The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt around the world and the procedures to protect ourselves and others have impacted all sports including bodybuilding competitions. Many competitors were hoping to qualify for the Olympia in several of the contests that have now been postponed or cancelled. The last pro contest that actually took place was the 2020 Arnold Classic.
Steve Kuclo was in that lineup and placed 4th in a contest that included eventual champion William Bonac, Dexter Jackson, and Cedric McMillan, among others. Now he and his wife, Amanda, are waiting like everyone else to see when he can get back onstage and try to qualify for the 2020 Olympia this September.
In the meantime, he spoke with BarBend about what he has been doing to stay safe, his thoughts on the Arnold, and his business life.
BarBend: Obviously everyone is dealing with the uncertainty and life-changing circumstances. How are you and your family holding up during this time?
Kuclo: “We’re doing well. We’re taking the precautions that the government gives us regarding isolation and social distancing and washing everything that they’re requesting, the quarantine stuff and the essentials that are needed. The food, toilet paper, that kind of stuff we’re pretty stocked up on and we’ve been utilizing a food company that we work with called Icon Meals. They’ve been providing food and been a great resource during this time.”
You were at the Arnold Classic competing around the time that the coronavirus issues really took hold in the US and the Expo was the first big event to be cancelled as a result. What was going through your mind during that weekend and how concerned were you considering you had prepared for so long to compete?
“That was a huge curveball thrown at us during that time regarding the Arnold Classic. First and foremost, I think they concerned for everyone’s safety and well-being but the next thing in mind was getting onstage and competing. Obviously everyone had prepped for 12 to 16 weeks depending on what each person did including myself. There was that slew of emotions running through my mind about uncertainty, anger, what’s going on, a whole bunch of stressors that you keep to a minimum the last few days. We were uncertain until that Thursday that we were actually going to get the green light. But we stuck to the plan, stayed on the gas, and then we got the green light so it was like, ‘let’s do this’. I was happy with how everything turned out with that but it was different not having the crowd at prejudging. The whole buzz around the show definitely changed. Usually it was centered around the show and this time it was centered around the coronavirus which was very different.”
Now with many states closing gyms and contests being cancelled, many competitors were preparing for upcoming shows and now are facing an unfamiliar form of adversity. What do you think these athletes can do to maintain both their shape and mindset?
“Obviously being a promoter myself, we were forced to cancel one show for April 4th, the Kuclo Classic Midwest. We’ve moved it to August. The last week and a half has been a lot about damage control regarding uncertainty with what the government’s going to do, with what the NPC is going to do, and of course, myself being an IFBB Pro League competitor with shows being cancelled, I think this whole thing has screwed up the whole year in general. The biggest thing is continue living the lifestyle as best as you can. This can create stress and anxiety so make sure you can eat as close as you can to your diet, try to stay in shape and active, I don’t think in a few weeks everyone will lose their muscle and disappear so I keep telling people ‘if you can find a gym that’s open, great, but if not utilize home workout type stuff like bands.’ I, myself, went out and bought adjustable dumbbells and a bench to be able to workout from home. For competitors, do that stuff and go on walks, do cardio, and it will be good.”
Speaking of gyms, I believe you and your wife, Amanda, were about to open your own facility in your area. Mind giving details of what you have going on?
“It’s something we’re planning on doing. It’s still in the works but obviously this threw a wrench into things, having this coronavirus and what it’s doing to the economy. But we still have everything laid out and planned. It will be a late summer opening. We’ll have a grand opening right after the Olympia. It’s called Carbon Culture. There’s two other partners in the brand. There’s my wife and I, there’s Brent Laffey and his wife, and then there’s Brandon Curry and his wife. The three families have gotten together and created his hybrid of a high-end gym that’s also hitting more of a hardcore, intense training facility, but very clean, very nice, lot of amenities, and it’s going to be one of a kind that will have several of these across the US so hopefully it will be very large.”
Business is nothing new for you. For those readers that may not know, do you mind talking about the entrepreneur side of your life?
“There’s opportunity everywhere and if you work hard and really sacrifice a lot of time and put effort into whatever it is you want to do, you’ll do well. For my wife and me, it started in the fitness world. We both have a passion to compete. We translated that into business starting with my wife’s clothing line, Booty Queen Apparel, which we were on Shark Tank with. There’s been a learning curve to go with that. In the gym world, obviously everyone wants their own gym. That was an opportunity that was presented and we felt we wanted to pursue. We are also promoters of our own bodybuilding show, the Kuclo Classic. This will be our 5th year promoting in Texas. We also picked up shows in Michigan and Wyoming. We found that was a great way for us to give back to bodybuilding. Things we’ve learned in our careers in bodybuilding we’ve been able to pick up and implement into the business and entrepreneur side. We obviously can’t compete forever so we have to find what we can do away from the stage. That’s where my mindset’s been going the last few years.”
Does the grind of running companies impact your career as a bodybuilder or do you find that it helps you?
“I personally believe it helps me. I worked the most difficult job in the world while turning pro and I did turn pro as a firefighter and medic for the city of Dallas and I was on the busiest ambulance in Dallas when I turned pro. So I had sleepless nights, I worked 24 hours straight and 50 plus hour work weeks. In those times, it taught me a lot, showed me I can handle a lot. So for me, running companies keeps me busy and my mind off the whole dieting and feeling like crap part. My wife does a good job of holding me back, going, going, going, and grind, grind, grind. Sometimes you need to take a step back and say, ‘ok. Let’s rest a little bit.’ For me, I use it as a positive and enjoy the busyness trying to grow yourself in business and life.”
You’ve been on Shark Tank and even was a part of a social media discussion at the White House. When you were working as a firefighter and training to achieve pro status, did you ever think you could have a positive impact outside of bodybuilding the way that you have?
“My thing was always to be a good representative for the sport and myself. I feel like having the opportunity to be at the White House and on mainstream TV, and even meeting fans around the world that may not know bodybuilding but get an opportunity to meet a bodybuilder is something that gives you an opportunity to impact someone in a positive way. You may be able to change they think about bodybuilding in general. They may think, ‘this guy is more than muscle. He’s got a brain, he can think, be a good husband, businessman, a family man, and do all these things.’ I wanted to be versatile in that aspect but also put a positive message out there for young people that aspire to be bodybuilders to think about things, to not just have tunnel vision for bodybuilding. Be a person that can do many things and impact and inspire people. Being a bodybuilder of physique competitor, you’re inspiring people to train hard and they dream to be like you. If I can put a good word to them or inspire that, that’s a positive thing I’m able to do.”
I know that there is very little certain nowadays but do you have a rough idea of what the rest of the season looks like or are you waiting until life resumes before committing to any shows?
“Right now we’re just taking it day by day. I’ve written off most of March and April as far as shows to do. I think at this point the IFBB Pro League and NPC plan on resuming shows in May. So that may be an opportunity to do the New York Pro or maybe something a little later. It’s going to make for a long year. With the Arnold, you’re prepping for the holidays and right after the Olympia, getting back on it. Obviously the goal is the Olympia but with a bunch of shows being cancelled I don’t know how the Olympia itself is going to turn out. It’s going to be very limited at this point. Are they going to do invites or change who they let into the show? It’s going to be very different this year with this situation the whole world is dealing with. For now, we’re focused on staying healthy, protecting our family, and doing what we have to do to get through this time.”
Any final thoughts for those reading about how to deal with the current struggles and what they should do until things improve?
“Be prepared, vigilant, don’t be naïve. Don’t think you’ll be invisible to anything like this virus. Stock up on food, have extra things around just in case. I think the media feeds a lot of hysteria and promotes a lot of these things that are going on. I think if everyone can remain calm, do the things the government is asking right now, and just protect yourself and your family, we can be optimistic and in the next month to month and a half, we can hopefully get back to normal life. Stay focused, keep working hard, and things will work out for everybody. Stay active, healthy, take your vitamins, and we’ll be good.”
Featured Image: Instagram/stevekuclo