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‘Super’ Airman becomes professional bodybuilder

Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin strains for an extra rep on a weight machine at the fitness center on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In November, he became the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit at age 21. Ruffin is an avionics Airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin strains for an extra rep on a weight machine at the fitness center on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In November, he became the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit at age 21. Ruffin is an avionics Airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin  lifts 25-pound dumbbells at the fitness center on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In November, he became the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit at age 21. Ruffin is an avionics Airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin lifts 25-pound dumbbells at the fitness center on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In November, he became the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit at age 21. Ruffin is an avionics Airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

After a heavy weight workout, Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin walks over to a row of mirrors in the gym posing and flexing his muscles for more than half an hour. This behavior isn't an overabundance of ego or vanity, but a critical part of the training routine for Ruffin, a professional bodybuilder.

In November, 21-year-old Ruffin won his International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness "pro" card at a competition in Miami, Florida, becoming the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit in 28 years.

"It was a culmination of so much effort," said Ruffin, an avionics Airman with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron. "At that moment, the emotions were really overwhelming. I just cried and hugged my parents after it was announced."

For the 5-foot-5-inch Airman, it was an achievement more than two years in the making and a dream he 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 kickboxed in high school. "I wanted to look like them."

Those buff military-types led him to join the Air Force in 2011 to try and become a Tactical Air Control Party specialist. While a TACP career was not meant to be, the journey did lead him to the weight room and his true calling in 2012.

"Getting into that weight room after the TACP school was a saving grace," said the Beatrice, Alabama, native. "I found a new motivation, my confidence was restored and the bodybuilding drive began there."

Ruffin said he began to learn everything he could about the sport and what it took to be competitive while training in his new avionics career field. He packed on more than 20 pounds of muscle and set a goal to compete in 2014. Three months after arriving here in 2013, his trainers urged him to begin competing earlier than his set goal.

"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. "He brought the full package to Miami, including his phenomenal conditioning … with Terrance's height and proportions, I knew he would not only get his pro card, but completely dominate the competition."

At his first competition in April 2013, he earned second in the teen class and fifth in the (lightweight) 150-pound class. Allen Ajaye, a retired master sergeant and bodybuilder, managed the bodybuilding event Ruffin competed in.

"What an amazing transformation. To achieve what he achieved in such a short period of time is phenomenal," said Ajaye, of the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron. "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."

That motivation can be tested when it comes to the required bodybuilder diet, but Ajaye stressed that diet is critical.

"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.

Ruffin admits the diet is the hardest part of his lifestyle, but said it’s all 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 core values - excellence in all we do.

"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."

Prior to his moment in the spotlight, there are some necessary grooming techniques that occur to make him "stage ready." Days before he competes, he shaves his entire body to provide a cleaner look and to better display his physique. He also adds a tanning bronzer to his skin that creates a golden tone under the lights and enhances his muscle definition.

"It is a strange concept at first, but just like the eating and gym time, it becomes part of the routine," he said. "All these steps just allow me to look my best up there."

Ruffin said he tries to get creative with his posing routine to stand out from the rest of his competitors. He incorporated large amounts of stretching to his workouts and performed a full split as an attention-getter during his routine at the competition.

With the training and diet routine in place, Ruffin said he got the results he desired and dominated his second contest, a pro-qualifier competition 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 pro status at one of the largest bodybuilding competitions in the world in November 2014.

Becoming a professional brings with it all new challenges. To turn pro, Ruffin competed in the specific 150-pound lightweight category. At the pro level, there are only two categories: below 212 pounds and above. For the Airman, this means adding body mass to be viable. Ruffin won't enter a professional event in 2015 while he increases to a size that's competitive. He plans to add another 20 pounds of muscle and try to compete at 180 pounds.

The pro status also brings with it a celebrity-like status in the world of bodybuilding. After winning his category to turn pro, Ruffin had more than 1,000 new "friends" on his Facebook account.

Ajaye advised him on managing that fame and to not take his fans for granted, but to make time to give advice and interact within reason.

"(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 he grows both in body and in online popularity, he will help train others and perform his posing routine as a professional guest at amateur events.

"Airman Ruffin has the determination and potential to go far as a bodybuilder or whatever he decides to do," Ajaye said. "His drive and diligence have taken him to great heights in such a short time and at a young age. If he continues with that type of initiative he will be able to reach even higher."

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.

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