A no-pasta zone

After a heart attack, Domenic Petrucci, 53, turned his life around: losing weight, adding muscle and winning a bodybuilding contest

September 23, 2005|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,sun reporter

After a heart attack, Domenic Petrucci, 53, "All the bocce players, they're amazed," Rocco Gargano, proprietor of Rocco's Capriccio in Little Italy, says of his pal Domenic Petrucci. "That was his goal and he won it."

Gargano isn't talking about some come-from-behind victory in the Word Series of Bocce (yes, there is such a thing).

He's referring to Petrucci's bringing home a first-place trophy this summer in the NPC East Coast Natural Tournament of Champions bodybuilding contest.

Petrucci, the 53-year-old owner of a masonry company in Highlandtown, won in the 50-plus age division. Admittedly, the universe of middle-age bodybuilders is relatively small. But that doesn't diminish his accomplishment.

Four years ago Petrucci weighed 270 pounds. On a typical day he'd smoke three packs of Marlboros and guzzle a dozen beers. He also was happily addicted to "good Italian food."

Moderation was not part of his vocabulary. Or his triglyceride level. Triglycerides are indicative of how much fat is present in a person's diet and, consequently, their risk of heart attack. A normal triglyceride reading is 40 milligrams to 150 milligrams.

Petrucci's number was 800. He might as well have been mainlining Crisco.

The heart attack came knocking one morning while he was driving to work.

"I started sweating and I had a pain right here," Petrucci says, touching his left side. "It feels like the heart will come out of your chest and you cannot breathe."

He suffered 5 percent damage to his heart, but heeded the warning to shape up. He quit smoking cold turkey and cut his alcohol consumption to an occasional glass of wine.

"The first two years, I concentrated on losing weight by jogging and walking," Petrucci recalls. "Nothing intense."

When he decided to get intense he hired Dave Rutch, manager of Pulse Health and Fitness Club in Sparks, as a personal trainer.

They meet at Pulse five afternoons a week for an hour of weight-lifting and cardio work. Petrucci is now intimately acquainted with exercises he'd never heard of before his heart attack: hammer curls, inclined chest presses, high pulley biceps curls.

The result has been a genuine blob-to-buff transformation. Rutch says his client has nearly doubled his strength in most muscle groups.

"It's odd," says Loredana Petrucci, Domenic's 26-year-old daughter, "because usually you see your parents getting older instead of getting hipper and better looking.

Dad wears Spandex now. He's got six-pack abs. His weight is down to 195 and his waist has shrunk from 43 to 34 inches.

Those soaring triglycerides? Down to a healthy-heart 54 milligrams.

It's not uncommon for post-cardiac patients to go on a fitness binge, then regress to their old, sedentary, fatty-food ways. Not Petrucci.

"His drive and determination in life stems from being poor as a kid," says Rutch.

Petrucci left his family home in Italy at age 16 after his father died. He and a stepbrother scratched out a living in Canada for three years, then joined his American-born mother when she moved to Baltimore. Three days later he found a job as a mason, eventually parlaying that into a successful business.

"If I put something on my mind," says Petrucci, "I want to go through all the way."

Last year Rutch took him to a bodybuilding tournament just for fun. Petrucci, however, got the notion that someday he'd like to get on stage with those "young guys" and pop a few poses.

They increased his training regimen, ramping up to seven days a week as the June NPC tournament approached. Petrucci ran more laps at Patterson Park, and even started hopping up stairs on one leg, not something personal trainers generally recommend for a 53-year-old pair of knees.

"We put a stop to that," says Rutch. "He was trying to get inventive on his own."

Petrucci follows a five-meal-a-day, 3,000-calorie plan that includes lots of chicken and turkey, but no pasta and pizza.

As his bodybuilding debut approached, he pushed to get his body fat under 6 percent. That meant seven weeks of a seriously Spartan diet that included 18 egg whites, 14 ounces of orange roughy fish and protein powder twice a day, plus five servings of vegetables. No wine chasers allowed.

"We knew exactly what he ate and it was terrible," says Gargano. "No salt, no pepper, no spices whatsoever. I'm sorry, I couldn't eat that way."

The worst part, Petrucci insists, was practicing those muscle-flexing positions that bodybuilders need to hold for judges. It's like doing full-body isometrics with a smile. He would practice in front of the mirror as much as an hour a day, his veins so pronounced they resembled strands of spaghetti taped to his body.

"It was harder to hold the poses than build all the muscles," says Petrucci.

His wife, Victoria, and his friends from Little Italy are ecstatic that the new, improved Domenic has a new lease on life.

Some, however, still don't understand what could compel somebody to pass up fried calamari for a plate of egg whites. But maybe they haven't had a heart attack.

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