EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – After a strenuous workout, Air Force Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin walks over to a row of mirrors in the gym and flexes the muscles in his chest, arms and legs.
Ruffin smiles at his reflection and poses and flexes for more than 30 minutes.
This behavior isn't a matter of vanity. It’s a critical part of Ruffin’s training as a professional bodybuilder.
In November, 21-year-old Ruffin won his International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness "pro" card at a competition in Miami -- becoming the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit in 28 years.
‘A Culmination of so Much Effort’
"It was a culmination of so much effort," said Ruffin, an avionics airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron here. "At that moment, the emotions were really overwhelming. I just cried and hugged my parents after it was announced."
For the five-foot, five-inch airman, it was the realization of a goal more than two years in the making and a dream he'd had as a child.
"I grew up idolizing those muscular superheroes like Superman, Hulk and Juggernaut and then Stallone and Schwarzenegger," said Ruffin, who ran track, played football and kick-boxed in high school. "I wanted to look like them."
Those supersized personalities led Ruffin to join the Air Force in 2011. About a year later he hit the weight room.
"I found a new motivation … the bodybuilding drive began there," said Ruffin, who hails from Beatrice, Alabama.
Ruffin said he began to learn everything he could about bodybuilding and what it took to be competitive. He packed on more than 20 pounds of muscle and set competitive goals.
Talent, Dedication, Discipline
"Terrence not only had raw natural talent, but he had the hunger, the dedication, the discipline, and most importantly, the heart to compete in bodybuilding," said Caleb Weatherington, Ruffin's coach.
At his first competition in April 2013, Ruffin earned second place in the teen class and fifth in the lightweight 150-pound class. Allen Ajaye, a retired Air Force master sergeant and bodybuilder, managed the event Ruffin competed in.
"What an amazing transformation. To achieve what he achieved in such a short period of time is phenomenal," said Ajaye, who works at the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron with Ruffin. "I also see him at his job and he has an excellent work ethic. He works hard at any task set in front of him and that is an excellent trait to have. He is very motivated."
A Bodybuilder’s Diet
And, Ruffin now follows a strict diet.
"Until I got the [proper] nutrition and meals down I wasn't seeing the development I was looking for," said Ruffin, who currently works with a nutritionist.
Now, Ruffin eats constantly and drinks more than a gallon of water a day in between maintaining aircraft electronic jamming pods used to block and disrupt radar and radio frequencies. During his cycle of training to gain more muscle his daily meals include:
-- 5 a.m. - Ten egg whites, three whole eggs with a cup and a half of grits or oatmeal;
-- 9 a.m. - Two cups of white rice and eight ounces of turkey and a tablespoon of peanut butter;
-- Between 11 a.m. and noon - Eight ounces of turkey and eight ounces of sweet potato;
-- 2 p.m. - Eight ounces of beef and eight ounces of sweet potato;
-- 4 p.m. - A protein shake at the gym;
-- 9 p.m. - Ten egg whites, three whole eggs and a bagel; and
-- Before bed - A protein shake.
"It was incredibly difficult at the beginning, but it just took time to adjust," Ruffin said of acclimating to a bodybuilder’s diet. "After about a month it was no problem."
Ajaye emphasized that following such a diet is critical to a bodybuilder’s success.
"You have to have small meals throughout the day to keep your muscles fed. Your muscles can very easily be broken down by your body if you're not eating correctly," he said.
Achieving Success in Competition
With his training and diet routines in place, Ruffin said he achieved the desired results and dominated his second competition, a pro-qualifier event in March 2014. He won first place in the lightweight open and lightweight novice competition and a 1st place overall in the novice category. These wins qualified him to compete for professional status in November 2014 at one of the largest bodybuilding competitions in the world.
"It is difficult to achieve what he did and be in the Air Force," Ajaye said. "The demands of doing PT along with a regular bodybuilding regimen can lead to overtraining, which actually takes muscle away."
Following a strict diet is the most difficult aspect of bodybuilding, Ruffin said. Yet, he added, it’s worth it when he hits the stage, which is his favorite part of bodybuilding. He compared the discipline and motivation required to be a bodybuilder to one of the Air Force’s core competencies -- achieving excellence in all endeavors.
"I don't want to go on stage looking anything less than my absolute best," Ruffin said. "There should be no regrets when I step up there. I love being on that stage with all eyes on me. Being able to captivate and control the crowd -- it's like having my ‘superhero’ moment."
Ruffin said he tries to get creative with his posing routine to stand out from among his competition. He incorporates large amounts of stretching during his workouts and performs a full split as an attention-getter during his on-stage routine.
Ruffin’s creativity, motivation and discipline have earned him professional status as well as a win in the lightweight category, Weatherington said.
"He brought the full package to Miami, including his phenomenal conditioning," he added. "With Terrance's height and proportions, I knew he would not only get his pro card, but completely dominate the competition."
After turning pro, Ruffin gained more than 1,000 new "friends" on his Facebook account. Ajaye said he has provided Ruffin with some advice on how to manage his celebrity status.
"[The celebrity side] is and will be overwhelming, but this is another task requirement that comes with being a bodybuilder," Ajaye said. "I am sure he will be able to handle it."
As for the soft-spoken Ruffin, he remains humble about his new fame and future.
"I just love what I do and I want to be the best at it," he said.