Trainer Frank Pinto in competition.
Bodybuilder and personal fitness trainer Frank Pinto, age 63, has a message for you. (Yes, you!) “Even though you have setbacks and physical handicaps, you can still go out and do things,” Frank insists. “You know, you’ve got a bad knee. This doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape. Maybe you can’t run a marathon anymore. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on life.”
What makes Frank so sure? Personal experience. At age 10 in New Jersey, Frank developed a passion for roller skating. “I never wanted to do anything else except be in a skating rink my whole life,” Frank explains. Despite his parents’ lukewarm reaction, Frank struggled to make his dream a reality. At 13, he scrounged jobs to fund skating lessons. By age 22, he’d won two state skating championships.
“I kind of figured that’s as good as I could be, but I loved the sport so much,” Frank says. “The best coach in the country was in Greeley, Colorado.” Coach J. W. Norcross, Jr., had been named Coach of the Year many times. He had a skating rink full of national champions; Mary Sue Wilcox, a five-time U. S. Ladies Singles Champion and three-time member of the U.S. World Team, was one of his students. Under Norcross’s tutelage, Frank garnered accolades, too. He won five state titles in Colorado, three regional titles, and came in twelfth in a national competition.
At age 30, Frank’s life changed. “Things I’d been doing for 20 years all of a sudden seemed difficult,” he says. “I would’ve loved to skate more, but I couldn’t.”
Frank had arthritic hips. Wisely, he’d prepared himself for life after skating. At New Mexico’s College of Artesia he’d studied kinesiology. “I always thought I would teach skating,” he says. The expertise he’d developed during 20 years of competitive skating coupled with the skills he learned at Artesia had readied him for a teaching career. Job offers poured in from all over the country. Together, he and then-wife Mary Sue spent teaching stints lasting six months to four years in New Mexico, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
Frank’s arthritis worsened. By age 40 he could hardly walk. In 1990 doctors replaced both his hips. “At this point I’d gained a lot of weight,” Frank says. “I knew I couldn’t skate anymore, and I wanted to get in shape.”
So Frank turned to a second passion. In the late 1960s, to improve his skating, he’d trained with the U.S. Olympic weightlifting coach. “I always loved bodybuilding and weightlifting,” Frank says. “I figured, I’ll do this.”
Frank maintained his connection to skating by authoring Maximum Height with Minimum Fight, a primer on the trickiest aspect of roller skating.
“I’d been studying one particular part of skating—jumping—ever since I started because it was hard for me.” Frank says. “I studied the physics of it. I worked with the best ice skating coaches on how to do things. And I came up with my own theories. When I put them into practice, they worked exceptionally. It was a book that needed to be written.”
Coaches used Frank’s book, published in 1994, as a teaching tool at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
To master bodybuilding Frank employed the same research techniques he’d used to conquer jumping. He contacted the best trainers in the country, formed theories, tested them, and consulted the experts again. As a result—though he’d already had two hips replaced—he took second or third place in ten Midwestern bodybuilding competitions. He also set an Iowa state record for bench pressing.
In 2004 while preparing for a national bodybuilding championship, Frank collapsed. At the hospital, he learned his pelvis had broken. “The artificial hips that they put in me back in ’91 had deteriorated all the bone in my pelvis,” Frank explains. “The material they used then, they didn’t know that’s what it would do.”
Using cadaver bones ground into paste, Frank’s doctors spackled together a new pelvis for him. They installed a second set of new hips, as well.
“I’ve really had enough stuff happen to my body, I could sit around and say, ‘I can’t do that anymore,’ ” Frank says.
Frank doesn’t sit around. In the last 18 years, he’s trained nearly 250 people. He’s helped them recover from shoulder, knee, and hip surgeries. He’s helped them prepare for bodybuilding competitions. He’s helped them lose weight—one client lost 70 pounds. Frank himself dropped 150 pounds of body fat and gained 90 pounds of muscle. He still competes in national bodybuilding competitions.
“I think everybody that I’ve ever met could be a victim,” he says. “We all have reasons to be. We’ve all had enough stuff happen to us.” His advice: “Get past that and look onto the optimistic side. Go with ‘The glass is half full.’ You still have something to drink.”
© 2011 Cheryl Fusco Johnson. Cheryl teaches Nia Fitness classes in Fairfield.
Please visit the Index for more articles on health, beauty, and fitness.