By Scott Prater
Since winning the Rocky Mountain Bodybuilding title last November, Staff Sergeant Luis Santa has become somewhat of a celebrity.
And, by the way, he’s kept on winning.
The overall victory at Rocky Mountain, a regional event, catapulted Sergeant Santa into the highest ranks of amateur bodybuilding, where the competition is rock solid and the media exposure comes full bore.
Rocky Mountain promoter Jeff Taylor asked him to guest pose at a competition in Pueblo during April and then again at the Colorado Natural and Armed Forces Bodybuilding Championships here in Colorado Springs this May.
Sergeant Santa, from the 50th Operations Group, followed that appearance by dialing in his diet. He then competed at the Muscle Mayhem event in Kansas City, Mo., where he won the middle-weight title.
And that was pretty much just a practice show.
From there, he geared up for the biggest show of his life, the National Physique Committee Junior National Championships, June 20 in Rosemont, Ill., near Chicago.
“I really wanted to enter that competition in my best shape because winning that one would make me a top contender for the NPC USA Nationals that took place later in Las Vegas,” Santa said.
Come June, he was amazed at what he saw once he entered the Rosemont Convention Center.
“This was an expo for bodybuilding, in a big hotel that held over 3,000 people and with supplement and Web site booths lining the entry ways. From the stage to the lighting, everything is kicked up a notch from the local and state competitions.”
The media also showed up in force.
“It was like a dream come true,” Sergeant Santa said. “When you’re backstage pumping up you have cameras all over and the press taking pictures and the bodybuilding media recording everything. I tried to stay in a corner and not look at all the other bodybuilders so I wouldn’t get nervous, but I still had some serious butterflies.”
The competition flowed much differently than local events as well. Much faster. Complete posing phases were eliminated. Prejudging occurred during the day, and the finales happened at night.
What wasn’t different, however, was Sergeant Santa’s results. Once again, he capped the competition by posing with the championship trophy amid a sea of flash bulbs and the roar of an appreciative crowd.
“That win gave me motivation because now I knew I could compete at the national level,” he said.
Five weeks later, he took the stage in Las Vegas at the NPC USA Nationals, the top national amateur level, and a professional qualifying event.
“That was even crazier,” he said. “Since I had won the junior national title I was looked at as one of the best welterweights in the nation. This time, the bodybuilding media interviewed me after the weigh in on Thursday and asked about how my preparation for the nationals went. The press was actually interested in me!”
For someone who prides himself on remaining humble, Sergeant Santa was flattered beyond belief.
But, the competition was just ramping up. Following the weigh in on Thursday, he posed for prejudging on Friday, then entered the finals on Saturday, when he competed against 15 of the top welterweights in the nation.
“The class was large and the quality of competition was a lot better than at junior nationals, so my butterflies were a lot more intense,” he said.
As it turned out, his anxiety was unfounded. Following the first posing, he was chosen as one of five finalists. Then he performed his posing routine to music and stood on stage as the event promoters announced places five through one.
“After they announced places five through three, I figured the other guy had it,” he said. “I would have been happy with second place, but when they announced the other guy’s name as runner up, I Iost it. I think I went blind from all the flash bulbs. This was crazy. Thousands of people were screaming.”
As the welterweight champion he was entered into the overall title competition, where the top three places earned their professional cards.
Unfortunately, he was not selected as one of the top three in the overall competition. But, he has another chance to earn that professional ranking this November at the NPC Nationals Bodybuilding Championships Nov. 21-22 in Hollywood, Fla.,. And in that competition, all he needs to do is win his weight class to earn his pro card.
Turning pro is the next logical step. With a professional ranking comes major competitions, prize money, endorsement deals and magazine spreads.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “I would probably take a year off from competing to focus on getting bigger muscle wise. As a professional, I would compete at the 202-pounds-and-under division.”
Meanwhile, he continues to serve as an active member in the Air Force at Schriever. The Air Force, in kind, has supported him throughout his bodybuilding effort.
“The Air Force, my chain of command especially, has been very supportive in every way and encouraged me to compete and try to turn professional, which I am thankful for,” he said. “I’ve put it out there with the media that I am an Air Force member and I’ve made sure to say how thankful I am.”
All of his bodybuilding success would not be possible without the support of the Air Force and his wife Yolanda Alvarado, who he says drives his nutrition and training regimen. Over the past year, he also garnered invaluable knowledge from Cameron and Tracy Bodner, a husband-and-wife team who helped him prepare for each competition.
“I can’t emphasize enough the amount of dedication needed to succeed in this sport and the support of knowledgeable people who have helped guide me in the right direction,” he said. “I thought I knew a lot about training and nutrition, but these people know more.”