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My Life Story
By Gary F. Zeolla
With my Web sites, newsletters, books, and powerlifting, I have had many people ask me about my background, so below is a short autobiography. Hold your mouse pointer over each picture for the caption. Click on the picture for a larger image.
High School and College
I was born in 1961 near Pittsburgh, PA. I ran track in junior high school. My best (if I remember correctly) was 6.3 seconds for the 50 yard dash. I wrestled in middle high school. I "lettered" in tenth grade. Most of the matches I won were not due to skill or speed but due to my being stronger than my opponent. This was in part due to being naturally strong and in part due to having been lifting weights in my basement since junior high. But it was in high school that I found the sport that I really loved when I entered two bench press contests.
I bombed out of the first contest, mainly due to my form being terrible. But I joined a gym after that and learned how to do the lift correctly. I entered the same contest a year later and won a trophy. The meet director said if there was a trophy for "most improved lifter" I would have won that as well. And with that, I was "hooked" on powerlifting.
I graduated from high school in 1979. I then went to Penn State University and majored in Nutrition Science. It was in in college that I began entering full powerlifting contests (squat, bench press, and deadlift), and I did very well.
I was a two-time Pennsylvania Collegiate Powerlifting Champion, winning Best Lifter the second year. I won National Collegiate Powerlifting Championships my sophomore year in the 114 pound weight class and was runner-up at Nationals my junior year at 123s. I broke every PA state collegiate record in both weight classes (except for the bench at 114s) and one national collegiate record (425 pound squat at 123s). I also had won a whole wall-full of trophies. It should also be noted that this was at a time when there was only one powerlifting federation (the USPF), so the championships and records were truly meaningful.
My plans at that time were that I would make a name for myself with my lifting, and then between my lifting experience and my nutrition degree, I would open a gym and be able to counsel people in both exercise and diet. So I had planned on starting a personal trainer service long before “personal trainer” even became a term, let alone a profession.
If you had asked me back then who I was, I would have replied that I was Gary Zeolla, the Powerlifter. My whole identity was wrapped up in my athletic abilities. But in my senior year in college, it all came crashing down. Health problems forced me to stop competing and eventually to stop lifting weights altogether.
On other matters, in high school, I was basically a loner, dating very little and having few friends. In college, I dated some, but not much. I was in one relationship that lasted the one summer that I spent at Penn State. But it ended rather badly. I was friends with other members of the Penn State Barbell Club and had a few "drinking buddies." But that was about it.
I had little concern for spiritual matters through high school and college. I went to church until I was 18, but only because my parents wanted me to. But in college, I never gave church or God any thought.
I graduated from college in 1983. Since I could no longer workout let alone compete, I pretty much lost interest in the opening a gym and personal trainer idea. Needless to say, this was emotionally devastating. To go from being a national champion powerlifter to being crippled by health problems was just too much to take. Watching my formerly muscular body waste away wasn’t very pleasant either. With losing my career plans, I was left with no direction in life. I ended up working as a cook at various establishments for the next several years.
As a result, I was quite a mess. As with many people, it took hitting rock bottom before I began looking up and considering spiritual issues. But I was not one to "just believe" something to make myself feel better. So I began doing a lot of reading and searching on my own. I studied the teachings and integrity of the various religions and philosophies the world has to offer.
After about three years I became convinced the Christian faith was the only belief system that was logically and historically sound. But if the Christian faith was true, that meant I was a sinner, condemned before God, in need of a Savior. After much struggle over this admission, in the winter of 1986, God brought me to my knees as I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Jesus Christ. It was that faith in Christ that enabled me to deal with all that was going wrong in my life.
Through the 1980s, I attended several Christian singles groups. I made some friends at these groups and dated some as a result, but again, not much. I was in one rather good relationship that lasted a summer in the mid-80s, but unfortunately, things did not work out. Another relationship that winter ended rather badly.
Eventually, I decided to go to seminary. I chose Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary and moved to Denver, Colorado in March of 1988. I began working towards a Master's degree in Philosophy of Religion. Unfortunately, my health worsened while in Denver, which lead to financial problems. As a result, I was forced to leave seminary with two-thirds of the credits necessary for graduation completed. I moved back to western Pennsylvania in December of 1990.
While in Denver, I made a few friends, but didn't date at all.
Darkness to Light
After returning to Pennsylvania, with the backing of my church, I started Darkness to Light, a Christian ministry. It began with the publication of a hardcopy newsletter in July 1991. The name for the ministry comes from Acts 26:18:
“… to open their eyes [in order] to turn [them] back from darkness [i.e., falsehood and unrighteousness] to light [i.e. truth and righteousness] and [from] the authority of Satan to God, [in order for] them to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among the ones having been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18; ALT3).
It is my belief that people turn from darkness to light when they come to believe the teachings of the Bible and live in accordance with them. The purpose statement for Darkness to Light is, "Explaining and Defending the Christian Faith."
However, in September 1998 I had to stop publication of the hardcopy newsletter due to my health situation. But I had already set up a Web site for Darkness to Light in July 1996, which continues to this day. The Web site currently has over 850 pages and receives about 100,000 page views a month. Posted on the site are articles dealing with Christian theology, apologetics (defense of the Christian faith), cults, ethics, Bible versions, and much more.
I also began to have books published in 2000, including a translation of the New Testament. The above Scripture quote is from my translation. I also started a free email newsletter in September 2003, which now has about 1,000 subscribers.
Fitness Web Site and Powerlifting Again
Along with the Christian content, I eventually began posting information on my Web site about the health problems I was suffering with and how I was dealing with them. I did so as it was my hope that my experiences would be of help to others.
Then in the summer of 2002, my health situation seemed to be improving, so I began working out with free weights for the first time in almost two decades. Then in April of 2003, I entered my first powerlifting in 21 years. Shortly thereafter, my health took another turn for the worse and has remained very poor ever since. But I have continued to lift weights as it seems to benefit my health situation, which my doctors concur with. I have also continued to compete to give me an extra incentive to keep training. Until 2009, I had been entering one or two contests a year and doing very well despite the ongoing health problems.
In those years, I set or broke 48 powerlifting records, set in five different powerlifting federations. For the years 2003 to 2009, I was either the #1 or #2 ranked master (over 40 years old) lifter in the USA in the 114 pound weight class.
When I began lifting again, I also began posting articles about powerlifting and fitness in general on my DTL Web site. But it seemed out of place to keep posting so much material on health, powerlifting, and fitness on a Christian site. So I decided to start a new site. That new site is called Fitness for One and All. It went online July 12, 2003.
The purpose statement for this site is "Helping people to attain their health, fitness, and performance goals." I also began publishing a free FitTips for One and All email newsletter. There are now over 375 pages on the site, and it gets about 30,000 pages views a month. The newsletter has about 200 subscribers.
The name “Fitness for One and All” reflects the diversity of the material covered in the articles and other items seen on the site and in the newsletter. There truly is information in these sources that are directed to people with a wide variety health, fitness, and performance goals. But the largest section is admittedly the section on Powerlifting and Strength Training.
My Life Today
I dated someone for a couple of years during the mid-90s, but when my health took a turn for the worse, it was not possible to continue the relationship. Other than that relationship, I have not dated much at all over the last couple of decades. And needless to say, I never got married. I have also had few real life friends.
My health is such now that I basically live an isolated life. I rarely leave my home, and have no social life to speak of. But my parents have always been there for me, and I see some of my other family members on special occasions. I never had children, but I have a niece and two nephews and three great-nephews. But I've never been able to be much a part of their lives as I would have liked to have been.
But thank God for the Internet. At least I am able to communicate with and make friends with people online. I get emails every day from people commenting on my Web sites and books. And I participate regularly in the Weight Trainers United forum, on MySpace, and on Facebook. My MySpace page is gary114 (the number is of course my weight class). My Facebook page is GZeolla.
Given my health situation, it is not possible for me to work outside of my home, so I have a home office set up where I do my writing and work on my Web sites and newsletters. But I am only able to work a very limited number of hours a week, so I am not able to accomplish near as much as I would like to.
In fact, it took me three days initially to write this autobiography. It is so hard to quit writing when the ideas are coming, so I worked on it too long the first day. As a result, I got myself so exhausted I wasn't able to sleep that night. I felt terrible the next day, so I didn't get much done that day, and I had to finish it up the day after that. That should give you an idea of how difficult it is for more me to get anything done.
Also due to my health situation, I couldn't handle going to a commercial gym anymore, so I had no choice but to set up a home gym and work out at home. But even with my home gym, I need to be very careful about not overdoing it, so I need to keep my workouts as short as possible. Having a home office and home gym makes things very convenient, but also very lonely.
I always seemed to do rather well at powerlifting contests. I can only assume adrenaline, along with a lot of caffeine, got me through the grueling day that is a powerlifting contest. But I'd always crash severely afterwards, so that is why I only entered one or two contests a year, and I only entered contests that were close to my home as a lengthy travel would have made things too difficult. But my final contest was in June 2009. After that, age, injuries, and health problems forced me to retire from competition.
My financial situation also remains terrible, as it has been all of my life.
Spiritual Struggles and Trust in God
With all the problems I have experienced in my life, you can be sure I have asked God “why” many times in my life. There have also been times when I have felt abandoned by God, or at least that He is very distant. But through it all, I have never doubted my salvation. I know the Christian faith is true. I know that Christ died for my sins, and I know God is there for me now, even if I do not always feel His presence. It is trust in Him that enables me to go on. I know that despite everything, He is in control and has a purpose behind all of it.
I can see “God’s fingerprints” throughout my life. Things have not gone the way I would have wanted them, to say the least. I am fed up with my health and financial problems, and loneliness can really get to me at times. I struggle spiritually at times as a result, but God has clearly been working in my life. In that I can take comfort. And most of the time, I do feel His presence, and that gives me peace that has no natural explanation.
So now is you ask me who I am, as with other Christians, I can say I am a sinner saved by grace. Moreover, I am someone who is very thankful that despite all of the problems I have faced in my life, God continues to enable me to perform ministry in His service. In fact, I would say that all things considered, between my ministry, writing, and powerlifting, by God's grace, I have accomplished a lot in my life.
But most of all, I am thankful for the eternal salvation that Christ has provided me by His death on the cross for my sins. I know beyond any doubt that a better life awaits me after this one. If you, the reader, would like to experience the peace and love of God and to know that you are forgiven and saved, see the Forgiveness and Salvation section of my Christian Web site.
Music has always been an important part of my life. In high school and college, I mainly listened to hard rock and heavy metal, especially when I was working out (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Alice Cooper). But I also listened to some softer rock when I was relaxing (Bread, Jim Croce, Beach Boys, Chicago). But once I became a Christian, I began listening to almost exclusively Contemporary Christian Music.
There is now available softer Christian rock (Michael Card, Michael W. Smith, Third Day, Selah), hard rock (Petra, White Heart, Kutless, Plumb), and even heavy metal (Stryper, Bride, White Cross, Barren Cross). I enjoy all of these forms.
I still listen to secular music some, mostly "Classic Rock" for the nostalgia and while I am working out. With working out alone, it can be hard sometimes to get psyched up for a workout, and heavy metal helps greatly in that regard. So I listen to both secular and Christian rock while working out. You can hear the music I work out to in the background of the Weightlifting Exercises Videos posted on my fitness site.
But secular rock music can sometimes leave me feeling empty. However, the Christian rock always seems to lift my spirits and has gotten me through many a lonely evening. So I listen to Christian rock much more than secular rock. It helps me keep my mind on the LORD rather than on myself and my problems. So rather than feeling lonely, I can bask in His presence and worship Him.
For more on my music experiences, see My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music.
I have written numerous Christian and fitness books and ebooks, including a translation of the New Testament.
My books are (by category):
Analytical-Literal Translation: Devotional Version
Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament
Companion Volume to the Analytical-Literal Translation
Complete Concordance to the Analytical-Literal Translation
Analytical-Literal Translation eBook Package
Scripture Workbook: For Personal Bible Study and Teaching the Bible
Scripture Workbook: Second Edition; Volume I : Essentials of "The Faith"
Scripture Workbook: Second Edition; Volume II : Controversial /Theologies, Cultic Doctrines, and Ethics
Scripture Workbook: Second Edition; Two Volumes in One
The Bible and Sexual Relationships Issues
Bible Search Utility (software program)
Differences Between Bible Versions: Translation Principles, Greek Text-types, and KJV onlyism
New World Translation: A Reliable Bible Version?
Fitness and Health Issues:
Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting: A Comprehensive Guide to the World’s Strongest Sport
God-given Foods Eating Plan: For Lifelong Health, Optimization of Hormones, and Improved Athletic Performance
Creationist Diet: Nutrition and God-given Foods According to the Bible
Overcoming Back Pain: A Mind-Body Approach
Most of these books have recently been updated and are now in their second or even third editions. They are all available in paperback and various eBook formats, with some also being available in hardback format.
My best lifts when I competed in college were as follows (all weights in pounds):
These lifts were done wearing a belt, wrist wraps, and a single-ply poly "super suit" and 2.0 meter "super wraps." That is the only gear that was allowed at that time. Bench shirts were not invented yet.
My best lifts from 2003 to 2009 were as follows:
Multi-ply gear, 2.5 meter wraps:
As can be seen, I equaled or bettered all of my college lifts at 114s. But its not a fair comparison given that the multi-ply gear of today is much more beneficial than the gear I used in college.
By "unequipped" is meant a belt and knee sleeves (not knee wraps) on squats and deadlifts and a belt and wrist wraps on benches, but no squat suit or bench press shirt. It can be seen that I was close to what I did in college.
This was the only contest I entered at 123s since 2003. Here, "unequipped," meant a belt, wrist wraps, and 2.0 meter knee wraps.
It needs to be noted, I stopped powerlifting when I was 21 and did not compete again until I was 42. I severely regret not having been able to lift and compete through my 20s and 30s. I will always wonder what I might have accomplished if I had been able to do so.
Below is a list of health problems I have dealt with in my life (more or less in order of developing them).
Various Childhood Accidents
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Binge/ starve eating disorder
Numerous food and seasonal allergies
Low back pain
First bicycle accident
Unexplained noises in my head at night
Crippling low back pain
Second bicycle accident
Clinically low testosterone levels
Restless Leg Syndrome
Stiff Person Syndrome
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
In one of the childhood accidents, I broke my left wrist. To this day, I cannot comfortably turn my left hand into a full underhand position. That is why, if you look closely at my deadlift videos, you'll see I am holding the bar with an overhand grip with my left hand and underhand with my right. Most powerlifters who are right-handed as I am, do the opposite.
From another accident, I have a scar on my chin. It sticks out, so I always cut it if I shave with a blade, and if I use an electric shaver, it burns too much. So that is why I wear a beard.
Reactive hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar shortly after eating, especially after consuming high glycemic carbs. I was diagnosed with this condition in December of 2007, but most likely I have had it most of my life, and it probably contributed developing the eating disorder. The eating plan outlined in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book now keeps the hypoglycemia under control. That eating plan has kept me from experiencing other problems from the hypoglycemia, such as diabetes and becoming overweight that most sufferers experience.
The eating disorder lasted for about 25 years, from junior high school until 1997. I stopped the eating disorder by deciding one day that I simply could not do that to myself anymore. So I prayed for Christ's strength, and by His grace, I have not had a problem with it since then. My God-given foods eating plan also helps in this regard by keeping my blood sugar on an even keel, thus eliminating the cravings.
The low back pain began in college, but then in 1994 worsened to the point of being completely crippling, which condition then lasted for six years. But in the spring of 2000, I overcame the back pain completely using mind-body techniques. I explain in detail how in my booklet Overcoming Back Pain: A Mind-Body Solution.
The first bicycle accident occurred in the summer of 1985. In it, I injured my right knee, which required surgery. The second bicycle accident occurred July 28, 1999 and was much more serious. I collapsed my right lung, broke my right scapula and clavicle and cracked the shoulder socket, fractured my left elbow, and sustained a concussion. If I wasn't wearing a helmet, I probably would have been killed.
I recovered fully from the various injuries from both bicycle accidents, except that my right shoulder is still weaker than the left. That is why my bench press is not that good. This can been seen in the charts above. I benched more in college without a bench shirt than I have done now with a shirt.
The clinically low testosterone levels were first detected in the spring of 2005, but I believe they actually began around the fall of 1997 when I saw a significant drop in my sex drive. But it took years for me to convince any doctor that T levels might be a problem and to do a blood text.
Once my belief was confirmed, I researched natural methods for elevating testosterone levels. I was able to corrected the problem by following the eating plan now outlined in my book. By following that eating plan, I tripled my testosterone levels, from being clinically low to being in the middle of the normal range.
The neurological "tics" are minor muscle spasms that feel somewhat like someone is pinching me repeatedly. They first began occurring in February 1989. When they occur, they can last from a couple of seconds to several days. But I have them mostly under control now by taking a calcium and magnesium supplement, Country Life's Calcium. Magnesium with D to be exact.
TMJ stands for Temporo-Mandibular Joint. This is a problem with the jaw joint that causes grinding and popping in the ears. It began in the spring of 1989. I wear a mouth guard at night, which helps some.
The unexplained noises in my head at night are just that, unexplained. No doctor has ever been able to explain what is happening. But they might be related to the TMJ, but more likely to allergies.
Restless Leg Syndrome is an involuntary jerking of the limbs at night. It began in January 2001. I was able to get it mostly under control by taking supplemental NADH.
When the above four problems flare-up, they can wake me up or keep me from falling asleep, and I often experience one or more of them through the course of the night. As such, it is difficult for me to get a good night's sleep.
Making sleep especially difficult is that I almost never am able to sleep a whole night through without being woken up by some outside noise at least once if not several times. See Motorcycles, Barking Dogs, and Sleep Deprivation for details.
All of the above problems together leave me chronically sleep-deprived, which is a big part of the reason my health has deteriorated over the years.
Stiff Person Syndrome is a very rare auto-immune disorder. At one time I was very stiff all day long, being barely able to walk. Periodically, I would have episodes of being completely paralyzed for hours to days at a time. The worst episode was in September of 2002 when I was paralyzed for ten days. It was after that experience that I wrote the article Suffering and Spiritual Struggles.
The all day long stiffness lasted about a year, starting in the fall of 2001. It then tapered off until I was about back to normal by the fall of 2003, but I am still rather stiff in the mornings. The episodes of being completely paralyzed began in the winter of 2001-2002. At one time, they were coming almost weekly, but then also tapered off so I only had an episode every few months. The last episode occurred in the fall of 2005, so I thought I was completely over this problem.
But it came roaring back in the August of 2009, when I had to flare-ups within a week. The second was particularly serious and left me almost completely paralyzed for two days. Since then, I am still rather stiff again in the mornings and not back to normal during the day. I have had periodic flare-ups of being paralyzed ever since then. For further details, see Stiff Person Syndrome Setback.
Fibromyalgia is basically chronic pain plus chronic fatigue. I was diagnosed with it August 27, 2001. I have gotten the pain mostly under control using the same mind-body techniques I used to overcome the back pain. But the fatigue is an ever present problem. I have to rest periodically throughout the day. Sometimes, I am too exhausted to do much of anything. I am always exhausted by the evenings and would be too tired to go out anywhere.
The fatigue is one reason I have no social life and am unable to work outside of my home. It is also part of the reason I set up a home gym as traveling back and forth to a commercial gym left me too exhausted. It is also why I only enter contests close to my home, as lengthy drives would be too exhausting, and with the way things are now at airports, an airplane trip would be out of the question.
But a greater reason for only being able to work and work out at home is the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I had allergies all of my life, but they began to worsen in the fall of 2000. By the summer of 2005, they had worsened to the point of best being described as MCS and is now probably my worst problem.
I am terribly allergic to any kind of chemicals, including any kind of cosmetic products. That is why I have a hard time being around people as people have chemicals on their bodies, clothing, and coats (perfume, cologne, make-up, hair spray, cigarette smoke, etc.). So I rarely leave my home and rarely have visitors to my home. See My Life with MCS for more in this regard.
Most of these problems are discussed in further detail on the Dealing with Health Difficulties section my fitness Web site. See also the series of posts from March 2010 at Injury and Other Problems. For the most recent updates on my health situation, see April 2011 Health and Training Update and Medication Reviews/ Psychiatrist Experiences.
Before anyone starts making suggestions, I've already tried just about everything that traditional and alternative health care has to offer for my various health problems. The medical doctors cannot help me as I've been allergic to every medication they've tried prescribing, including every allergy medication.
Alternative treatments have helped some, but not too much. But what they have done is to cause me to waste a whole lot of money as such treatments are usually not covered by insurance. And I do not have the money to experiment with any more alternative treatments.
I've experimented with a long list of supplements. I've found a couple that have helped somewhat, as indicated above. But I've been allergic to or have had negative side effects from most of them. So again, I've wasted a lot of money.
Some of the various treatments I've tried are discussed on the above mentioned section of my fitness site, and some of the supplements I've tried are discussed on the Supplements section of my site.
Sometimes, I feel like the woman described in Mark 5:26, "and having suffered many [things] under many physicians and having spent all the [things] with her [fig., everything that she had] and not having been benefited at all, but rather having come to [be] much worse" (ALT3).
About the only things that really help are carefully following my God-given Foods Eating Plan and working out.
Favorite Bible Passages
Below are my favorite Biblical passage, taken from my translation of the New Testament:
35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? [Will] affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? 36Just as it has been written, "For Your sake we are being put to death the whole day; we were accounted as sheep for slaughter." [Psalm 44:22] 37But in all these [things] we are completely victorious through the One having loved us. 38For I have been persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor powers nor [things] present nor things about to be 39nor height nor depth nor any other created [thing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, the [one] in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom 8:35-39; ALT3).
14Therefore, having a great High Priest [who] has passed through the heavens—Jesus, the Son of God—let us be holding fast our confession. 15For we do not have a High Priest [who is] unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [One] having been tried in all [respects] in the same way [we are, yet] without sin. 16Therefore, let us be approaching with boldness [or, a joyful sense of freedom] to the throne of grace, so that we shall receive mercy and find grace for well-timed help. (Hebrews 4:14-16; ALT3).
To email me, see the Contact Information page.
My Life Story. Copyright © 2008-2012 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above autobiography was first posted on March 1, 2008.
It was last updated March 18, 2012.
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