the Sandow Trophy and try to fulfill a teenage dream that started a mere 4 years prior when I first began training with weights in high school back in 1983. I’d ultimately wind-up 13th out of 24 Olympians and solidify my existence in the pro division.
Dominating the World of Elite Bodybuilding
My meteoric rise to fame amongst the world’s best built men wasn’t an overnight happenstance, it was years of focus, self-belief, courage, determination, and the will to win! I devoted my life to my career and had no Plan B. It was sink or swim, Do or Die as I had only myself to rely on and zero friends to help support my goals. I made it a point to focus on all aspects of the sport by immersing myself into the history of the sport, learning the moving parts behind the scenes including Promotions, Marketing, Branding and Monetizing the Business of Bodybuilding. To this end, I sacrificed relationships, parties, celebrations, and special occasion so I didn’t miss a meal, a training session and bodybuilding show and more. To say I didn’t like what I was giving up would be an understatement. However, what I was gaining in the form of dedication, discipline and focus was immeasurable to attaining and perusing my dream!
I never looked at what I couldn’t do or what I was missing out on rather, I focused on what I had to look forward to on my long drives to Gold’s Gym
Venice and who I might see or meet training in the gym that day, how excited I’d be to face the battle of a workout partner who’s waiting at the gym to try and smash me during the workout! I focused on the photo shoots, my guest appearances, my self-promotions, and marketing ventures. No one I knew wanted to know more about the “Business of Bodybuilding” than me!
I closed out the 80’s with a single Mr. Olympia appearance in 1988, only to pick up my journey in 1990 with a 3rd place finish at a Drug Tested Mr. Olympia Contest followed up with an Arnold Classic Title in 1991, a mere 7 months later and more than a decade of 12 consecutive Top 5 Mr Olympia finishes reflecting 2 first runner-up showings!
Be mindful, these accomplishments happened during the arrival of what we now call “The Mass Monster” era.
Navigating the 'Mass Monster' Era
By 1992, eventual 6X Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates would change the land scape of Bodybuilding in terms of achievable size and height, as many of the 90’s Olympians pushed the envelope in terms of Mass like; Paul Dillet, Nasser El Sonbaty, Markus Ruhl and JP Fux to name a few. All nearly 6’ tall and way over 250lbs. with mounds of muscle packed upon muscle which at first blush is very intimidating yet fascinating to say the least. Many of these bigger guys were overpowering the smaller more symmetrical bodybuilders on their sheer Mass and Muscle size alone making things considerably harder for the smaller more aesthetic bodybuilders.
Not only did I thrive during this period based on my conditioning but my consistency to show up in shape catapulted me into the pro bodybuilding Hall of Fame and received the Ben Weider Lifetime Achievement Award of Honor in my retirement!
In hindsight, the main factors I can contribute my success to would be my ability to simply compete against myself and not make comparisons to others. To remain committed to my promise of “No plan B” in a sense with nothing to fall back on, bodybuilding was my Business, my means of eating, living and basically existing.
Finally, beating the bigger bodybuilders brought a certain level of confidence and confirmation that I’d made the right career choice.
My choice to pursue the Sandow Trophy made me feel not only accomplished but satisfied that what I had committed my life to had significantly improved the quality of my life and my existence in the land of Giants.
My focus daily back in my competitive days was to simply, “Do the work, don’t complain and fight like hell.” Whenever i strayed off that mindset I would remember what the great boxer and 3X heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali once said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life like a Champion!”
To this day I feel I lived up to my dream and feel good about nearly accomplishing my goal which on the surface was a long shot but understandably an aspiration that most of us will never actually achieve being that in the 58 years of the Mr. Olympia contest there have been only 16 different winners.
I stood steadfast in the belief that I did all I could do to make it harder than hell for those that did battle with me for the title like; Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman arguably the 3 Biggest Bodybuilders ever who share a record 22 consecutive Mr. Olympia Titles during my 13-year run as an Olympia Warrior!