Before he became a bodybuilder, John “Juan” Gonzales was in a self-described deep depression. The death of his partner in 2019 left the 78-year-old Palm Springs resident looking for purpose in his life.
He met with a therapist, who offered advice. One suggestion was exercise. The idea was to harness focus on something positive that would help bolster Gonzales’s spirit and return his ambition and a sense of direction.
Now, about 2 1/2 years later, Gonzales completely transformed his body, and his life, dropping around 60 pounds in the process. At 175 pounds, Gonzales will be among those taking part Saturday in the massive West Coast Classic bodybuilding competition that is expected to draw thousands to Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa in Rancho Mirage.
“It’s like I’ve been given a new outlook on life,” Gonzales said. “This journey has been life-changing.”
Personal trainer Josh Egli said that after more than two years working with Gonzales, he still marvels at that change that he’s been able to witness first-hand.
“It’s not just physically, but mentally,” Egli said. “It’s a complete 180. His life was kind of like, ‘Ehh, whatever,’ but now it’s a whole new outlook on life in general. Now he’s doing things he never thought he could do and is in a really good spot, mentally, physically, spiritually and probably everything.”
Gonzales, who will turn 79 in September, began with trips to the gym and, as he began to find more purpose in his life, started doing other activities that were also fulfilling. He began volunteering at Serenity Hospice, where he said he looked for opportunities to lift the spirits of others.
Gonzales also made time for other activities that he had been wanting to participate in, from hiking and running to social activities with friends and other volunteering opportunities.
Ultimately, though, he kept his focus on getting into what he says is the best shape of his life. In retirement, after a career working in motor sales in Torrance, he said he’s putting in as much work as he did in his youth, but it’s been more fulfilling.
Part of that includes eating better, getting out of his house to move every day and, he said, stopping more often to appreciate the good things that surround him in the Coachella Valley.
Egli said that he’s been so impressed that someone in their later 70s has been so dedicated to improving their overall life through fitness.
“It’s about exercise, eating right and everything that comes with that,” Egli said. “It’s not just pushing weights around. It’s the whole lifestyle.”
Gonzales will compete in the 60-and-up division Saturday, having several years on much of his competition. He said that it’s led to more new experiences, such as waxing hair on his body and multiple spray tans to prepare for the show.
Gonzales said he was initially nervous about the bodybuilding competition, but he’s now ready for what should be an exciting moment. He doesn’t know how he’ll do, but he’s no longer worried about that.
“I’ve been through all the emotions,” Gonzales said. “For a long time I didn’t think I was ready, but now I feel I’m ready. I’ve done the work, and I know I am ready for this.”
Though things aren’t exactly his favorite part of the competition, he said. What he expects to be his favorite is showing those in attendance what one man can do in an effort to overcome grief, and to be evidence that, as he put it, “hope springs eternal.”
“I think the most important thing about my story,” Gonzales said, “is that a lot of people my age sort of give up on stuff. I think the whole thing is, you’re not done until you’re done. When I started, I had no idea that my life would change for the good as much as it has.”
West Coast Classic bodybuilding
When: 5 p.m., Saturday
Where: Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, Rancho Mirage
Andrew John covers sports for The Desert Sun and the USA Today Network. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and find him on Twitter at @Andrew_L_John.