: Back in 2004 I first met Lenda Murray, eight time Ms. Olympia, when she attended a Faith & Fitness Magazine
event at the Arnold Sports Festival. This year I attended the Lenda Murray NPC Bodybuilding, Figure & Bikini Championships
and met Dr. Rodney Gaines. Rodney’s story characterizes a survivor experience that is more common than you would expect. It is the “what else could happen” and “how low can you go” dynamic. Tough times and hard knocks can often happen one after another over the course of years. The good news is that through it all God’s grace takes a person higher and makes her or him stronger. Rodney isn’t just a survivor, he is a testimony to the victory we all can have in God and the greater purpose we are called to accomplish. Watch a short video of him telling his story
I was raised in a small town. As a child I had severe asthma, which limited my physical ability. Though I wanted to play football the coaches were afraid I would have an asthma attack. As an alternative during my first year of high school my mother bought me a 110-pound weight set. I lifted the weights every night. After a few months the weight was no longer challenging. So my mother offered to buy more weights. I noticed the weight training helped me do well at the only sport I played in high school - baseball.
Life was difficult for me as a youth. My parents separated when I was in the third grade. This led to us living in homes with no running water and unconventional heat. We heated our rented houses by wood stove and drew water from a well as recently as the 1980’s. At times I stayed with my sisters and brothers. It was when I stayed with foster parents that I began to make good grades in school.
In 1985 I went to Virginia Tech and earned my bachelors degree in Business Finance. It was at Virginia Tech where I seriously began lifting weights and truly discovered bodybuilding. I noticed that my body responded well to the weights. I placed third in my first show in Roanoke, Virginia. Seven years later I would win the overall Mr. Virginia title. I continued my education to get my master’s and doctorate from Virginia Tech and become a college professor, my present career.
By all estimations life was going pretty well until 2002. It was then that I had what seemed like a train wreck. It made me take a closer look at my faith. In the spring of that year I went to the emergency room with an irregular heartbeat on two different occasions. During the second emergency visit a man in the room next to me died. That shocked me. I had issues of my own and the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. It wasn’t until later that year that I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I had an unusual injury in 1998 where I tore my left pectoral lifting weights. Later I had bilateral swelling in both knees. These were early signs of the rheumatoid arthritis. I asked God to heal me, and He did. I renewed my commitment to God at that point in my life to live for Him.
In 2007 I got married and changed jobs. However my wife left me after just eight months. Beyond dealing with the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, I now had the personal challenges of divorce and depression. With my wife gone I gained a lot of weight getting up to 250 pounds. That brought on diabetes.
In 2011 I made an all out effort to defeat diabetes. I started doing two hours of cardio exercise each day along with weightlifting. By 2012 I had gotten my weight down to my current 165 pounds. I returned to bodybuilding competition in 2012. This has been my best year yet. I recently won my category in the Lenda Murray Bodybuilding Championships. I feel my experiences have been similar to those of Job in the Bible. He lost everything, and so did I. It could have been a disaster but instead it has strengthened my faith. God has restored the things in my life that I need. Going through diabetes, divorce and depression could have been a recipe for disaster. Instead I now follow the teachings of Christ more than ever before. One of my favorite Bible verses says to consider it pure joy when trials come. Troubles can position us so that God can prune away the things in our lives that bring death and prepare us for transformation.
THE PRUNING AND THE TRANSFORMATION
Relationships are an area of life where God can prune away unhealthy behaviors and transform the way we live life. I had an eleven-year relationship with a girlfriend that ended. Even 5 years after we were broke up I thought that she would comeback. Turns out, I was depending on her more than I was turning to God. Only through God was I able to stop dwelling on the past, move forward and relate to her simply as a friend. God transformed my mind and my heart. Today, I don’t think about the past so much. He has helped me to strive forward to His calling.
Poor physical health can be an obstacle to being spiritually strong. In addition to diabetes I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Before it was diagnosed I lived in fear for months. I had swollen lymph nodes, irregular heartbeats, bilateral knee swelling, eye twitch, muscle loss and a lot of fatigue. I was on antibiotics every other week and knew something serious was wrong. Based on the symptoms I thought I might have HIV or cancer. Once the condition was identified as arthritis I was able to address it properly. But, more importantly, God used it to help me look at my personal character and my interactions with others. It led to me making a more serious commitment to God. Through this commitment I now lead Bible study with student athletes. The Bible verse, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise”, guides me.
Through God’s strength I’ve survived rejection and anger. When I left my job at Norfolk State University I took a position at Liberty University. At the time I had plans to become a minister. After taking the job at this Christian university, God allowed some challenges so that I could be refined for His use. I learned that all faith-centered environments like a church, college, business, organization even a personal family household are NOT heaven-on-earth but rather a place where God will work and bring change. God challenged me at this university to get past my feelings of rejection and understand His grace so that I could live His example of forgiveness and compassion.
Depression is perhaps the most difficult to overcome. For me it was more crippling than rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and the torn pectoral muscle I had all wrapped together. At times I felt like giving up, but I had a lot of friends and family that supported me. After my divorce several things fueled my depression. I stopped exercising lost confidence and felt rejection and fear. An encouraging Bible verse I draw upon today says, “God has a plan for us and that plan is to prosper us and not to harm us.”
AVERT DISASTER, FIND PURPOSE
My experiences could have taken me out, but I am glad that I didn’t give up on God and Life. It helped me to more clearly see my purpose to do His will and share Jesus Christ with others. I have learned that God orders our steps. I feel that through the illnesses, injuries, and depression, I’ve learned the importance of being humble. I want to have more empathy for others who are going through life battles. My mission is to share my testimony and encourage others to discover Jesus Christ. I have seen the consequences of my sin, and how things get better when we move away from worldly thinking and think more like God. Commitment and discipline to daily prayer and reading the Bible are key. You really do have to put on your full spiritual armor and then be eager to take the message and hope of God to others.