Action Figure

Rick Poston gets a real kick out of work

by Holly Hungerford

Rick Poston, Tom Frobel, Greg Jeffers and Martin TierneyFitness has been a lifelong pursuit for Rick Poston (center), 1984’s Mr. America and the owner of All American Fitness and Tanning Center in South Burlington. He’s pictured here with (from right) Sensei Tom Frobel, 7th dan (or degree) and principal instructor of ASI Shotokan Karate; and karate students Greg Jeffers of Building Inspection Services of Vermont, and Burlington architect Martin Tierney.

At 62 years old, Rick Poston could pass for a man 10 years his junior. This doesn’t come as any surprise to those who know the owner of All American Fitness and Tanning Center in South Burlington; he won the Mr. America bodybuilding competition in 1984 and has spent his life staying in top physical condition. He’s also trained others — including Hulk Hogan, Reggie Jackson, and Tim Thomas — whose photographs line the walls of his two-story gym.

Poston opened the center in July 1993, at a time when tanning centers were few and far between. The business did well and other tanning centers popped up around him. Poston has stayed ahead of the curve, however, so while he makes little money on the tanning these days, he’s added other services at the gym to meet the needs of his clients. These include making space for personal trainers to locate their businesses in the gym and adding space for a massage therapist’s business and a chiropractor’s office. 

Kathy McDonald, a personal trainer operating out of All American, says she loves the diversity of clients. “I have everyone from high school athletes to 70-year-olds,” she says. “I once had a client who was 90. A lot of different people feel comfortable coming here.” 

Thomas Frobel, who teaches martial arts at the gym, says Poston’s technique is unique in the state. “Rick was wide open to this different idea,” he says, adding, “There are state champions coming out of All American. This gym is the real thing with real equipment. It’s perfect for the type of bodybuilding I advocate for my martial artists.”

The gym was 9,000 square feet when it opened. It is now 16,500 square feet in size and offers cardio and weight training as well as martial arts, wrestling, and boxing, plus a children’s room to keep clients’ kids occupied while they work out.

Poston employs five part-time staff members and hand-picked the personal trainers who operate out of there, such as McDonald and Patrick Murray.  “They don’t just talk the talk, they’ve walked the walk,” says Poston with pride. McDonald has competed and trained champions, and Murray went to college on a baseball scholarship, he adds.

Poston could include himself as one who has walked the walk. The Vermont native spent his first five years in St. Johnsbury before his family moved to Toledo, Ohio, where his dad took a job as a longshoreman on the docks of Lake Erie. Poston wrestled and played football through high school, but it wasn’t until his junior year that he began weight lifting. 

Tom FrobelSensei Tom Frobel of ASI Shotokan Karate says All American’s gym is perfect for the type of bodybuilding he advocates for his martial artists.

“Back in 1963-64, there wasn’t a lot of weight lifting,” he says. “If you played football, they were telling you that lifting weights wouldn’t help your speed and coordination in the sport.” Poston’s father bought him his first set of weights, and with money he’d saved up; Poston bought a bench press and a sit-up board with an incline. These he put in the old coal storage room in the basement and began training. It wasn’t long before he saw results. 

“I was the senior who wasn’t expected to be too good,” he recalls, but to the consternation of his wrestling coach, he kept gaining weight, moving up weight classes, and besting other top members of his team ... which didn’t do much for his popularity, he says. 

Following graduation, Poston enlisted in the Navy where he served for four years, seeing time in Vietnam. “I was on the USS Forrestall in 1967,” he says. “John McCain was on it, too.” 

The next six years, he continues, he spent moving around, helping build Interstate 91 in Vermont; working on an assembly line at the Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Mich.; serving as a deputy sheriff in Florida; buying a health food store there and selling it for a profit six months later. All this time, he continued to work out and often trained others, including his then-wife, Terry. In the mid-’70s, they returned  to Vermont and settled in Peacham to be near his grandmother, with whom he had spent idyllic summers as a boy. 

Robert Baker and Kevin CobbsAll American, which has grown from 9,000 square feet when it opened to 16,500, offers cardio and weight training as well as martial arts, wrestling, and boxing. Robert Baker (left) is a boxing coach, and Kevin Cobbs is the 2009 Vermont Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion.

“We had a three-bedroom house, so we took two of our bedrooms and made them into a gym. We bought home gym equipment and really had a pretty good home gym. Soon, the neighbor down the way was working out with me; his sister and her boyfriend were working out with me. We had a little workout group going and I was doing really good.” 

But the marriage broke up, Terry moved back to Ohio, and the house was sold. That left Poston with gym equipment and no place to put it. Enter Steve Dolgin. He owned property in St. Johnsbury that was empty and proposed that Poston move his equipment in there and they open a fitness center. “It was the first gym in the Northeast Kingdom — back in 1974,” Poston says.

It was around this time that he happened to see the part-script, part-documentary film Pumping Iron, which followed several amateur and professional bodybuilders as they prepared for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. America competitions. The film starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, both of whom Poston came to know later. 

In 1976, at the age of 28, he traveled to California to see the 1976 Mr. America competition, and his dream was born. The next year, Poston sold his half of the gym to Dolgin, packed all his worldly belongings into a white van and drove to Santa Monica, Calif., to pursue bodybuilding. He was excelling in his training when a pinched nerve in his neck sidelined him — for four years. 

He returned to Florida to work back into the sport. In 1981 he competed in the Mr. West Coast Florida competition and placed second. The next year he won Mr. Florida. He came in third in the Mr. America contest in 1983 and won the competition in 1984. Poston credits his father with his success. He recalls confirming to his father before he died, “Dad, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have won Mr. America, and I wouldn’t have won Mr. Florida, because you were an inspiration for me.” 

Poston went on to compete in several other national competitions, as well as becoming a member of the U.S. team — which took on Russia in exhibition shows in 1990 and 1991 — before he turned his full attention to training others. 

“At that point, I decided if I can’t win overalls any more, it’s time to step down,” Poston says. Now he puts on his own shows. This year is his eighth as organizer of the National Bodybuilders Association Vermont Regional Bodybuilding Championships, coming up April 25 at the Lyman Hunt School in Burlington. He also organizes an annual bench press competition in July, now in its fifth year.

As his life has changed, so, too, has the focus of his fitness career. The father of two teenage sons — both of whom wrestle — Poston spends time developing the youth wrestling and boxing programs he began at All American. He works with boys and girls from first grade through college age. He also offers year-round strength training for young athletes so they can maintain and increase their strength and fitness during the off-season. With passion, he says, “I really enjoy seeing those kids becoming something, knowing that I had something to do with it.”

All American Fitness has not been immune to the effects of the current recession. Poston has seen members who were less serious choose to let their memberships in the gym expire. He’s felt direct competition from gyms that offer cheaper memberships, but don’t offer as much to their clients, he says. Four or five months ago, he implemented a special membership promotion that allows a whole family to work out for the price of one adult. Since he’s been actively advertising this promotion in the last several weeks, business has increased, he says.

Although it’s important to his life, body-building is not Poston’s only focus. Away from the gym, he has diverse interests. Hunting, fishing, and SCUBA diving are his passions, he says, but he enjoys gardening, too. “I’m very big with the flowers,” he reveals with a smile. He also loves animals. His five hens and one rooster provide him with fresh eggs every day, and each morning begins with a whistle to his two finches, who serenade him while he makes his breakfast.•