The UCW Radio Host Louis Velazquez had the opportunity to have Mr. Universe Doug Burns on the Show.
Doug Burns is a modern Sampson. The 2006 Natural Mr. Universe, he’s two hundred pounds of sheer muscle and the picture of good health. Of the skinny little boy with type 1 who used to work out in the woods alone, all that remains are a wry sense of humor and an attractively self-deprecating manner. They’re unexpected in a man who’s triumphed in the uber-masculine world of bodybuilding, but there’s a lot that’s unexpected about Doug Burns.
At the age of twelve, in 1977, Doug came across a picture of the Biblical Sampson holding a lion in a headlock. He’d never seen anything like Sampson’s hugely muscular body, and for the skinny, lonely boy, the sight was a revelation. That night he prayed zealously for a half hour to be changed into a Sampson. When he woke the next morning as skinny as ever, he gave up on miraculous intervention and decided to take matters into his own hands.
Doug’s physician tried to forbid him to lift weights, but he was so hell-bent on becoming Samsonesque that he ignored the doctor. Unfazed by the absence of gyms in backwoods Mississippi, he made late night forays to the junkyard and jerry-rigged his own gym with old pulleys and bags of concrete. Using an outdated issue of Ironman magazine as his guide, he trained in his makeshift gym in the woods come hell or high water, in the company of raccoons and bobcats, and once right through a tornado.
About the same time that he started working out, Doug got hold of a home glucose meter. His control improved immediately, and once that happened, his world opened up. No longer a bag of bones, he joined the football team, became the most valuable running back, and found a group of buddies to work out with. He and his friends would go to Wolf River, dive from the trestle, and train out in the sun with weighted dumbbells. Where the river rapids flowed through a canyon, they swam upriver like salmon.
At age fifteen, after only two years with the weights, Doug began power-lifting competitively. He placed dead last in his first competition, but by the time he graduated from high school, he had set American records in drug-free power lifting in the adult open class. Following his success as a powerlifter, he began entering bodybuilding competitions. In November 2006, the boy formerly known as “the bag of bones” became Mr. Universe.
When he’s getting ready for a contest, Doug moves his testing frequency way, way up. Because his body fat is coming down so drastically, he starts using cardiovascular work to chase his glucose. He begins pulling off of bolus injections; instead, he moderates what he’s eating in conjunction with whatever training he’s doing. So he takes glucose when he knows he’s going to need it, and then does aerobic work right afterward to “just burn the heck out of it.” As his body fat keeps dropping, the whole mechanism keeps improving and improving.
When he was first competing, Doug didn’t know any other athletes who had diabetes. He was aware of one other diabetic bodybuilder way back, but that fellow got into the anabolic scene. Doug’s never used drugs, but he trained at Gold’s Gym in Venice for seven or eight years, and the drug use there, he reports, was rampant. The organization within which he competes, the International Natural Bodybuilding Association, is completely clean and tests for everything under the sun. The two other bodybuilding organizations, however, are sullied by steroids. It’s unfortunate, he says, because steroid use has distorted a previously healthy quest to attain a classic figure, twisting it into a battle of cartoon characters.
Doug’s never run into any prejudice against diabetes in the gym, though he is very open about testing and his pump. People sometimes give him the eye, thinking that insulin might be advantageous in competition, but insulin is of no use to him in that respect because if his insulin ever goes high, he can’t shed body fat and get lean enough to compete. For competitions, he brings his insulin dosage down to probably less than that of a non-diabetic person.
Doug emphasizes that for him, it’s not about diet and exercise: It’s about exercise and diet. Exercise is primary. He says that diets are misleading, in that they promise that you can simply eat your way to health. He does have a particular diet that he follows, leaning a little more on protein. He “eats very, very clean” throughout the week and gives himself one day to enjoy whatever he feels like having. He loves Cajun food with a passion, and his favorite beer, Chili Creek, is spiced up by a big hot pepper inside the bottle.
Doug doesn’t take any meds except children’s aspirin, but he takes a lot of supplements, including isolated whey plus whey concentrate, multi-vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, L-glutamine and carnatine. He notes a distinct beneficial effect when he takes supplements, which he uses to advantage when preparing for competition: He works without supplements until he is in the best possible shape, and then adds the supplements to take it up a notch. He notes that his way is the antithesis of the public’s inclination to take the magic potion right from the get-go. He has always done the work first and then used the supplements as an adjunct to the hard work.
That stubbornness may be why Winston Churchill, the relentless bulldog of a man who refused to quit no matter what, is one of Doug’s favorite people. He was also inspired by Sampson, of course, by Dr. Billy Graham, and by Bo Jackson, whom he reveres as one of the greatest athletes of all time. His biggest inspirations are his three kids, ages twelve, ten, and eight. He’s no longer too concerned that his children will get type 1, but when they were younger he used to test their sugar on the sly when they were asleep. His son remembers being awakened by his dad poking his toe to test his sugar, just to be sure. Now his kids are active as heck. His little girl can bang out 50 pushups nonstop.
If Doug were advising kids going into weightlifting, he’d tell them to give the pump a try if they’re able to. Sometimes they’re not able to: At the conventions where he’s spoken, some of the kids are on the impoverished side, toting around meters that are ten years old. He always tells them, hey, you don’t have to have to have the best of the best of equipment. He assures them that they can do it with virtually nothing. After all, Mr. Universe started out in a homemade gym out in the backwoods.
(as featured on Diabetes Health www.diabeteshealth.com )