Written by Peter McGough
15 June 2016


The John Meadows Story

The Remarkable Life & Times of a Bodybuilding Original



Ohio’s born-and-bred John Meadows has carved out a unique place for himself in the bodybuilding industry. Even before he became a pro, this former vice president at J.P. Morgan, who came from humble beginnings and survived a life-threatening illness, became a social media phenomenon and in demand for world tours. In his own words, here is his remarkable story, climaxed by the experience of competing at the 2016 Arnold Classic in his hometown.



I was born on April 11, 1972 in Washington Courthouse, a small town 40 miles south of Columbus. To set the record straight, I wasn’t born in a courthouse— that’s the actual name of the town. I never knew my Dad. My Mom, who was 16, had a lot of problems and wasn’t fit to look after me. She eventually died at a very young age. So my grandmother stepped in and took custody of me and raised me.

My grandmother was a cook in a restaurant, so we were pretty poor. I was involved in a variety of sports: football, track, wrestling and baseball. I may not have had all the material things that a lot of others had, but I had a loving grandmother and I was in sports and was busy. My grandmother was one of those grandmothers that honestly, even if I were a colossal failure, she’d probably still love me. She was one of those big-hearted people that saw the good in everyone. I mean, I could’ve robbed a bank and went to jail and she would’ve still said, “Ah, he’s still wonderful.” If I would get in trouble, I just wanted her to know, “This had nothing to do with you. It was my stupid mistake.” I just had so much respect for her. I wanted her to know she did a good job raising me, and what she said went. She died suddenly in 1999, aged 61. It was rough because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I was in shock because she didn’t have anything wrong with her; she just went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

I graduated from high school in 1990 and was very high in my class academically. I got a three-year financial scholarship to go to Wilmington College. But eventually I knew that I needed to change direction in my life, so I transferred and went to Capital University, which has quite a reputation in Columbus. Eighteen months later, in 1995, I got a bachelor’s degree in health and fitness, which involved kinesiology, physiology and biology, all of those things. I thought I really wanted to be an athletic trainer. But then I figured out that I didn’t really like taping ankles and stuff like that.



When I was 13 years old, by which time we had moved to Columbus, I would go to the store with my grandmother and look through the bodybuilding magazines, and that was really it. I saw the pictures and read the articles. My favorite sections were the kinesiology articles where they showed diagrams instead of photos, and explained muscle function. Those articles fascinated me, and I suppose that showed that I was really interested in how muscles work and how to get the best out of them. I studied those magazines and was like “Man, that’s what I want to do. I want to look like that.” At the time, I was doing other sports that involved lifting weights. I would do weightlifting with the team, then I’d go and work out on my own.

In 1985, I entered my first bodybuilding contest at 13, and had no idea what I was doing. It was the Mr. Buckeye contest and there were four guys in the class, which was for 14- to 17-year-olds. At 119 pounds, I got fourth out of four. I don’t really have a lot of recollection on how I prepared for it, other than people told me not to drink water for the last day or two. I remember just having a couple of ice cubes now and then. That was pretty much all the liquid I got.

The top two guys who impressed me at the time were Lee Haney and Tom Platz. I went to a Platz seminar when I started competing, and I couldn’t believe how intelligent he was. He was talking about stuff like mitochondria, slow- and fast-twitch fibers and he was using all of these words that I was reading about in the magazines. I was like, “Man, this guy is really smart.” He was passionate and worked hard. So I really tried to emulate him. Everything I could read of his, I tried.



I was preparing for the USA in 2005 and doing my morning cardio, when I started getting these little stomach pains that hadn’t happened before and as the show got closer, they got worse. It got to the point when I ate a meal, my stomach would just inflame and really swell up and become really painful. Going into that contest, I could barely eat the last week. I was having two ounces of protein with my meal, literally eating like a little bird. I finished 13th in the heavyweight class and once it was over and all the stress had gone, I thought the pain would go. But it got worse, and I started getting these incredibly intense spasms that occurred around the clock. I was taken to the ER several times. The doctors kept telling me I had colitis [inflammation of the colon]. I told them, “I don’t have colitis. I don’t have one single symptom of colitis. It’s something else.”

The third time, my wife took me to the hospital. They said, “Oh, he’s just constipated.” She replied, “Well, that’s impossible. He hasn’t eaten in a day. There’s nothing in him.” Then she said, “We’re not leaving.” An hour later, some of the veins in my colon burst and I started to bleed to death. They rushed me into emergency surgery. If I hadn’t been in the hospital, I wouldn’t have survived. They didn’t figure out what was really wrong until they did a biopsy. They sent some tissues to the Mayo Clinic and they knew what it was. It was a vascular disease in a particular vein in the sigmoid part of my colon. And when I looked it up, and I saw the symptoms, I was like, “Yes, that’s my exact symptoms.” I ended up having multiple surgeries, some very complicated, after that. But the first initial surgery in September 2005 was lifesaving, and they removed my entire colon. The operation itself caused many problems, including multiple hernias that cleared up in 2007. I had cosmetic surgery to cover up the scars, etc. I know it doesn’t look pretty now, but it’s way better than it was.


When the colon problem first cropped up, I thought I would have to give up competing, but I knew I’d always work out. The biggest challenge, long term, was that from the surgeries I had a ton of nerve damage in my stomach that felt like severe pins and needles. My entire lower abdominal wall felt that way until early last year. If I tried to do a sit-up, it was like a knife going into my abs. The deadlift was another exercise where as I pulled the weight, it was very painful. Triceps pushdowns I found difficult because you put a lot of stress on your abs. Then a couple of months before the Team Universe last August, the ab pain started to go away and I was able to train them and they actually started to look better. This year before the Arnold, I was able to train abs even more, although I can’t go all-out with them. They still don’t feel normal. But at least I can contract them now. It doesn’t hurt really badly. Right now, they’re probably 75 percent of what they should be.

Back in 2006, doctors were telling me I should never lift anything heavier than 30 pounds. But I was fortunate that my family doctor, and very good friend, was and is Dr. Eric Serrano, MD, who is into bodybuilding and an expert on sports nutrition. He was fully supportive about me getting back into competing. He said, “We just have to be smart with your training. We just need to figure out what exercises you can do and what you can’t do.”



In 2000, I started to post on bodybuilding forums. I needed a screen name, and at the time I had a Bernese Mountain Dog, so I chose the name Mountain Dog. I’d give my views on training and nutrition. People would read my views and say, “Well, that’s Mountain Dog philosophy.” And it just kind of just started growing on its own with people saying, “Mountain Dog this and Mountain Dog that.” That was never my intention. [The Mountain Dog philosophy on training, diet, etc. will be covered in a future issue of MD.]

When I started posting as Mountain Dog on forums, I was working at J.P. Morgan as a project manager on the retail side. I managed some really large projects, some of the biggest in the bank. It was a high-level job. I had to manage a lot of people. It sort of acted as a template for what I do now. When you’re coaching, you have to deal with different personalities and how to work with them. Plus, at the bank, I had to make decisions based on data. I might not have all the data sometimes, but you can’t just sit and wait to get 100 percent of it. Sometimes you’ve got to make a decision when you have 80 percent of the data. Same thing applies when you’re coaching bodybuilders. You may have 80 percent of what you need to know, so you make a decision. You can’t just be paralyzed and wait, wait, wait. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut and your experience to make decisions.

Mountain Dog grew in popularity, and I was coaching quite a few guys. In 2011, I established Mountain Dog as an LLC (limited liability company) and launched the website. That’s when Mountain Dog really took off, and requests for my services as a coach escalated. In 2012, as I watched that business mushroom, I had a really tough decision to make. Do I stay with the bank or go full-time into the industry that is my passion? I was a vice president at the bank, had a great salary and benefits, and a good pension guaranteed. I thought if I don’t go full-time with Mountain Dog and see if it worked or not, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I had a good reputation with the bank, and they told me I’d be welcome to come back if Mountain Dog didn’t work out. Today, I have 80,000 followers on Instagam, 40,000 on Facebook and countless members on the site.


I have a lot of social media interaction with people. It’s not just bodybuilding— I share my family life as well. Opening it up like that, I feel people identify with me. Because there are a lot of people out there that have to work hard and earn every ounce of everything they’ve got, and they can identify with somebody that’s had to do that— someone who’s not a genetic freak. And I never look at myself as being any better than anybody else, while a lot of other guys, when they become known, let their ego get the better of them. People ask, “Don’t you get tired of signing pictures and autographs?” I’m like, “Why would that bother me?” I mean, that’s an honor.

For this interview, I did my first photo shoot with MD the morning after the Arnold last March. I was dead tired, physically and mentally. But all I kept thinking was, “There are so many people that would love to be in your shoes, John. This is an incredible opportunity for you.” Steve Blechman was at the shoot and he was super nice to me, and I gained an insight into what you guys do to put a magazine together. And we actually chatted about you Peter— your ears were probably burning. Being interviewed by you has always been on my bucket list. At the end of the day when I got home, I was exhausted but euphoric. It was an awesome day. I mean, when I was 13 years old and reading those magazines, I never would’ve thought that I’d be in them one day. It’s an incredible journey.

I’m asked if it as profitable running Mountain Dog as it was being a vice president at the bank. What I do now is more fulfilling, and more profitable than my banking career. That doesn’t mean I’m doing this for the income. I woke up every morning looking forward to going to the bank. There’s a difference between doing something you like and doing something you just absolutely love, that you loved your whole life. It also enables me to do things with my family that I probably couldn’t have done if I was still in banking.



I’m often asked, how did you get to do seminar tours, even before you turned pro? I’ve been to Australia and Scotland, and some top pros don’t get those opportunities. I took my wife Mary to Scotland and we visited Edinburgh Castle and the William Wallace Monument in Stirling. [Mel Gibson played the role of Wallace in “Braveheart.”] I’m going to England and Ireland in July, and taking the whole family— Mary and our 7-year-old twins, Alexander and Jonathan. I’m going to Norway in August. I’ve probably got maybe 10 other offers but I can’t do them all— because I don’t want to be away from the family too much. I loved the British audiences. They’re like, “Hey, the seminar was great, but let’s get in the gym so you can beat us up, kill us.” That’s Mountain Dog thinking.



I had 14 attempts at winning a pro card, starting with fourth place in the heavyweights at the 1999 USA Championships, before I entered last year’s Masters Team Universe and won the overall to gain the pro card. In those 14 outings, I had bad placings and some good placings, finishing second at four of them. Going into the finals of those contests, despite what my friends told me, I never felt I would win. I’d think, well, I’ll probably get second or third, but I won’t win. After the prejudging of the Masters was the first time I thought, I think I might’ve actually won. I just couldn’t wait for the finals. I went to lie down, but my mind was buzzing real fast and I looked at myself every 10 minutes saying, “Oh, my God, don’t lose it, I think you’re going to win.” I had a hard time relaxing, because I really, truly thought I was going to win it.

When we were lined up for the awards and they announced fifth, fourth place, I just stood there with the emotion swelling up. When they called second place and it wasn’t my name, the crowd went crazy and I knew it was because they were behind me. I started crying. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I was trying really hard to control myself but it was incredibly emotional. Somebody went and got Mary and brought her backstage. It was very emotional— lots of people that have been with me through the years were there and they were crying. After 16 years of trying for the card, it was an unbelievable feeling that will be really hard to beat. That night, Mary and I went out to dinner and we kept looking at each other in shock.



After the Masters, I jumped right into the Vancouver Pro and got fifth. Then I did the Tampa Pro, and was much better in getting third. At the Texas Pro I slipped back to fifth. Getting an invite to compete in the 212 class at the Arnold Classic in Columbus this past March really fired me up.

A week or two before a show when I’ve stripped all the body fat off, I have a habit of losing my mind and starting to overanalyze. Ten days out from the Arnold, I had a day when I gained four pounds. I freaked-out because last year, when I got to those pro shows, I had to lose like seven pounds in a day. It was really hard and I was like, “Oh, no, here we go again. I’m going to have to do that again.” So I called Flex Lewis, who’s a close friend, and told him, “Flex, man, my weight’s going the wrong way.” He said, “Don’t worry, mate, we’ll talk to Neil Hill.” So long story short, I talked to Neil, who gets Flex ready, and it was perfect. It took all the stress off me, because he dialed-in the perfect amount of calories every day for me to control my weight and stay on track. We never cut water or sodium, and I felt really good physically. We worked great together, and he’ll continue to work with me the last 10 days before a contest.

I got down to 215 pounds— three pounds above the 212-pound limit— the day before weigh-in. All I had to do to make weight was skip one meal before weigh-in, and put on some sweat clothes and get under the covers and sweat the excess off. Compared to what I had to do last year, I’ll take that every time. I weighed in at 211.8, then I went back on my eating schedule, increased my water, and then I was back up to my 215-ish by stage time and felt great.



Doing the 212 class at the Arnold Classic was a dream come true. In 1989, when I was 16, I saw the first-ever Arnold Classic when Rich Gaspari beat Robby Robinson. Over the years, I had two perspectives on the Arnold. One, wishing I could get there and compete; and two, there’s no way I can make it— it’s impossible. So when you actually do get there and you hear the crowd cheering that loud for you, my adrenaline was racing so fast I had to really calm myself down. I was just so excited. I mean, multiply my Masters win by 10 and that’s how I felt.

Competing in the second-most important contest on the calendar in front of your hometown fans, it just doesn’t get any better than that. I’ve always dreamed of doing that show, and it was surreal being at the finals and having Lonnie Teper announce my name and talk about who I was, and to get the crowd response I got. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I was disappointed with ninth but in the big scheme of things, bad placings always seemed to work out better for me in the future anyway. The overall experience was awesome. I feel like I improved a lot from last year when I got third in the 212s at the Tampa Pro. And that’s pretty much all you can do, right? You can only control what you look like. And I don’t think there’s anybody that could’ve predicted I would improve that much.

[Editor’s note: In fact, John getting ninth out of nine entrants was one of the biggest controversies of the event. He was by popular consensus the leanest and most conditioned athlete of the weekend. So him getting that placing in an age when “condition” is paramount caused much head scratching.]



For the future, I would just like to qualify for the Olympia, do it and retire. I won’t go on year after year, trying to qualify for the Olympia. At 44, I’m healthy. I don’t want to wait until my health breaks down, and have that be what makes the decision for me. For now, I know I can improve. But at the end of the day, I want to leave a legacy in the sport and continue to have an impact on thousands and thousands of people in a good way. To actually make a difference in people’s lives is more important than being a figure in the industry. When I’m at expos and stuff and have people saying, “Man, you really helped me in a lot of ways,” that makes me feel real good. I’d rather be known as the guy that helped thousands and thousands of people and gave back to the community. That means so much more than, “Yeah, that’s the guy who got third at the 2015 Tampa Pro.”



My wife, Mary, has been behind me all the way. We met in 1997 and married in 2002. I couldn’t have done it without her. I mean, there I was, a vice president at a bank with a great, guaranteed pension and I told her I wanted to go full-time on Mountain Dog. And she said, go for it. When I was sick and got out of the hospital and I was too weak to look after myself, she did everything for me, including sanitary things I can’t talk about. If I say I want to do something, we’ll talk about it, make sure it’s workable and then she gets behind me and supports the idea and me all the way. And when I’m hurting the last three or four weeks of my diet, she sees the look on my face and says, “Just hang in there, it’s going to be worth it.” And I need to hear that at that stage.

If you ask me what was the low point and high point of my life, they would revolve around Mary. We went through a rough stretch four years ago that was my doing. It was a very depressing time, but we talked it through and decided to tough it out and stick together. We worked through the issues we had, and I felt like I grew a lot as a person and we grew as a couple. We went to a whole other level of love for each other— unfortunately, it took a rough time to take us to that place. I was happy when we got married, and very happy when we had kids. But I would say really, probably the best, happiest, thing in my life was having worked through those issues and just having a completely new relationship with my wife. I can never really express how important Mary is to me.



Columbus is my town. I’ll never leave, man. I love it here. This is a great town, a hardworking town and people here are so good to me. I mean, everywhere I go, they are nice to me, they know my name, and they treat me really good. Even when I was in the corporate world, those Columbus guys worked hard with passion and drive. And you would not believe how many awesome gyms there are in Columbus. Like Dave Tate’s EliteFTS gym. I love that guy— he’s always been there for me. Then there’s Metro, Bob Lorimer and Mike Davies’ gyms.