ORONO — Looking through competition videos on YouTube, Sacre Bahati maintains a distinct focus.
His muscles tense subtlety when he sees an icon, Serge Nubret, take the stage in a 1970s competitions. Bahati observes his idol’s graceful, yet purposeful moves on stage, and the awed audience.
Bahati, a 20-year-old University of Maine student from South Portland, is training for the OCB Pine Tree State Bodybuilding Competition, April 4, in Westbrook. He’s entering as an amateur, with the blessing of experienced trainers and previous competitors who are convinced of his potential.
“As long as I bring my best and have done my best, I don’t care if I come in 10th place. If I was my best self, that’s more than what most people can say,” Bahati said.
Bahati started lifting weights the end of his senior year at South Portland High School. He was track athlete, competed as a sprinter and pole vaulter, and was familiar with hard work and dedication.
At the end of his track season, he weighed 160 pounds and had a lot of time on his hands. He wanted to get bigger and he began researching famous body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger, he said, “like everyone does.”
“One of my favorite movies is ‘Pumping Iron,'” Bahati said. “Arnold came here as a poor immigrant and made his life working out. He made himself a champion and turned himself into an actor and a governor when people said he couldn’t because he was an immigrant.”
Bahati, who left the Republic of the Congo when he was 4 years old, doesn’t compare himself to Schwarzenegger in his journey through America. Instead, he compares himself in the way that they are both very self-aware.
“Bodybuilding is very misunderstood,” Bahati said. “A lot of people see someone checking themselves out in mirrors at the gym and they judge them for being narcissistic.”
Bahati sees his lifestyle as an art form. “When you’re sculpting your creation you have to make sure things are even and proportionate,” he said.
His family and friends are important support groups in his journey with weight lifting.
“My mom thinks I’m going to get too big, but I don’t take steroids so I’m not worried about that,” Bahati said. “And my uncle, he thinks its a testament of my character.”
Sarah Baird, a close high school and college friend, said she couldn’t see Bahati as a body builder in the beginning.
“It didn’t cross my mind. It wasn’t that he was scrawny, but he wasn’t big,” Baird said. But when Bahati went to Franklin & Pierce College for a year, all of their mutual friends were talking about the huge difference in his physique.
“Everyone noticed and talked about it,” she said.
Baird, who trained briefly with Bahati last year while he recovered from an injury, described his friendliness and dedication in the gym. “He is friends with everyone there, even if he isn’t close with them,” she said about his encouragement of others.
Darryl Wilkinson, a childhood friend and track athlete said it’s “awesome to see how far (Bahati’s) dedication and passion have taken him, and he’s far from done.”
Working out has become routine for Bahati. He now weighs around 180 pounds; the gym has become the one of the only places he goes to forget about everything else.
“When you have 300 pounds on your back, you’re not going to think about the fact that you lost your phone or your job,” he said. “You think, ‘… I have 300 pounds on my back I gotta get up.’”
“There is something very seductive about it,” he said of his almost two-hour daily workouts, which test his strength and what he’s capable of doing.
Bahati flips to a video of bodybuilder, Shawn Ray, striking a pose. “In my opinion, he’s one of the best posers of all time. Like right there,” he said, pointing to the screen, and watching with admiration and enthusiasm. “He is showing that muscle change, just to bring the hamstrings and the calves up. He’s taking his time.”
Another video plays, featuring Ulisses Jr., an aesthetics competitor Bahati follows. Awe and understanding show in Bahati’s eyes, as he nods along and takes in all that Ulisses Jr. has to offer.
Sacre Bahati in the gym at the University of Maine, where the former South Portland High School student trains for body-building competitions.
South Portland’s Sacre Bahati at work in the UMaine gym.