Keen overcomes disability to accomplish goals

Eric Keen Jr., of Plymouth, has a very unusual hobby.
“I body build, that means I pose and look pretty on stage,” Keen said.
Being a body builder may not seem quite so unusual to most people. However, Keen has special circumstances which make body building a unique choice for this former Knox resident.
“I have Cerebral Palsy — I’ve had it since birth. It affects the lower part of my body. I have to use crutches all the time. I have no use of my legs,” he said.
Body building is not something Keen aspired to — it just sort of evolved out of an activity he shared with his brothers.
“I began going to the gym with my brothers, Chad (Knox City Police and Starke County K-9 officer) and Todd (an officer with the Starke County Sheriff’s Department). When they were in high school, they would go to condition for football. Things started to pick up because I began going for overall health, but my muscles just began to pop,” he said.
Bulging muscles is the extreme opposite of Keen’s appearance when he first began going to the gym.
“When I first started going, I was 22 years old and weighed just 96 pounds,” he said.
Keen started noticing differences in his body. However, it was a series of changes that gradually took place over time.
“It was a slow process from 96 to 140 pounds then 160. I didn’t just jump up and say I was Hercules,” Keen said.
Keen’s brother Chad inspired him to accomplish his goals.
“My overall gauge was Chad — he was benching 240 and I was doing 60. That began to change though and Chad was still doing 240, but I was closer to 300. I wasn’t going to let my younger brother bench more than me,” Keen said laughing.
For years, Keen worked on getting stronger. Then one day, he saw something besides working out in the gym he could use his strength on.
“I came here (New Millennium) last October and there were people here who had done body building shows before: Hank Minix, Brian Allen and Randy Coldiron. I saw the things that they did and the old contest pictures; and I thought I’m kinda close to them in physique and I want to try that,” he said.
“I talked to Randy about how to get into the body building competitions, as far as bulking and cutting,” Keen said.
Bulking could be compared to a sculptor who begins a project with a massive mound of clay. But in the end, the clay is cut away and molded into a work of art.
“I usually put on between 20 and 40 pounds when I’m bulking. Then I start building up strength and cutting the mass away. About three weeks before competition I go on a restrictive diet — the whole process is to cut the bulk down into well-honed muscle. Then after the competition, the process starts all over again and it’s eat, eat, eat,” Keen said.
The cutting part is not Keen’s favorite. And after he makes it through that process, he rewards himself.
“I get sick of the restrictive diet — when I’m done with a competition, the first thing I run for is two pizzas with the works. The process isn’t very healthy, but as soon as I’m done, I repair the overall damage to my system from cutting,” he said.
Preparing his body for the body building events is a strenuous process.
“Overall, I work out an hour a day. I do a specific workout — I know what to do. It’s an hour of intense, brutal workout,” Keen said.
But Keen said the rewards and benefits are more than worth it.
“Basically, I put myself through this to kick Chad’s butt,” he said laughing.
Joking aside, Keen said there is also a deeper meaning behind what he does.
“I’m also doing it for the average person who sees the guy on crutches doing everything the big guy is doing. It shows them if I can do it, so can they,” he said.
Greg Underwood, owner of New Millennium Fitness gym, said that Keen has proven that anyone can get physically fit.
“If he can be a body builder with disabilities, he can inspire anyone to do a basic workout,” Underwood said.
Body building is not something Keen’s family ever envisioned him doing.
“When he was in the fifth grade, the schools looked at his disabilities and tried to help him out. He ended up in high school computer classes. We got him a computer and tried to help him with something we thought he’d be a natural at — but he got bored,” Keen’s dad, Eric Keen Sr. said.
Keen said exercise is responsible for changing the quality of his life.
“This is important because ever since the age of 14, I was like a hermit. I couldn’t do anything just get from the car to the house. I’d almost vomit from picking myself up and dragging myself,” he said.
And despite his physical limitations, he is now doing things that once he would have considered impossible.
“I can run a 5k in one hour. I’ve hiked in the Rockies. I can now do anything that a person without disabilities can do. Exercise removed the physical limitations and the emotional problems from my life,” Keen said.
In the beginning, Keen considered every goal he wanted to achieve a process — he accomplished each one step at a time.
“There isn’t one overall person who inspired me. It began with Chad, Brad and Todd (brothers). From there, it was just a slow process and a series of small goals. I wanted to drive and jog; I took small steps until I conquered something then I moved on to something else,” he said.
His latest goal is one that can be viewed as more of a career than a pastime.
“Now my goal is to be a professional body builder — I’ve been approached by a couple of people already,” Keen said.
Keen has already begun the process of baby steps that will lead him toward accomplishing his latest goal.
“I got a first at a competition in Florida; I’ve won competitions in Indy — the Mr. Indiana with challenges 2010 Circle City Championship; I took a first, third and fourth at the 2010 Southern Cross Naturals, which is a much larger competition,” he said.
At his Florida competition, Keen got an unexpected surprise.
“My wife and I have the kind of jobs where we can’t just pick up and go — we wish we could. Chad was done with K-9 training and on his way back home. My wife and I scraped up a few dollars and asked if he could be in Daytona the next day. He said yeah. So the next day, Eric had his brother Chad, who’s really been his mentor, at the competition,” Eric Sr. said.
Keen walked away with several awards in the Florida competition — now, he’s ready to take it to the next level.
“My next competition is May 20, 2011 in Minnesota. That show is for a pro card — meaning: You win, you get paid. This is also a competition where there’s a chance of getting a sponsorship. This event is pretty good,” he said.
Being a spokesperson for different fitness products is Keen’s next goal. But like everything else he has set his sights on, Keen plans to accomplish this dream one step at a time.