Just the other day, Markella Stapleton was looking at an old photo of her second oldest son, George. Her brain told her it was her son, but her eyes hardly recognized the kid in the photo.
Four years ago, George was out of shape and pushing 300 pounds. On Saturday, the 19-year-old Kodiak resident will be competing in his first bodybuilding show at the 34th Annual Alaska State Pro-Am Championships at 6:30 p.m. at the East Anchorage High School Auditorium.
A crystal ball couldn’t have predicted George’s shocking turnaround.
“He has accomplished a lot and has come a really long way,” Markella said.
As a youngster, his family bounced around the Lower 48, living in places like Arizona, Virginia and Texas before landing in Kodiak in 2006. The constant relocation made it difficult for George to make friends. He found comfort in food, and not broccoli and bananas.
“I didn’t have anybody to talk to, so I ended up staying home a lot and I would eat,” George said. I didn’t care what I looked like.”
George said he ballooned to 300 pounds and was not confident, which caused him to be “excessively rude” to people. His manners were a reason he spent two 50-day sessions at Alaska Crossings in Wrangell, an intensive behavioral health program for youths.
“I was always getting in arguments over nothing and it had a lot to do with my self-image,” he said.
It was Alaska Crossings where he started to see the world differently.
George, who has bright red hair just like two of his brothers, began losing weight midway through his freshman year of high school. He told himself he would start shedding pounds in middle school, but always found a reason to derail the plan.
Once he started, the pounds came off. George was down to 140 pounds in a year.
“It was not the best diet,” he said. “I just wanted to be skinny and didn’t want to eat food.”
After obtaining his GED and going to culinary school in the Mat-Su Valley, George returned to Kodiak and fell in the lap of Alaska bodybuilding legend Lindsay Knight, owner of the Kodiak Athletic Club.
George started working out at the gym, and after quickly adding 30 pounds of muscle, Knight took notice. The former Mr. Alaska and member of the Alaska Bodybuilding Hall of Fame roped George into signing up for his first bodybuilding show.
“He asked me if I wanted to do a show, but he had already told everybody I was doing it,” George said.
George dug in and absorbed Knight’s knowledge of the sport. He started training six days a week — 90 minutes of weight training, 40 minutes of core work and 45 minutes of interval cardio training — and eating a protein-rich diet.
“George came to the gym hungry,” Knight said. “He listened and did everything I told him perfectly. He added 30 pounds of muscle from the beginning of June to the beginning of October, and got leaner doing that. I have never seen anyone grow like that in my long history of our sport.”
Weight training has changed his life.
“He used to be shy and now he has a lot more confidence and is very outgoing,” Markella said.
George, who is taking classes to become a personal trainer, enters Saturday’s show at 200 pounds and 5.8 percent body fat. He is competing in the novice and open heavyweight divisions, and his family will be in the audience.
“This year I probably will not be as great as other people, but it will be great to go again next year and show people that you can always improve,” he said.
One thing is for sure, George has has gained confidence in himself that wasn’t there four years ago.
“I’ve had a lot more opportunities, being involved in things and talking to people,” George said. “I have made good friends.”