Along the way, "T-Well," as he's affectionately known, has sculpted a physique that has won accolades and trophies on the natural bodybuilding circuit.
"The idea is to take a Buick and refine it to a Porsche, and you do that through proper form, patience, and rest," declares T-Well, who is 51 and lives in New Castle, Del. "Time in the gym, patience, and consistency equal the body you want. It won't happen overnight."
His introduction to bodybuilding followed the classic route. Growing up in Southwest Philly, he was "on the skinny side." He saw the Charles Atlas ads in comic books and sympathized with Mac, the 98-pound weakling who got sand kicked in his face. So at age 14, to add some muscle and bulk, he began lifting weights.
"I did it to attract the ladies at first," he confesses.
By the time he was a student at West Catholic High, he began noticing a difference. Hormones were a factor, of course, but his devotion to iron was paying off, too. Not only was his physique filling out and becoming more brawny, but he discovered he had more strength and stamina when he played basketball and other sports.
After high school, he joined the Air Force and was assigned to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where he served as a cook. At the base gym, he began lifting free weights more seriously and methodically, following the precepts of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
After four years, he returned to Philadelphia, where he held a variety of jobs: working on the docks, driving a tractor-trailer for the postal service, and serving as a security guard at Drexel. All the while, he continued to build his body at the YMCA at 52d Street in West Philadelphia.
In the mid-'90s, he began training at a gym owned by Villanova basketball coach Rollie Massimino at 69th Street. It was there that he met a man named Tom Conrad, a SEPTA trolley operator who became his mentor and helped him take bodybuilding to the next level.
"I had no clue about prepping or dieting," T-Well says.
He trained hard for two years for his first bodybuilding competition, which took place in 1999 in New Jersey under the auspices of the American Natural Bodybuilding Conference. He was 39 at the time and in his maiden contest, he placed fourth.
He continued competing and refining his skills. The goal of bodybuilding is to perfect every body part, so that all your muscles, sinews, and veins stand out with the clarity of an anatomical chart. It's actually an art form - sculpting in flesh - and the choreography of posing is almost balletic. During the mandatory phase of competition, a bodybuilder may be on stage for 20 minutes, performing a series of poses, trying to hold each without shaking, striving to suppress the strain, to make the supremely difficult look effortless.
An initial goal for T-Well was to compete in the Philly Classic, which he did in 2004, winning first-place honors in the masters division. He was 43 years old at the time, but the judge insisted on carding him because he looked so young.
In 2005, he won the masters title at Musclemania in New York City, and for three consecutive years he took home the masters trophy in the Fitness Atlantic contest in Connecticut.
"I call him Mr. Camaraderie," says Brian Cannone, owner of Fitness Atlantic. "He talks to everybody. He's somebody who competes seriously but also knows how to laugh, relax, and have fun. Everybody looks forward to seeing him each year."
His best body part, T-Well says, is his abs. He wishes his arms were bigger. His principal goal now, which still eludes him like the Holy Grail, is to enter a bodybuilding contest and be named best overall. The unmarried father of two boys, ages 22 and 13, he hopes that bodybuilding might be a stepping-stone to a role in television or the movies.
Meanwhile, he continues to train at LA Fitness, where the atmosphere is congenial. "The competition in the gym is positive," T-Well says. "We give each other a friendly push." T-Well has a reputation for being "the cop," says a gym regular, chastising folks when they dawdle between sets.
"The gym floor is a classroom," T-Well says. "I'm always learning something new. I mentor the young guys. I feed off their energy, and they feed off mine."
His operating principles: "Train hard but train smart. Proper form is more important than how much you can lift."
Weightlifting, T-well says, "keeps me healthy and keeps my energy levels high. It makes me feel one with my body and it increases my sex drive." And, truth to tell, when T-Well strolls the strand in Wildwood, he doesn't mind the admiring gazes he attracts one iota.
"Well Being" appears every other week, alternating with Sandy Bauers' "GreenSpace" column. Contact Art Carey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing.