Have you seen Paul Murray lately?
In the past year, the former president of the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation has been hard at work building something special — himself.
At 50, Murray entered his first bodybuilding contests and twice finished first in his division, Grand Masters, Men’s Physique.
“It’s really impressive!” said his wife, Crista. “I was so proud, he looked amazing, and it was a great experience to see how much his hard work paid off. He looked better than almost all the guys there, even the younger guys, which is pretty awesome.”
Paul Murray has been lifting weights since he was a high school freshman football player. He got more serious about lifting in college, when he joined Cal Poly Pomona’s club football team. But until recently, he had only the slightest inkling that he might someday seriously pursue the sport of bodybuilding.
In part, Murray traces the development to a pair of surgeries: Within the past few years, he underwent a double-fusion neck surgery to remove the C5-C7 cervical discs and another procedure to counter a syndrome known as Barrett’s esophagus, a result of long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease. Those operations allowed him to finally lift without pain and caused him to re-evaluate his diet.
Murray said he also was inspired by his daughter, Claire, who last spring became La Cañada High School’s first CIF-Southern Section hurdles champion.
And, yes, Murray was motivated by turning 50.
“He told me a couple of times he was interested” in competitive bodybuilding, said Murray’s coach Adrian Pietrariu. “But I didn’t take him seriously at the beginning. Just, ‘Yeah, OK, cool,’ and I brushed him off until the third time he said it: ‘Dude, I’m really serious. Can we start?’”
For the next seven months, Murray dedicated himself to a regimen that would prepare him to compete in a professional-amateur World Cup bodybuilding event on Nov. 4 in Glendale, which also was the first such show that Pietrariu was promoting.
The most difficult part of preparing for competition, Murray said, was eating right.
After his throat surgery, Murray was working out hard again, but he said he was having trouble eating enough.
“I’d trained with [Pietrariu] many years ago, and I got in great shape with him,” Murray said. “I did not need that this time, but I needed him to help me with the meals. So he put me on a program.”
That entailed a meal every three hours — and visual evidence of which he was required to text to Pietrariu.
“I balked at it at first,” Murray said. “I’m going to be sending him pictures? I know what I’m doing! But it forces you to do it, and you know someone is really holding you accountable. And it does put a tremendous focus on food.”
Those meals consisted of egg whites, oatmeal, yams, turkey, fish, vegetables, “and that’s it,” Murray said.
“I have to say, one of the cool things is that he started cooking,” said Crista Murray, a Realtor in LCF. “Some nights, I come home and instead of me making dinner, Paul would have dinner ready for me. And it would be a nice, healthy meal. He’s really learned a lot about seasoning and herbs and flavors and things. It’s been fun, something I never thought we’d be doing together.”
There were some workouts along the way too, of course.
Murray, who usually works from home as a strategic executive for a consulting firm, is a regular at the YMCA and World Gym in Tujunga. People who’ve spotted him at the pool at Oakmont Country Club commented that he looks like Thor.
“It’s kind of my gym rat mentality,” said Murray, who estimates that he hasn’t gone more than a week — in his life — without hitting the gym. During the months he was preparing for his first bodybuilding competition, he said he didn’t miss more than three days, total, as he divided his sessions to focus on building specific parts of his body.
“Monday is biceps and chest; Tuesday is triceps and back; Wednesday is legs and Thursday is arms again,” Murray said. “And then Friday is shoulders; Saturday is basically everything and then Sunday I’ll do some cardio.
“It becomes like you need it, the endorphins and positive feedback, it’s your drug.”
And then, once a week, he’d visit New Glendale Massage in La Crescenta.
It all paid off.
“Suddenly, I’d look in the mirror and I’m getting thinner and I’m getting more shredded, and people would ask, ‘What are you doing that’s different?’ Because, obviously, you do have to change, you can’t be doing the same thing.
“That was really protein control and eating regularly. I always worked out hard, but now when you get to this point, it’s almost like working on art.”
Before his next big event, Murray said he’ll focus on sculpting his biceps and improving the way he flexes his back on stage.
As hard as Murray worked for his first event — which, technically, he won — it was a letdown.
In a field that featured athletes from 40 countries, including Australia, Asia, Europe and South America, Murray was the only entrant in the 50- to 59-year-old men’s physique category (in which men wear board shorts as opposed to more revealing attire).
He told himself that thousands of people would love to look good enough to get on that stage. Still, it didn’t feel like a victory. So he headed to Las Vegas, where he faced an international field in the same Grand Master category — and again came out ahead.
“He’s been lifting all his life and staying in shape all his life, but basically what he wanted to do is to take his body to another level, and one way to do that is to enter a contest and then you have no choice — you’re up there with no shirt, no pants and you have to be OK with the way you look, so that makes you push yourself to another level,” Pietrariu said.
“And Paul is a very determined guy.”
Murray might have wanted to challenge himself initially, but now he wants to maintain the feeling he got from doing it.
“It’s all about health and aesthetics,” he said. “It’s ‘look the best you can look,’ but it’s really about being healthy and doing it in a healthy way, eating healthy food and just feeling great.
“People ask me, ‘Was that really hard? You weren’t drinking! You weren’t having any fun!’ But my body was so optimal, training my body and training it to eat regularly and healthy, to cook with flavor and not fat, that was just totally cool.”