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Chris Dickerson is a Lifetime Champion
Chris Dickerson is a pioneer and bona fide legend in the sport of bodybuilding. A career spanning 30 years and more than 50 competitions, he’s one of the most decorated bodybuilders in the sport. Having competed against the likes of Schwarzenegger and breaking down barriers for black bodybuilders, he now speaks to Healthyblackmen.org in a two part exclusive.
Humble and easygoing, Chris confides, “It’s nice to be called a legend but most legends, don’t feel that, but I love the idea.” The industry icon now lives in south Florida, where at age 71 he continues to stay active, socializing, working on a memoir, and enjoying his two cats. But before retirement, there were early years.
At age 16, Chris says he became inspired by bodybuilding during his weekly trips into town from boarding school where he and his peers were permitted to shop. On one trip, he saw Leroy Saba on the cover of Iron Man magazine. He recalled how energized he felt and wanted to do what he saw Mr. Saba doing. But that would come in time after graduation and a military stint.
It would be 1965 when Chris would compete as a bodybuilder for the first time, taking third place in a Mr. Long Beach competition. The next year he made a professional debut in the Mr. Atlantic Coast competition. He took second place.
“When I first started, bodybuilding was underground, not mainstream as it is now. There were no gyms like you find today. It was more like a cult.” The times were about to shift dramatically as Chris recalls the early days, “I used to wear loose fitting clothes so people would not snicker. But it all changed with Arnold Schwarzenegger, he put us on the map.”
As one of triplets, born in Montgomery, AL in 1939 to another history-maker, the late Mahala Ashley Dickerson, Chris was destined for big things. In 1935, Mrs. Dickerson graduated from Fisk University, then to Howard University School of Law, becoming one of four women to graduate in her class of 1936. Married and divorced, she was also the first black female attorney in her home state of Alabama in 1948 and the second black woman admitted to the bar in Indiana in 1951. And before Palin called Wasilla, Alaska home, Ms. Dickerson was there as Alaska’s first black attorney, admitted to the bar in 1959 and the first black president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, 1983-1984. This amazing woman was also a longtime friend to civil rights leader, Rosa Parks. Ms. Dickerson died at the age of 94 in February 2007.
It’s somewhat prophetic that Chris would eventually become not only the first African-American Mr. America, but also the oldest winner, at age 43, of the IFBB Mr. Olympia contest, which he won in 1982. Stay tuned for the second installment of our exclusive interview with Chris Dickerson.