Richard Baldwin The “Thinkin Man’s” Bodybuilder

Here’s a very rare article about golden era bodybuilder Richard Baldwin. It was written by Irene Hause (with Permission) and Pat Mills and published in ‘Muscle Up’ in December, 1981. And yes…. I even never heard of a bodybuilding mag named ‘Muscle Up’. And I guess 99% of you didn’t read that article. Especially my younger visitors. It’s a must read! – Mr. Berg

“I’ve always felt that a well-rounded person is physically fit, mentally fit, and spiritually fit and over the years I’ve tried to be all three,” says 33 year old Richard Baldwin.

These are more than unfulfilled ideals in Richard’s life; he has made them real. In both 1979 and 1980 he was the middleweight representative on the American bodybuilding team at the IFBB World Championships, and that’s physically fit in about anybody’s book. Mentally fit?

Yes! With a bachelor’s degree in Greek and two masters degrees – first in theology and the second in classical literature – he’s about as far from the “dumb bodybuilder” stereotype as anyone can get.

“Spiritually fit” is something intensely personal, and Richard is constantly examining and re-examining his religious belief and working at making them the basis of his daily living.

In this interview we get an intimate glimpse of his handsome and introspective man who simultaneously trained Laura Combes for her Ms. America win, trained himself for his own middleweight class win at the Mr. America, managed his gym (Baldwin’s Body Forum in Tallahassee, Florida), and studied toward his second masters degree at Florida State University.

MUSCLE UP: It was reported that you became ill while competing in the 1980 Universe because you’d taken too much potassium in an attempt to avoid dehydration cramps. That must have been a very traumatic experience, both physically and psychologically, after you’d been training so hard and traveled all the way from Florida to the Philippines to compete. Can you tell me exactly what happened?

RICHARD BALDWIN: I did become ill – violently ill, in fact – with this awful nausea before the Universe. It was a retching and a dry heaving that continued even when my stomach was empty. It was so violent that the capillaries in my eyes popped, and my eyes were blood red. And it was very difficult to compete! A number of times I had to run from the stage to the restroom because I just knew my entire insides were coming out. At one point I thought I was going to perish right there in Manila.

Although this went on throughout the contest, I did my very best not to let it affect my showing. I did well enough to place second, but I really wonder if I could have pulled this one off if that hadn’t happened. This was the second time I’d entered the Universe, and both times I came in second.

Maybe next year that elusive first place will be mine. I’m training harder than ever right now.

MU: How often are you competing these days?

RB: About twice a year. During the off season I train six days a week, an hour and a half each day. Right before a contest I train twice a day on a double split for about an hour and a half each session.

MU: Which part of your training requires the most discipline?

RB: Dieting! To maintain the necessary discipline, I play certain tricks on my mind and body. Toward the end of precontest dieting when I’m on a very rigid diet, the only way I can handle it is to write down everything I eat. I keep a little notebook, and I refuse to eat anything that I don’t write down in that notebook.

Forcing myself to write down everything I eat makes it a lot easier to maintain my diet.

MU: What in your training do you think you have done differently from other bodybuilders?

RB: I suppose it would be my longstanding attempts at symmetry and not merely size. Most bodybuilders I know have gone for size, but from the very beginning I’ve directed my training toward shape.

A lot of bodybuilders eventually get around to that, but most strive for mere mass in the beginning.

MU: You seem exceptionally conscientious and dedicated in your training. It must have been the low point of your life when you got sick at the Universe.

RB: No, it wasn’t. Things have happened in my life that caused me to change the way I react to events like that.

MU: Could you tell me a little about it

RB: I don’t think I want to talk about that. It’s almost too personal. Everybody has things happen to them that they don’t want to talk about, things that have really changed them. Let’s just say that a series of events occurred in my life that got me depressed, that life hardly seemed worth living.

But one day I woke up and said, “Am I going to let these events continue to ruin my present and future happiness that I could have?”

And I just decided, “NO!” I wish more people could come to that realization and not let one or two past events continue to ruin their lives, instead of just going ahead and living life one day at a time.”

MU: So you consider optimism to be an integral part of your personality?

RB: Yes and no. I’m basically rather moody, and I sometimes let things get to me. But when I’m in a good mood, I’d say I’m fairly fun to be around…I feel very uneasy talking about myself like this..I listen to a lot of people’s problems. For some reason, people feel like they can talk to me and ask for my advice. I don’t know if I’m just getting old, or I’m a father figure, or cause problems in those areas. And I think a lot of guys give up important things in their academic and vocational development, not only personal relationships.

MU: How do you avoid these problems?

RB: I haven’t. I’ve fallen right into those same pitfalls. But right after the 1980 Universe, various things caused me to ponder my own life, life in general, and ultimate reality.

Basically, I came to the conclusion that the way I was living was all right if this life is all there is, but I don’t feel that it is. I do believe in an afterlife, so I’ve changed my life. I’m working on strengthening my faith and living according to the principles of the Bible, the New Testament in particular. Although I’m still training very hard, bodybuilding is no longer first.

MU: Could you describe your academic background for me? It isn’t every gym owner who has two masters degrees!

RB: I went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for my undergraduate degree. I bounced around a little bit from a history major to a religion major to a psychology major. When I’d been thinking about a religion major. I took some New Testament Greek. Because I liked the language, I just kept taking Greek every quarter and ended up with a degree in it.

After I graduated from Baylor, I thought about some kind of church related work because I came from a religious family and was a fairly strong Christian. So I decided to learn more about the Bible and enrolled in graduate school at South western Theological Seminary and earned a masters degree in theology.

Then I decided that I wanted to pursue classics – the literature of ancient Greece and Rome – so I came to Florida State University and studied toward my masters degree in classic.

MU: I suppose you were considered a bookworm?

RB: When I cam to Florida State University I had already won Mr. Texas and Mr. Southern States. Someone who had written a letter of recommendation for me had stated that I’d won Mr. Texas, so everybody at Florida State knew that I was a bodybuilder, even though I’d said nothing to anyone.

And they didn’t know what to expect. Obviously, from my grades at Baylor they knew I wasn’t a dummy. But they never saw me in the library studying and I spent a lot of time working out. In one class I had on Aristotle I was the only student who got an A, and after that the other students accepted me and didn’t have much to say about “dumb bodybuilders.”

Up until the time I graduated with my first masters, I spent most of my time in school. I had summer jobs every summer between classes except for one two years when I went to school straight through.

At Florida State I had a teaching fellowship, so I taught Latin in addition to pursuing my own studies. When I got out of grad school, I got a job as an assistant manager of a health spa. Then I decided to open my own gym, and that’s what I’ve been doing since.

MU: Do you ever feel torn between bodybuilding and academia? Are you ever pressured by family or friends to forget one or the other?

RB: Oh, yes! I’ve received a lot of pressure from both family and friends to pursue the academic life. It just seems more stable to them. And I’ve had some professors that felt I had a lot of offer the academic world and that I should continue my studies. They thought that a few of the papers I had written could be expanded into some good articles for professional journals. But it just wasn’t making me happy. I really enjoyed bodybuilding, so I decided to pursue that, although now and again I feel like my brain is atrophying.

In fact, that’s why I enrolled in grad school to do some work in Roman history and literature even though I was training for the 1980 Universe. I personally don’t have any problem reconciling bodybuilding and academic life. I just do both in ways that make me happy!

MU: What you’ve just told us makes us wonder if you have any other educators or bodybuilder in your family background.

RB: Absolutely none. My father is a merchandise manager for International Shoe Company, one grandfather was in construction, and the other was a pharmacist.

MU: Is most of your family in the Florida area?

RB: No, my parent still live in St. Louis, Missouri, where I was born and raised. I have a brother who is in the Air Force, stationed in Guam. Another brother and his wife live in St. Louis, and my sister and her husband live in Oklahoma.

MU:What was the hardest part of growing up for you?

RB: probably my relationship with my parents in my teen years. I suppose everyone can identify with that! But in our family, I, in particular, had difficulty. Since I was the oldest, I was the first one that they had to deal with in the growing independence of a teenager.

I wanted to make more decisions for myself, yet they felt that as long as I was under their roof they didn’t have to explain why I had to do certain things; I just had to do them.

So there was a lot of conflict in that area.

MU: How do you relax?

RB: “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast,” said the poet William Congreve, and I’m not exception Classical music is my favorite, but I like many kinds of modern music, too, even disco and certain rock, and just recently I got into blues and a little jazz.

Also, I play the clarinet, and if I really feel tense, I’ll pick up and start practicing Mozart. In fact, I almost went into music as a profession. When I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I took a class in clarinet at the University and was offered a position with the Waco Symphony. But I turned it down because I was getting really heavily into bodybuilding.

It took hours and hours of practice on the clarinet to stay really good, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to spend my time that way anymore.

MU: What are your tastes in movies and books?

RB: My favorite movies are historical, like A Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn.

Also, I really enjoy movies with a lot of special effects, so Star Wars is one of my favorites, too. I don’t read novels, mostly biographical and historical books.

MU: Why do you find history so appealing?

RB: It makes current events much clearer. When you learn about a man in the past, you learn about man in the future. I don’t think that anyone can really understand trends, what’s going on, or even know how to vote if he doesn’t know anything about history.

MU: How would you want history to remember you?

RB: Right now the biggest and most satisfactory thing is to be the best in the country in the middleweight class – the American middleweight champion. Of course, I’d like to win the Universe, but I don’t really have a great need for that sort of immortality. I have other goals in life beyond bodybuilding.

An architect might seek immortality through innovative design, and a scientist by some discovery he’s made that will be described in all the textbooks forever.

Many people seek gratification by perpetuating their gene through children. But the only way that I really think about immortality is after life, and it’s tied up with my basic acceptance of Christ and his teaching.

MU: You may gain some earthly immortality as being the trainer of the first Ms. America, Laura Combes! Just what is your personal impression of women’s competitive bodybuilding?

RB: I think it’s great I’ve been judging women’s competitions since 1975, and each year the contests are getting bigger and better. I was a judge at the first women’s national bodybuilding competition, plus I’ve judged a lot of local contests. I think a lot of people have been surprised with how really hard some of the women train and how they’re not just spa girls anymore, but really tough competitors.

MU: What do you look for when you judge a women’s contest?

RB: I go by the same criteria the judges use for men’s contests. I look for symmetry, I look for muscularity – how low the bodyfat is and how developed the muscles are – and I look for presentation – how well the individual participant displays the development she has.

I think there’s more controversy around women’s judging than there needs to be. If you go by the criteria established, there’s not that much of a problem. Everybody says, “Yeah, but some are more symmetrical and some more muscular. Just compare Claudia Wilbourn with somebody like Laura Combes!”

Well, I think in California at the Ms. America contest it was obvious that Laura Combes was more developed than Claudia Wilbourn and you don’t need a different criteria of judging unless you just plain don’t want it to be a bodybuilding contest. that’s like the thing between (Frank) Zane and (Mike) Mentzer.

Zane has continued to beat Mentzer and the reason is, I think, because Frank is perceived as being more developed for his body type than Mike is for his. Mike is big but big isn’t all there is.

Just like Laura used to be bigger than she is now, but she wasn’t as well developed. I don’t see the need to separate women’s contests into something symmetrical and something muscular.

They didn’t do it for men’s contests, and we’ve gotten along fine. Obviously there are different ends of the spectrum in both women’s and men’s competitions, but it doesn’t matter.

If a judge is good, he will judge regardless of his personal preference for the symmetrical or the muscular look and he’ll go on the development issue. So sometimes you’ll have a symmetrical guy like Zane win and sometimes you’ll have a muscular guy like Robbie (Robbinson) or Mentzer win. It depends on who is the best developed man for his body tape in that particular contest.

MU: As you’ve watched the growth of women’s competitive bodybuilding, what have you seen to be the most important quality in the development of a champion?

RB: Tremendous ambition and drive! That will make up for any genetic problems and allow a person to overcome them. A tremendous drive to succeed can overcome a lot of things!

MU: What do you think holds back a bodybuilder?

RB: Being too subject to depression or elation, letting things from the outside hinder your training, so that you don’t have steady purpose and drive.

MU: As a competitor, gym owner and promoter, you really have an ideal opportunity to observe how other men react to women competitive bodybuilders. Any general observations you’d like to relate?

Rb: Well, men admire the women’s drive their willingness to train hard, and most of all, their infectious excitement about a new sport. It’s a young sport for women, so they’re really excited about it.

The only negative thing I’ve heard about the women is that some of them have not learned how to lose. In other words, some have never participated in any kind of sport before, and it shows in their reaction to contest rules.

There can be only one winner, and you’re going to have ups and down, and some of them just fall apart if they lose, or they start rumors about the other competitors. There’s a little too much backbiting, I think.

MU: What is your prediction for the future of women’s competitive bodybuilding?

RB: If the Ms. America that Laura Combes just won was any indication, the trend is toward more muscular women, and I think it’s going in that direction. Publicity will help the women’s bodybuilding movement, and the only thing that can hold it back is if rival interests start cutting one another down and they get to the point where they’re working against one another instead of with one another for the good of the sport.

MU: I’ve read several articles that mentioned your pride in having Laura Combes win the Ms. America, so I know you have strong feelings on the subject. Could you please elaborate for me?

RB: That Laura won in spite of the prejudice she’s had to overcome and in spite of all the pre-contest publicity for Claudia Wilbourn was a great triumph for both of us. It was a personal triumph on my part in two respects: The first reason is, of course, that I did train her – that I totally transformed her concept of what she thought she should look like – and we actually got fat off her hips and thighs that no one thought was possible and really got her so much more symmetrical looking and hard that people were swearing she was on drugs. But she took nothing other than vitamins, plus she dieted for months and months and trained harder than I’ve ever seen any woman train.

And I’ve seen many of them in California train, and they don’t train nearly as hard as Laura does.

The second reason that it was quite a thrill for me was the fact that Laura has become like a sister to me, so her winning it was a vicarious win for me.

When we went to California, the California crowd had warned me that Claudia Wilbourn was picked to win. I’m not saying that anyone was rigging a contest, but sentiment was definitely in Claudia’s favor.

For example, did you see the cable TV presentation of the Ms. America contest? Did you notice how much material they had on Claudia and how very little they had on the winner, Laura Combes?

A lot of this footage was taken before the contest. Not only did they have television covering Claudia, but on the morning of the contest they also had an article in the Los Angeles newspaper featuring a picture of Claudia.

If that isn’t pre-contest publicity for the person that the powers-that-be wanted to win, I Don’t know what is.

One writer in particular had argued that it could go either way, either Laura or Claudia, because Claudia was the more symmetrical type and Laura was the more muscular type, so that you have a Zane-Mentzer thing.

But that’s not true. If it had been Rachel McLeish up there instead of Claudia, then I would have accepted that argument. However, Claudia does not have the development of either Laura or Rachel.

Now, I’m not trying to cut Claudia down. She’s done wonder in the past couple years and she really is an outstanding bodybuilder. She’s improved so much that she definitely deserves credit, but I don’t think she was even close to Laura Combes on that day!

Right now Laura is back training in Tallahassee, and we’re working to improve her even more so that when she competes again people won’t believe the changes that she’s made since she won the America.

We haven’t as yet chosen the next contest for her to enter, but when the public sees Laura Combes in her next contest, it will be a shock!

MU: One final question, Richard. have you ever been sorry you’ve been involved in bodybuilding?

RB: What a question! Often, often! I constantly sit back and re-evaluate my life and wonder, “Is this worth it?” When I think about all the sacrifices I’ve made because of bodybuilding, the fields I could have gone into in the academic or musical realms, the million things that I’m not doing because of bodybuilding, all the things you give up – your social life, the monetary success.

Sometimes I think that the effort I put into bodybuilding could have gone into making a lot of money. But then I have some millionaire friends who are miserable and wish they could switch lives, and they try to body build and they’re afraid to give up any of the money they have.

It’s sort of a merry-go-round they’re on. They’re not happy, money hasn’t made them happy, but they’re afraid to let go of any of it and do what they really want to do.

And a long time ago I decided I like bodybuilding. It brings me a large degree of happiness. I feel good. I’m healthy, and I enjoy doing it.

So ultimately I have to say I’m not sorry that I’m involved in bodybuilding because I have just to lool at everyone else that followed a different route than I did, and it seems like I’m enjoying life as much more than they are.


Rich Baldwin is on faccebook and very active. It seems he is still around bodybuilding and helping Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote bodybuilding. Hats off!

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