Monday, May 27, 2024

Kenya’s former ‘Mr USA’ star bodybuilder Mechack Ochieng’ giving back to sport after retirement

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Meshack Ochieng’, Kenya’s most decorated bodybuilder, has called time on his glittering career.

He feels it is time now to help upcoming athletes in the sport. 

The USA-based Ochieng’ has been in bodybuilding for over 20 years, a journey he started in 2002 that climaxed with success on the professional front in the US, where he won the Mr America Bodybuilding Championship in 2022, stunning six finalists who included defending champion Corey Brown.

Although his last pro show was in 2022, the five-foot, three-inch tall Ochieng’ tells Nation Sport that he has retired from the sport he took up to keep himself busy after dropping out of school due to lack of fees.

Born in Kisumu in 1983, Ochieng’ started weight training in Otonglo in 2000 through the help of his brother, Michael Otieno.

As a teenager, Ochieng’ got attracted to the life of a sportsman after watching others excel in different sports around the country. 

He picked bodybuilding after trying his hands in boxing unsuccessfully.

“Having the same physique as former Mr Kenya champions Bokassa Onyango, John Oduor, Shem Chweya, Chris Taabu, and Mickey Ragos attracted me to bodybuilding more than anything else. I would go through old magazines to find pictures of these champions,” explained Ochieng’.   

When he started bodybuilding, he had big goals that he wanted to accomplish, one at a time.

“First was just to win a category. I did that easily with the help of my brother Mike and some few other athletes before me like Steve Wekhule and Husein Omallah all from Mumias,” he says.

The second goal was to win a contest. This was a surprise when Ochieng’ won the Mr Kenya Under-21 National Championship in 2003.

“It changed my life as I rejoined college and pursued my dream of becoming a personal trainer. 

“I was able to take courses on nutrition and general fitness,” observes Ochieng’ who likes spending his free time reading and helping out in an orphanage when he can or just helping his community in any capacity.

He continued with this pace until he won the Mr Kenya championship for the first time in 2004.

Other than the Mr Kenya title, which he also won in 2012, Ochieng’ dominated all other contests held in Kenya during his reign. 

These included Mr Kisumu, Mr Nakuru, Mr Tembo, Mr Eldoret, and Mr Kericho.

Kenya’s USA-based Meshack Ochieng getting ready for USA championship 2022 held in Texas.

Photo credit: Pool

“The third goal that I had was to make my name known outside the country. I travelled to Uganda and won shows over there, too. This made my name known all over Africa,” explains Ochieng’.

He competed in a few international events in Kenya and Uganda, going head-to-head with some of the best bodybuilders, including his brothers Mike, Paul Mwangale and Ivan Byekwaso.  

Mr Africa 2010 champion Ochieng’ then got the chance to go abroad to the US, and once he was out there, he did not disappoint. 

“I did my best and won all the shows I wanted to win. All natural shows and also some untested shows, even though I’m a lifetime natural athlete,” observes Ochieng’.

Even though he is retiring, Ochieng says this doesn’t mean he has quit going to the gym or working out. 

“I wanted to be able to retire after setting something that I would be looking at. I have my own personal training business that for a few years now has been doing great in the USA.”

With his online personal training business – Team Meshack Fitness – Ochieng’ also boasts experience that he has gathered over a long time and believes he is now in a better position to help other upcoming athletes in Africa.

“We have a lot of talent in Africa. Most of the time, they only need that knowledge of how to do things right. How to train right, eat right and display the physique,” says Ochieng’.

Many athletes have turned into politics after retirement, including former Liberian president George Weah (football), boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and closer home, Webuye West Member of Parliament Daniel Wanyama and former parliamentarians and long-distance runners Wesley Korir and Elijah Lagat, but Ochieng’ is not taking that route.

“I still consider myself an athlete, politics wouldn’t feature anywhere in my diary. 

“Politics tend to divide people more than sports, and I wouldn’t like seeing athletes divided because of politics. I like politics, but when it starts dividing people, then I stand on the side,” says Ochieng’. 

The last shows he did before retiring were the Mr America, Gateway Championship, USA Championship and the International Atlas Championship in 2022. 

“I won all these except International Atlas which I came in second,” explains Ochieng.

“I have learned a lot in the sport of bodybuilding. When I started, I didn’t know there was a difference in how to eat for a competition. Right now, I can advise on how to eat, when trying to lose weight, add muscles, get lean, et cetera,” says Ochieng’.

Meshack body builder

Kenya’s Meshack Ochieng during Mr. Natural Olympia 2020 in Las Vegas, USA.

Photo credit: Pool

He has also learned ways of using supplements for maximum gains and what to look for in supplements. “There are supplements that contain banned substances and knowing exactly what to look for so you don’t end up taking something illegal is very important,” says Ochieng, ranked among the 10 best natural bodybuilders of all time by Generation Iron Fitness Network in January this year.

The online network for bodybuilders says Ochieng is called the “Natural Ronnie Coleman” (after the celebrated American bodybuilder regarded as the greatest bodybuilder of all time) because one could easily mistake him for a non-natural athlete. 

“However, Ochieng competes in the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA) and North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation (NANBF), which are very strict about their drug testing, and has won multiple natty competitions,” says the online network.

Ochieng’ observes that being one of the best natural bodybuilders ever is no mean task. 

“It needs a lot of sacrifices, pure dedication and discipline. It’s not easy to stay natural and maintain muscle density. 

“Most people look up to me as their role model. If someone like me can make it to the list of the best in the world, then they themselves can do it and make it naturally,” he says.

Ochieng’ says his responsibility is to guide the young upcoming athletes, show them what he went through to become who he is today and keep preaching about the effects of banned substances.

“They have seen people like me who have made it all the way up without the use of steroids. We have shown them the way, and now it’s them to play their part,” says Ochieng’, whose favourite foods are sweet potatoes, chicken and mixed vegetables.

Ochieng’ adds that he has learned a lot about training, including ways to get specific gains on different muscle groups.

“Bodybuilding training is different from weight training. It’s important to know how to attack specific muscle groups. 

“The major setback in bodybuilding has always been injury. Knowing how to avoid injuries is a key to a long career in the sport,” advises Ochieng’, married to Eunice. 

They have two kids, Dennis (Sergio) and Lynn, who, interestingly, are not into sports.

He says his best moment in the sport was always when he took to the podium as the winner. 

“Every time I win, I feel like my method is working and all the hard work I have put into the training is paying off. I’ve always set goals for myself and each time I win, I set another one. That’s how I have been able to move from one small show in western Kenya to Mr America,” noted Ochieng’.

His worst moment in the sport was when he lost. 

After putting in all that work, it is painful to lose, especially when you know there is nothing else to add to make yourself better.

Ochieng’s first steps into bodybuilding were not easy.

He says getting a gym to train was a nightmare. 

“We didn’t have an equipped gym like what we have everywhere now. The weights were made of bricks and building blocks. Bars were just wooden rods. It wasn’t easy to know the weight we were lifting,” he notes.

Ochieng’ would mould dumbbells and make benches from timber and wooden rods.

Years passed, and Ochieng’ and his brother Mike upgraded their gym to a better one when they moved to Mumias in Kakamega County.

“Now, the weights were made of scrap metal. Dumbbells and plates were made from brake pads. I can say that’s the gym that moulded me to be who I am today,” explains the third born in a family of four.

During his early days in the sport, nutrition did not matter. 

He had no idea what to eat to achieve muscles. 

Apart from that, he says, there was no money to change his nutrition. 

“We ate just like any other person walking on the streets. We had three meals a day with no mention of protein, carbohydrates and fat. We just ate anything on the table that looked like a meal,” he says.

Even though they made the equipment by themselves, their passion made them champions “not just in Kenya but across East Africa”.

That small 20×20 gym in Mumias, Ochieng notes, produced Mr Kenya through him, his brother Mike and later on his training partner Rashid Issa, who lifted the title twice.

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