Retro Athlete: Don Long

The triumphs and travails of the 1995 NPC Nationals overall champ.
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If you charted Don Long’s bodybuilding career, it would look like a spear spike—a rapid rise followed by a quick fade. But there’s more to his story than just a pointed trajectory. Long was 24 when he entered his first contest in 1991, and the following year he was already posing in national shows. He went from fourth amongst heavyweights at the 1993 NPC Nationals to third the next year before leapfrogging to first in 1995, winning not just a stacked heavy class but also the overall. Then, in 1996 at age 29, Long finished a shocking third in his pro debut at the Night of Champions. “That was like a win to me,” he said. “I did what I set out to do, which was qualify for the Olympia and make a statement that I was ready to play.”

FLEX FACTOID: Finishing third in his pro debut in 1996, Long beat 28 competitors and was bested by only Flex Wheeler (1st) and Ronnie Coleman (2nd).

But Long decided not to play anymore that year. He sidestepped the ’96 Olympia, feeling he could better contend for future Olympias. Unfortunately, in his following 12 contests over 13 years, he never again placed higher than seventh. At 5'10" and 250 pounds, he had enough muscle to hang with almost anyone. His arms and chest were pose-winning strengths. His weakness was his blurry conditioning. And that problem was related to a much greater problem.

In October 1999, Long grew sick. Only then did he discover that since birth, only one kidney had been working.

And, due to the strain of its double-duty workload, that one was faltering. What followed was 11 years of dialysis treatments, interrupted only by an unsuccessful kidney transplant. Incredibly, Long made a bodybuilding comeback and competed four times between 2006 and 2009. Finally, in late 2010, his wife proved to be an unlikely kidney match, and Long had a successful transplant. Today, at 47, Don Long is a trainer and nutritionist in Florida. Despite his travails, he still sports an impressive physique. - FLEX

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