Wednesday 26 June 2019

Meet Wexford's Mr Universe

Foulksmills bodybuilder Loughlin (Lock) Gannon, the first Irishman ever to be crowned Mr Universe, tells reporter David Looby about the rigorous regime, the determination, and the battle to beat cancer, that drove him to the top of a very tough sport

Loughlin competing for the Mr Universe title in Birmingham
Loughlin competing for the Mr Universe title in Birmingham
Mr Universe winner Lock Gannon with his parents Loughlin and Mary
Loughlin Gannon with his girlfriend Janet Gilbert
Loughlin after his treatment for cancer

Loughlin (Lock) Gannon fulfilled a life-long dream when he won Mr Universe in Birmingham on November 10.

He turns 36 this month and is showing no signs of slowing down as he plans to capitalise on his big win. Boasting 20 stone of muscle, 6ft 1 Lock wowed judges with his physique. He is the first Irishman to ever lift the trophy,

The son of Loughlin and Mary Gannon, Lock attended Ballymitty NS and Good Counsel College. From Foulksmills, he is excited about his future after winning the competition.

'I couldn't be happier. I'm still waiting for it to sink in. I've been dreaming of achieving this for 20 years,' Lock said.

He has entered the world's strongest man and Mr Universe competitions eight times so far and plans to continue competing at the highest level.

So what is it like being Mr Universe?

I couldn't be happier. I'm still waiting for it to sink in. I've been dreaming about this for 20 years. As far as amateurs go it's the best known title on the planet.

Arnold Schwarzenegger won it in the late 1960s. As far as amateurs go this is the best title on the planet.

How prepared did you feel going into the competition?

I knew coming into this one that I couldn't have covered any more bases; bases I may have overlooked in the past. There was nothing extra that I could have given and there was no-one else I could have leaned on. I was in the best condition of my life.

What did it mean to you to have your name called out as Mr Universe?

It was my life's dream to get Mr Universe but to get the overall prize was the icing on the cake.

When did you get into body-building and why?

I got into it when I was 18 because I tried out the gym in Good Counsel and liked it. Before that I never had much direction in life, (well I was only 18). I was lucky that I found something that I could dedicate myself to. It became my dream. Through all that time I've had far more disappointments than successes, but the love and the passion for it just kept it going regardless of where I was at any stage in my life.

Was there a body-building scene in the county at the time?

There was nothing. Bar Dublin and Limerick what was going on in Wexford was absolute zero for the first decade of my training. It wasn't until Instagram. It was me just doing my thing because I loved it. I always said I didn't have anyone to validate me, I had to validate myself. I couldn't turn to Instagram for generic likes or anything like that. I did body-building purely for the passion for it. I think that's what's sorely missing from the sport today. The passion doesn't run near as deep as it once did. There are still a very small group who truly love it and would do it in the morning if everything else disappeared. For me it was always just for the love of it, the love of training and nothing more. That's all I ever needed to keep going.

How much training do you do for competitions like Mr Universe?

Because I did the worlds back in June which went very poorly for me. I made a couple of bad calls in the last hour or so and it pushed me out of the top six. Then within a week or two I left myself with no choice mentally but to do Mr Universe. It meant I was on a perpetual diet for six months. I had a short period between finishing the worlds and starting dieting for the Universe. All in all as the Universe started reaching its peak I would have been training every day, or twice a day depending on what I was doing. All the while it was restricted calories and just trying to exist while trying to get the body ready for it. It involves a lot of deprivation, a lot of being hungry basically!

Is this a healthy sport; something you can recommend to a lad of 17?

Oh God no! My advice to anyone that young is not to compete. Just to focus on the gym; good diet, good nutrition and training and let the body build up a solid base. I'm not a big fan of under 21s competing. I am very vocal about that, but it exists. I would rather see guys spending the first three to four years not even looking to get on stage. If they decide it's something they want to do, then go for it, but a pre-contest diet is not overly healthy, for a couple of reasons, some more so than others. It depends on the individual. Off season recreational body-building, with gym and a good diet, it's one of the healthiest things anyone can ever do. It's just there are certain restrictions that can run it in to a negative place, but then it's only temporary. Like in most sports at the extreme end of it you have to push very, very hard to get to those upper limits (of success).

Having suffered from testicular and stomach cancer, where do you feel you get your mental toughness from?

I think if someone really finds something they are truly passionate about in life, they will find it's there within them. If you are not truly passionate about something you are going to fall off, here and there, but if you are truly passionate about something you won't. Time and again these days you see a lot of people who think they love something but when things aren't going their way, do they really@ Anyone can be motivated and passionate when there winning, but when they take a loss here and there do they still really love what they're doing? You'll find that that is the real acid test for most people. I have had more downers than I've had uppers.

The worlds must have been a big body blow?

The worlds was the biggest contrast you could find. I came in and I was way out of the top six. I'd say a lot of people wrote me off. It was another loss for me and then I came back.

How fine are the margins and how is the Mr Universe competition judged?

The three facets of body-building are muscularity, how big and muscular you are, your overall condition taking in how low your body fat is and how dry you are and how visible everything is under the skin and proportion and symmetry, how well your overall physique balances out- how wide are your shoulders, how pleasing you look on stage.

You have one guy who looks like an x-ray and another guy who looks like a fridge. It's all visual. The judges see it completely subjectively. One judge might see him in first, or second, or fourth. Ultimately there are nine judges and they are added up. There is always the potential for decisions to be questionable, but 99 per cent of the time the judges are going to get it right. It just leaves the door open for people to say they were robbed, but they are not. The judges do have it bang on most of the time, but it is a very subjective thing and whatever the judge sees, the judge sees.

Who has supported you?

My girlfriend Janet Gilbert deserves a very special mention. Body-building is a very lonely sport but when you have the right support behind you, like the family, it makes things so much easier to get through, especially the harder periods.

Are there any financial supports for you?

I have great sponsors; Talbot Fitness gave me membership for the full year, alongside my girlfriend, and pretty much anything I could ask for was taken care of in the lead up and for the year after and Focus Fit is where I take care some of my clients. Westgate Design because they pretty much took care of all of my food and my big sponsor is up in Monasterevin, a gym up by Naas. They funded so much of my pre-contest. They took care of my flight tickets and put me up in a hotel.

Where do you go from here? What doors will this open for you?

It will probably open doors on many fronts from body-building and from setting myself up for the rest of my life, to capitalise from a business standpoint. For the first time I felt like I achieved a dream. A dream has come through so for the first time my mind is clear so I can relax and switch off. When I came back I trained the next day and have been training every day since, apart from a break in Cork. I just love training and I want to train more. For the next while my focus is on growing and getting stronger. There is the pro show and I could go Strongman. I could go power-lifting. There are lots of options and they all feel wide open for me now for the first time ever and it's very exciting.

Would you be open to acting, ads, sponsorships?

For sure. I've done acting before and I've been told I am reasonably good on camera. I found it a lot of fun. That would definitely be something I'd like to pursue. I like to have fun and would be very open to things. If it feels right to me and I have passion behind it there is very little I won't take on.

What are important vital stats as a body-builder?

When I'm not dieting my weight would be 127 kilos (about 20 stone). My body fat would be about 12 per cent but when I do diet down I would be 116, 117, my body fat. If you take a callipers to me you won't read it properly. It's below 4 per cent. I'm left with next to nothing.

Do you have any go to junk foods you can enjoy?

After the show I'll be conservative so I don't balloon back up. I eat whatever I want, on top of the normal foods. I enjoy myself. I don't eat completely strict all year round, nor should anyone. I'd have a 24 inch pizza, whatever strikes your fancy.

How much food do you eat when training?

My protein intake is very high. I'd get through about 2lbs of meat a day and a hell of a lot of greens. Just a lot of salads. It would be very minimal pro-fats. Just a very healthy balance of foods between the calories at the end of the day. You need to have your calories right so your body keeps losing fat so lots of turkey, greens, olive oil, nuts, basmati rice and rice cakes and just ensuring you have enough essential fats coming in and then you're good to go.

Is the sport clean?

They (drugs) exist alright. They are present like they are in all other aspects of sports, Particularly with the young guys coming up. I have lot of young guys come to me and before they even ask me about training and diet they are asking me what should I take, this or that. Within five minutes I know if I'm going to work with them or not because if they are hell-bent on taking drugs I'm not going to work with them. They are showing me that they have no passion to actually start in the right way.

It's the biggest issue and highlights why the junior categories are such a problem because if you start off and all you're interested in is drugs you're going to screw your system and take away your natural potential.

For anyone starting out if they think they need to take drugs they are screwing themselves before they even start. It's what's wrong with the youth today: it's instant gratification. They want everything here and now and they don't want to put in the ground work.

Do you attribute that hard working ethic to your upbringing?

I attribute everything, who I am now, back to my family. They really did instil the best possible qualities in me. I was a pretty good teenager, I wasn't too much trouble. My Mam and Dad, Mary and Loughlin, brought me up well. They told me I can have whatever I want if I work for it. My brother Daniel is going for the All Ireland's Strongman. He came second just this year gone and is going again. We both like our abstract sports! We are farmers in Foulksmills. I am calling on him to bring home the Ireland's Strongest Man award next year to match up with the Mr Universe. He is my younger brother, but not my little brother. He's 32 now. I'm 6ft 1 and he is bigger than me. We'll call it even but he ain't smaller anyway.

Gorey Guardian