Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Remembering a great man: Mike Bondurant - By Neil Saffer

On April 14th the world lost a great man. Our friend Mike Bondurant passed from this world after a brave 5 year battle with cancer, which he fought like the true strong man he was.

Mike was one of a kind. I could fill a book or two with stories and I am sure that each of you reading this will have many of your own to add. I will try to briefly tell the story of a great man, a wonderful husband, father, son, grandfather, neighbor and friend. Mike Bondurant was a veteran, a gym owner, a bodybuilding contest promoter, an actor, an Emcee, a salesman, an Iron Game collector and historian, a writer, an environmentalist, a knife collector and a great guy!

Mike grew up in Virginia and then attended high school in Germany. The son of a highly decorated Army veteran he followed his dad Col. Ray Bondurant’s footsteps and enlisted in the US Army where he served in intelligence from 1958-1962.

After Mikes service he went to Yokohama Japan where he met the love of his life, his beautiful wife Tomi , they married in 1966 and had two beautiful daughters Michelle and Misty.

Mike and Tomi lived in Hawaii from 1964-1969 and Mike graduated from the University of Hawaii. Mike had always loved all things physical culture and while in Hawaii he worked and trained at the famous Mits Gym (taking over for Tommy Kono).

After moving back to the states (Delray Beach Florida) Mike opened the first Key Gym in 1972. Over the next 30 years Key Gym had moved several time to bigger and better facilities but the feeling was always the same, a family run gym, solid equipment, with many pieces built by Mike (who took a welding class at the local night school to learn how to build his own equipment). Homemade protein shakes, muscle cookies and brownies by Mikes daughters, and legendary Christmas parties with Tomi’s famous sushi.

Over the years Key Gym turned out many of South Florida’s best natural bodybuilders and many a young man and women got their first taste of the iron as well as a feel for the camaraderie that you can only get in a local gym at Key Gym.

Mike and his family promoted the best amateur contests in South Florida for years starting in 1980 with The Mr. Boca Raton followed in 1981 by The Palm Coast. Mike was a pioneer in the drug free bodybuilding movement and was the first to promote tested contests starting with The Natural Intracoastal in 1986. In 1990 Mike and I started promoting ANBC Contest s together which we did for the following 7 years.

Mike was always an advocate of natural foods and hated artificial sweeteners and chemicals. In 1986 he started Key fitness Formulas and there are many people that swear to this day that Key Pro 93 was the best protein powder of all time. Mike covered many miles in his van selling and delivering Key Pro to gyms and health food stores all over Florida.

Mike was a collector of any and all things related to the Iron game and its history. What started as a small collection became The Muscle Museum and Mike the curator. He would spend days tracking down an interesting piece and many hours on the phone talking to other collectors. I think that one of the best days of his life was when he acquired his 1st globe barbell, as well as the day he discovered eBay. Mike attended several meetings of The Association of Old Time Barbell and Strongmen, had many good friend in the organization and led several collectors meetings at the annual gathering. Mike wrote The Muscle Museum Forum for many years a labor of love for collectors, published by his daughter Michelle.

The Muscle Museum was housed at all the various Key Gym locations until Mike moved to Clearwater in 1998 where he opened a health food store and the new home of the Muscle Museum. A few years later Mike and Tomi moved to Saint Augustine, a town that they had always loved and dreamed of living in. In Saint Augustine Mike stated a new chapter and starred in several local productions at the local theater. The Muscle Museum moved to 2 rooms at Mike and Tomi’s new home and still welcomed many visitors as they were passing through town.

On a personal note I spend most every night on a stage in front of a crowd, a skill I learned and honed from behind the curtain watching Mike emceeing bodybuilding contests for years! I have knives all over my desk and office and read every knife book and catalog I can get my hands on, I love old westerns and I recycle, and I train in a backyard gym that is all old school and hardcore all a tribute to my best friend Mike Bondurant.

Listen to Mike's interview on MFR
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