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SHOULDER DOWN: The sadness and hurt of bodybuilding

June 14, 2024

Todd Payette's journey to the NABBA World Championships

THIS week frontdouble.com published the first of its serialisation of Todd Payette's bodybuilding book 'Shoulder Down'. Canadian Payette, 55, will compete at the NABBA World Championships in Linz, Austria on Saturday in the Masters Over 55s.

Shoulder Down is the incredible story of Payette's life, revealing the agony of finding his dad dead when he was just five years old, to being told by his mum years later that he was, in fact, not his biological father. Payette was then told to leave home aged 16.

This is the final instalment of frontdouble.com's serialisation of Shoulder Down. It is our strong recommendation that all bodybuilders read a copy. It is raw, emotive, heart wrenching in its honesty and relatable.

Frontdouble.com has been in contact with Payette this week as he puts the final touches to his physique. He said: "I’m doing my best. Of course, though, there are some exceptional bodybuilders here. Winning at this level is extremely challenging."

As for his book, Payette added: "If the book teaches people to never quit and that it’s important to own your mistakes and be accountable, that’s all I could ask for."


"A strange thing began to occur within my wee brain during the year as I was training and prepping for my assault on the bodybuilding world. I was now 36 years old, the same age as my father when he took his own life.

"The competition would take place a couple of months before the anniversary of his death. Perhaps it was this realisation that was the impetus to start viewing the world and my own life in a different light. I had been carrying around so much rage and bitterness for years over his death and the circumstances of it.

"Instead of thinking of all the negative effects that the whole unfortunate incident had brought into my life, I started to think about what my life would have been like had my father lived. Certainly, over the years, I idealised him in my mind. He became almost a mythical being.

A cycle of depression and alcoholism

"In reality, he was a small average man who drank to excess. He was a good man. However, he certainly had his problems. Had he lived, my sisters and I would have been exposed to his growing alcoholism and escalating fights between my parents. My mother would have left him eventually and we would have been torn apart as a family in a different way. I would have certainly vilified my mother and would have no doubt followed in my dad's footsteps – a cycle of depression and severe alcoholism.

"His death, in its own way, caused me to find my own path. Right or wrong, it was my path and I was not simply becoming a carbon copy of him. I had broken the cycle. It forced me to strive to become stronger both mentally and physically. Even though I am still haunted to this day by the memory of his death, it was at 36 years old that I made peace with the fact that his death was not my fault. The other consolation was the knowledge that he indirectly passed away so that I could have a better life. If nothing else, I was an individual.

"The other change that occurred in my thought process was my feelings towards my mother. For years I harboured anger towards her. I was thinking more as a child than as a grown up. My mother had a very difficult situation to deal with. Now that I was in a relationship with a woman who was a mother of a young boy, I began to see and understand how challenging parenting really was.

"Believe me, my sisters and I were no joy to be around. We fought constantly and we each had more than our share of problems and attitudes. My mother raised three of us by herself. With very little money or resources and not once did I ever hear her complain. We always had food in our stomachs. There were gifts on birthdays and Christmas.

"I started to remember the good that she did for me. It started to become increasingly important for me that I did something great, something different. Not just for myself but also I wanted my mother to feel like she raised someone who was a success. I wanted her to feel as though she was a success as well.

"For some reason, I believed that succeeding in bodybuilding could help me achieve these things. My focus became this. In many ways, I started to withdraw into myself, pulling way from everyone. That included Mandy [partner] and Kyle [her son]. Even though I loved them both dearly, my tunnel vision began to kick in. That kind of focus can be a great thing. Most successful people have it.

Bodybuilding can be incredibly selfish

"The other side of the proverbial coin is that it can cause a person to forget what is truly important in life. Bodybuilding, I was to find out first hand, can be an incredibly selfish endeavour. Many relationships do not survive when a husband or wife decides to compete. It is all-encompassing. It takes a very strong and well-balanced mind to keep what is truly important into perspective.

"To compete effectively, a bodybuilder must spend ridiculous amounts of money on food, supplements, drugs, tanning and, these days, coaching. Let's not forget the endless hours spent in the gym training, doing cardio and posing practice. The partners or spouses are often an afterthought. Yet the bodybuilder will want and demand total support from our partners while often ignoring their needs.

"We expect the world to stop and take notice. To respect our mood swings, lack of energy and often our constant need for reassurance that we are 'big enough' or 'lean enough'. To top it off, only a very small handful of competitors in the world make any serious money from competing – literally less than 10 in the world.

"Competing even at the novice level is emotionally and financially costly. It's not like playing softball or recreational ice hockey. Essentially we spend thousands of dollars to win a trophy in a 'sport' that goes largely ignored by the general public. The average person has no idea what even happens at a bodybuilding competition.

"In many regards, bodybuilding can be a beautiful life-transforming hobby that can increase self-esteem, strength and health. However, it can also, in many ways, be cult-like. Bodybuilders and people in the industry tend to stick together and exclude those on the 'outside'. After all, how could 'normal' people possibly understand what we go through? We feel they judge us unfairly, yet that is often what we do to them.

"We forget that the key to happiness in life is much more than having a good body. In fact, some of the most miserable people I have met in my life have bodies that resemble works of art. Nothing is ever good enough and depression is commonplace. This will often push a spouse or partner away and the bodybuilder will then find a person in the 'lifestyle' to partner with. That can end up being its own kind of nightmare."

Just a feeling of sadness after a bodybuilding competition

"One of the very real emotions that many competitors experience after a competition is one of sadness. You no longer have an immediate goal. Everything you have been doing for many months has been directed towards a competition. Once it's over, a huge dark cloud can descend over you as you think, 'Now what?'"

SHOULDER DOWN can be purchased by clicking HERE.

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