When he works out at Garden City’s New York Sports Club, Peter Ciraulo is “the mayor of the gym,” said Patrick Martin, his trainer.
Younger people at the gym often ask Ciraulo, a 73-year-old Herricks resident and the state’s oldest natural competitive bodybuilder, for tips on building their muscles or to do a pose, he said.
At his age, Ciraulo looks like he’s been bodybuilding for most of his life, Martin said.
But he started just 12 years ago and doesn’t plan to stop any time soon, he said.
On Saturday he will enter his third competition of the year, the World National Bodybuilding Federation’s Pro Universe & Naturalmania show at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point in my life,” Ciraulo said.
As a natural bodybuilder, Ciraulo competes without steroids, testosterone or other substances that help bulk up muscles, he said.
He works out every day and has a strict diet when he’s preparing for shows, he said.
Ciraulo is usually the only one older than 70 at competitions, so he competes with — and beats — bodybuilders in their 50s and 60s, he said.
“I’m the patriarch, so they put me with younger people,” said Ciraulo, who moved to Herricks from Queens in 1979.
Ciraulo started going to the gym in 2004 as “therapy” to cope with the stress of caring for his mother after a minor stroke while going through a bitter divorce from his wife and raising their three children, who graduated from Herricks High School, he said.
He found camaraderie there among others who were going through similar struggles, he said.
One of Ciraulo’s gym friends, a retired New York City police officer named Jeff Hanson, persisted in talking to him about entering a bodybuilding show.
Ciraulo “thought he was crazy” at first, he said, but Hanson taught him some poses and he entered his first competition at age 68.
He was nervous, but he wanted to do well and make a hobby out of bodybuilding and “to focus on something that was going to be mine,” he said.
He now does about three shows a year, more than most younger bodybuilders, and has made friends along the way, he said.
“I went through a period of time, between the divorce and taking care of the kids and taking care of my mom — believe me, it was very, very taxing,” Ciraulo said. “So this was a tremendous relief, and then when you hear the audience applause, you forget everything.”
Ciraulo, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War, said he attributes his success to his mastery of posing, a key element of competitive bodybuilding, as well as his tendency to compete with himself and always pursue higher goals.
But sticking to the strict no-carb, high-protein diet is still hard — especially as an Italian during Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro.
“I can’t even go there. I smell sausage and I’ll put weight on,” he said.
Ciraulo’s drive, combined with the friendly personality that makes him a hit at the Garden City gym, propel Ciraulo toward bodybuilding excellence and make him an “ambassador for fitness,” Martin said.
“It just shows people that no matter what your age is, you can improve, you can have a better quality of life,” Martin said.
If Ciraulo does well this weekend, Martin said, “I’m sure he’s going to turn a few more heads than he already has.”