First at Last

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The skinny: It took bodybuilder Vinny Galanti 30 tries, but he finally won a national championship this year.
Courtesy of Vinny Galanti

Vinny Galanti usually brings his wife, parents, sisters, nephews, nieces, and friends to root for him at his bodybuilding competitions. But in July, when the 41-year-old Mahwah gym owner competed in a national masters championship in Pittsburgh, he told everyone but his wife to stay home. He didn’t want them wasting their money if he was just going to finish second in his weight class as he did last year.

He need not have worried. Not only did Galanti, at 196 pounds, win the light-heavyweight division as well as the overall 40+ competition, but those victories earned him the right to turn pro—in his 30th attempt.
“In the national shows, it’s almost unheard of for the light-heavyweight to win overall,” Galanti says. “It’s usually the heavyweight or the super-heavyweight. They called my name, and I was in shock. It was beyond my wildest expectations that I would be the overall title winner.”

In 1983, when Galanti was a skinny Jersey City teen looking to bulk up to impress the girls, his father, George, a cab driver, bought him his first set of weights. Within months Galanti had decided to pursue bodybuilding as a career. After high school he found himself a day job with the Jersey City Parking Authority. “I was the guy who put the yellow boots on cars that had tickets,” he says.

Galanti got off to a rapid start as a bodybuilder, winning the middleweight titles in the 1992 Mr. New Jersey and 1993 USA Bodybuilding and Fitness competitions. He became a personal trainer, and managed to parlay his early success into a prominence in the bodybuilding world unusual for an amateur. His ripped, bronzed physique appeared in magazines, and he traveled the world as a representative for Universal Nutrition, a supplements company. But because he never won his weight class in the nationals, his dream of turning pro proved elusive.

Working so intensely without success began to wear on Galanti. “When you’re a bodybuilder, you’re living out of Tupperware all day,” he says. “You always have to be on your game. You can’t miss meals. You have to eat every three hours. It’s an all-day affair, and after a while that gets very tedious.” In 2002, around the time he opened his Mahwah gym, the Training Station, Galanti quit bodybuilding and “became a normal person. I wanted to relax and have the occasional pizza,” he says. “It turned into an every day pizza.”

After a year, his carefully sculpted abs looked like melted mozzarella. He was mortified by his big gut. “I thought, ‘How do people walk around like this? I can’t believe it.’ I tried to play softball, and I was so out of shape I couldn’t breathe.”

Galanti resumed competitive training in 2003. Two years later, he competed again, finishing fifth. In 2007 he improved to second, and this year he exceeded all expectations, including his own.

The payoff was immediate. Right after his victory in Pittsburgh, Galanti jetted to California to pose for Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines. In September, when he took part in his first pro contest, in Atlantic City, the entire entourage was there. It was the perfect 80th birthday gift for Galanti’s dad, the man whose gift of heavy metal started it all.

If you enjoyed this article, you also might like this story about a Brazilian martial art that is gaining traction in NJ fitness circles. Click here to read: Capoeira: The Joyful Martial Art.

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