PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Impoverished Haiti is not renowned for its bodybuilders. Only a handful of gyms exist — air-conditioned ones where the country's tiny elite and foreign aid workers work out, and outdoor ones used mostly by Haitians of modest means.
But the country's small bodybuilding community got a rare chance over the weekend to show off their cut and well-oiled muscles.
Ten bodybuilders, half in the medium-weight category, half in the heavy-weight, took the stage at an athletic center in the Carrefour district outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. A few dozen supporters showed up to cheer as the athletes flexed their pecs, lats, biceps and triceps, dancing like robots to American pop music.
Few in Haiti practice bodybuilding. The required protein shakes and vitamins are brought to the country by friends and relatives, and gym memberships cost money that might otherwise go toward food or a child's education. But it's easy to understand the appeal of a sport that can keep you focused in a country rife with hardship.
"Going to the gym, doing cardio, it brings oxygen to your mind," said Peter Anis, a 24-year-old body building coach for contestant Bazile Gordon. "You can face everything."
Gordon, a 28-year-old security guard, began lifting weights nine years ago. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who gave him a firsthand glimpse into a healthy lifestyle by working out regularly.
Lifting weights, said Gordon, also gives him the opportunity to show off "the beauty of the body."
Gordon walked away with the third-place prize in the heavy-weight category Saturday night. But he said that just taking the stage with fellow bodybuilders for his first competition "felt like a victory for me."