Joseph Troccoli begins his memoir in 1968, describing his life as a seven-year-old living within a hardworking Italian American family who prayed daily for peace, the less fortunate, and an end to racism. Troccoli first details a childhood filled with uncertainty and self-doubt after his family moved from New York to Florida and then provides an intriguing glimpse into the magical moment when his hands first wrapped around a barbell, instigating his lifelong love for bodybuilding. As Troccoli moves from one competition to the next-slowly transforming his body from frail to strong-he shares how he learned the value of persistence, values, and optimism despite facing disappointment, uncertainty, and heartache.
Trocolli's moving story of how he endured great hardships and failures on his journey to becoming a bodybuilding champion, firefighter, husband, and father will inspire you to stand taller, believe deeper, and learn to conquer the greatest obstacle to reaching your destiny-yourself.
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
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MORE THAN MUSCLES Mr. USA Mind, Motives, Mentors
By Joe Troccoli
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Joe Troccoli
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOh My God (Pain is a great motivator)
Why are some losses so devastating that we never fully recover?
Las Vegas was as beautiful as I remembered from my visits before my disability. The vivid cobalt sky rested upon the surrounding horizon's red mountains. Humanity endlessly converged at the gateway of excitement's gleaming epicenter, the famous neon Strip. It remained the very zenith where mundane conceded to extraordinary and hustle replaced boredom. Spring breakers utilized the perennial "two hours and a shower" tactic as their rite of passage before the albatross of responsibility took over their lives. A two-hour power nap and a quick shower were the only interruptions for the partying faction before reengaging in anarchy. While only six months before an historic presidential election in which "change" meant the first African American leader, the cyclical choices of each generation remained the same.
Was there a better environment to replenish myself with essence since my strife had taken root? It was my wife's and my first travel since my profession's most common derailment was diagnosed. Two years earlier, my scarred lungs chose to surrender after a quarter century of inhaling toxic environments. The inhalation of harmful poisons during my career as a firefighter/paramedic had left me vulnerable to the one major insult that would overload my recuperative abilities. Thus, my slow-burning fuse had been lit, and such a provocation or breaking point proved to be inevitable. While the 9/11 occurred eighteen hundred miles north of me, my 9/11 had its genesis in more subdued circumstances. Like hundreds of 4:00 am calls in every firehouse across the country, the ever-present Zetron alarm system whisked our crew at breakneck speed to serve the public. That particular dawn rewarded me with lasting memories of second-guessing and labored breathing. Fate's injustice saw to it that a chemical explosion in a confined business force-fed me the overdose of virulent substances I could least afford.
The two years that followed my disability's culmination left me stagnant from medicinal side effects, attempts at rehabilitation, and the limitations due to my oxygen-dependent body. My dormancy caused me to yearn for the glowing and lively Nevada nights. But this trip was not for me. It was intended more as a countermeasure or antidote for my wife's grieving heart. Since the loss of her mother one year earlier, unshakable depression had replaced her serenity with turmoil. She needed this trip to awaken her once-powerful zest for life. While I was barely able to provide active companionship for Amy, our leisure pace fulfilled its purpose. Our romp may have appeared, compared to our robust surroundings, to have been more like a Geritol commercial. Regardless of its geriatric-like tempo, it was therapeutic, and we appreciated it. After four days of reacquainting smiles to Amy's bereaving frown, we returned home on the late evening flight and wearily dropped into bed.
Checking my caller ID in the morning, I was perplexed to find that Don O'Brien had called around eight thirty in the evening, while we were still in flight. First, that was late for him; he was one of the few people whose bedtime preceded mine. Additionally, we had been communicating with each other earlier on that day of the curious call, and he knew I would not be home until midnight. I believed it was a simple mistake. Also, even though he never liked leaving messages on answering machines, the absence of his voice made me a little uncomfortable this time. Surely, I rationalized, his ever-pleasant "penthouse" phone response would welcome my inquisitive morning call, as always. My numerous ignored calls, however, prompted me to go to my friend to investigate.
There must be a reason he's not in his room. He's usually back from his walk by now. Surely it wasn't his blood sugar because we calculated his meals perfectly before Amy and I left for our Las Vegas trip.
These and a myriad of unpleasant fears galloped through my adrenaline-filled system as I raced toward Don's place. The drive felt as if I were on a boundless treadmill. Every traffic light taunted me like an obstructed hourglass. The previous multitudes of visits had been much less stressful. Anger at myself, for leaving Padre without medical help, grew with every unanswered cell phone call. My palpitations hopefully would prove to be unwarranted. As Don's motel finally appeared, two versions of me simultaneously battled for dominance. The paramedic side had cardiac algorithms flashing through my stale mind, while the compassionate portion had me incapacitated with culpable fear. Stepping out of my car onto teetering legs made it apparent which Joe prevailed.
The Tides Motel is a vintage 1960s two-level oceanfront motel. There are three wings surrounding a pool, with the building-less side facing the sandy beach. It is located in Hollywood, Florida, just steps from the pristine Atlantic Ocean. The motel is owned and operated by Germans, and consequently, it caters to Germans. Father O'Brien called it "God's Country." It was his yearly reprieve from frigid Boston. Donning Red Sox paraphernalia brought out his devious childlike side. He relished the fact that his beloved Red Sox had actually won the World Series, instead of my New York Yankees. Ever since my frantic call in dire need of confession some thirty-two years earlier, our friendship was replete with fond bantering. In addition, since his first heart attack and diabetes diagnosis, he had grown more dependent upon my medical skills. "Padre," his self-titled moniker, was a pillar of advice and moral virtue. His array of intellectually potent conversations never led to boring exchanges. Our trust and respect for each other over the years blessed our friendship with shared devotion. Not even his decade-long reassignment to Boston from South Florida broke our bond.
With each unanswered knock below the number 110 on his door, I tried to convince myself that Padre had been called back to Boston to tend to parish business. As soon as my fearful question of his whereabouts to the heavily accented office frdulein left my lips, her countenance jarred me before she uttered a word. Her eye-to-eye laser-like grasp of my senses drained all hopes of any pleasing explanation. That horrifying interlude drove me past purgatory and into the flames of hell with instantaneous emotional agony. I cannot recall her first wordsI only remember that both of our eyes swelled with the desire to unleash the deepest of horror. Once she composed herself, she provided the explanation that no decent person ever relishes sharing. I slowly and painfully dragged my worn-out remains to my car. Rather than my life flashing before my bloodshot, saturated eyes, my alliance with Padre flickered in my mind like a historic 8 mm presentation on an episode of Biography, narrated by Mike Wallace. Every utterance, every shared resolution for the world's woes, and every nuanced characteristic of Padre skipped before me as if the two of us were reminiscing our friendship one last time. The overwhelming sentiment that ached in my soul was that of profound regret.
While the drive to The Tides had stretched each second into a forever, the trip home was a blur. My foggy mind compressed over three decades of interpersonal friendship into less than thirty minutes. Each relived scenario reinforced why his passing hurt me so deeply. He'd baptized my children and cheered at my bodybuilding competitions. He'd taught my boys how to play chess and enthusiastically attended my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary party. When a momentous event occurred in my life, Padre was always there. He first experienced the "terrible twos" by watching my children pulverize mollusk remains at the local crab restaurant. He proudly boasted about my U.S. Bodybuilding Championship to anyone who would listen. When he had his first heart attack, I was immediately notified.
The Monday night in 1978 when his Red Sox gained a fourteen-game advantage over my Yankees, we were together. He immortalized that moment (to my dismay) by snapping it with one of his beloved 35 mm cameras. He cherished that photo and dusted it off every season to rub my nose in his finest moment. His giddiness was short-lived, as I would always remind him of Bucky Dent's Green Monster clearing blast. There was the time we went to Everglades National Park, and he joyously took me on an airboat, only to have his toupee shift into a yarmulke position. Oh, and "the trip" to Disney Worldsurely his most embarrassing moment! Of course, I strategically brought it up whenever the situation called for unfair tactics in reversing a losing debate into victory.
Neither one of us had thought to check the weather before our day trip to the Magic Kingdom. As Murphy's Law would play out, monsoons coincidentally greeted our Orlando arrival. Ever the optimist, Padre converted our mouse-eared expectations into a chess challenge. Having earned the rare and honored rank of chess master, he always had his chess set handy. A local six-dollar-a-day roach-filled motel offered the perfect environment for such an impromptu event.
A fistful of frustrating checkmates and several thunder-filled hours caused me to seek other forms of entertainment. As Padre watched television, I neurotically engaged in my obsession of sit-ups, push-ups, and various other exercises. Gloating in my pumped physique, I summoned Padre to sit on my lower back so I could pump out some "donkey calf raises."
Donkey calf raises are a bodybuilding calf exercise made famous in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Pumping Iron. The bodybuilder relies on an assistant to sit on his lower back for added resistance. The individual exercising bends ninety degrees forward at the waist and, resting his upper torso on a bench or dresser, flexes his calves up and down. The assistant "rides" the back of the bodybuilder, similar to riding on the back of a donkey. Easily embarrassed, Padre sheepishly placed his overweight body onto an imaginary saddle on my back, and I triumphantly forced my calves to contract against gravity's helper. Just as a rhythmic pattern developed, our motel room door swung open without notice.
Gasping to comprehend her unnerving discovery, a rotund maid's bulging and distended-eyed gawk made it apparent that she had never watched Pumping Iron. Her exaggerated sclera and repetitious scream of "Oh my God!" convinced us that Candid Camera would have loved this moment. Our adipose maid continued her high-pitched phrase while waddling down the entire length of the hallway.
Padre's animated cherry red face quickly ran about the room collecting his traveling chess set and car keys as if preparing to make a Bonnie and Clydestyle escape. Realizing what graphically distorted thoughts the maid's ignorant eyes convinced her she had witnessed, I laughed so hysterically that I was paralyzed in amusement. Our ride home was marred with humiliation interspersed with bursts of uncontrolled howls and giggles.
Similar to a magician's trance-ending finger snap, the reality of losing Padre sobered my momentary bliss at those fond memories, thrusting me back into the pain of the present. Once additional details of Padre's passing became available, it was clear that his eight thirty call the other evening was the estimated time of death. There was instantaneous elevation of my grief upon realization that he'd reached out to me in his most dire time of needand his plea went unanswered by his potential savior. This was the third time in my existence when someone I sincerely professed to hold dear called upon me, while confronting mortality's moment, and was forced to succumb alone. I prayed aloud for forgiveness and wished that I had the opportunity to turn back time and change his darkest hour. If only I had known! My soul-searching led me to attempt to trace each statement he'd made during our last visit at The Tides. Was there a clue that I neglected to pick up? While no profound epiphanies jumped out of my hazy faculties, I vaguely recalled several references to his mortality. Eerily, it seemed too similar to the last encounter I'd experienced with my grandfather many years earlier, making it impossible just to dismiss.
My mother's parents had lived with us for most of my younger years. That was a common practice for first and second-generation Italian American families. My final college semester exam was scheduled for a Monday morning. On Sunday, my grandfather, who was usually a man of few but meaningful words, had a sudden inclination to converse about seemingly unimportant subjects. Feeling the pressure of the next day's scrutiny, I was much less amiable than usual. I cut off his numerous pursuits at small talk and attempted to isolate myself in my room. His frustration was eventually replaced with the acceptance that this day's mingling would not be fruitful. While I was absorbed in my textbook, his parting statement would live to haunt me forever: "If something happens to me, please take care of Grandma." He passed away the next day. The knowledge that our last interchange was highlighted by my compassionless egocentricity still pries at my core. How could I have ignored such out-of-character foreshadowing when his fragile health was so conspicuous? His well-known ailments should have taken priority over my neurotic desire for academic perfection.
Now it had happened again! Why? I wondered. So much was discussed during my last visit with Padre that surely it would shed some light on this. Unfortunately, the clarity of my thoughts was beclouded by the anguish from the day's upheaval. My oxygen-deprived mind constantly struggled with anterograde amnesia since the onset of my medical issues. Remembering names and recent events had become like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded.
As I climbed into bed that night, I turned up my oxygen concentration to counteract my grieving heart's irregular rhythm. My chassis grew heavy as my mind raced. Each time I dozed, my body would spasm as if to rebel against the inevitable subconscious pilgrimage. Retrogressing farther and farther into my childhood, I recalled flashes of an odyssey long ago forgotten. Visions of my youth, interspersed with Padre's final images, transformed into a kaleidoscopic mix of faces and flashbacks. My last cognizant thought was about Padre's firm handshake and something about a promise to ...
Upon awakening the next morning, I raced to find a pen and paper. For the next three days, I feverishly jotted down bullet points of chronicles from my half-century migration. This divinely conspired ammunition led me toward a destination that was unknown to me. I became little more than a conduit through which acute reproductions of conversations and experiences were transposed through me onto a keyboard. Within one month, my convictions and motivation to keep my word to Padre emerged as a memoir that seemed to capture the essence of who I am ... and why.
Personal responsibility and introspection can give us answers to questions we didn't know we had.
Chapter TwoGold-Lined Streets (The origins of my soul)
When and from where do we derive our consciences?
We all reflect on certain defining moments that personify our versions of events. By most standards, 1968 was a tumultuous year in the United States.
I originally approached this day's truancy from school in a lighthearted way. Its historic value, I innocently thought, was similar to our visits to a museum or landmark. It quickly became apparent that this day was different, much different. I had grown somewhat numb to the profound loss that Dealey Plaza's echoes caused well over four years earlier. My vantage point, standing on the rear trunk of my grandparents' Mercury, gave me the vicarious tachycardia my family was experiencing. At the age of seven, this elevated view of my mother's eyes taught me that from the abyss, life can be resuscitated. To her left, my normally emotionless grandmother mirrored the array of sentiments that this "revival" drew from her daughter-in-law.
Excerpted from MORE THAN MUSCLES by Joe Troccoli Copyright © 2010 by Joe Troccoli. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. Oh My God (Pain is a great motivator)....................1
2. Gold-Lined Streets (The origins of my soul)....................8
3. Attila the Nun (My New York state of mind)....................14
4. Southern Hospitality (What you don't know can hurt)....................22
5. Don't You Dare Stop (Rising above the fray)....................28
6. Dedicated to You (Expanding physically and emotionally)....................35
7. Superman in Scrubs (A close call awakened me)....................41
8. You Could Have Been Somebody (Running never solves problems)....................47
9. Always a Knockout (Some heroes never diethey live on within us)....................53
10. Don't Let Anyone Write Your Epitaph (Barriers are meant to be broken)....................59
11. Twilight Zone (Some things just don't make sense)....................66
12. No One Has It Easy (Returning to my new reality)....................73
13. The New King (The birth of a new dynasty)....................81
14. Not the Person You Think (Okay, so maybe I am stupid)....................87
15. A Caged Animal (Dear friends and dear dreams)....................93
16. Something Was Missing (Stoking the fires within)....................99
17. The Greatest Love of All (Being second can be good)....................106
18. Good Is Not Enough (Being among my idols)....................113
19. All Things to All People (Life can be a four-letter word)....................119
20. Thrilla in Manila (Keeping my chin up in spite of difficulties)....................128
21. A Tale of Two Cities (The day naoveti was put to rest)....................134
22. It's Showtime (Victories occur before we ever step on stage)....................140
23. Life Is Beautiful (The third time is the charm)....................146
24. I Did Not Know What I Did Not Know (Winning cannot solve everything)....................153
25. Vision of Love (Discovering the meaning of my life)....................166
26. That's the Way It Is (Innocence denied is innocence lost)....................172
27. Last Hurrah (Interrupted celebrations)....................180
28. The Greatest Generation (The end of an era)....................187
29. Day of Infamy (Discovering my mortality)....................195
30. My Life Is My Message (We are the authors of our legacies)....................202