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10 Years since passing of Anthony D'Arezzo

Racepicks

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On July 21, 2006, Anthony D'Arezzo passed away. Everyone who knew him loved him. This is a long read, so my apologies in advance. I did say I would never forget him. RIP Anthony. [ame="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofpGg7rKIP0"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofpGg7rKIP0[/ame]

The Providence Journal / Bob Thayer

In his Pittsburgh hotel room Anthony D’Arezzo stood nearly naked on a bed sheet, which had been laid down to protect the carpet, and allowed his friends to paint a final coat of Pro-Tan on his freakish frame.

Tiny sponge brushes spread the stain over skin that, after weeks of severe dieting and days of drug-induced dehydration, appeared as tight as shrink-wrapped plastic. They slipped into furrows of striated and bulging muscles that had shaped Anthony D’Arezzo’s identity for 20 years.

“If you’re going to be a bear,” the former Mr. Rhode Island liked to tell friends, “be a grizzly.”

Much of competitive bodybuilding is laced with contradiction and illusion, just as D’Arezzo’s 60-inch chest and fire-hydrant-wide arms belied the truth.

Inside the vein-popping sculpture of power pumped a heart with half the strength of an average man’s.

D’Arezzo knew it. Doctors in 2002 had diagnosed him with congenital heart disease — a condition exacerbated by his pursuit of bigness and continued use of muscle-building steroids.

“I would rather die on a bodybuilding stage,” he told those who cautioned him about returning to competition, “than rot away in a hospital bed in old age.”

An hour before judging would begin in the hotel banquet hall downstairs, D’Arezzo, 44, ran through some of his poses. Months of intense training had paid off. He liked how he looked. One of his sisters had shaved his head this time, too, to hide his receding hairline and make him look younger. At the weigh-in earlier in the morning, D’Arezzo slipped off his robe and word spread: D’Arezzo’s back. He’s got it.

Now D’Arezzo sat on the edge of his bed, his heart racing with excitement — nervousness and the side effects of the diuretics he used to dehydrate. Then he fell still.

It was a hot Friday afternoon in July. Some 340 other bodybuilders had gathered at the Sheraton Station Square for the National Physique Committee’s championships.

D’Arezzo’s good friend Mike Demeri and training partner, John DiFruscio, looked on with concern.

“You OK, Anthony?” Demeri asked.

“You know Mike …” D’Arezzo began to say.

Then he turned his head slightly and fell forward onto the floor.

SEVEN MONTHS earlier, D’Arezzo’s father, a Johnston plumber who had named his first-born son after himself, was on a job when his cell phone rang. He checked the incoming number.

“What do you want, Anthony? I’m working,” the elder Anthony D’Arezzo said.

Family and friends had all at one time been trapped in conversation with the ever-talking Anthony and his incessant phone calling. The oldest of four children and single, Anthony would hound his sister, Kristen, for days with calls reminding her that she was to cut his hair at the end of the week. Or he would call his mother, Maria, at 10 p.m., after training clients at the gym for hours, to ask whether she would cook him something.

They all loved him, but Anthony’s calls drove people nuts.

“No, no I have to tell you this,” the son said, “my heart is getting stronger.”

It had been his father who had rushed D’Arezzo to Miriam Hospital that November day in 2002 when D’Arezzo called from the gym complaining he couldn’t breathe. After a series of tests, doctors diagnosed D’Arezzo with cardiomyopathy.

Like his other muscles, D’Arezzo’s heart had become enlarged — nearly three times its normal size. Perhaps it was genetics, perhaps it was caused from years of heavy weightlifting. With bigger chambers, his heart had to pump faster to properly fill with blood, and constrict harder to push that blood out into his system. At best, his heart pumped at 50-percent efficiency.

Four great uncles and his grandfather on his father’s side all had heart disease. One uncle died at 42. Anthony’s younger brother, Paul, had suffered a heart attack before he was 40. And Anthony’s cardiologist had warned him of premature death if he didn’t reduce his use of steroids and stop competing in bodybuilding — both of which can dangerously stress the heart.

But in recent months, D’Arezzo’s heart had responded positively to medications. His doctor told him its efficiency had improved almost 25 percent since the disease was diagnosed.

Anthony felt he had turned a corner of recovery. Again.

In 1997 he had ripped a tricep muscle while training for the NPC nationals and had to have surgery to reattach it to his elbow. It set him back almost two years, but eventually he returned to the gym.

In fall 2002, around the same time he learned of his heart condition, doctors also diagnosed D’Arezzo with hip dysplasia, a bone disorder, often genetic, in which the femur joins improperly to the hip. The pain had made walking up a flight of stairs excruciating, so in May 2003, D’Arezzo had his hip replaced.

In short time he was back in Gold’s Gym, in Pawtucket, lifting and coaching the dozens of clients who paid him as their personal trainer.

Now with this year unfolding, D’Arezzo’s heart appeared on the mend. He couldn’t wait to share the news.

“That’s when he began thinking about competing again,” says his father. “And he was very determined once he set his mind to something.”

D’AREZZO LOVED reciting mantras.

“Some people succeed because they are destined to,” he’d tell his clients, “but most succeed because they are determined to.”

Determination rooted early in Anthony D’Arezzo.

Growing up in Johnston, D’Arezzo was an average high school football player but excelled at wrestling, one of the toughest of individual sports. In wrestling you can blame only yourself if you fold beneath an opponent. D’Arezzo learned early to push his limitations, to overcome lethargy and weakness.

At 15 he began weight training to build up his strength for wrestling. He was not tall — he stood 5-foot-9 on stage — but he was burly. Like horse jockeys, wrestlers battle continually to control their weight. Jockeys want to be as light as possible. Wrestlers balance strength against weight. They want to be strong but not so heavy as to end up competing in a heavier weight class.

Paul D’Arezzo remembers witnessing a physical transformation in his older brother every wrestling season. Through forced dieting and training, young Anthony would shed as much as 30 pounds, dropping from about 180 to 150.

“We used to watch him do it every year,” Paul says. “I couldn’t believe it, but he was wicked disciplined.”

Anthony made the All-State wrestling team, earned a scholarship to wrestle at Boston University, where he was a team captain, and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor of science degree in physiology.

D’Arezzo’s intellect set him apart in bodybuilding, says his friend Dave Palumbo, a bodybuilder from Long Island who reviewed weekly photographs that D’Arezzo sent of himself and offered training tips for improvement.

“A lot of the time in this sport you’re not dealing with the most intelligent group,” says Palumbo, who attended medical school. “Many of them [bodybuilders] don’t have a high school-level education.” D’Arezzo “was a smart guy. We could talk on a more sophisticated level, talk about deep stuff.”

After graduating from BU, D’Arezzo tinkered at different jobs for several years. He worked as a cardiovascular technician in a Brockton, Mass., clinic, helped coach wrestling at Johnston High School, joined his father in the plumbing and heating trade and worked as a manager and bartender at the former Club Confetti, in Providence.

All the while he kept lifting, and kept winning on the bodybuilding circuit.

In 1988, at age 26, he won first place in the Greater Providence bodybuilding championships and was named Mr. Rhode Island in the medium class.

Competing bodybuilders are often façades of strength. While appearing strong, at the moment they are on stage and posing, they are at their weakest. After weeks of virtual starvation and days of shedding fluids through diuretics, bodybuilders are virtual zombies, cramped and dazed, who could fall off their stages with the slightest push.

D’Arezzo not only looked huge, he was powerful.

At 275 pounds, he could bench press almost twice his weight. In 1992, at the age of 30, he took first place in the American Benchpress Championships, lifting 535 pounds.

D’Arezzo was also stubborn.

He had not competed since 1997, when he tore his tricep. Now, at the start of this year, with news of his heart improving, he wanted a chance again at greatness.

“Anthony made up his mind he was going to compete before he told anyone else,” Palumbo says. “His doctor wasn’t thrilled with it but he knew Anthony would do it anyway, so he agreed to monitor him and make sure he was OK.”

D’Arezzo’s offer to his friends was typically direct: “I’m going to compete. You want to help me?”

Palumbo weighed the offer: “I thought: he’s not an imbecile; he’s a smart guy. He must be feeling all right. His doctor said he was going to help out. It must be all right.”

D’Arezzo had been a personal trainer since 1992, a career that kept him in the gym all afternoon and late into the night, training clients after their work day ended. His Web site promised: “A serious trainer to get you serious results!!” And he was known to brusquely turn away paying clients if he sensed ambivalence.

His father remembers the time 12 years ago when his son agreed to help train him into better shape. One day the temperature soared to 96 degrees and the elder D’Arezzo skipped a scheduled training session.

“Where the hell where you today?” his son scolded later that evening.

“Anthony, it was 96 degrees out,” the father tried to explain.

“Well, don’t [expletive] bother coming anymore because you’re not taking [expletive] care of yourself, and I’m not going to train you anymore. I’m going to get you a trainer you have to pay, and then if you don’t go, you’ll still have to pay him.”

ASHLEY GONSALVES ran from D’Arezzo the first day she met him.

It was early last winter and Gonsalves, then a 21-year-old bodybuilder from Fall River, needed a new trainer to get ready for a competition. She thought the Anthony D’Arezzo she had called and made plans to meet at his house in Warwick was an acquaintance. She pulled up to 177 Majestic Ave., however, surprised and talking to herself: “Wow, nice house. I didn’t realize he had moved.”

Then she knocked at the door.

“I looked up and this monster of a man is standing there. I said: ‘Oh my God, I forgot something in the car.’ I went back and called a friend and said, ‘Look, I’m at 177 Majestic Ave. in Warwick. If you don’t hear from me, call the police.’ ”

She had called the wrong D’Arezzo.

The monster invited her in, weighed her and they talked about her competition in about three months. Then Anthony D’Arezzo caught her by surprise.

“You want to go eat?” he asked.

“Ah …OK,” she said.

They went to Shogun, a Japanese steakhouse in Warwick.

“He ate everything off the menu, then ate off my plate,” she says.

He called her again the next day.

“You hungry?”

They went to Twin Oaks. Anthony offered to train her for half price. While they were eating, a patron approached: “You’re Anthony D’Arezzo. Can I get an autograph?” D’Arezzo enjoyed his local celebrity, the shock on people’s faces when they saw his immense size. But Gonsalves was already sensing something else, too, in the enormous man: a warmth beneath the macho exterior.

They went out a third consecutive night. By then Gonsalves had given up any hope of competing; she had already gained a few pounds eating with this guy. She thought he was cute and the two seemed an effortless fit. They shared a passion, if not a fixation, for bodybuilding, and understood the lengths it took someone to look huge, the ultimate goal.

Within the first week of seeing each other, D’Arezzo, a man who spoke bluntly, told her: “You know, don’t fall in love with me, because I have a bad heart and I don’t think I will be here long.”

D’Arezzo’s heart condition and the extent of heart disease in his family weighed on him. Ashley’s entrance into his life lightened his anxiety and made him happy. He had had other relationships, but no one seemed to understand him better than Gonsalves.

“This is why we make a great team,” he liked to tell her.

They spent all their free time together. Ashley saw a softer side of D’Arezzo, one that the gym rats he intimidated with his size and gruffness wouldn’t recognize — how he doted on his nieces and nephews, relished hearing about their school achievements and offered cash for good grades; how he spent more than $700 on winter coats and shoes last Christmas for seven foster children in Fall River and enjoyed the performing arts.

D’Arezzo loved weight training but wasn’t always so obsessed, friends say, as some bodybuilders. Some become loners, suffering Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder, a pathological preoccupation with muscle size considered the opposite of anorexia nervosa. They look in the mirror and no matter how big they are, they see themselves as small.

While D’Arezzo may have exhibited some MDD symptoms while in the heat of training, he usually led a balanced life. He enjoyed fresh-water fishing and deep spiritual conversations with a priest he was training. He could lounge in front of the television watching The Sopranos, cherished being around his family and envied his sisters and brother for the families they had started.

“We all strive to be the biggest,” says Gonsalves, “but he could be the biggest and have a normal life as well. He was intelligent; he liked to go to the movies and go dancing. If a friend was having a birthday and he had to choose between going to the party or going to the gym, he would go to the party.”

Especially if the gathering offered home cooking.

D’Arezzo was known to stop his car in the middle of the street in front of his brother’s house in Cranston on Sunday afternoons and yell out, “Paulie, did you cook today?”

If the answer was yes, he would pull over. If not, D’Arezzo would shout: “I’m going to Dad’s,” and drive off.

AFTER THE New Year, Anthony and Ashley attended the New England regional bodybuilding championships in Boston. Sitting in the audience, D’Arezzo asked: “Ash, how do you think I would do if I got up on that stage?”

“I think you would do great,” she said, “but what do you have to prove?”

“I want to see how I can change my body.”

Despite his bad heart and his previous injuries, D’Arezzo said he wanted to compete one last time. He asked Ashley: “Will you help me?”

“I accepted what he wanted to do,” she says. “I understood so much his love for the sport. If someone had said the same thing to me, that I had a bad heart and I shouldn’t compete, I would still want to give it my all. So I could never tell him not to do something he loved.”

And so once again, Anthony D’Arezzo set out to transform his body.

The competition, the nationals, would be in July in Pittsburgh.

To get into the shape he needed, D’Arezzo would have to shed 20 pounds and get down to about 242. It would require building muscle at the same time he was burning away body fat. It would require D’Arezzo’s usual fierce concentration in the gym — a two-hour workout focusing each day on different muscle groups and cardio exercise. It would mean strict dieting. That meant drastically changing his mountainous food intake.

On an average day, D’Arezzo would put away 2 pounds of chicken, a half-pound of lean beef, a couple of cans of tuna fish, three dozen eggs (usually just the whites) several pounds of potatoes and vegetables and bowls of oatmeal. The eating went on day and night, supplemented with nutritional drinks.

The competition would also require a not-so-secret weapon: a morning injection of growth hormone, Gonsalves says.

Most hormones and steroids are illegal substances but are easily attainable and widely used in bodybuilding, helping feed the irony of the pursuit as a fitness sport. Many competitive bodybuilders choose hormone injections over pills. Through injection, the hormone works more quickly, building muscle and strength without the danger of poisoning the liver with toxins.

“It’s the drive,” Gonsalves says in trying to explain the fixation of bodybuilding. “Not even the drive for perfection. It’s the drive to take your body to another level.”

D’Arezzo initially kept his plans to compete again secret from his family, but he confided in friends.

At Gold’s Gym, he spoke often with the Rev. Frank Sevola, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, and one of his clients.

“He went back and forth on whether he should enter this next training regimen,” Father Sevola says. “He always told me he was going to die young, that he had a bad heart. I’d say, ‘Then Anthony, are you sure you should be doing this?’ But he was not going to let his heart condition [or] his hip replacement prevent him from doing something that he ultimately loved.”

Dr. Robert Antosia, a emergency room doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, had been D’Arezzo’s friend since second grade. He had accompanied D’Arezzo for the last two years to virtually every one of his echocardiogram tests. D’Arezzo would call “Dr. Bob” five times a day, sometimes at 2 in the morning, to report worriedly that his resting heart rate was 110.

Antosia was worried, too.

“I pleaded with Anthony not to do this contest,” he says. “I told him there is a potential, if you use the diuretic incorrectly, you could potentially die. Your heart would stop and go into arrhythmia.”

ON THURSDAY, July 22, the day that D’Arezzo planned to fly to Pittsburgh for the weekend competition, Antosia drove to Anthony’s house after working all night in Boston to try one last time to persuade his friend not to go.

“It was tough for me to have that conversation with Anthony, but out of love for him, I told him again that I am concerned for you, as a doctor and as your friend. I think half of him felt like he was smart enough to use [the diuretic] carefully and get away with it and the other half wasn’t so sure. But Anthony had this competitive streak in him. I couldn’t persuade him. … It was Anthony. This was how he lived and it was pointless, I realized, to try to talk him out of something he loved to do.”

That evening in Pittsburgh, D’Arezzo, Ashley and his friend Mike Demeri went out for a light dinner at the Hard Rock Café. D’Arezzo had met Demeri in 1992 when both were competing in the Mr. Rhode Island competition. Demeri knew firsthand that competitive bodybuilding “is not a healthy sport. To compete on the level Anthony did, people are extremists. You have to chose to do things that are extreme, and he did.”

Halfway through their meals, Ashley felt ill and returned to the hotel. Anthony and Mike stayed at the quiet table in back. D’Arezzo talked in a way Demeri had never heard before.

“He thanked me for all the good times we had had together. He told me that he loved me and that the previous weekend when he came by to visit me and my wife and our daughter had really been a special moment for him. He said for the first time in his life, he realized what he wanted in life.”

D’Arezzo told his friend that his priorities were changing. He wanted to get this bodybuilding contest won and start thinking about the future. “He told me how much he loved Ashley and hoped that they could get married and hopefully have children.”

“He had never, ever spoken like that before, and I almost knew it could be the beginning of something wonderful or it could be the end of something wonderful. I felt a bond with Anthony. He was happy and content and I silently prayed we could get through this contest and he would be happy.”

D’Arezzo returned to his hotel room, where Ashley was feeling better. He felt exhausted. His toes, legs and fingers were cramping from the effects of losing nutrients and fluids.

They sat down together. D’Arezzo held Ashley’s hand and asked her if she was proud of him.

“Of course,” she said.

“Why do you love me?” he asked her. “What is it exactly you love about me?”

Gonsalves wasn’t sure why her “Ant” was asking these questions. “Your smile,” she answered.

“He put this head down and he started to cry. I asked him why he was crying and he said, ‘Because you have seen the real Anthony, not the bodybuilder.’ I had loved him just for being Ant. I didn’t care if he quit bodybuilding.”

“Then he said, ‘If I die doing this sport, just remember I made way for another bodybuilder to shine.’ ”

“Why are you saying all this stuff?” she asked.

“Because you understand how much I love this sport.”

The morning of the competition, Ashley fed D’Arezzo four egg whites. He got up, walked around a bit and did some posing in front of the mirror. His back muscles flared like a cobra’s neck.

He went to his weigh-in: 242 pounds. Afterward, Ashley and Demeri helped paint a final coat of bottled tan on his body and dried it with a hairdryer.

Ashley ran out to pick up a few things at the store, leaving D’Arezzo and Demeri in the hotel room, waiting for the competitions to start in about an hour. D’Arezzo’s training partner, John DiFruscio, arrived on a morning flight from Providence and had only been in the hotel room for about 30 minutes when D’Arezzo fell to the floor.

DiFruscio would remember hauntingly afterward, after he and Demeri tried to revive their friend and emergency medical technicians failed to restart his sick heart, one of D’Arezzo’s bodybuilding mantras:

“Anthony always said if you don’t have one foot on stage and one foot in the grave you haven’t done a good enough job.”

A line of more than 2,000 people snaked around the Maceroni Funeral Home a few days after a medical examiner ruled Anthony D’Arezzo died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart disease which had stalked him and eventually defeated him.

So many people came to pay their respects that the funeral home opened its doors an hour early and stayed open an extra two hours into the night. Still, many people were turned away. It was the largest wake the North Providence funeral home had ever had in its 48 years on Smith Street. The D’Arezzo family learned of hundreds of people Anthony had helped to improve their health and of five people who in gratitude for his kindness had named Anthony D’Arezzo the godfather of their children.

“It’s sad,” says D’Arezzo’s friend Antosia. “I don’t’ think Anthony realized how many people truly cared about him and loved him.”

“He knew the risk. It was his passion and I think he accepted the risk. But I’m sure he didn’t think it was going to take his life.”
 

Massive G

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I remember him - he was HUGE in his prime.
Can't imagine dying at 44, but many can or can't say they died at their peak or what they enjoy.
Sad for family and friends left behind but we live a selfish dedicated lifestyle.
 

Jblack

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A good read. A very good perspective read. Thank you for sharing.
 

GodOfHormones

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he knew that he was going to die young anyway so he said fuck it and die
during something you love. Being freaky big and drop dead. A real man IMO and I understand his mindthinking.
True Hero that lived and died for his passion.

I liked Reading the story. But anyway it s sad people have to kill themselfs to
win a contest...
This drug abuse should change. It should be a fitness event built with low dosage gear without the insuline and high hgh dosage
 

Mr OZ

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he knew that he was going to die young anyway so he said fuck it and die
during something you love. Being freaky big and drop dead. A real man IMO and I understand his mindthinking.
True Hero that lived and died for his passion.

I didnt really take that out of it, whats stuck in my mind is him stating his priorities in life were changing, him dreaming of a life with a wife and children. A life he will now never get to live and enjoy. Such a shame.
 

ubermensch

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One year, I think 96 or 97 he was at arnold expo and people thought he was Dorian from the back. Everyone was taking pics and talking about him.You know how you go to a show and there is always that one guy walking around that you're just like who the f is that, that was Anthony times 10. Some of the older guys will remember him climbing the scene and having a horrible pec tear and the pictures of the bruising were horrific. I am in Tennessee and theres a guy here that owned a supplement store with him who every time you see him he has a story about Anthony. I don't want sound as if I am trying to disparage the guy but the amounts this guy he says he used were legendary only topped by the amount of food the guy could put away. They would meet at places like denys for breakfast and would order 20 egg whites, couple steaks, etc while my friend was thinking he was ordering for the both of them and thinking no way he could eat his half to only realize it was all for Anthony. He had Anthony put him together a cycle and diet to help him put in size and after about a week he was in hospital with anxiety attack and blood pressure through the roof, he said Anthony just laughed and told him to pick another hobby, that if average person tried to do what he did it would kill them. The stories of them partying are also pretty excessive, said Anthony just believed he had a different tolerance than average person. He was just a bigger than life character from the way the guy talks of him.
 

inspector200

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First bodybuilder I saw up close! Will never forget it. .world gym providence. ...Was intimidated to talk to him at first, but he went out of his way to help me a few times. .good guy. ..
 

trapper john

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I knew Anthony a bit, met him at the 96 and 97 USPF seniors in philly...he had worked with Kirk Karwasoki on kirks diet...I always enjoyed speaking with him...
 

Racepicks

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This reminds me of another guy who knew Ant. There was a member here who left the forum maybe 4 years ago. His name was Lucian. Most will probably know him by Jerry Ward from Bios3training. Ant also helped him with contest prep:

Big Ant did my first diet for me when i was 19. he was so larger than life. He would come to a comon friends house for a couple hours and walk in with a big old Igloo cooler! lo wouldnt miss a meal for anything. lol i really looked up to him, and he was the nicest, low keyed guy ever. He once told me, stay away from decca, it will grow fur everywhere but on your head! lol

good guy and yes, everyone misses him.
 

worldspan

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Incredible read albeit 5 years after it was written 0n my part. Anthony and I had a business relationship that turned into a great personal friendship. I have never forgotten him over the years and when in the gym I have often looked up and said to myself, "brother Anthony get me through this set!" and somehow it happened. I knew he was looking down on me.
 

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