The Trials of Sergio

With victories like these, who needs defeats? Sergio Oliva Jr.'s rookie year was no walk in the park.


Per Bernal


“I’m quite a historian and there are just too many statistics of pros not winning their pro debut, that it’s difficult to ignore—I wanted to win, of course! Don’t get me wrong. It’s crazy I had to win to save my life and be able to afford an immigration lawyer to get my wife back. So it wasn’t until they brought us three [Morel, Delarosa, and himself] out at the end of pre-judging that I knew for sure I was in the hunt. Then at night they brought just Jon and me out for a comparison, and damn, was I ready.

“The Sergio who appeared at pre-judging and the one in the finals were two different men. I knew after pre-judging I was behind, so I wasn’t going to do the standard post-pre-judging thing: Eat a big burger and fill up on Gatorade. Instead, I didn’t eat or drink even a drop of water and had to put ChapStick on my teeth ’cause my lips kept sticking to my teeth. I could literally taste that win and knew after all I went through, I needed to prove to myself and other up-and-coming young bodybuilders that you can still compete against people with lucrative sponsors and fewer obstacles and still win. Everyone I went against had sponsors, a home, their spouses to go home to, while I didn’t have any of those things, and I couldn’t let stuff like that stop me. I just wanted to show everyone I don’t need any special treatment. Because even with my name I still had to swallow bullets like every other regular up-and-coming bodybuilder.”

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Per Bernal


Don’t say it too loud, but sometimes it’s hard to banish the thought that Sergio maybe thrives on punishment. Like the masochist who loves a cold shower, so he takes a warm one. Hear him.

“Maybe I rise above adversity when things get tough. Maybe my New York experience was just one giant motivator for me. I’ve always been very pessimistic. I always say things like, ‘This always happens to me,’ ‘Bad things only happen to me,’ and ‘Why me?!’ But you know, I’m starting to alter that mindset. One reason is that I had conversations with Flex Lewis, Shawn Rhoden, and Phil Heath. They all told me stories that they’d endured that were way worse than mine. It’s crazy because all three represent what I hope to be one day, so their stories got through to me big time. It was the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel for me: It woke me up. And it’s weird I now am glad all those things happened. It’s like if they didn’t, I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I did. We all lift as if it’s life or death, but this time around I literally trained and did cardio like my life and my wife’s were at stake. So now that I went through that and so many other things people will never know— I’m the most confident I’ve ever been in my life.”


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