Rod Koontz: Mr. USA of 1977

In the world wide web Rod Koontz is known as ‘the homeless bodybuilder’. In this article you will learn the human behind this golden era legends. The following article was published by Irene Hause – Mr. Berg 


Written by

Irene L. Hause

Muscle Digest, July/August 1978

“I don’t care how bad the AAU gets politically, I want the Mr. title..when I was in high school reading all these magazines, before I got into it, I wrote down that I would win the Mr. America in ’78”

Rod Koontz: Mr. USA of 1977
Rod Koontz, 1977 AAU Mr. USA, smiles a lot. His smile was slow and self-conscious as he leaned back on the sofa and said, “Yes, It’s true that I was asked to pose for Playgirl. But the idea didn’t appeal to me. It’s just a one-shot deal, and I think with employers, guys are just like girls – they’re jealous and I think it would hurt in the long run.”

It bothers him when people stare, but “I’m glad I’m at the point where people do take a second look, but I don’t like the derogatory things people say. If a skinny guy wears shorts, no one says anything. If a big guy does, he’s a show off.” So Rod always keeps “pretty well clothed, long sleeves, long pants. O guess part of it is vanity. When you win a physique contest, people – the general public -expect you the look like Arnold did at the Olympia. This way they can’t pick at you. I don’t like showing off, and I don’t like show offs. I know one guy, we’re always getting on his case, asking him if he gets his shirts at Earl Scheib’s discount cat painting chain”

What has given Rod the most pleasure in the past year?
“Winning the USA title. Proving to everyone that I could do it because I really have a poor structure for bodybuilding. I have long legs, poor tie-ins, and I’m naturally a fat little kid.” The win also emphasized his staunch belief that a man doesn’t need to train at any particular gym to succeed in bodybuilding. “If a guy’s got the motivation, he can train in his garage and make it. I did it; a lot of other guys are doing it.”

Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Rod attended Gardena High School for two years, but didn’t like the way the academics were structured. So he transferred to North Torrance where there were “no majors, the chicks were a lot friendlier, and it was the first school where you could grow a mustache.”

Considered too small for football, Rod became very active in gymnastics. “When I graduated from high school, my arms were almost as big as my thighs. I used to live on the rings at the beach in the summer, and that’s when I got my ‘long pants’ complex. People used to look at me and say, ‘God your upper body is so big, but your LEGS…!’ I even went swimming with long pants!”

Rod’s face broke into a big grin. “But I’ve worked my legs so hard that now I’m even getting considered for Best Legs in national contests!”

Along with gymnastics, Rod actively participated in boxing, karate, and to a lesser degree, weightlifting. He found that boxing made him edgy, ready to turn and punch anyone who walked up behind him. His right arm bears a souvenir of his boxing days, a small tattoo that reads THE ANIMAL. Weightlifting gave him more strength for karate, but “I lost fine control and kept getting disqualified for knocking guys out.”

A feeling that he was “wasting time lifting weight for nothing” led Rod into his first bodybuilding contest. He entered the teenage division at a local contest without even having seen a physique competition. He heard he came in sixth.

Since then, Rod has so successfully combined bodybuilding and powerlifting that he won the 1976 Mr. Iron Man contest. He estimates he’s been in about 80 weightlifting and physique contests so far. In 1977 he turned more to pure bodybuilding. He feels that as rigorous as they might be, powerlifting training routines “aren’t hard enough or long enough for a man who wants to be a top bodybuilder.”

Rod learned the role of nutrition in athletics while he was in the Army. “I went in at 183, in good shape from being a gymnast, and right away I gained 18 pounds of fat, despite all the running and stuff.” He began experimenting with diets as soon as he was discharged. After briefly trying variations of the “chicken and water” regimens, he quickly turned away from them because he felt so bad. Since then, he has relied very heavily on professional advice and on knowledge gained from studying scientific journals on nutrition and biochemistry.

Biochemistry fascinates him to the point that it probably would be his career choice if he had to start all over again. Nevertheless, he’s happy with and enjoys his present job as a computer software tester. The company Rod worked for specializes in programs for stockbrokers, and his job is to see that a client gets the programming capabilities he pays for – no more, no less. “Everybody’s surprised when I say I’m into data processing. They ask, ‘What do you do? Move computers?’ They think bodybuilders are dumb and can’t do anything but lift!” He works the swing shift which permits him to train and catch a few rays of the California sun before reporting to work at 2 p.m.

He is especially appreciative of his boss’s favorable attitude toward the special demands of bodybuilding. As for his co-workers, “When you do well, they back you, but they think you’re a health fanatic and not a normal person because you don’t eat a lot of donuts and potato chips. But look at some of them! One guy at work is 6’11”, weighs 140; the other looks like a jockey. They sit there talking about their plants. ‘Oh, did you give it the minerals I told you to: How much sun does it get?’ They went on and on, and I just started laughing and said, ‘You know, you guys take better care of your plants than you do of yourselves!’ I usually don’t say anything, but I was getting tired of it.”

A bonus at work in 1977 was meeting his gorgeous girl friend Yvonne. 

“I’m the shy type with girls, but for some reason I wasn’t with Yvonne. Usually I have a mental block, maybe because I used to stutter when I was a kid and had to go to speech class.”

The speech impediment is long gone, and Rod’s dark eyed beauty serves as a constant inspiration in his pursuit of bigger titles.

If Rod vases his diet on biochemistry, his training is based on kinesiology, the scientific study of muscles and their movements. Although he varies his routines from contest to contest, they all relate back to his knowledge of kinesiology for the purpose of isolating muscles to pre-exhaustion, then finishing off with a general exercise. His pet theory is also one of Arnold’s: “Do some calf work in the morning, but always just before you go to bed for the best results.”

Rod admits to having a calf machine attached to the bedroom closet door. He also firmly believes that the main cause of stretch marks is not warming up enough. Proper warmups are an obsession with Rod; he has to gear his entire training routine around injuries. When he was 14, he broke his wrist. The break was so badly treated by a succession of doctors that osteomyelitis set in and Rod almost lost his arm. A malpractice suit resulted and a specialist finally came to Rod’s rescue. That was the most serious of injuries, but Rod also has to compensate for shoulder and elbows injuries from gymnastics and from a knee injury acquired at a weekend football game.

Rod’s diet definitely sets him apart from most bodybuilders, and he acknowledges that over the past two years he has probably concentrated more on diet than training. It’s paid off right from the start: In 1975 he won “Most Improved Bodybuilder in Southern California.” Included among the several titles he win in 1977 was “Most Outstanding Bodybuilder in Southern California,” an award earned because of his successful combination of bodybuilding an powerlifting.

A disbeliever in zero carbohydrate diets – “the body and brain need carbohydrates to function efficiently ” – Rod stays on a low fat diet. “Fats contribute to obesity, are low in nutritional value compared to carbs and interfere with the digestion of protein.”

He normally shuns refined sugars, favoring natural sources of carbohydrates. Proteins are limited to 50 grams pe meal because he feels more cannot be assimilated. “I think that these guys who have to eat so much meat are making their bodies inefficient because meat is so hard to digest. Beef is especially high in fats, causing it to interfere with digestion.” 

Rod maintained a 2,500 calories diet before winning the Mr. USA trophy, cutting back to 2,000 per day for the last six weeks.

Blackstrap molasses is a very important part of Rod’s diet. Because if a peculiar physiological dysfunction, his body is unable to absorb the nutritional values found in dairy products, and molasses helped compensate for this “Blackstrap molasses has 29 times more iron, 137 times more calcium, 53 times more potassium, and less carbohydrates than a comparable amount of honey. I use it to whip up weird concoctions in my blender, stuff that other people don’t see how I can eat, just to get the nutritional value from it.”

Rod’s smile disappeared when he was asked what the most difficult part of bodybuilding is for him. “Politics,” he replied grimly, “and it’s getting worse, especially in California.” He refused to elaborate on the subject. Ditto for the topic of steroids. “They’re trying to make a moral issue out of something that isn’t.”

He was more open on the topic of what makes a contest good. “It’s run efficiently and not rushed. The prejudging lighting should be the same as a the night show. Don’t make a contest a spectacle; bodybuilding won’t be accepted as a sport if competitions are run like beauty pageants.”

Who makes the best judges? “I don’t know. Bodybuilders lean toward what they’d like to look like, photographers judge on whether or not a guy is photogenic, and women loot at the face and they dislike vascularity. Judging is really hard, especially when you have to compare the guy who looks like nothing until the individual body parts are posed. I guess I’d have to go with the guy who grows as he poses – it shows a lack of fat, because you can’t flex fat.”

Being a bodybuilder can have its humorous moments. “I was in the hospital getting my appendix taken out. First of all, they didn’t have any gowns with arms that would fit me, so they had to cut off the sleeves. I was asleep one night, and a nurse came in and did something to the patient next to me, and it kind of woke me up. So there I was, half-asleep, and she looked at me and cam running over, looked at my arms, and said with a sign of relief, ‘Oh, they’re both like that! I thought your arm was swollen from the I.V.!”

Rod can often be seen at small contests, yelling advice to beginning bodybuilders. “Smile, Charles! Move forward, Frank!” He’s even been known to interrupt contests to insist that the posing platform and lighting be adjusted to show the contestants to better advantage. Asked why he takes such an interest in advancing the career of beginning bodybuilders such as Charles Carter (now Mr. Northern Cal) and Frank Pantoja (Teenage Mr. California), Rod replied, “They’re the kind of guys I like to see get ahead because they’re not conceited and are all-around o.k. guys. I think bodybuilder are generally too concerned with themselves. They need to be friendlier. Most guys – there are exceptions – who are conceited and egotistical don’t make it. Some guys are so into themselves they can’t pass a mirror, or even a reflection in a windows without looking into it. They get to the point where they win a contest and think, ‘Boy, I’m really looking good!’ Then feel they have no weaknesses.”

What’s ahead of Rod? “Right now I’m training to win the America. If I win that, I’ll train for the Universe, if it’s not too political. Otherwise I may drop back to 180-190 and go back to gymnastics. When I was in high school reading all these magazines. before I got into it, I wrote down that I’d win the Mr. America in ’78. That was my goal. Now we’ll see if it happens. So I’ve more or less been pushing myself. I want to finish something that I’ve started.”

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