Posted 14 August 2010 - 01:24 PM
Yet another true badass.
Benny Podda lives as a modem-day medicine man in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California. He sleeps in a spirit-filled cave, using a rock as his pillow. He flagellates his body with a large metal stick that has 180 spokes. He can spurt blood from his nose at will. He swings 220 pounds of weights from his testicles to see how much pain he can endure. And yet, unhinged though he may seem, Benny Podda is saner than you are.
Benny doesn't work nine-to-five. He isn't chained to a cell phone or Palm Pilot. He doesn't have to do anything or be anywhere at any time. But you do.
Before he went off the grid, Benny was a bodybuilding champ and a personal trainer to everyone from Joe Montana to Chuck Norris, and today is a martial-arts bad ass who. at 47, could still knock Mike Tyson into next week.
But in his restless, roller-coaster life, Benny has always felt an intense aversion to conventional notions of success. "Whenever I start making money and getting popular and shit;' he says, "right away 1 have to luck it up and disappear." As self destructive as that seems, Benny actually has a master plan: to save mankind. After years of secluding himself in a cave in the hills among the Cahuilla Nation Indians, Benny has emerged to reveal how he intends to do it.
HIDE AND SEEK
From Los Angeles, getting to Benny and his cave takes the better part of a day. A hundred miles from the coast, you leave the freeway behind and drive up 6,000 feet into the mountains along a desolate road. As you climb, the temperature drops 35 degrees and dark clouds envelop you. You drive up a gravel road called Paradise, and there is Benny standing in front of a small home. "Are you ready to leave the United States?" he asks. "Welcome to the Cahuilla Nation."
The house is a friend's, but this is where medicine man Benny meets patients and visitors. In the back, gnarled manzanita trees guard an herb garden, where he grows his potent potions and medicines. He claims that the brews he concocts from this small patch of earth can heal you, kill you, or reveal the secrets of every religion.
A few yards beyond this garden of truth is the Pacific Crest Trail. The rattlesnake-infested path runs from Mexico to Canada and is well worn by illegals who use it to cross into the States. "I've seen dead bodies out on this trail;' Benny says matter of factly.
To gain admission to Benny's cave, he insists that you first go to a remote waterfall to be purified. If the cave "rejects" you, he warns, "your soul will be rent from your body in a spiritual tear." So you suffer the pain and indignities of purification as the frigid water pours down on you with the shocking force of a spiritual flogging.
The cave's climate is reminiscent of Benny's native Pittsburgh: hotter than hell in the summer, freezing cold in the winter. It has been inhabited for thousands of years, Benny says, and it leads to an outdoor amphitheater. "The opening is a vaginal orifice," he offers. "In initiation ceremonies, they [Native Americans] would pass through it one by one to be 'reborn' as warriors."
Benny prepares dinner, and you're relieved to learn that you're not the entree. "This lamb was 'alive last week," he says, the idea of recent slaughter enlivening him.
Benny's physical training is based on the philosophy of Genghis Khan. "He taught his troops the importance of exterior and interior training," he says. "His warriors learned how to turn themselves inside out to project their inner power like lightning" Perhaps preparing himself to carry the weight of the world--which in his mind he does--Benny grabs his flagellating rod and whips himself as hard as he can a dozen times, striking the acupuncture meridians of the body. The thick muscles of his flesh thud with each strike. "You know that feeling when you're blowing your load?" he asks. "Instead of letting that go out, you reverse that whole thing. It feels like your body is on fucking FIRE! I lift weights with that [energy] coursing through my body and my ticking testosterone a thousand-times normal--'cause I just fucked myself." Then he smiles calmly. "See? That's why I can hang 220 pounds from my fuckin' nuts."
Yeah, you think. Fuckin' nuts.
Benny was born in 1957 in South Fork, Pa., a coal-mining town east of Pittsburgh. His Sicilian immigrant father, Benjamino, worked the mines; his mother, Prudence, a postal worker, came from bootlegging stock. Benny gravitated to similarly dubious pursuits, shooting dice and playing blackjack on street corners. A dominating fullback and linebacker on his high school football team, Benny was a physically gifted adolescent. But his strength exploded when he started training at the McKeesport YMCA, a hangout for hardcore hoods.
Soon Benny began roaming the back streets of Steel-town with a precociously oversized body and an attitude to match. He hired himself out as muscle to wiseguys and masterminded his own bizarre crimes. Once he even got shot while robbing a pharmacy for painkillers, armed not with a gun like a normal crook but with a bow and arrow.
When Benny wasn't causing trouble he spent hours at the Carnegie Library. He was surely the first Pittsburgh street thug to devour Faust, transfixed by German literary figure Goethe's tale of a man willing to do anything for godlike wisdom and power. He added yin to that yang by studying Eastern religious texts, such ms the Bhagavad Gita and Chinese philosophy, and was soon immersed in herbology.
Benny attended the University of Richmond in Virginia on a football scholarship, intending to study biochemistry, but preferred getting drunk. Expelled for being "insane," he says, he headed back home to become a bodybuilder. He trained at Manion's Gym, a haven for Pittsburgh roughnecks as well as stars of the hometown Steelers. There, Benny stood out from the other gym rats. Once, to psych himself up for a lift, he ran straight through a wall--emerging in the next room in a cloud of plaster and debris. Another time, Steeler lineman Steve Courson was using a pay phone when Benny charged and knocked him and the wall-mounted phone across the room--with his head.
Those were his warm-ups. Fueled by the visualization techniques of Eastern philosophies and herbal concoctions he made and drank from root-filled mayonnaise jars, Benny trained like a human wrecking ball. The gym's owner, Jim Manion, recalls Benny doing reps one day with his head wrapped in a blood-drenched towel as other lifters scattered nearby. "The cable had snapped on a long cable-row machine and the handle had hit him on the head" recalls Manion. "He had to keep replacing the towels when they got soaked with blood. I made a guy take him to the hospital, and it took 12 stitches to close the open wound."
Benny won the National Physique Committee (NPC) USA Bodybuilding's light-heavyweight championship in 1983 and placed in a string of other contests. But unlike most pro posers, Benny's heart was more into training than flexing. "I hated competition," he says. "I loved the discipline of training for it, and I loved partying after it, but I never dug the sport or considered myself a bodybuilder." But that never prevented him from going balls out at each meet.
Benny amazed audiences with the intensity and ferocity of his posing style. More tame performances might find him flexing wildly in a wolfman's mask, or shooting blood from his nose on command, a trick he learned when he was younger from playing with his "fucked up" sinuses.
But his masterpiece crone at the end of a contest in Newark, N.J. He hung himself from the rafters and dangled motionless from the noose with his eyes closed. For five minutes people watched in silence, bewildered. Suddenly, he bugged out his eyes, gave everyone the finger, and walked out the back door. "At that point I knew I could never top my condition," he explains. "I felt I had maxed out. I got a fucking standing ovation, right? So I knew my shit could lift people up." He was through with bodybuilding for good.
GO WEST, MEDICINE MAN
Benny drifted to the West Coast, where he worked as a personal trainer--that is, when he wasn't off on long trips in the wilderness. Despite his zigzagging, he managed to carve out a high-profile rep for himself among celebrities and pro athletes. At a friend's gym, Benny met Chuck Norris. "I didn't know who the fuck he was and didn't give a fuck," says Benny. "They took me to his house and we hit it off because I pounded the guy. I yelled at him, 'Kick me in the fucking chest as hard as you can!' He's like, 'No, I shouldn't.' So I berated the flicker until he did it--and didn't budge when he did."
In 1991, Mary Marinovich asked Benny to train his son Todd--a QB at USC--for the upcoming NFL draft. "[Podda] worked with my son very effectively" recalls Marv, now a sports-conditioning consultant in Orange County. "The pliability of his body and the way he uses his power and speed is earth-shaking for a young athlete."
Benny was also pleased with the results. "He was a skinny sucked-up prick when I first met him," says Benny of Todd. "But he added 50 pounds of muscle before the draft."
Todd impressed scouts enough to become a first-round pick by the Raiders. Word of his transformation spread fast through NFL circles, and soon other star players headed to Benny's gym in San Clemente, Calif.--including All-Pro linebacker Bill Romanowski. Later, when the Kansas City Chiefs were in town, a mutual acquaintance asked Benny to use acupuncture on the ailing hamstring of their QB, Joe Montana. The fellow Pittsburgh native not only played the next day but also brought Benny to Kansas City with him to train.
Despite his newfound success as a trainer to the pros, Benny chafed at what it cost him in freedom. So he abandoned his lucrative NFL training shop and headed to the mountains, backtracking to civilization only when he needed survival money Using a cabin at the divide of Orange and San Diego counties as a home base, Benny went deep into the wilds for longer stretches of time, mostly over the lands of the Cahuilla, who have roamed from Borrego to Riverside in California for more than 2,000 years.
There he became attuned to the presence of spirits during long treks through ancient burial grounds. On one journey, he found the entrance to "his" cave and chose to spend the night. One day bled into another, and soon Benny was living there, as the Cahuilla had 1,000 years ago. He ate peyote with medicine men and, he says, was visited by the spirits of ancient warriors. "They are there all the time," says Benny. "But peyote lifts the veil that prevents you from perceiving them."
Normally, outsiders would not be allowed to occupy traditional land on an Indian reservation. But Benny received what amounted to free reign after curing the daughter of the tribal police chief using his own herbs and healing skills. Henceforth, the Cahuilla referred to Benny as chula kua--medicine man.
But no one will mistake him for Dr. Quinn. At 5'6", 215 pounds, Benny is as big and thick as ever, with 20-inch arms. He eats buffalo meat, organic eggs, homegrown vegetables, and ingests an herbal concoction every three hours.
Recently, gambling revenues began flowing to the formerly impoverished Cahullla. Tribesmen who used to roll in broken-down pickups have brand-new luxury rides. Teenagers defile the lands of their ancestors by holding raves on sacred ground, The tribal chief even constructed a garish "mansion" within sight of Benny's cave.
"The world of tradition is dying," Benny laments. "When the last flame goes out, that's when you have apocalypse--like the great flood, the Black Plague, earthquakes, and nuclear war. It'll make World War II and the dropping of the atom bombs look like nothing. But as long as one person keeps the flame alive, a complete cataclysm can be avoided." While these may sound like the ravings of a madman, take heart. If the end of the world concerns you, there's a medicine man with weight plates swinging from his goolies bearing that last torch.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Weider Publications
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning
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Posted 15 August 2010 - 12:56 PM
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