January 01, 1980 News & Features » Cover Story


People’s choice: Carlos DeJesus, 54 

As bodybuilders go, DeJesus, 54, is a natural — literally. In 1985, he became the first Natural for Life World Champion, the drug-free version of Mr. Olympia, and claimed the Natural Mr. America and Natural Mr. North America titles in 1981. In keeping with the theme, DeJesus did most of his training in his homemade gym — which he constructed almost entirely of wood (except for the iron dumbbells).

“People ask me, ‘Have you ever competed against Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno?’” DeJesus says with a commanding voice, then lowering to a whisper: “Actually, they haven’t been able to compete with me.”

At just under 6 feet tall, DeJesus started bodybuilding while growing up in the Bronx. “I couldn’t speak English,” he says. “I was available for everyone — every bully to pick on.” DeJesus, whose father was Portugese and his mother Sicilian, was born in Manhattan and grew up speaking Spanish. (He also learned English, and claims credit for adding the terms “body-building” and “body-builder” to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary. He has the confirmation letter framed in his office.) Growing up on the streets, he quickly became an easy target. So DeJesus pumped up, learned to box and eventually the bullying stopped.

But the struggle was just beginning. After a 15-month stint in Vietnam, he moved to Virginia and became a state prison guard, and in 1974 he fulfilled his lifelong dream and joined the police force in Henrico. Crime, however, soon hit close to home.

In 1979, his wife, Fannie M. “Faye” DeJesus, disappeared. Her decomposed body was found seven months later under the hood of an old car in a Richmond junkyard. Carlos believes she was a victim of the Bliley brothers’ infamous killing spree in the 1970s, but to this day the case remains unsolved.

Then in 1991, DeJesus’ son, Carlos II, was killed in a gunfight behind a convenience store on Mosby Street. And in 1994, DeJesus’ brother, Anthony, died of sclerosis of the liver. Tormented by his experience in Vietnam, DeJesus says, his brother became an alcoholic. “He came back, but he didn’t survive.”

The hard times, however, didn’t get DeJesus, who bills himself “the real Rocky.” With a sunny disposition, DeJesus always found a way to beat the pain. “I’m not a champion because I’m the best, but I didn’t quit,” he says. “I always come back.”

After leaving the police force in 1982 (in eight years, he says sheepishly, he wrote only two tickets), DeJesus started doing consulting work for fitness centers, writing contributions to fitness magazines and started working as a personal trainer. He became certified as a medical exercise therapist in 2000. Today, he runs an exercise studio (it’s made of wood, he says, because it breathes better than iron) on Lakeside Avenue that focuses on patients with hard-to-treat injuries that inhibit range of motion, endurance, balance and coordination, for example.

In his studio, DeJesus puts patients through a slow therapy program that focuses on the entire body, not just the injury. The only caveat: Insurance companies often won’t cover his programs, which take longer than most physical therapy programs.

“It’s not just a body in front of him,” says Dr. G.W. Chirkinian, a chiropractic physician who often refers patients to DeJesus. “He is the best trainer I have ever come across. The patients love him.”

He is, after all, the real Rocky. — Scott Bass

Our online poll determined the “people’s choice” winner.

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