Local bodybuilders learn from debuts

BEEKMANTOWN – Brian Abrams and Dustin Conger have always been competitive, especially when it came to playing team sports in high school.

Now in their later-20s, the two members of the Club Saranac Family Fitness Center in Saranac Lake have found a new outlet to compete as individuals in a sport that takes an incredible amount of dedication, determination and sacrifice.

On Saturday, Abrams and Conger competed for the first time as bodybuilders in the OCB Uprising event at Beekmantown High School. Abrams, who lives in Saranac Lake, and Conger, a Bloomingdale resident, learned a great deal from their experience.

OCB, or the Organization of Competitive Builders, holds competitions across the United States each year, and Saturday marked the fourth time the event has stopped in Beekmantown. As first-time participants, Abrams and Conger found out just what it takes to land top placings in the competitions, which are held for both men and women in figure and physique.

Conger, who was a student-athlete at Franklin Academy in Malone, took home a second- and third-place trophy, while Abrams, a Saranac Lake High School graduate who coaches football for the Red Storm, placed third and fourth.

The two bodybuilders were encouraged to compete by a heavyweight division champion from last year’s event, Loon Lake resident and Saranac Lake High School graduate Keith Brown, who is a New York state trooper and longtime bodybuilder. Brown helped train both Abrams and Conger, who both decided to enter the competition about 12 weeks ago, which is a relatively short time frame to prepare for the event.

“They watched me compete last year and they both expressed interest in the sport at that time,” Brown said. “I told them I was no guru, but I would be able to provide them with a little of the knowledge that I picked up along the way.

“Brian’s work ethic is unsurpassed. He’s tough as nails, and Conger is genetically gifted,” Brown added. “They took about 12 weeks to prepare for this, and that’s the bare minimum. When I competed last year, I was on a strict diet for 16 weeks.”

A key factor, and arguably the toughest part of getting ready for a bodybuilding contest, is dieting. It’s important because participants need to get rid of fat to increase their muscle definition. Abrams said just days before the event, he was taking in 1,200 calories a day.

“To excel, you need to be dedicated 24-7: eat, sleep, run and lift,” Abrams said. “My intake of calories ranged from 2,000 to 1,200, depending on how close it got to the competition.

“The first thing I learned, more than anything, was this takes a lot of work,” Abrams added. “I’ve played sports my whole life, and this was for sure the hardest training I’ve ever done. I dropped 20 pounds for that show.”

Conger and Abrams first met as members of the Mountaineers Rugby Football Club, and Conger said a shoulder injury he sustained playing the game two years ago helped inspire him to turn to bodybuilding.

“I’ve been into sports for years,” Conger said. “I was basically sidelined for more than a month and I got restless. I’m done playing rugby, but I feel like I’m just getting going as a bodybuilder.”

On Saturday, Conger placed second in both the novice lightweight division and the open middleweight division.

The whole process of training and competing turned out to be quite a learning experience for Abrams and Conger. After taking their first shot at a competition, the pair said they were inspired to continue in the sport, although neither has set a date for their next event.

Abrams isn’t a guy who likes finishing second, and said he was disappointed that he didn’t place higher in his first competition.

“I asked the judges for feedback after we were done, and they were a great help,” Abrams said. “My upperbody, I’m pretty happy with that, but my legs need a lot of work. As a bodybuilder, you always want to get bigger and thicker.

“I wish I had a better result. I think I’ll take the trophies to my mom’s and put them in the attic,” he added jokingly. “If anything, my results will motivate me that much more. It was a pretty sweet experience. I’m going to stick with it.”

“I went there not knowing what to expect, so two second-place finishes – I’m pretty happy about that,” Conger said. “Everybody there was wicked cool. Everybody was really helpful.”

Leading up to the competition, Abrams and Conger found out as much as they could about what it takes to be in peak form. And actually being on the stage competing was also a learning experience.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect going in,” Abrams said. “You could certainly tell the guys who are the veterans out there,”

“You definitely could tell which guys out there worked harder and have been doing it for a while,” Conger added. “Posing was definitely a weak point for me, but as a first-timer, I was pretty satisfied. I think I might be in this for the long run.”