By Erik Yabor
Even at 77 years old, nothing can stop Peter Ciraulo from keeping in shape.
With a physique that stacks up favorably against the fitness fanatics less than half his age who attend his gym of choice in Garden City Park, Ciraulo, a nine-year bodybuilding veteran, keeps himself going by feeding off the results he can see in the mirror.
Whether it’s a supportive comment on Facebook or his own physician asking for diet tips – the 40-year Herricks resident inhales positivity and burns it off at the gym.
“It’s like a young kid getting a pat on the back at school or getting the gold star,” he said. “It just motivates you to want to stay in that position or to do even better.”
A supportive atmosphere is a key element in a successful exercise regimen, Ciraulo said. While working out he frequently helps other gym-goers correct their form, often by using his highly-defined body to demonstrate how individual muscles react to specific exercises. The Navy veteran and retired banker said he also feeds off of his friends’ energy to push himself further.
The other key to healthy living Ciraulo cites is keeping a clean body. The muscle man preaches a natural approach to bodybuilding that eschews artificial supplements like steroids or human growth hormones, which he said can destroy the body and add phony bulk.
Ciraulo first became interested in healthy living 12 years ago when he saw pictures of guests at a pool party at his daughter’s South Florida wedding.
“That’s what convinced me it was time to diet,” he said.
Though 60 at the time with no exercising experience – Ciraulo admits he had never picked up weights before – the Corona, Queens native became a frequent gym-goer. The future iron man said it helped that he was driven to work out frequently by a desire to maintain self-care after his wife left him and his three children.
Those long hours at the gym, sometimes as many as two or three a day eventually paid off for Ciraulo, who dropped from a high of 220 pounds down to 160.
With his weight loss regimen seeing success, Ciraulo’s gym partner encouraged him to turn his self-therapy into a lifestyle and become a bodybuilder. Working with a variety of coaches and trainers who he described as a “godsend,” Ciraulo began a routine where he would work one area at a time: arms, then legs, shoulders, back, arms again, then some ab work and 10-15 minutes of cardio to tone the body.
Eight years later, at 68, Ciraulo participated in a bodybuilding show in West Nyack – the first in nearly 30 competitions he’s taken part in across the country, as well as in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, collecting more awards than he can fit in his home.
“I have them all over the piano and coffee table, all of these different trophies,” he said. “I’ve actually started giving them to my grandchildren because I have no place to put them.”
Though in his seventies, Ciraulo normally competes with 50- and 60-year-olds in American events due to a lack of participants in his age range. Older competitors are more common in Europe, where Ciraulo was one of a dozen participants over the age of 70 in the National Bodybuilding Federation’s competition in the UK, in which he earned second prize.
Now retired from his former career at Chemical Bank, Ciraulo normally goes to the gym at least five times a week, typically for two or three hours. That frequency jumps up to seven days a week for twice as long in the run-up to a competition. Lately, he frequents the L.A. Fitness in Garden City, where he’s known as “The Legend.”
“There’s nobody at that gym older than me,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some difficulties to Ciraulo’s bodybuilding lifestyle in some respects. One of his favorite gyms, the Garden City New York Sports Club, is struggling through bankruptcy due to prolonged closure, and at least one competition Ciraulo was going to enter in New Jersey was put on indefinite hiatus.
On the upside, Ciraulo hasn’t made much of a problem continuing his exercise regime. Gyms are open, though rarely at capacity as members maintain caution.
Even with the troubles, nothing can keep the aging iron man from pushing himself harder. “If I could look this good at 77, imagine how good I’m going to look at 80,” he said.