What can I say about Leroy Colbert. Well, obviously he had massive arms. This was somewhat his calling card and what some would argue the factor that added the word ‘legendary’ before his name. However, there is so much more to say about Leroy Colbert.
A legend rises.
Born in 1933, Colbert started lifting weights at age 10. It is not until the young age of 18 that he started competing, winning his first competition, the Mr. New York City, in 1952. This victory was followed by a triumph the following year in the Mr. Eastern America contest. Both these wins gave Colbert the opportunity to compete on the main stage – being prompted by Joe Weider to compete at the Mr. Universe held in London, England the following year. Unfortunately Colbert never competed for the Mr. Universe title, or for any title after that.
A premature retirement.
Prior to the Mr.Universe competition, Colbert traveled to New Hampshire on his famed Harley Davidson in order to attend a motorcycle convention. This trip resulted in a life changing accident in which Colbert severed his right foot while attempting to avoid an oncoming vehicle. Forced into a cast after a surgery to his ankle involving pins and permanent loss of mobility, Leroy Colbert was forced to retire at age 21.
When the accident occurred, Colbert thought it was “the end of his life,” because, as he explains he was “consumed by bodybuilding” and with the idea of winning.
With the help of Joe Weider who encouraged Colbert to keep lifting and offered him employment in a Weider warehouse, Leroy Colbert opened his supplement store in New York called World Health Center, to then move his business to California under the name Total Nutrition, which he ran until his death in 2015.
Big arms, and?
A quick search for Leroy Colbert will offer two things; copious amounts of images of the man flexing, and the size of his arms. When Colbert won his competitions he walked around with 19 inch arms, which are big in any standard and really big in the 1950s. Following his accident, Colbert managed to bring his arm size up to 21 inches (!) being credited as the first to do so.
To put this into perspective, two of the biggest stars of the late 1940s and 1950s, Steve Reeves and Reg park, had an arm measurement of 18.5 inches and 19 inches respectively. The immortalized Arnold Schwarzenegger would walk on stage 20 years later with 22 inch arms, while the presently crowned Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath has 23 inch arms. With this in mind, and with the fact that Colbert trained in the 1950s, one can only imagine the reaction of bodybuilders upon seeing Colbert’s arm size.
However, as argued, I believe there is more to Leroy Colbert than big developed arms. But, it is important to note that he himself realized that his arms built the foundation of his stardom. By stating that “if I wasn’t the first one to build 21 inch arms without steroids, no one would be talking about me,” Colbert points to the very true fact that, as an aspiring bodybuilder “you have to be something that stands out.”
Okay, big arms! And?
Three things, I believe, makes Colbert stand out.
The first being his commitment and continuation within the realm of bodybuilding. As stated, Colbert continued training even after being told that his bodybuilding career was over. He also contributed to bodybuilding by not only offering various supplements throughout his life, but also by reading, writing, and publishing over 100 articles related to the sport of bodybuilding and supplementation. This displays a man who sought to increase and share his knowledge.
Second, in a sport where steroid seems to be an everlasting elephant in the room, Leroy Colbert became absolutely transparent regarding its use and its abuse. When Colbert competed in the 1950s, the advent of steroids was slowly beginning. Although Colbert decided to remain natural due to his lack of knowledge towards the new drug he stated that if he knew more about Performance Enhancements, he would have used them to become the best he can be. He even went on to state that “if I had not hurt myself on the motorcycle […] I’d be dead. I would overdose on these drugs.” He even bluntly stated that most deaths in bodybuilding due to heart failure are caused by steroid abuse. As researchers and historians, reading and hearing this is such a breath of fresh air.
Finally, and most importantly, Leroy Colbert was the first Black bodybuilder to be featured on the cover of Joe Weider’s Muscle Power. For those of you who know a bit of history, this is HUGE for the 1950s. This does not only show Joe Weider’s openness, but also Colbert’s work and dedication paying off.
Leroy Colbert had big arms, that, no one can deny. But he was so much more and offered so much more to the sport of bodybuilding which must not be forgotten. It comes to no surprise that he was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2003.