EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — After a heavy, weight workout, Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin walks over to a row of mirrors in the gym. He strikes a pose and flexes the muscles in his chest, arms and legs. He stares, then smiles at the reflection he sees. He continues in this manner for more than a half an hour posing and flexing for the mirror. This behavior isn’t an overabundance of ego or vanity, but a critical part of the training routine for Ruffin, a professional bodybuilder.
In November, 21-year-old Ruffin won his International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness “pro” card at a competition in Miami, becoming the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit in 28 years.
“It was a culmination of so much effort,” said Ruffin, an avionics Airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron. “At that moment, the emotions were really overwhelming. I just cried and hugged my parents after it was announced.”
For the five-foot, five-inch Airman, it was a goal achievement more than two years in the making and a dream he’d had as a child.
“I grew up idolizing those muscular superheroes like Superman, Hulk and Juggernaut and then Stallone and Schwarzenegger,” said Ruffin, who ran track, played football and kick boxed in high school. “I wanted to look like them.”
Those buff military types lead him to join the Air Force in 2011 and try to become a Tactical Air Control Party specialist. While a TACP career was not meant to be, the journey lead him into the weight room and to his true calling in 2012.
“Getting into that weight room after the TACP school was a saving grace,” said the Beatrice, Alabama native. “I found a new motivation, my confidence was restored and the bodybuilding drive began there.”
Ruffin said he began to learn everything he could about the sport and what it took to be competitive while training in his new avionics career field. He packed on more than 20 pounds of muscle and set a competition goal of 2014. Three months after arriving here in 2013, his trainers urged him to begin competing earlier than his set goal.
“Terrence not only had raw natural talent, but he had the hunger, the dedication, the discipline, and most importantly, the heart to compete in bodybuilding,” said Caleb Weatherington, Ruffin’s coach.
At his first competition in April 2013, he earned second in the teen class and fifth in the (lightweight) 150-pound class. Allen Ajaye, a retired master sergeant and bodybuilder, managed the bodybuilding event Ruffin competed in.
“What an amazing transformation. To achieve what he achieved in such a short period of time is phenomenal,” said Ajaye, of the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron. “I also see him at his job and he has an excellent work ethic. He works hard at any task set in front of him and that is an excellent trait to have. He is very motivated.”
That motivation was tested when it came to the required bodybuilder diet.
“When I started, I was lifted and ate around five meals a day, but until I got the nutrition and meals down I wasn’t seeing the development I was looking for,” said Ruffin, who currently works with a nutritionist.
Now, Ruffin eats constantly and drinks more than a gallon of water a day in between maintaining aircraft electronic jamming pods used to block and disrupt radar and radio frequencies. During his “growing” cycle of training to gain more muscle his daily meals are:
5 a.m. – 10 egg whites, three whole eggs with a cup and a half of grits or oatmeal
9 a.m. – two cups of white rice and eight ounces of turkey and a tablespoon of peanut butter
Between 11 a.m. and noon – eight ounces of turkey and eight ounces of sweet potato
2 p.m. – eight ounces of beef and eight ounces of sweet potato
4 p.m. – a protein shake at the gym
9 p.m. – 10 egg whites, three whole eggs and a bagel
Protein shake before bed
“It was incredibly difficult at the beginning, but it just took time to adjust,” Ruffin said. “After about a month, it was no problem.”
Ajaye also stressed the diet is critical.
“You have to have small meals throughout the day to keep your muscles fed. Your muscles can very easily be broken down by your body if you’re not eating correctly,” he said.
Ruffin spends much of his weekend preparing the meals and measuring them out into individual containers. He purchases groceries weekly, spending around $100 per week. Purchasing that much food continuously on a senior airman’s wage would be prohibitive, but Ruffin has local and national-level sponsors who help offset the costs.
The bodybuilder diet and lifestyle are all-consuming. Ruffin said he is constantly learning and the more he learns the better he becomes. Words like “carb-cycling,” “hypoglycemic” and “homeostasis” are not commonly referenced by the average 21-year-old, yet Ruffin uses them matter-of-factly describing his competition preparation and body development.
With the training and diet routine in place, Ruffin said he got results he desired and dominated his second contest, a pro-qualifier competition in March 2014. He won first place in the lightweight open and lightweight novice competition and a 1st place overall in the novice category. These wins qualified him to compete for pro status at one of the largest bodybuilding competitions in the world in November 2014.
Around three months prior to a big competition, Ruffin goes into a period of weight loss. He cuts carbohydrates, increases his cardio workouts and adds more protein to his diet. This reduces body fat and leaves the lean muscle for the desired, sculpted look he displays to the judges at a competition. Ruffin said the average weight loss is about 30 pounds in three months with five pounds of water weight in the week leading to the competition.
“Making the weight is very important and because I’m a smaller-framed guy, I have to work extra hard,” he said. “You don’t want to be the lightest guy in the weight class. Everyone will look that much bigger than you.”
The senior airman’s muscular frame and weight fluctuations have not hindered him in passing his Air Force regulated physical training assessment.
“It is difficult to achieve what he did and be in the Air Force,” said Ajaye. “The demands of doing PT along with a regular bodybuilding regimen can lead to overtraining, which actually takes muscle away.”
Ruffin admits the diet is the hardest part of his lifestyle, but he said it is all worth it when he hits the stage, which consequently is his favorite part of bodybuilding. He compared the discipline and motivation required to be a bodybuilder to one of the Air Force core competencies – excellence in all we do.
“I don’t want to go on stage looking anything less than my absolute best,” said Ruffin. “There should be no regrets when I step up there. I love being on that stage with all eyes on me. Being able to captivate and control the crowd – it’s like having my superhero moment.”
Prior to his moment in the spotlight, there are some necessary grooming techniques that occur to make him “stage ready.” Days before he competes, he shaves his entire body to provide a cleaner look and to better display his physique He also adds a tanning bronzer to his skin that creates a golden tone under the lights and enhances his muscle definition.
“It is a strange concept at first, but just like the eating and gym time, it becomes part of the routine,” he said. “All these steps just allow me to look my best up there.”
Ruffin said he tries to get creative with his posing routine to stand out from the rest of his competitors. He incorporated large amounts of stretching to his workouts and performed a full split as an attention-getter during his routine at the competition.
That creativity along with motivation and discipline earned him professional status with a win in the lightweight category.
“He brought the full package to Miami, including his phenomenal conditioning,” said Weatherington. “With Terrance’s height and proportions, I knew he would not only get his pro card, but completely dominate the competition.”
Becoming a professional brings with it all new challenges. To turn pro, Ruffin competed in the specific 150-pound lightweight category. At the pro level, there are only two categories: below 212 pounds and above. For the Airman, this means adding body mass to be viable. Ruffin won’t enter a professional event in 2015 while he increases to a size that’s competitive. He plans to add another 20 pounds of muscle and try to compete at 180 pounds.
The pro status also brings with it a celebrity-like status in the world of bodybuilding. After winning his category to turn pro, Ruffin had more than 1,000 new “friends” on his Facebook account.
Ajaye advised him on managing that fame and to not take his fans for granted, but to make time to give advice and interact within reason.
“(The celebrity side) is and will be overwhelming, but this is another task requirement that comes with being a bodybuilder,” said Ajaye. “I am sure he will be able to handle it.”
As he grows both in body and online, he will help train others and perform his posing routine as a professional guest at amateur events.
“Airman Ruffin has the determination and potential to go far as a bodybuilder or whatever he decides to do,” said Ajaye. “His drive and diligence have taken him to great heights in such a short time and at a young age. If he continues with that type of initiative he will be able to reach even higher heights.”
As for the soft-spoken Ruffin, he remains humble about his new fame and future.
“I just love what I do and I want to be the best at it,” he said.