Solid As A Rock
Former national bodybuilding champ Rey Ronquilio is still doing his share of heavy lifting these days by building rock-hard physiques and immovable muscle contests.
If anyone knows how to burst onto a scene and steal a show, it’s Rey Ronquilio. More than a quarter-of-a-century ago, he plunged himself into the world of cast-iron weight plates and stainless-steel barbells and, coupled with strict dieting, quickly fashioned his body into chiseled granite. Then, blessed with a newfound Greek godlike physique, he found himself flexing for large crowds and judges at local bodybuilding contests — and guess what?
The novice competitor upstaged everyone.
“My first contest I entered was the Hawaiian Classic in 1996 at the Hyatt Regency … and I won the whole show,” recalls Ronquilio, who followed that title up with victories at the Hawaiian Islands and Big Island Classic contests.
But Ronquilio wasn’t done. Determined to prove those wins were no fluke, he went up against the big boys on the mainland and, true to form, still wound up bringing home the bacon at the 2002 Masters National and 2003 Mr. USA contests. He might have even walked away with the 2001 Masters National lightweight title as well had it not been for his last-minute decision to jump into the next weight class “just for the hell of it.”
“I went to the contest thinking I was going to blow everyone away,” he recalls. “I was 1 pound overweight at 155 pounds, and even though I could have made weight the next day, I wanted to see how I would fare against the middleweights.”
Ronquilio didn’t win, but neither did he bomb out. Fact is, he snatched away the division’s second-place trophy from the crowded field, despite weighing 20 pounds less than every other middleweight.
“There were 30-something competitors in that class and I still took second, so I was happy with my showing,” he says.
Glory days as a competitive bodybuilder aside, Ronquilio remains a showstopper two decades later, even though he now does most of his work behind the scenes. His annual bodybuilding contests in Honolulu — April’s Stingrey Classic and this month’s Aloha Muscle (see story on page 5) — continue to be rock-steady, and still serve as foundational showcases for hundreds of bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts each year.
And while they’re known in part for their triumphant endings when the overall winners pull a trophy sword from a rock and stab the air in victory, the contests’ greatest value is this: As sanctioned competitions by the National Physique Committee, the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the country, they are viable launching points for those hoping to make the leap into the ranks of professional bodybuilding.
“To this day, we have over 50 pros because a lot of them have come to my shows, won and then qualified themselves for nationals,” states Ronquilio with pride.
He says the idea for the Stingrey Classic materialized shortly before his professional bodybuilding career ended. As for its name, he gleaned it from his moniker “the Hawaiian Stingray,” which he earned from fellow competitors at the Mr. USA contest.All he did was slightly alter the spelling to match his first name.
“I started the Stingrey Classic in 2007, two years after my last show,” he says, noting that injuries resulting from heavy lifting and a lack of proper stretching prematurely brought the curtains down on his career as a competitive bodybuilder. “Since there weren’t many pros coming out of Hawai‘i at the time, I thought I could put on some quality shows and become the liaison in growing the bodybuilding market in Hawai‘i.”
One of those to help Ronquilio with the inaugural Stingrey Classic and who later became the inspiration for his second bodybuilding contest, Aloha Muscle, was Pebblz Lee, a female competitor and his soon-to-be wife.
In recalling how their paths first crossed, Ronquilio notes, “She had called me out of the blue one day wanting me to train her to get ready for my Stingrey Classic. We ended up going out to lunch, then to dinner, and ever since then, we were together.”
Thus began a beautiful, rock-solid relationship born out of a common devotion to pumping iron. But despite the couple’s work together in promoting the sport of bodybuilding, Ronquilio says it was important for his wife to eventually have a competition she could call her own.
“The reason I put on Aloha Muscle in 2016 was because of Pebblz,” he explains. “She was so passionate about the sport and the competitors, and I wanted to give her her own contest where she could do her own thing, where I would be helping her instead of running things.”
Sadly, before Ronquilio could completely hand the show over to his wife, she was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. On Jan. 2, 2021, she died following a nearly 16-month battle with the debilitating neurological illness.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with … watching my wife slowly deteriorate,” admits Ronquilio.
To honor her life and her contributions to the sport, he plans on holding a tribute immediately after intermission at Aloha Muscle. Additionally, shirts that Pebblz had made will be handed out to the crowd to preserve her memory among local bodybuilding fans.
And maybe most importantly, she’ll continue to have a presence at the annual show.
“We’ll have a picture of her that will be sitting in the front row just so she can watch every show, every year.”
Despite his background as a high school athlete who was particularly fond of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, Ronquilio didn’t set out to become a professional bodybuilder. Sure, he admits to reading Muscle & Fitness magazine as a teenager and wanting to be ripped like three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane (“He had nice symmetry, and he’s the one who brought conditioning to the sport”) and fellow local bodybuilder Alan Ichinose (“He was my idol. My thinking was, ‘If he can do that, I want to do that!”).
But the truth is, Ronquilio was simply looking for a way to drum up business as a new personal trainer when he jumped into the sport in the mid-’90s.
“Back then , there weren’t many trainers around and nobody knew how to get clients,” remembers the Radford High School graduate who grew up in nearby Salt Lake. “So after I became nationally certified as a trainer, I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’
“Bodybuilding was a way for me to do that — to use my body as a tool and get clients. Once my body started changing and I started looking good, that’s when more people began asking to train with me.”
Today, Ronquilio still works as a personal trainer and runs his sessions out of The Jungle Gym on Ward Avenue. Most of his clients are what he calls “the everyday professional such as lawyers and doctors,” but he maintains that he isn’t averse to training athletes.
“I still train others for about 50 to 60 hours a week, and my preference is to work with the everyday professional because with bodybuilders, I only have them for three months and then I have to go and look for another client,” he explains. “But also, with the everyday professional, I can train them year-round and I don’t really have to do things like manipulate their diets.”
As busy as he is, Ronquilio admits that life is much easier for him now. In fact, when asked if he misses those days as a competitive bodybuilder, he didn’t hesitate one bit with his reply.
“No,” he says with a laugh. “I loved it back in the day because I was young at the time and hungry (to win). But at my age now, I just want to relax.”
ALL PUMPED UP, ALOHA STYLE
A year after being canceled due to statewide social-distancing restrictions, Aloha Muscle returns to its familiar indoor setting in Waikīkī later this month, ready to ˚ ex its muscle again as one of the state’s premier bodybuilding contests.
According to owner and co-founder Rey Ronquilio, the national qualifying event is expected to draw “between 200 and 300” fitness buffs who will compete in several divisions, including men’s physique, men’s classic physique, women’s physique, women’s figure and women’s bikini. There also will be divisions for teenage boys and girls.
This month’s competition will also mark the ˛ rst time it’s being held since the death of event co-founder Pebblz Ronquilio, who battled ALS for over a year before succumbing to the disease in early 2021. Fittingly, the event is being dedicated to her memory.
Hosted by master of ceremonies and local comedian Champ Kaneshiro, Aloha Muscle 2022 is set for 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at Sheraton Waikīkī Hawai‘i Ballroom. Prejudging will be held earlier that day at 8 a.m.
Tickets are $46.50 for the show, $31.50 for prejudging. For more information, visit alohamusclehawaii.com.