'If you don't reach for the sky, you'll never get off the ground,'

Fairfield man wins national bodybuilding championship

Frank Pinto poses with his first-place trophy he won at the NPC North American Championships on Sept. 5, a bodybuilding event that featured 2,000 competitors. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Frank Pinto poses with his first-place trophy he won at the NPC North American Championships on Sept. 5, a bodybuilding event that featured 2,000 competitors. (Andy Hallman/The Union)

FAIRFIELD – “I’m on cloud nine right now.”

That’s what Fairfield resident Frank Pinto posted to his Facebook page shortly after winning the National Physique Committee’s North American Bodybuilding Championship in Pittsburgh on Sept. 5.

Pinto, 72, won the title in the over-70 category. Winning this amateur bodybuilding competition makes Pinto a professional, which means he can compete against other professionals next year, and he fully intends to do so.

Bodybuilders compete by showing off their physique on stage to a panel of judges. The judges ask the contestants to strike different poses that accent different parts of their body. The championship Pinto won was part of a five-day event featuring 2,000 competitors from North America.

Pinto’s path to glory was a rocky one that has included peaks of joy and valleys of despair. He began lifting weights in 1963 when he was 15 years old. At the time, he just wanted to put on more muscle and look better, “like every other 15-year-old kid,” he said.

Within a few years, Pinto became interested in Olympic lifting, and pursued power lifting in college and for the next few decades into his 40s. He focused on the bench press, squats and dead lifts to make himself stronger and more muscular. His main interest at the time was competitive figure rolling skating. He thought that if he lifted heavy weights, it would allow him to jump higher and complete the difficult jumps in roller skating. And it worked. Pinto had won two state skating championships by age 22.

The demands of roller skating forced Pinto to keep his weight below 170 pounds. However, those jumps began to take a toll on Pinto’s body. After 20 years of roller skating, Pinto developed arthritis in his hips. The pain was excruciating, and by the time he was in his 40s, Pinto could hardly walk. His weight had ballooned to 300 pounds.

“I was very depressed,” Pinto said.

Doctors replaced both of Pinto’s hips, which allowed Pinto to walk again. He decided to get serious about weight-lifting and bodybuilding in particular. Pinto said he didn’t want to wake up as a 70-year-old man and wonder if he could have been a bodybuilder. He wanted to give it his best shot.

For the next five or six years, Pinto worked on building muscle and improving his diet. In his early 50s, a friend suggested to him that he compete in a statewide bodybuilding competition. Pinto did, and to his surprise, he came in second.

He continued to do more competitions throughout the Midwest, consistently earning first or second place.

In 2014, he competed in the over-60 class at a national bodybuilding event, and his goal was to get into the top 10. He placed fourth. He followed that with second-place finishes at the national level in 2018 and in 2019. He was doing so well, but that first place trophy was still eluding him. His coach, Dave Palumbo, told him not to get discouraged, and to give it one more try in 2020. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the bodybuilding world and canceled the national competition Pinto had trained for, but a different, even larger event was still on the calendar, the National Physique Committee’s North American Bodybuilding Championship.

Pinto entered the competition and won the title he had always dreamed of.

“If you don’t reach for the sky, you’ll never get off the ground,” Pinto said.

Bodybuilding requires a strict diet and a demanding exercise regimen. Pinto lifts weight for an hour and a half a day, four times a week. He does every set of repetitions to exhaustion.

He puts every ounce of energy into his routine.

Pinto is exceptionally disciplined at meal time, following the same diet every day of the week – with just one “cheat” meal.

He eats six meals per day:

• 7 a.m.: Six egg whites and four whole eggs.

• 10 a.m.: Protein shake with peanut butter.

• Noon: 7 oz. chicken breast and cashews.

• 3 p.m.: Protein shake with peanut butter.

• 5 p.m.: 7 oz. chicken and cashews.

• 8 p.m.: 8 oz. beef and small avocado.

Pinto said he has to stay away from carbohydrates because “I get fat easily,” and that’s not good because he wants to stay in shape all year. He hovers around 7 percent to 8 percent body fat.

In 1993, Pinto moved to Fairfield, expecting to stay here just long enough to write a book and then leave. But he hasn’t left.

When he went to the weight room, people asked him for help, so he stayed to work as a professional trainer, which he does to this day.

Now he gets to help other people achieve their lifelong dreams, just like he did this year.