A man who started bodybuilding to recover from a serious car accident has told how he rebuilt his life and his body.
n what has been a spectacular few weeks on the world bodybuilding scene, Lisburn’s James Melville won a series of prestigious titles, including two professional bodybuilder statues.
In September, the 41-year-old won the Irish World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) title to qualify as a professional.
He went on to win the PCA British Championships, where he achieved a second professional status.
Fresh from Munich, where he finished fourth in the European championships at the end of October, he is now targeting the world championships in Birmingham later this month.
James, who owns and runs The Compound Room gymnasium with his fiancée, Edel Burns, in his hometown, said his spectacular run has yet to sink.
“I have been training since January. My goal was to earn my pro status with the WNBF,” he said.
“The untested UK PCA Championships were just for fun – I didn’t expect to do well. Winning and getting a second pro status was a really nice surprise.
“For a lot of people who are working on something for themselves, it’s good for them to see success, especially for my gym community.”
Bodybuilding has been dogged by controversy and drug abuse allegations, but it is working hard to change its image.
Natural bodybuilding competitions put athletes through rigorous drug and lie testing before they are allowed to compete.
James said: “I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs of any kind to gain an advantage. Anti-doping tests before competitions are as rigorous as those practiced at the Olympic level.
“It’s not about casting darkness on the other side of the sport, but about highlighting natural bodybuilding and showing what’s possible, especially to young boys getting into the sport.
“For me, it started as a necessity for rehab, so I’ve always had a holistic approach.
“I just want to show that through good nutrition and exercise, it can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.”
As a professional athlete competing with two of the sport’s biggest governing bodies, James can now secure sponsorship to help pay for his road as he takes on the best in the world.
He explained: “As a professional I can go to major competitions anywhere in the world and my travel costs are covered and there is a chance to win some money.
“It can be quite stressful to compete at this level with all the costs. Especially with running a business and having to be away from it for periods of time, there’s that added pressure of spending time away from it.
James has built a thriving members-only gym. Many of his clients also train and compete as bodybuilders.
It wasn’t a career he had planned, but life took an unexpected turn when he was 20 and living and working in London as a bartender at a cocktail bar.
He explained: “I had been training intermittently from the age of 13, but I never saw myself making a career out of it.
“When I was 20, I was involved in a car accident that completely derailed me and put me in another direction.
“From a very difficult period, there have been so many positives.
“I suffered a traumatic brain injury which left me paralyzed on my left side. I was initially at King’s College Hospital in London, where I underwent brain surgery.
“Then I was moved home to the care of my local health trust, which was fantastic.
“It took me about nine months to rebuild my muscular back.
“As part of this, I was encouraged to do weight training, and what started out as a necessity turned into a passion.
“I did more research and decided to become a personal training coach.”
James opened The Compound Room in Lisburn in 2016 and gradually built up its membership.
From day one, he had a unique approach. “Before starting my own business, I received referrals for people with mental and physical health issues who needed to consider exercise in their recovery. For people with mental health problems (difficulties), the environment is very important to them and often anxiety
kept them from going to the gym,” he explained.
“From the beginning, I made my gym for members only to create a better environment for people.
“With members-only gyms, there’s more familiarity and you can create a space of comfort.”
James and his partner put everything they had into building the business, which had just started turning a profit before Covid-19 hit.
“It took a few years, but in 2019 we had it built and it was a success and we decided to move to bigger premises,” he said.
“We invested every penny we had in the move and we had no more credit in the bank. We had just opened 18 days when the first confinement happened. We were very scared and did not know how we were going to survive.
“We received a lot of loyal support from the members who helped us through this ordeal. Luckily we reopened last year and we’re in a good place again. »
Now that he is finishing the year on a high, his plans after competing at the world championships later this month include taking a break next year before building his career in 2024.
James said: “The European Championships in Munich last month was my first professional show. I had hoped to finish in the top 10, so I was thrilled to finish in the top five.
“Now that I have the world championships, I hope to go there and hold on.
“If I get into the top five, that would be amazing.
“It will wrap up my season. Mentally and physically it can take its toll. You have to give your body a break.
“Hopefully when I finish the world championships I can sit back and understand what has happened this year and appreciate the efforts of everyone who has supported me.”
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