A Dual Life: Confessions of a Local Bodybuilder

Left: Zach Stoppert at Tribeca Hardware, where he began working, during summers, at age 12. Right: Stoppert poses at a recent competition. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib (Tribeca Hardware); Photo by CAZ Photography (competition)

Aug. 21, 2017

If you shop at Tribeca Hardware on Chambers Street, there’s a good chance you’ve been helped by a soft-spoken man named Zach Stoppert. Now 31, he began working summers there at age 12. Stoppert, it’s easy to see, has a dual life—as a bodybuilder. This summer he turned pro in his division, Men’s Physique, after placing second in a New Jersey competition. Below, Stoppert talks about the grueling work that goes into his elusive quest for the ever more perfect body.

I hurt every day, constantly. Not like excruciating pain. It's what they call overtraining. I have a little tendinitis in my elbow. Today my knees are a little sore because I did 20 to 30 minutes on the Stairmasters this morning. I've had horrible back spasms and neck pain.

I'm introverted and I used to be very shy. Muscles have made me a little more outgoing. I went to Central Michigan University and at first I wanted to get big and be a personal trainer so girls would like me. But then I realized that I actually liked going to the gym and enjoyed the feeling of pushing myself.

I compete in Men's Physique. We're the pretty boys. The beauty contest. Everything is about presentation. If you're slouched over, no matter how good you look you're not showing it well. Some angles are better than others. You need to spend hours practicing your pose in front of the mirror. A minute difference, one line here in the stomach can make the difference. But it’s very subjective. Some judges like big chests, others want you to be really tight in the abs.

I just did my first pro show in Florida. Being in a room full of my idols was like a dream come true. Before, I talked to my friends and said, “Yeah, I'm going to win this,” (You gotta sound confident in whatever you're gonna do), but as soon as I got there, I saw guys I was obviously not going to beat. But you can't let that get you down. You got to go out there and give it whatever you got.

Everyone asks, "How do you get bigger?" There's only one way—eat more. When I first realized I had some potential to be a bodybuilder, I would set alarms in the middle of the night and wake up and eat meals.

I have enough muscle now that I don't have to worry about going three hours without eating food, but I have to prepare all my food and measure everything because I need to know exactly how many calories I'm eating—how many carbs, proteins and fats. Even if my dad makes something and it's healthy I don't eat it because I don't know how much chicken is in it, how many potatoes.  

Twelve weeks before a show, I have to mentally say to myself, I can't miss meals. I start cutting out a lot of carbs.The last 10 days I eat meat all day, maybe two yogurts, and drink a little bit of Kombucha [a fermented tea].

At the gym, I can't just mess around. My friends are at the gym. It's like Cheers. But when it’s season time I have to get to work.

The next show isn't for a while and I can skip the gym now if I want to. I can go out to the restaurant, do real life stuff.  But I don't do any of that. I'm not going to skip the gym—I am still so driven.

Sometimes I walk down the street and a little kid points at me and smiles and turns to his parent. I don't know what they're saying but it might be, "Hey, that looks like a superhero." And every day when I'm at the Tribeca Hardware counter, somebody shows me respect because of the way I look. I wish I could feel that way about myself. In my eyes I haven't earned respect. A doctor, policeman, firefighter, servicemen and women, those people deserve respect. People who help the world.

It’s hard to have a relationship when you’re a bodybuilder. But I’d give it up for a family. That’s the only thing that would really stop me. That’s my only other real life goal.