Lee Labrada Talks About What Champions Are Really Made Of

Lee Labrada on the Making of a Champion

Nothing brings the fitness community together like a bodybuilding competition. Besides providing an outlet for competition, bodybuilding contests serve an important social function. Because bodybuilding is an “individualist” sport, its aficionados have limited opportunities to come together en masse. Sure, you see your buddies in the gym, but there’s nothing like a good bodybuilding competition to bring together bodybuilders from far flung places. Bodybuilding shows are like big parties!

In my opinion, the most fun to be had in a bodybuilding show can be found in your own backyard. Local bodybuilding shows brings out “home grown” amateur bodybuilders and lots of grassroots fans along with their enthusiastic support. Perhaps the Mr.Olympia and the Arnold Classic are more glamorous, sexier contests. But only your local shows pull together America’s best aspiring future champions.

Champion Bodybuilder Lee Labrada
I recently promoted the NPC Lee Labrada Physique Tournament right here in “Labrada-land”…Houston, Texas. After not having promoted a bodybuilding tournament in awhile, a few years ago I felt an almost irresistible and magnetic pull to bring back this show. Once a bodybuilder, always a bodybuilder, right?

The show went great. We had competitors from all over – not just Houston – compete for the titles of their respective divisions. I was very impressed at the level of enthusiasm of the competitors. For many of them, it was their first ever competition. What an honor for me that they chose my tournament to break into the sport! My friend and co-author Keith Klein emceed the event, along with the lovely Dominique Sachse, a Houston television personality. Like I said, it’s been quite some time since I’ve put on a bodybuilding show, and I couldn’t have asked for a more successful evening.

What is a Bodybuilding Champion?

As I watched the evening finals from the backstage area on that Saturday night, I found myself pondering the meaning of the word “champion.” What would the meaning of “champion” be to these men and women?

Years ago when I won the IFBB Mr.Universe, I thought that I had finally become a champion. I was wrong. A champion is not something you become by winning a major bodybuilding title or any other athletic event. A champion is something you become through a process involving self improvement, sacrifice, service, and yes, the attainment of goals normally out of reach of all except those willing to pay the price.

My dictionary contains three definitions for the word “champion.” The first is “one who wins first place or first prize in a competition.” Perhaps, in the broadest, most secular sense of the word, this is an accurate definition. But to limit the meaning of “champion” to these strict confines is to gut it of its essence. I disagree with this definition. To me this is the definition of “winner.” Yes, to be a champion, you must achieve something of value. But the world is full of men and women who have achieved fame and fortune, yet are bankrupt as human beings.

The second definition of champion is, “One that is clearly superior or has the attributes of a winner.” I like this definition better. This one emphasizes the attributes of a winner. The third definition is, “An ardent defender or supporter of a cause or another person.” In my book, a champion is that unusual human being who is an embodiment of these last two definitions.

During my career as a professional bodybuilder, I competed with some of the most talented, gifted bodybuilders of all time. Yet looking back, sadly, there are few that I can call true champions, as I will define in the words that follow. These are my thoughts on the qualities that make a true champion, painfully learned first hand through my experiences in one of the toughest, most demanding sports in the world. I feel that all who aspire to better themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually, would do well to think about these attributes and qualities:

  • The champion is goal oriented. A champion has a carefully thought out, well defined, realistic goal that he works for, on a daily basis. A goal is to a champion, what a target is to a bullet. If you don’t have a goal, how can you ever know when you have achieved it? A goal gives direction to the champion’s efforts.
  • The champion walks a path of never ending self improvement. A true champion always challenges himself to achieve more and more, and never rests on his laurels. A true champion doesn’t get comfortable. He is always looking for ways to improve. He realizes that the road to oblivion is paved with the remains of those that got complacent. A champion realizes that to win externally in the outside world, he must first win internally, at the very core of his being.
  • The champion perseveres. Perseverance is the relentless pursuit of a goal. It is the ability to endure hardship, the ability to walk away from distractions and temptations, the ability to maintain focus and doggedly pursue that which is desired. To persevere, the champion must desire his goal more than anything else. That’s one reason true champions carefully assess their goals before committing to them.
  • The champion is optimistic. The champion has internalized his goal and expects to achieve it. He has faith in himself and in his calling, allowing him to overcome all obstacles. The champion practices positive thinking, recognizing the irrefutable law that “as a man thinks, so shall he become.” Positive thinking begets positive results. Think about it.
  • The champion has humility. Those that don’t, learn it the hard way. A champion realizes that winning or accomplishing doesn’t make him “better” than anyone else. Although a champion has a healthy ego, he is never conceited. He respects the God-given intrinsic worth of every human being.
  • The champion is a good sportsman. A champion is humble in victory, and gracious in defeat. He never talks about his competitors unless he has something positive to say.
  • The champion is introspective. He gives himself credit not only for his successes, for even the basest men do that, but also takes responsibility for his failures. The champion doesn’t blame others or factors outside himself for his shortcomings. Instead, he looks inside himself for ways to improve, learning from his failures and realizing that failures are only opportunities to improve.
  • The champion is selfless. The champion gives back. He is friendly and helpful, and always looking for ways to improve the lot of others. He realizes that it is a privilege to be regarded as a champion and held in high esteem by others, and will act accordingly. The champion works not only to better himself, but to better the field in which he excels.
  • The champion exercises the responsibility that his position carries. Like it or not, a champion is a role model for others, many times children and young people. A champion lives his life correctly, knowing that others will be watching and emulating him. The world is full of superstar athletes that live lives of debauchery and excess. They are not to be confused for champions. If it weren’t for their God-given talent, they would be losers.
  • The champion keeps it all in perspective. A champion realizes that he is a physical, mental, and spiritual being and keeps balance in his life. He realizes early on that the world does not revolve around him.


These are just a few of the truths I have learned during my years as a professional athlete. I wish that I could say that I practiced them all at every point of my life, but that would be a falsehood. No, these are things I have learned over time, through my experiences. They are not always easy to employ in one’s life, and they are a process, not an end in themselves. Remember that it is the path that makes the champion. Being a winner does not make one a champion. There are many winners who are not champions, and many champions who have not experienced public victories. Here’s to all the future champions of the world and especially all of the unsung heroes… my champions.

Yours for a Lean Body,

Lee Labrada

Your Lean Body Coach™
Houston, Texas



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