Solid as a Rock – MidWeek

Rey Ronquilio trains one of his clients, Andy Rabon, at Jungle Gym. . Photo by Anthony Consillio

Former National Bodybuilding Champion Rey Ronquilio is still doing his share of heavy lifting these days building rock-hard physiques and steadfast muscle contests.

If anyone knows how to burst onto a stage and steal the show, it’s Rey Ronquilio. Over a quarter of a century ago, he immersed himself in the world of cast iron weight plates and stainless steel dumbbells and, coupled with a strict diet, quickly fashioned his chiseled granite body. Then, sporting a new Greek god physique, he found himself flexing in front of large crowds and judges at local bodybuilding contests – and guess what? The novice competitor eclipsed everyone.

“My first contest I entered was the Hawaiian Classic in 1996 at the Hyatt Regency…and I won the whole show,” recalls Ronquilio, who followed that title with wins at the Hawaiian Islands and Big Island Classic contests.

As a competitive bodybuilder, Ronquilio won two national titles in the early 2000s.
CLAUDE AYAKAWA PHOTO

But Ronquilio had not finished. Determined to prove that these victories were no fluke, he took on the big boys of the continent and, true to form, still ended up bringing home the bacon in the 2002 Masters National and 2003 Mr. USA contests. He might even have won the 2001 National Masters lightweight title if he hadn’t decided at the last minute to move up to the next weight class “just for fun”.

“I went into the pageant thinking I was going to blow everyone’s mind,” he recalled. “I was 1 pound overweight at 155 pounds, and even though I could have gained weight the next day, I wanted to see how I would fare against middleweight.”

Ronquilio didn’t win, but he didn’t bomb either. The fact is, he snatched the second-place division trophy on the crowded field, despite weighing 20 pounds less than every other middleweight. “There were about 30 competitors in this class and I still finished second, so I was happy with my performance,” he said.

A ripped Ronquilio poses in his prime as a bodybuilder.
CLAUDE AYAKAWA PHOTO

Glory days as a competitive bodybuilder aside, Ronquilio remains a showstopper two decades later, even though he now does most of his work off stage. Its annual bodybuilding competitions in Honolulu – April’s Stingrey Classic and this month’s Aloha Muscle (see article on page 20) – continue to be stable and still serve as foundational showcases for hundreds of bodybuilders and athletes. fitness enthusiasts every year.

And while they’re known in part for their triumphant endings when overall winners pull a trophy sword from a rock and stab the air in victory, the contests’ greatest value is this: as National Physique sanctioned competitions

Committee, the nation’s largest amateur bodybuilding organization, these are viable starting points for those hoping to make the leap into the professional bodybuilding ranks.

“As of today we have over 50 pros because a lot of them have come to my shows, won and then qualified for Nationals,” says Ronquilio proudly.

He says the idea for the Stingrey Classic came to fruition shortly before the end of his career as a professional bodybuilder. As for his name, he gleaned it from his nickname “the Hawaiian Stingray,” which he earned from fellow contestants in the Mr. USA contest. All he did was change the spelling slightly to match his first name.

“I started the Stingrey Classic in 2007, two years after my last show,” he says, noting that injuries from heavy lifting and a lack of proper stretching ended his bodybuilding career prematurely. competition. “Since there weren’t a lot of pros coming out of Hawai’i at the time, I thought I could put on some quality shows and become the liaison to grow the bodybuilding market in Hawaii.”

One of those who helped Ronquilio with the first Stingrey Classic and who later became the inspiration for his second bodybuilding contest, Aloha Muscle, was Pebblz Lee, a competitor and his future wife.

Recalling how their paths first crossed, Ronquilio notes, “One day she called me out of the blue to ask me to train her to prepare for my Stingrey Classic. We ended up going out to lunch, then to dinner, and we’ve been together ever since.

Thus began a beautiful, rock-solid relationship born of a shared devotion to pumping iron. But despite the couple’s work promoting the sport of bodybuilding, Ronquilio says it was important for his wife to eventually have a competition she could call her own.

“The reason I put on Aloha Muscle in 2016 was because of Pebblz,” he explains. “She was so passionate about the sport and the competitors, and I wanted to give her her own competition where she could do her own thing, where I would help her instead of directing things.”

Unfortunately, before Ronquilio could completely hand over the show to his wife, she was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. On January 2, 2021, she passed away after a nearly 16-month battle with the debilitating neurological disease.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever faced…watching my wife slowly deteriorate,” Ronquilio admits.

To honor his life and contributions to the sport, he plans to pay tribute immediately after intermission at Aloha Muscle. Additionally, shirts made by Pebblz will be handed out to the crowd to preserve his memory among local bodybuilding fans.

And perhaps most importantly, it will continue to be present at the annual show.

“We’ll have a picture of her sitting in the front row just so she can watch every show, every year.”

Despite his background as a high school athlete who particularly enjoyed wrestling and jiu-jitsu, Ronquilio did not want to become a professional bodybuilder. Of course, he admits to having read Bodybuilding and fitness magazine as a teenager and wanting to get ripped like triple Mr. Olympia Frank Zane (“He had beautiful symmetry, and he was the one who brought conditioning to the sport”) and fellow local bodybuilder Alan Ichinose (“He was my idol. My thought was, ‘If he can do that, I want to do that!’).

But the truth is, Ronquilio was just looking for a way to grow his business as a new personal trainer when he got into the sport in the mid-90s.

“Back then, there weren’t a lot of trainers and nobody knew how to find clients,” recalls the Radford High School graduate who grew up in nearby Salt Lake. “So after getting national certification as a coach, I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?

“Bodybuilding was a way for me to do that – to use my body as a tool and to get clients. Once my body started to change and I started to look good, it That’s when more people started asking to train with me.

Today, Ronquilio still works as a personal trainer and runs his sessions from The Jungle Gym on Ward Avenue. Most of his clients are what he calls “everyday professionals like lawyers and doctors,” but he maintains he’s not opposed to coaching athletes.

“I still train the others about 50-60 hours a week, and my preference is to work with the everyday pro because with the bodybuilders I only have them for three months and then I have to go get another client. “, he explains. . “But also, with the everyday professional, I can train them all year round and I don’t really have to do things like manipulate their diet.”

As busy as he is, Ronquilio admits that life is much easier for him now. In fact, when asked if he misses those days as a competitive bodybuilder, he didn’t hesitate for a moment with his answer.

“No,” he said, laughing. “I loved it back then because I was young then and I was hungry (to win). But at my age now, I just want to relax.

ALL PUMP, ALOHA STYLE

This year’s Aloha Muscle Contest will be dedicated to Pebblz Ronquilio (left), who helped establish the annual contest with her husband Rey (right). Pebblz died in 2021 following a battle with ALS. PHOTO COURTESY OF REY RONQUILIO

A year after being canceled due to statewide social distancing restrictions, Aloha Muscle returns to its familiar indoor setting in Waikīkī later this month, ready to flex its muscles once again as the one of the state’s premier bodybuilding contests.

According to owner and co-founder Rey Ronquilio, the national qualifying event is expected to attract “between 200 and 300” fitness enthusiasts who will compete in multiple categories, including Men’s Physique, Men’s Classic Physique, Women’s Physique, feminine silhouette and the feminine bikini. There will also be divisions for teens and teenage girls.

This month’s competition will also mark the first time it has been held since the death of event co-founder Pebblz Ronquilio, who battled ALS for more than a year before succumbing to the disease in beginning of 2021. Fittingly, the event is dedicated to his memory. .

Hosted by emcee and local comedian Champ Kaneshiro, Aloha Muscle 2022 will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 30 at the Sheraton Waikīkī Hawai’i Ballroom. Pre-judging will take place earlier in the day at 8:00 a.m.

Tickets are $46.50 for the show, $31.50 for the preview. For more information, visit alohamusclehawaii.com.


Teresa E. Burton