He survived a hellacious car wreck more than 20 years ago and was told his career as a competitive bodybuilder was finished. Sunday, Rudy Oberzan of Saco will compete in the Jay Cutler Classic in Boston. It will be his first competition in 16 years.

She weighed more than 250 pounds before her pregnancy nearly three years ago. Her self-esteem plummeted. She found more reasons not to leave her Biddeford home to socialize. Saturday, Jennifer Small will compete in the Polar Bear triathlon at Bowdoin College and has a good chance to place among the top women in her age group.

Last weekend, two 9-year-olds left their homes to travel to Springfield, Mass., to compete in the Elks National Hoop Shoot championship. Henry Westphal won his age division and then a shootout against other age winners to become the national champ. Isabel Dawson, who was in the same kindergarten class with Westphal at Portland’s St. Patrick’s School, finished fourth.

Different lives, different sports. Their common ground is the commitment they made to themselves. Four examples of what happens when you decide you can as opposed to believing you can’t.

As a teenager, Oberzan was a familiar face in Maine bodybuilding circles. His mother is Leah Aranovitch, a former real estate broker who became a personal trainer and champion bodybuilder. One week after Oberzan won a Maine title in 1990, he was the passenger in a speeding car that crashed and flipped four times. He broke bones and teeth, and severely tore his front deltoid muscle.

“I was literally screaming, ‘Stop the car, stop the car,’ ” said Oberzan. “Afterward, doctors told me to forget about weight training. With the muscle gone, it was hard to lift with one arm. I had a problem with the painkillers becoming addictive.”

A few years later, he entered a bodybuilding competition. He got the judges’ sympathy but not the high marks to be competitive. He stopped entering competitions but didn’t stop training. “It saved my life. It’s a fountain of youth when I train.”

Slowly he rebuilt his body to the point that competition beckoned. Now 40, he entered a Mr. Maine contest this spring that was canceled. The Jay Cutler Classic, named for the former Mr. Olympia, not the Chicago Bears’ quarterback, will be much more competitive. He’s ready.

When Jennifer Small and her husband, Casey, decided to start a family, she took a long look at herself. “I was in no position to be a role model. I wanted our daughter to have a fit mother, not a fat one.”

Small hated running in gym class although she didn’t have a weight problem at Biddeford High.

She wore a size 4 that slowly became a size 22. After giving birth to Lauren, she returned home to another present: a jogging stroller.

“I had the determination of a dog with a bone. I kept at it. At first I couldn’t walk (steadily) for 15 minutes. When I could run a mile without stopping you should have heard me. It was like I won the marathon.”

She entered short-distance road races. She tried her first triathlon last year and finished second in her age group. She’s training for her first half-ironman this summer. Her weight? More than 100 pounds are gone.

“The biggest change is in the inside. I had lost that love for myself.” That’s back, along with her love for others. She joined Daily Mile, a worldwide network of runners. Locally they’ve raised money to sponsor Special Olympians. Athletes helping athletes.

Henry Westphal and Isabel Dawson are just kids. Both have hoops in their driveways. Henry has a 13-year-old brother, Ian. Isabel has a 12-year-old sister, Brooke. Both were told by parents not to worry about missing. Both were told that success comes with practice.

“If you’re not going to be passionate about it, find something else,” Eric Dawson told his daughter. He shot hoops with Brooke and Isabel in their driveway. They played the old game, horse, or he’d set up obstacles. Or they’d simply match foul shots.

Westphal, a single dad, did much the same with his sons. Both fathers would take their children to the open gym on the University of New England’s Portland campus.

They advanced through four levels of competition to the nationals. “I was very proud of the way (Henry) composed himself and the way he concentrated,” said Rolf Westphal. “He’s a pretty humble boy. He’d grin but he doesn’t brag. It’s like nothing happened.”

In finishing fourth, Isabel Dawson learned the lesson that losing is part of life. As with Oberzan and Small, the youngsters now realize there’s always another day.


Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]