Jim Hellwig had developed a passion for bodybuilding that began when he was a teenager, working out on an old Universal Gym. The young Hellwig collected bodybuilding magazines, and would make comments about how he could not wait until he became as massive as the athletes in the magazines. Hellwig spent a year at Indiana State University in 1977, where continued to add size to his ever-growing physique. His drive to become a professional bodybuilder led him south to Florida, where he believed he would have more options for competitive bodybuilding.
The move to Florida was not just about bodybuilding, it was also an opportunity to try and reconnect with his father Thomas. The Hellwig patriarch had abandoned the family when Jim was just twelve-years-old, leaving behind five kids and a wife to fend for themselves. Relocating to Hollywood, Florida was not just about bodybuilding, it was also about trying to salvage, even some small fragment, of a relationship with the man who had abandoned him seven years before.
Hellwig's upper-body continued to grow with muscle mass, but his legs were a challenge as he did not care for working them out. Self-conscious of this fact, even in the Florida heat he wore a long-sleeved sweater, but continued sporting shorts so that he could see that his legs needed work. Hellwig did not like to speak of his father. Even when his friend Kenny Corey came to Hollywood for a Spring Break visit, Jim did not speak of his father despite the two living together. Corey barely saw Thomas Hellwig during that visit, perhaps an indicator that he was rarely around. The experiment appears to have failed as young Jim would leave his father behind, and make no further effort to seriously reconnect. In his later years, Hellwig would describe his dad as having thrown away his life.
The failure to connect with a father who abandoned him did not detour Jim Hellwig, who made another move, this time to Georgia, in order to continue his ultimate goal of winning Mr. Olympia. Hellwig was far from home and searching for an identity. He had not staked his entire future to bodybuilding as he began studying to become a chiropractor. At the same time, his devotion to lifting became more complete as he started to develop his legs in the hope of getting into competition shape. Hellwig's life would further change in Georgia after he met Shari Rowe. The beautiful blond seems to have been the first serious relationship of his young life. The two were married on October 2, 1982; Hellwig was 23 and Rowe was 21 when they started their new family.
By 1984 Hellwig had become a total weightlifting package; both upper body and lower body had been transformed to make him a remarkable specimen. Photographs from the period reveal how years of dedicating himself to becoming competition ready had paid off. Those who remember the Ultimate Warrior remember how incredibly muscular and chiseled he was as a wrestler. Yet he was even larger as a bodybuilder, continually focused on adding mass to his 6'2" frame.
A passion that had developed in high school had transformed the once diminutive Hellwig into a powerhouse. In 1984 he won the Mr. Georgia bodybuilding competition; an encouraging step toward his Mr. Olympia goal. Hellwig’s physique was so impressive during this time that he was put on the cover of Dr. Darden Ellington’s book “Super High-Intensity Bodybuilding”. As can be seen from this photo of the cover, he had achieved his peak size.
Hellwig hoped to follow his Georgia triumph with a strong showing at the Mr. America competition, which did not materialize. However, an opportunity arose for Hellwig to travel to California to participate in the 1985 Junior USA Bodybuilding Championships. Hellwig was a young married man with little money, but he found an advocate in Ed Connors, one of the architects who made "Gold's Gym" a successful franchise. Connors has spent decades helping young bodybuilders, like Hellwig and John Cena, navigate the challenging realm of professional bodybuilding. Over the years, Connors and his wife gave a temporary home to these young athletes who had little money for lodging.
Jim Hellwig spent several weeks at the Connors' home preparing for the Junior USA competition. Connors remembers Hellwig as being exceptionally devoted to his training and eating. Supplements and protein shakes were not the same quality that one would find today. Jim Hellwig's dedication to his training led him to eat blended concoctions of protein powders, mixed with supplements, and cans of tuna fish. His utter devotion to bodybuilding was consistently on display, but his dreams of Mr. Olympia were permanently dashed when he took fifth as a Junior USA heavyweight.
Hellwig had not expected to place so low, and became disenfranchised with bodybuilding. In 1987, he returned to Indiana for his ten-year class reunion. He and his friend Kenny Corey spoke about why Jim had left bodybuilding behind. Hellwig's response was blunt: There are“too many fags” in the industry. He further claimed that judges will not vote for you “if you’re ‘not a fag’”. Ed Connors provided some insight into what he thought Jim meant by this statement. Ed acknowledged that male bodybuilders do have gay male admirers, and sometimes they will try to flirt with the athletes. Connors does not see Jim as being one of the athletes who could deal with this situation well. He states there is no merit to Hellwig's claim, rather Jim was simply too tall to effectively compete at the national level. Most of the competition was shorter and had an easier time building muscle on their shorter frames.
Hellwig’s later anti-gay views are well-established following his heated 2005 speech at the University of Connecticut, but it is also unlikely this was the reason for his departure. A man as success and career driven as Jim Hellwig did not pass up opportunities for advancement, which can be seen in his wrestling career. More realistically, these are the comments of a frustrated 25-year-old, frustrated with his inability to achieve the level of success he strove for in bodybuilding . It was also the 80's and severe stigma of the gay community, due to the arrival of AIDS, was very prevalent. Hellwig began to realize that his dream of proving something to the people of his hometown would not be achieved in bodybuilding.
Jim Hellwig was a small town boy from a poor family, who felt rejected by the people around during his youth. He was an intelligent, driven, and creative human being in search of an identity. However, he also had a wife at home and needed a career. Faced with this responsibility he returned to Georgia intent on finishing his chiropractic certification. Yet almost as quickly as he had returned, he received a phone call from Ed Connors. A young promoter named Rick Bassman was looking for bodybuilders to form a wrestling team. With Ed's call, Jim Hellwig came face to face with his destiny in the sports entertainment world.