April 22, 2010
‘Hulk’ motivates SUNY Cortland students
Strongman speaks to audience of 400 about his career, making most of what you have
Using his bodybuilding and acting career as a reference, Lou Ferrigno told a crowd of SUNY Cortland students Wednesday to try being the best of themselves in life, no matter what problems they might face along the way.
The 58-year-old former professional bodybuilder, who also appeared on television as “The Incredible Hulk” during the 1970s, spoke Wednesday evening to a crowd of nearly 400 at the college’s Corey Union.
The college’s Student Activities Board organized the event. Lauren Zuber, one of the students who works in the organization, said Ferrigno’s agent was contacted two months ago by fellow activity board members Laura Emerling and Kristen Beyer.
They hoped to bring out a different crowd — namely athletes and male students, Zuber said.
Stepping on the stage, Ferrigno struck two poses and flexed his bicep, as cheers followed from the audience.
In a roughly hour-long motivational speech, Ferrigno told the audience he often fantasized about being superheroes like the Hulk or Superman while growing up in Brooklyn, because he loved the idea of the power they had.
But being diagnosed at a young age with a 75 percent hearing loss, coupled with speech difficulties, made it hard to fit in, he said.
“I didn’t want to take a back seat to anyone because I had to be better than everyone else to succeed,” Ferrigno said. “I wanted to be better than the average person, so I worked harder than you can imagine.”
He turned to bodybuilding as a teenager, as a way to boost self-confidence. Early on, he said he fashioned a makeshift barbell using a broomstick and cement weights. He expanded his weight sets as the years progressed.
Urging the audience to “maximize everything you have,” Ferrigno said he worked to overcome his speech difficulties by taking focused lessons in phonetics.
He stressed the importance of learning and studying, saying it is hard to tell when that knowledge will prove useful in the future.
“Don’t take college education for granted — you’ll have to make up for it if you don’t give it 100 percent,” Ferrigno said.
Ferrigno moved to California during the mid-1970s to compete in the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition.
He drew laughs from the audience when he explained that, with his own hands, he moved a car parked near a beach out of its spot and onto the street so he could make room for his own Volkswagen he was driving. Ferrigno said he wanted to get a spot near the beach and the other car was in the way. The driver came back, saw what happened, and called the police, Ferrigno said.
But they did not believe the story. The police wound up ticketing the other driver for disturbing the peace and double-parking his car, which was towed, Ferrigno said.
“That’s a good thing about working out,” Ferrigno said, as the audience laughed.
During his time in California, he tried out acting, working in stage plays. Ferrigno said he was shocked when given the chance to audition for the role of the Hulk in 1977, mostly because it was six weeks away from the Mr. Olympia competition and he still had training to do.
Ferrigno did a screen test and began filming the next day. He said he learned a lot from co-star Bill Bixby, whom he viewed as a mentor. Bixby played the Hulk’s alter ego, Dr. David Banner, in the series, which aired from 1977 to 1982.
Ferrigno’s outlook on bodybuilders, including him, is that they are people with inferiority complexes trying to compensate.
He was interested in how the dynamic of working out has changed over the years and how it has become more popular.
“Everyone is embracing fitness today,” he said. “In my time, no one did.”
One student asked Ferrigno if he ever experimented with performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids.
Ferrigno said he did briefly during his youth, but found he already had good genetics for bodybuilding, so he stopped.
He said he opposes steroid use because that can lead people to become addicted to other drugs and only hurt themselves more.
“It’s not the steroids that’s the problem — it’s the recreational drugs, cocaine, heroin,” Ferrigno said.
Ferrigno said he still works out today, but not as heavily and intensely as he did in his youth. He runs his own personal training company in California and is also a sworn reserve Sheriff’s deputy in Los Angeles.
He has also appeared in film and television, most recently as himself in last year’s comedy film “I Love You, Man.” He also appeared as himself in a recurring role on the sitcom “The King of Queens.”
One student asked Ferrigno whether he could beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in a wrestling match.
His response spurred a roar of laughter from the audience.
“What do you think?” said a smiling Ferrigno. “He knows it too.”
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