Because my schedule often has me shooting to various sporting events across Scotland County, I’m often the last person to leave the Laurinburg Exchange office at night.
When I arrive back at the office with my arsenal of notes and photos, I’m usually greeted by darkened lights, save for the single lonely bulb illuminating my desk.
Except during the middle of the week.
That’s when a lifelong Wagram resident comes by the Exchange to do some custodial work around our cluttered work spaces, including the most cluttered work space of all (I’ll let you figure that out).
One night while I was finishing up a sports story, our office custodian saw me here and got me on my favorite talking subject: Sports. We talked about our favorite teams, our experiences at sporting venues and a variety of other topics. But when it came time for me to ask the man about himself, his response reminded me that sometimes all it takes is the right question at the right time to be treated to a great story.
Everyone has a story, in fact. And this is the story of Bunard McNeill.
McNeill was born May 21st, 1941 and attended Shaw High School in Wagram, where he played for both the baseball and basketball teams. After he graduated high school, McNeill began his 40+year career in Hackensack, New Jersey, where he would remain for about 13 years before returning to his hometown.
McNeill and wife Laura have three children: Demetrice, Rosalind and Kenneth. And it was roughly three years before the birth of daughter Demetrice that McNeill, then in his late 30’s, decided to try his hand at bodybuilding.
“A friend of mine told me about an old gym nearby, so I started going,” McNeill said. “Next thing you know, I started getting results, so I chose to keep going and see how far I could take it. I didn’t call it bodybuilding until I hit my 40’s though.”
From then on, McNeill would awaken at 5:00 a.m. each morning to eat breakfast and prepare for his daily workout regime. The gym McNeill attended was aptly-called the “Old-Fashioned Gym” and featured no modern workout equipment and no central air or heating as well.
But that didn’t stop McNeill’s biggest fan from accompanying him to the gym.
“All we had in the gym to keep us warm was a small heater that was pushed aside in a corner,” McNeill said. “And my daughter Demetrice who was about 2 years-old at the time would sit by that heater and watch her dad work out four days a week.”
McNeill continued to build his physique, and in the mid-1980’s, he made the decision to enter several different ‘35 and older’ bodybuilding competitions throughout North Carolina. His first took place in Mount Airy, and as he prepared himself in the backstage locker room area, McNeill got his first taste of the bodybuilding world.
For better or worse.
“That first tournament I saw the real truth beyond bodybuilding,” McNeill said. “Even though it was amateur competitions, guys would use steroids minutes before they took the stage, and I’d see them fighting over bottles of the stuff. I never allowed myself to get caught up in that, because if you couldn’t achieve it honestly then it wasn’t meant for you to have.”
Though he would go on to lose that first competition, McNeill was told by judges that he had all of the physical tools to be a successful competitor. He just needed to work on his posing.
So for 30-45 minutes a day, McNeill would do exactly that, working in front of a mirror to ensure that every flexed muscle was 100% visible to prospective judges.
According to McNeill, the act of posing is the most difficult part of bodybuilding.
“You have to find a position and maintain it for up to 15 seconds at a time while judges get a good look at you,” McNeill said. “You have to remain tense until judges tell you to let go, and I’ve seen people pass right out trying to keep that whole-body tension for too long.”
McNeill would go on to compete in three more bodybuilding tournaments, finding the most success in the final two (both in Winston-Salem). And the final tournament, which took place in 1986, was an event that McNeill remembers like it was yesterday.
“They gave all eight of the competitors a number, and I’ll never forget that I was number 4,” said McNeill with a laugh. “Then we all had to go out and do various bicep, triceps, abdominal and chest poses with judges narrowing down the contestants based on their performance. I made it to the final three.”
Ultimately, it was McNeill’s back pose that impressed judges the most. During the “freestyle” competition, bodybuilders are allowed to pose however they want to appeal to fans and judges alike, and it was the musculature showcased in McNeill’s shoulders and lower back that drew the most cheers.
In front of the more than 100 spectators on hand (including his family) for the “Winston Salem Amateur Bodybuilding Tournament,” McNeill won the grand prize.
“It’s a feeling you can’t really explain,” McNeill said. “I was in such shock because even though I was competing against guys that were cheating back stage, I was still selected the best out of all of them. To this day I keep my first-place trophy next to the television set in my living room, so I can watch that while I watch TV!”
Because of the rampant steroid-usage he witnessed and the dedication required to maintain his physique, McNeill declined the offers to continue participating in tournaments and retired from competition at the age of 45.
But he never stopped working out, even when he retired from his professional career in 2001. And in his retirement year, after wife Laura urged him to remove his weight-lifting equipment from their home, McNeill saw yet another opportunity arise.
“We built a little side building next to our house after I retired because my wife wanted all of my old stuff out of the house,” said McNeill with a laugh. “She thought it was going to be a storage building, but the Lord had something different in mind.”
Filled to the brim with weights, equipment and a Bow Flex workout machine, the McNeill family’s “storage room” became a full-blown gym. And these days, McNeill has another family member encouraging him to push beyond his limits.
12 year-old grand son Jalen, who is the son of Rosalind.
“Give me one more Papa!” Jalen will demand. And his grandfather listens.
But before the daily 100 push-ups and workout regimen, McNeill quietly strolls out each morning to his gym and says a prayer. This small building beside his home has become his sanctuary, and because of that, McNeill has a name for it.
Mind, Body and Soul.
“When I retired, I made a promise that I would spend more alone time with God, and that’s what that building means to me,” McNeill said. “The first thing I do when I go out there is pray, and sometimes when I don’t exercise I will still find myself out there meditating. I give Him all the credit, praise, love and glory.”
Former bodybuilding champion and God-fearing family man…two things I never would’ve known about McNeill had we not spoke.