A 49-year-old Calgary man is weeks away from taking the stage at one of the most prestigious bodybuilding competitions in the world after experiencing significant obstacles and adversity.
“It’s a huge honour,” said Todd Payette, who will be the lone Canadian competitor vying for the Mr. Universe title at the NABBA Mr & Miss Universe 2018. “The Mr. Universe is the longest running bodybuilding contest in existence. It’s a world championship, countries from all over the world.”
“Doing well there would mean a lot to me personally but, on a bigger level, I would love to bring a Universe title back to Canada.”
Payette’s upbringing in Winnipeg fell into disarray at the age of five when he made a heartbreaking discovery.
“My father had taken his own life, I found him shortly after,” recalled Payette. “The household I was raised in was a pretty tough go. By the time I was 16, I found myself homeless. Slowly tried to build a life for myself and got to a point where I really didn’t do very well.”
The young man soon found himself on the wrong side of the law. “It was at that point that I had a decision to make. I’m at rock bottom, what do I do? I put my shoulder down and I decided I needed to move forward.”
Payette says he found structure and direction in the gym. “It was bodybuilding that really was the impetus for me to keep going. It was very black-and-white. 200 lbs is 200 lbs, either you can lift it or you can’t. That really gave me a day-to-day goal. Something to move forward (towards), something positive.”
The aspiring bodybuilder dreamt of competing for a Mr. Universe title and, nearly a decade ago, his goal was within reach but he turned the opportunity down. “I was under contract with a supplement company that wanted me to compete in North America because their products were only in North America. Had I gone to compete in England, on the same day of the Mr. Canada, it would have voided my contract. I had a tough decision to make. I’ve regretted ever since.”
His pursuit of his ambitious goal was interrupted by his own undoing in the years that followed as he had additional run-ins with the law. “I really wasn’t prepared for success. It’s something that people don’t often talk about, being prepared for success. I did spiral down and that’s when I did find myself making some horrible life choices, found myself in jail.”
After relocating to Calgary, Payette dedicated himself to his craft and qualified to compete in the 2018 Universe Championships. “To get that shot at 49 years old, lightning doesn’t often strike twice so I’ve got to make the most of this one.”
“It was my dream since I was 18 years old to be like Arnold (Schwarzenegger), to compete in Mr. Universe. Sometimes when you have that dream, it doesn’t seem like it could really happen. Now I’m eight-and-a-half weeks away from standing on that same stage that Arnold stood on with the best of the best in the world.”
Payette believes he has a legitimate shot at claiming the Mr. Universe title but judging in bodybuilding is subjective. “If I come in my best shape and they’re looking for a traditional look, which is what I have – a traditional bodybuilder shape, I’ll be in the running. It will be tough though, it’s the best in the world so I’m going to give it all I can.”
The bodybuilder hopes his story inspires others to overcome their own obstacles in their pursuit of their dreams. “No matter what hits you in life there’s a way past it. It may not look like it at the time. You may feel that you’re absolutely rock bottom but if you put your shoulder down and just take one tiny step forward, you’re going to be okay.”
Should Payette prove victorious, he would be the second Canadian ever to claim the title in the 70 years of the competition. In 1955, Leo Robert of Quebec was named Mr. Universe.
The competition will take place in Birmingham, England on November 10.
With files from CTV’s Glenn Campbell