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Meet the UAB Scholar and Award-Winning Bodybuilder

Vrushabh Patel took home two first places as well as one second place in the Lee Haney Games. (PROVIDED PHOTO)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Vrushabh Patel, who’s pursuing his master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), won three awards at the Lee Haney Physique & Fitness Games of 2022, making him the first person in the city to make such a significant showing at the bodybuilding event.

The Lee Haney Games is a series of competitions that qualify athletes for professional bodybuilding contests.

Patel, 27, a Central India native, took home three medals from his showing in the men’s physique competitions—two first places, in the novice class C and the open contest, as well as one second place in the novice class D.

Before walking onstage at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park on Nov. 12, Patel said he was “a bit nervous.”

“There were [competitors] from all over the U.S., like California and everywhere. They have a lot of experience. Some have been competing [in the U.S.] for like 15 years or more, and this was my first show after coming here,” Patel said.

However, he was in good form, and the other competitors were friendly, he said.

“As soon as I went backstage, they saw me, and they came to me, and they were asking me, ‘How many times have you completed?’ ‘For how long you have been prepping?’ ‘Who’s your trainer.’ So that boosted me up. I felt a kind of confidence in me,” Patel said.

Having only previously competed in one small competition in India, Patel said he started trained specifically for the Lee Haney Games in June 2022.

Patel said he would like to compete in professional contests but not until after he finishes up his studies. He is currently in his second semester of studying for his master’s in kinesiology.

Training for the games was challenging for an international student, he said, particularly because international students seldom, if ever, work off-campus jobs.

“You can only do on-campus work, and then you have to manage your studies. I used to sleep just three or four hours every day because I have to manage my assignments, my exams,” Patel said.

Early Start

He would start the day at 4:30 a.m. and cook up to eight meals to eat throughout the day, composed of various proteins, including chicken, salmon and egg whites. After the early start, Patel would go to classes, eat, work his on-campus job, eat again and work out.

“By the time I go home, it was around 10:30, 11 p.m. every day, and I had to do my assignments, so it was fully packed,” Patel said.

Training for bodybuilding and men’s physique competitions is also expensive, especially with the amount of food and supplements required. However, Patel said he found help through services at UAB, like the Blazer Kitchen food pantry.

“For every student and [employee], it’s free. You can take, once every week, whatever they had in the shop, so during my offseason, they supported me so much. They gave me chicken fish, rice, pasta, everything,” Patel said.

Since starting at the school, he’s found another family who treats him as their own. Shortly after moving into his apartment in Birmingham, he was introduced to Srikanth Karra and his family.

“They were interested in sponsoring me with [groceries]. They also like to treat me like their own child. It’s so difficult coming to a whole different country. And someone is supporting you. It’s really good of them,” Patel said.

Moving forward, Patel said he would like to compete in professional contests but not until after he finishes up his master’s degree.

“If you’re planning for pro shows, like competing for Mr. Olympia and all, you need a lot of money. Plus, you need time, and I can’t get that much while completing my master’s. It’s really hard because staying away from home and you’re just fully alone, you can’t manage everything,” Patel said.

“There are some times when your body’s really sore, and there’s no one to look after you,” he added. “What are you gonna do?”

Zeus’ Origins

Patel grew up mostly in Nagpur, India with his guardian Albina Peter, following his parents’ divorce when he was between the ages of four and five. His mother, Lata, had him live with Peter, given her difficult work schedule in health care.

“[Peter and her family] have supported me in everything. They love me a lot. They care for me like anything. I know that when I was missing my dad or my mom, they are so good,” Patel recalled.

Patel said he was interested in all kinds of sports, like soccer, cricket and running. He even won a state-level medal in roller skating, he said.

Around the age of five Patel said he was first introduced to working out and bodybuilding, when Eugene, one of Peter’s in-laws, used to take him to a gym in the city.

However, the people he knew in India were opposed to him training as a bodybuilder, especially while he was still under the age of 18, he said.

“From that time [at age 5], I was a bit curious about the bodybuilder kind of physique, but [people] were against this thing because in India, people believe you should work out once you’re above 18… They think your height gets stunted if you train before 18,” said Patel, who also uses the nickname Zeus.

However, Patel said that Peter didn’t make him stop training, and that people were generally impressed by his results when he began between the ages of 13 and 14, he said.

Patel’s dedication to pursuing both physical fitness and bodybuilding were already apparent before the Lee Haney Games.

During his 11th and 12th grade years, Patel said he used to bike 20 kilometers to work two shifts, daily, at his friend Dushar’s gym in a different part of Nagpur.

“From 4 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., I used to run the gym, and after completing my shift, I used to work out…after coming back home and having my meal and everything, I used to go back again at four in the evening, and I used to come back at night around 10:30. This was my starting,” Patel said.

Now, having earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Shri Nashikrao Tirpude College of Physical Education, Patel also owns a gym in Nagpur called Fitness DNA, in addition to providing fitness coaching. His mother is currently running the business while he studies.

Strength training is not for everyone, Patel said, but self-improvement is, and it can start with simply walking around the block.

“If you see changes in yourself, you will work harder. People will start appreciating you, so as a result, you will work harder,” he said.