Olympian and Son of Mr Universe
Jon Jon Park - son of Mr Universe Reg Park - was born in Johannesburg on 21 February 1957. He set South African records for both the 100m and 200m butterfly at the1976 SA Swimming championships in Durban, before representing Great Britain later that year at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, where he finished third in his heat of the 100m butterfly, in a time of 57, 43.
with Paul Blackbeard
My Talk With Jon Jon Park by Steve Shaw
Note: I thought I would post this up. Jon Jon Park is Reg Park's son. For those of you not familiar with Reg Park, he was Arnold's role model and idol. Jon Jon and I never finished the interview. The economy started to sink, and Jon Jon had to focus his time training clients and earning a living. I am thankful for the time he did share with me.
Steve Shaw: For those reading this interview who aren't familiar with your name, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got involved with weight training?
Jon Jon Park: I was born in Johannesburg South Africa in 1957. My late father Reg had a chain of gymnasiums in South Africa & I used to spend as much time as possible hanging out in the gyms. As a little boy I used to go with my dad every Saturday & Sunday early in the mornings to his downtown gym & watch him & all the big guys train. He used to make me stand on top of the weight stack on the lat pulldown machine & do pulldowns & he would give me a few mostly non weight bearing exercises to do & I loved the ambience, the energy & the whole experience, you can imagine the impression it left on me as a young kid being around all these big powerful guys who were pretty hard core in those days there were some pretty tough guys South African martial arts, wrestling, numerous body building champions, street fighters, guys from all walks of life, the less affluent suburbs blue collar workers & affluent successful businessmen. Every body used to workout together & kibbitz around, there was great camaraderie & even though the guys used to joke around when they were doing an exercise, they were very serious. They used to have a board on the wall with the eighteen inch arm club the 300lb plus bench press club etc & I am talking back in the early sixties anybody who was serious about training in those days would train at Reg’s downtown gym. They used to have different periods where navy blue sweat suits were in & all the guys would wear Reg Park navy blue sweat suits & Reg Park v neck t shirts, then in the summer they would all wear white sweat suits. On Saturdays & during the week, after the work out session everyone would converge on mass to the local deli Plotkins & have a huge breakfast consisting of porridge or corn flakes with Reg Park protein powder, six poached or fried eggs, a beef sausage, steak & whole wheat toast. There was no such thing as watching your carb or fat intake in those days & the guys were all in great shape.
All the guys would make a huge fuss of me I used to look forward to these mornings all week I wasn’t much of a scholar at school I was only interested in playing outside & doing physical activities, so this was the highlight of the week for me. I also used to do judo from about age six as Reg had a judo & karate studio on the floor above the gym. During the winter when the gym closed on Saturdays at 1pm we would go for then stop at the local magazine store where I would buy soccer magazines & Tarzan comics & then we would go & watch the local professional soccer teams play. My dad was a big soccer fan & subsequently I became one. In fact he had his own Reg Park Sunday league team which was very competitive. On Sundays after workouts, the team would play all over the province which was also great fun as sometimes they would travel all together on a bus & sing songs, tell jokes & have a great time. The team ended up winning the league & were undefeated & were about to be promoted into the professional league, but were unable to do so as there were at least six professionals playing for the team & according to their contracts with there respective teams, weren’t really allowed to play for any other teams even non professional Sunday league teams.
These experiences really shaped my life & of course growing up with a father like Reg as a role model it was natural for me to get involved in sports I had a natural aptitude for swimming & started excelling from a young age I won the provincial championships for my age in the 100m & 200m butterfly & represented my province at junior & senior level in fact I still hold the boys under 14 200m butterfly provincial record it has stood for almost thirty years. I captained my province in the junior nationals at aged 16 & eventually won the senior nationals in the 100m butterfly three times, the third time I also won the 200m & broke the national record in both events. I also played soccer which was my first love & participated in track & field in my early teens I was quite a promising 100m sprinter but eventually I had to make a choice. I didn’t have much talent as a soccer player even though I loved the game & I showed the most promise in swimming which took up a lot of time I worked out six days a week during the week in the mornings before school & then again after school. I also used to do strength work specifically for swimming three times a week. My dad developed a special pulley machine specifically for swimming whereby you could mimic the different strokes with resistance & it was only a matter of time before all the coaches would send their swimmers to his gyms to do strength work. Prior to this it was pretty frowned upon like with most sports coaches & trainers had this archaic attitude that weight training slows you down which is ironic when today there is not a top athlete in the world that doesn’t do strength training. Reg however was a lateral thinker & ahead of his time & I guess my performances in the pool were pretty convincing as to the benefits of strength work. Reg used to train many athletes for rehab work after injuries & conditioning from all different sports. My swimming career culminated in me representing Great Britain in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 at aged nineteen. Unfortunately due to apartheid South Africa were banned from international competition but due to my dad’s birthright I was able to compete for the UK.
Unfortunately I retired from swimming too soon, much as I excelled in swimming, I always wanted to be a body builder & follow in my dad’s footsteps with all the influences I had been exposed to it wasn’t difficult to want to go in that direction. Reg used to hold an annual bodybuilding show the Mr South Africa & he would bring the top guy out to do a guest posing exhibition, guys like Pearl, Scott, Draper, Abenda, Sell, Zane, Corney, Columbu, Dickerson, Coe & of course Arnold who I met when he was nineteen & I was nine. These guys would come out during the Xmas holidays, summer time in South Africa, they would spend up to six weeks at a time staying in our house & besides the Mr South Africa contest Reg also arranged shows all around the country. We would travel around the country in concert to all the beach resorts with a whole crew all the guys who worked for my dad who were helpers & guys appearing in the various shows judo guys, comedians etc & all their respective families they were magical moments. There would be a show & contest in each of the provinces & the winners would compete in the finale the Mr South Africa which was held in Johannesburg. Reg would have all the guys who worked & trained at his gyms be involved in this event, selling tickets, being ushers working backstage etc. I vividly remember watching Reg pose at these various events to The Legend of The Glass Mountain & I decide there & then I wanted to be like him, the applause & reaction he received from the audience was sensational. He became my hero at a very young age. When I was twelve we the family traveled Europe & Reg did a number of exhibitions in the UK & the receptions he received, were even bigger than in South Africa it was like our boy Reg is home, this was all very powerful stuff for a young kid to be exposed to.
Prior to going to the Olympics, Reg told me to enjoy the experience & use it to get my feet wet so to speak but plan on really focusing on the next Olympics where I would be more mature physically & mentally & would really come into my own. I continued to swim for another two years but was not aloud to compete in South Africa if I wished to continue to swim internationally. This proved to be extremely difficult as I was very happy living in South Africa & did not wish to live in the UK I tried it for six months & after living in the ideal climate I was accustomed to in South Africa I found the cold weather very depressing& difficult to get used to, as a result although I kept training, I lacked the competitive sharpness & during the winter & the only available pool in Johannesburg at that time was a small (below competitive size) subterranean old & not very clean facility. Therefore I lacked the endurance needed for the longer 200m event. I competed in the British trials for the Commonwealth Games but just missed out on making the team. I was extremely disappointed to say the least & it was then that I decided to pursue my life long desire & start body building & frankly I knew that as long as I had this dream, that I would never be able to achieve the ultimate in swimming. I started to train with my dad every day & was making good progress & after less than one year of training I entered my first competition Mr South Africa Maccabiah & won the novice & overall. The following year I entered & won the Mr Golden City. In order to supplement my income I started my own swim school from beginners to senior competitive national level & also managed a local popular gym. I got married to my current wife Michelle in November 85 whom I knew from elementary school we were at different high schools but ran into each other when were twenty three & started dating.
I had already previously decide that I wanted to live in southern California to pursue body building as it was the Mecca & I had spent some time there over summer in 1980, 82 & 84 & enjoyed the whole ambience & training alongside all the big names in late Joe Gold’s World everybody trained there in those days Arnold, Columbu, Dickerson, Zane, Bannout, Platz, Padilla etc & any big name guys visiting LA would work out there whilst they were in town. Everyone would generally work out at the same time & they would feed off each others energy, it was very similar to the ambience in my dad’s city gym in the sixties, the only differences being that most of the guys were professional & they were all using steroids which wasn’t as prevalent back in the sixties. Regardless you couldn’t help but grow & improve in that environment.
Due to the fact I was Reg’s son & trained hard, all these guys treated me with great respect & I developed some good friendships which have lasted to this day. I used stay at my Uncle Johnny Isaacs’s house my Moms brother who was a former Mr Universe & one of the original muscle beach guys he & his wife Bonnie were very hospitable & encouraging.
Prior to leaving South Africa my dad said to me that he felt it would be very difficult to achieve success without the use of steroids. I refused to accept this & felt if you had the right genetics, mental attitude, trained & ate intelligently you could achieve success. When I first arrived in the states I trained with former Mr America & Mr Universe Bob Paris who had turned pro. I liked his physique & had met him on two of my previous trips. I wrote & told him that I was coming to live in California & that I would like to train with him. He welcomed me & we trained together for six months. He was training for some pro shows. Sadly I realized that what my dad had said was correct & although I made great improvement I knew it was futile to pursue this dream as I did not wish to subject myself to taking steroids, I was newly married had a new born son, wanted to have more kids & I also knew that it was against my dads principals as he achieved his success without the use of steroids. This is when I realized why my dad wanted me to pursue to my swimming career as he wanted to prevent me from being disappointed. He knew that natural body building on a highly competitive level no longer existed & that his era had gone. Sadly as they say “you cannot put an old head on young shoulders” which I realize now as I have three kids of my own facing their own challenges. I was extremely disappointed & have regrets to this day that I did not take heed of his advice. I then started getting more involved with personal training &opened up my own personal training facility in 1992 called World Private Exercise which was a licensee of the World Gym franchise, but the only one that was exclusively for personal training. I trained a lot of professional & amateur athletes & kept the gym for thirteen years. Three & a half years ago I moved to a bigger location in a partnership which unfortunately hasn’t worked the gym was under a new name but once I realized the partnership wasn’t going to work, I decided I was going to change the name & when my dad fell ill I decided to call it Legacy Gym in his honor, as he was known as “The Legend” in the body building world, How he became known as “The Legend” an other interesting story. The new name has been very well received & my logo is a silhouette of a famous leaning double bicep pose of Reg in a shield. I certainly hope he is looking down with great pride.
Steve Shaw: How do you view the sport of bodybuilding as it stands today? Do you look upon it with sadness, or do you believe there's hope that one day it will come back to a place where natural competitors can stand tall once again?
Jon Jon Park: I do indeed look on the current scene with extreme sadness I think it has gone totally overboard where even the older bodybuilders from as late as the eighties cannot relate to it anymore I have spoken to many of them & they are all unanimously glad that they are not competing today & many of them are not even interested in reading the magazines or watching the shows & I can speak for myself I used to be an avid collector of all the different magazines & now I don’t get any of them unless they have an article on my dad or one of the older guys that I know & whose physique I admired.
I actually came to the US with the intent of pursuing body building & follow in my dads footsteps, he told me that he didn’t think it was possible to achieve the success I desired without using steroids & felt that his era was one of the past, being young & naïve I vehemently disagreed with him & felt that with good genetics which I felt I had, intelligent & hard training, good nutritional habits & had the right mental attitude that, I could achieve my goals. I came to the States with my dream & even gave up my swimming career where I showed a lot of promise having already competed in one Olympic Games to pursue this dream. My dad felt that I should pursue my swimming career & thought I still had another two Olympics left in me I was only nineteen when I went to the Olympics relatively young for swimming & I hadn’t reached my peak yet. So strong was my desire to succeed in body building that I was prepared to give up the swimming. I started training very hard for about six months with Bob Paris who was training for the Pro Universe hosted by Arnold & Jim Lorimar prior to holding the annual Arnold Classic. Although I made good progress & put on a fair amount of size I soon realized that my dreams were unobtainable without taking steroids & since I did not want to go that route I decided to get more involved with personal training. I am happy I made that decision but regret that I didn’t take my dads advice as they say, “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”.
Even though many of the guys from the seventies, eighties & even early nineties admit that they were taking steroids not that I am justifying it they weren’t taking anything like the guys today. Sadly the aesthetics has gone & you now have these guys weighing in the high 200’s with stomachs although muscular so large that they look pregnant, huge thighs that touch when the walk, huge butts, traps that go up to their ears which makes them look as if they have no necks, they also look so awkward & unathletic when they walk & their vascularity is so extreme it borders on being repulsive to say the least. Unfortunately its not just the steroids they take but the growth hormones & the extreme measures they go to in order to gain size & get into shape for contest I have heard horror stories about guys taking insulin & cocktails of aspirin , caffeine & ephedrine. Sadly I don’t believe it will go back to the way it was when the whole sport was related to health now it all about chemistry with no regard for health. This has now become so common in so many sports today that the public expect to see freaks in the case of body building & new records in other sports. I believe we will see more deaths on a larger scale than we have already seen to a degree in bodybuilding which we will also witness in other sports. Perhaps only when this becomes endemic will body building & other sports go back to the way they were.