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Saturday, 29 November 2014

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Bodybuilding gave disabled Jonti the confidence to live his own life

“There's nothing you can do that I can’t do,” says Jonti Wilson.

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THIS IS ME: Jonti Wilson at his new business Jonti's Gym, in Market Square, Aspatria

“If you asked me how I’d tackle that counter over there I would find my own way, I’d just pull myself up onto it and hop over.”

Sheer determination fills the bodybuilder’s face as he points in the direction of his gym’s reception area as we talk about how he copes with vigorous training regimes and day-to-day tomfoolery.

Jonti, 39, of Station Road, Aspatria, was born without a right leg due to a mild form of spina bifida and for years he hid his disability to avoid prejudice from other people.

As soon as he fell into the sport, which is popular with a host of celebrities including Jodie Marsh, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Dam, his confidence rocketed.

He says: “Bodybuilding is the thing that’s really given me confidence. I never used to wear shorts and I used to hide myself away.

“I was shy, withdrawn and if people even glanced at my leg and asked what was wrong with it, that would make me feel uncomfortable.

“Now I just don’t care; this is me. It’s not like I have half a heart or half a brain I was just born without a limb. I can still do all the things that most people with two legs can, I can probably do more. It just took me a long time to realise and I have bodybuilding to thank for that.”

Jonti, has just taken over the town’s Presice Fitness gym and reopened it as Jonti’s Gym.

He says guest appearances at a host of bodybuilding shows over the years, including Jo Walkers South Lakes Classic in Ulverston, have helped increase his body confidence.

Next month he will take to the stage at the two-day Hercules Olympia in Essex, a huge event in the bodybuilding calendar.

“You have to wear the smallest shorts so almost everything is on show. It’s given me great confidence to see people in the audience clapping and cheering for me. I’ve even heard people say ‘he’s in better shape than some of the competitors’. To have that sort of praise is fantastic,” he says.

“I think my first show at Jo Walkers in 2009 is the one that sticks in my mind the most. It was so emotional because I just didn’t know what to expect.

“My son Michael doesn’t show his emotions easily but when I finished he stood up and pointed at me and started clapping with his hands high above his head. That image has stuck with me.”

Jonti, who won the UKBBF Championship in 2010 in the wheelchair section, said he would not appear in the show again because he was asked to cover his leg and judged only on the top half of his body.

He says: “They made me cover up my leg and that’s one of my best features. I’ve even been nicknamed Calfzilla because my calf is so big. I’m quite happy just to do guest spots at the moment.

“Some people say I’m their inspiration, which is really something, but I don’t go out of my way to actively seek that sort of attention. This is just me doing something that I like doing.”

Jonti, who was born in Whitehaven, worked for the ambulance service before taking up a job method acting for a company called Trauma FX in 2008.

The company simulates emergencies to help train army and medical personnel and involves Jonti travelling around the country with a team of make-up artists who made it appear as if he had lost his leg in violent circumstances.

He says: “You have to mentally prepare yourself and take yourself down into that sad state. At points I’ve been proper crying and imagining it all happening to myself to make it as realistic as possible.

“Doing the method acting has been another thing that has helped my confidence, especially with people.”

He met his wife Dawn, 39, at Keswick Leisure Pool when they were both 18 and their son Michael is 19.

Jonti says he started training after struggling for breath following a kayaking session with friend Mick Gregson, of Aspatria, on Derwentwater in 2008.

“I was a lot heavier than I am now and an ex-smoker so I had everything going wrong for me,” he adds.

“The atmosphere in the gym is amazing and the lads I train with don’t make me feel different. I’ve got a lot of knowledge, experience and patience so I think that’s why people are so confident coming to me for advice and I think that’s one of the reasons the gym will work.

“I have a motto – never say never to me – and that’s something I will always follow and encourage others to as well.”

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