Experience the very best of summer in Atlantic Canada
Millicent McKay offers an insider’s guide to P.E.I.
Is tourism a trap for Atlantic Canadians?
Foraging for wild food in Atlantic Canada
Four food trucks to try in Newfoundland this summer
Underwater tourism is the ultimate immersive experience
Is Atlantic Canadian tourism doing luxury right?
Islander had strong showing at recent event in Toronto
It’s been 36 years in the making, but Mark Gillis did it.
Did what, you say?
Gillis is the first male bodybuilder from P.E.I. to earn his card to the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) pro circuit. He punched his ticket by winning the master’s men’s middleweight 40-plus overall title at a recent pro qualifier in Toronto.
Gillis, 48, said he never aimed to go pro but the challenge of it never really left him.
“I reached my ultimate goal. I’m no longer considered an amateur. It was (always) in the back of my mind if I could do it,” said Gillis. “I always trained like a professional athlete, gave 100 per cent every workout. I had a passion and love the process.”
That zeal for the Charlottetown native began at 12 years old in the home of his father Alan (Smelt) Gillis.
The elder Gillis, who died in 2015, was a well-known senior hockey player with the Charlottetown Penguins, Charlottetown Parkdale Royals, Moncton Hawks and New Glasgow Rangers in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Smelt always had weights around the house and Mark, brother Alan Jr., and sister Sonia all started lifting. It stuck with the new pro and throughout high school Gillis trained, leading up to his first competition in 1991 in Summerside.
From there and after a move into the military (he’s stationed at CFB Trenton 8 Wing in Ontario and works as a non-destructive testing technician searching for minute cracks in things like aircraft bodies) he kept training just for the sake of training.
“I just have a passion for it and it’s always been a big part of my life. Beyond being good for you physically, it’s good for your mental and emotional health. I’m lucky, really. It’s never felt like work,” Gillis said. “A lot of people compete for the sake of competing. It’s sort of artificial. You have to experience this process and enjoy the process. Compete for the passion, train for the enjoyment of it. It’s the only real advice I can give.”
When a show looms, Gillis hits the weights four days a week, tops off those with 30 minutes of cardiovascular work then tosses in an additional day of cardio. He tries to rest two full days. While training, his typical diet includes oats, protein powder, ground chicken, ground turkey, peppers, rice, tuna, salmon and red meat.
In Toronto, Gillis said he felt different than at other events and places those feelings squarely on Smelt.
“I absolutely attribute it to my dad being there. Really felt balanced going into that competition. I just had a sense of calm about it. Weird, very assuring. It was something I never felt before. I thought that if I did my best that I was really going to do well.”
So, when does Gillis hit the stage for his first show? Well, not so fast. He’s in no hurry. Good thing the pro card has no expiry date. And good thing, too, Gillis understands the toll his training extracts.
“I’ll take a couple of years off to rest. It’s a big commitment mentally, physically and financially as well. It’s hard on your family. The boy is 24 and my girl is 14 so it’s not too bad. It’s hardest on my wife (Karla). She takes the brunt of it.”
“In the old days we painted tanning solution on with a brush for an hour or so. Now it’s a paint sprayer under a tent. Takes five minutes. You’re wearing a sock and nothing else. And it’s all females doing it.”
Mark Gillis, bodybuilder and Charlottetown native, on the tanning application process required before a show.