It’s the muscles, not the years

John Lankford wants one more last time.

Saturday, Lankford will step on stage in a bodybuilding competition for the final time. At the age of 63 years and 343 days, he will compete in the first Western North Carolina Bodybuilding Championships in Franklin, N.C.

Lankford, owner of Nautilus Fitness Center in Spartanburg, has had several lasts in a career that has spanned 40 years – first as a powerlifter, then as a bodybuilder.

When he won his age class at the Carolina Supernatural in 2005, that was supposed to be it. But in 2011, he got the itch again. “I started wondering if I could still do it at 60 years old,” he said.

Lankford found out that he could. He won the 60-69 age division at the Natural Physique Association's Masters Universe competition in Highland Springs, Va.

Winning was a good way to go out, so he again called it a career.

He made it stick until this past November, when he entered – and won – the 60-and-over division in the Super Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Organization's Grand Finale in Suwanee, Ga.

“I needed more focus,” Lankford said. “It helps to have a goal, whether that goal is looking good for a class reunion, a wedding or a bodybuilding show. When you have a goal, you train harder.”

While competing in Suwanee, Lankford met a group that was starting its own organization, the Natural Bodybuilding and Physique Federation. Saturday's event is the organization's first.

Since he was already in show shape, Lankford agreed to take the stage – one last time.

“I wanted to compete in the show and see what this organization is all about. …With this being their first show, they asked a lot of questions,” said Lankford, who has promoted the Carolina Supernatural since its move to Spartanburg.

Lankford trains about two hours a day, five days a week. He said he's performed the same routine his entire career.

“I may change a movement, but I don't change a lot,” he said. “I'm very strict with my form. If you do it right, you can do it without injury, then you can train again tomorrow.”

Lankford said proper nutrition is just as important as his training routine. He consumes six meals a day – including a dozen egg whites for breakfast and a pound of fish for dinner – and drinks only water. A couple of weeks ahead of a competition, he'll add a seventh meal.

Just before walking out on stage, Lankford will eat a tablespoon of “goo” – a blend of protein powder, peanut butter and honey. “It gives you a really good pump,” he said.

A win Saturday would bring Lankford's career full circle. In 1976, he won the Western North Carolina powerlifting competition.

He will still be involved in the sport, focusing on growing the Carolina Supernatural.

And he wants people to look at his resume and be inspired.

“I hope that guys 50, 60 and even 70 will see what I've done and think, ‘I can do this.’ A lot of times when people retire, they just quit. I hope they'll see that when they reach retirement age, life is not over,” he said.