Tag Archives: athletics

Wheelchair Bodybuilders Muscle Their Way to the Top

When he was 16, Nick Scott was in a near-fatal car accident. He was left paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, Scott, now 30, is also known in certain circles—namely, the wheelchair bodybuilding world, a universe in which his is perhaps the most recognizable face—as “The Beast.” The Beast isn’t sure of his bench press limit, only because he hasn’t yet stopped reaching for more weight. The metaphor’s an obvious one, but true: ”If you want something bad enough, nothings gonna stop you from not getting it,” he has said.

And The Beast wants to spread the word: he was instrumental in the creation of the first-ever competition for certified International Federation of BodyBuilders (IFBB) Pro Wheelchair Bodybuilders, which was held last fall. The 2012 IFBB Pro Wheelchair championships took place Oct. 13 in Houston, an event open only to Scott and the dozen other men who have qualified as pros. Harold Kelley was named the winner in 2011 and 2012.

Photographer Lauren Fleishman has been documenting the sport for over a year, including that first competition. She first heard about wheelchair bodybuilding via a phone call from her cousin, who works in a hotel where a bodybuilding event took place. “I got so excited that I hung up the phone and began researching the sport,” she says.

Fleishman says that when she first began exploring the topic, she noticed that almost all of the photographs of bodybuilders, at least the ones that she could find, portrayed the participants in an almost grotesque manner. She wanted to avoid that look. “In showing a different side to it, it’s a way of connecting people, a way of changing their perceptions about the sport.”

Wheelchair bodybuilding competitions date back about 15 years, and both amateurs and professionals compete in worldwide events throughout the year. After following the participants for months, Fleishman says that, besides the normal suspense that comes with any competitive event, there’s another layer to it. “Seeing what being on stage does for them, they really, really shine,” she says. “You have a whole range of reasons why they compete, but the dedication and perseverance is really inspiring.” And it’s not just on stage: last May, in a Wal-mart in Texas, Fleishman accompanied Scott—the de facto spokesman for the sport—when he went to purchase batteries for his wheelchair, which is rigged to light up when he performs. Outside the store, a teenage boy, also in a wheelchair, approached Scott to say that he hoped one day to be like him. “You can obviously see that Nick has muscles,” says Fleishman. “The kid was impressed. It was a really nice moment to see that.”

But there has been one drawback to immersion in the wheelchair bodybuilding community during her year of photographing the project—and, as the work continues, it may only get worse. “It’s really hard,” Fleishman says, “because you want them all to win.”

Lauren Fleishman is an award-winning photographer based in New York City and Paris. See more of her work here and or on LightBox here.

Three Cheers for the Rise of Acro

As an article in this week’s issue of TIME explains, the burgeoning sport of acro—the short form of “acrobatics and tumbling”—is striving to distance itself from its cheerleading roots. Likewise, when photographer Holly Andres visited the University of Oregon acro team to shoot the young athletes at practice, she wanted to avoid the tropes of cheerleading photography. There would be no green backgrounds or vivid colors. Instead, the shoot had been planned entirely in black-and-white, the participants envisaged as frozen shapes on a stark field—an idea planned by TIME in order to match a story about a sport striving to be taken seriously.

“The night before, I was really struggling with how I was going to pull this off,” says Andres, for whom the assignment was a departure from her usual style. But, she says, the answer came to her in her sleep, when she thought of Leni Riefenstahl’s photographs of divers from the 1937 Olympics. “I was thinking about the way that she shot really low angles and exposed for the sky in such a way that the athletes looked like these graphic objects. I thought if I could just get them outside and shoot from a low angle I could probably get a more compelling shot than shooting in the gym.”

On the day of the shoot, Andres, whose work is normally highly orchestrated, couldn’t interrupt the practice to adjust composition. Nor did she have much experience with sports—as a photographer, as an athlete or even as a spectator. But her instincts proved correct. Outside on the football field, with a low angle, she was able to capture the dizzying acrobatics in striking graphic fashion. And, as a bonus, nobody fell on her. “It was pretty terrifying,” she says. “I appreciated having my camera as a buffer to look through because I think it detached me a bit from the reality. I just had to have faith that this is what they do and no one’s going to misstep.”

The bold look of the shoot continued when the team returned to the gym for the rest of their practice. Using seven strobes, Andres was able to freeze their movements against a white seamless wall and the light gray of their gym mats.

And despite her lack of sports experience, the photographer found that the acro team’s ethic fit in with her own work as a photographer of the feminine experience. “The fact that there were no male team members and that they were the ones who were throwing and hoisting their fellow team members in the air was really interesting,” she says. “Certainly it challenged some of my preexisting ideas or stereotypes about cheerleaders.”

Read the story from our current issue: Cheer Factor

Holly Andres is an American photographer. See more of her work here.

Runner’s High: One Man’s New York City Marathon Dream Comes True

More than 40 years after its inception, the New York City Marathon on Sunday beckoned another legion of runners to test themselves. For many runners, it was a test of physicality. But for Maickel Melamed, it was a mental test to overcome a struggle that resulted from a birth defect 36 years ago.

Photograph by Romina Hendlin

Melamed’s nephew touches the medal Melamed received after completing the ING Miami Half Marathon in January 2011

Born with a condition called hypotonia, Melamed suffers from low muscle tone, which makes most activities that require any strength extremely difficult. For the past two years, he has been training in his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela for the 2011 New York City Marathon. He applied for the marathon last year and was at first denied, but after completing a half marathon in Miami and joining Archilles International — an organization that helps people with disabilities participate in mainstream athletics — he was later accepted.

Photographer Romina Hendlin, also from Caracas, has been following Melamed since 2009, first as a student in his motivational class in high school, then as a friend and now as a photographer. “It’s the perseverance he has to follow his dreams,” she says of her interest in documenting Melamed’s journey. “He doesn’t take no for an answer. He taught us that you can’t accept no — always ask how.”

The New York City Marathon was important for Melamed to run because it is symbolic of how he lives his life. “If you dream it, make it happen,” he says. “I’m very excited and very focused, and just to be in the start line is a huge step. There are a lot of people who want to achieve their goals but don’t get to the start line. It’s symbolic of my dream and [theirs].”

Hendlin is part of a team of nearly 30 people who helped Melamed complete the marathon. The average completion time is about four hours; it took Melamed more than 15. “My celebration will be internal,” Melamed says. “This is going to help a lot of people. I will be the vehicle to help others find their way.”

Romina Hendlin is a photographer based in New York. More of her work can be seen here