HARARE – What started as a hobby for the then 19-year-old aspiring bodybuilder Vaughn Carl grew into a career.
Growing up as an adventurous child and watching television just like those of his age, the sight of Hollywood poster boys ignited a journey into the world of bodybuilding and today he boasts of three Mr Zimbabwe titles and a Mr South Africa championship.
“I started training in 1980 and those days we used to see pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger (prominent actor and now politician), Reg Park (the first Mr Universe) and all these guys with nice big bodies looking fit and healthy,” Carl recalls to the Daily News.
“I think we always wanted to look better than the average person in the streets then we started training. I have competed in a lot of sports.
“I used to be a very good cyclist with the Zimbabwe cycling team and participated in the national triathlon. I also played rugby in the early 90s but basically I gave up on most sports when I started bodybuilding.”
In his first contest in 1983, the Zimbabwean hulk announced his arrival in style by winning the Mr Zimbabwe title.
That marked a streak of many victories that would come later in his career spanning over 20 years.
In 1988 he went to South Africa where he competed in the heavyweight category of the Mr South Africa and came out sixth.
The following year he crossed the Limpopo and won the lightweight category of the same competition.
“I wasn’t really happy with that (1988) and in 1989 I re-entered and won my division and overall so I was the SA champion,” said Carl.
“After that win I basically stopped training competitively then I came back to Zimbabwe in 1990 and I was in business doing my own thing.”
The low rewards in bodybuilding threatened to cut short Carls’ promising career but he was convinced by his training partner the late Cristo Georgiaois to return to the gym six weeks before the 1997 Mr Zimbabwe contest.
“I thought I would never go back to competitive bodybuilding again because the reward is so small than the demand and the amount of work that you put in especially on the monetary side,” he said. “When I won Mr South Africa in the 80s, I got money and when I won Mr Zimbabwe in the 90s, I never got a cent.
“The amount of money that you have to put into the sport is a lot because you need to prepare everyday but the only rewards that you get out of it are only for your personal benefit.”
He went on to upstage defending champion Kelvin Gobi at the Mr Zimbabwe contest held at the Meikles Hotel in 1997.
The following year he won the third Mr Zimbabwe titles winning the contest at the Seven Arts.
“After winning with minimal preparations in 1997, I told myself that I was going to stop cycling and running to just concentrate in the gym.
“When I walked onto the stage I was weighing 12 kg heavier. I was the best looking bodybuilder that Zimbabwe had ever seen and won the heavyweight titles and overall.”
That was the last time he competed at the national competition before putting his career on hold to concentrate on his business.
After a short stint in South Africa, Carl is back in the country again but does not see himself regaining those glory days on the stage.
“I will never come close to what I achieved by winning Mr Zimbabwe, Mr SA and other provincial contests in South Africa,” he says.
“I would never get back to that and I don’t think I will ever want to because to be at that competitive level it is too much stressing.
“It needs constant eating and a lot of money spent which is not commensurate with the overall reward.
“I remember in the 90s. A lot of black people trained and were pretty good and I went to Mr Ironman in Kadoma this year.
“I was impressed with the amount of black people taking part in bodybuilding. The quality is very good and if they can get sponsors they will improve.”
Carl said it was not easy to win during his heyday and believes he was fortunate to have bagged the titles.
“When I entered my first show there was Kays Rushika, George Takundwa (late) and in the 90s it could have been Kelvin Gabi, George Munyoro and Innocent Choga. I’m fortunate that I beat them all because I was just the better one on the day. In their own rights they were very good.”
Carl is willing to give back to bodybuilding with the experience he gained over the years in any capacity.