A FORMER champion bodybuilder has spoken out about how they were struck down in their prime and almost died after a horror health battle.
Mike Francois, 58, a former National Champion and Arnold Classic champion, was one of the rising stars of bodybuilding in the 1990s – often seen as the sport’s golden age.
His path to weightlifting glory was very different to most, as the Ohio native originally trained to be a priest.
In fact, he was in the final year of his eight years of seminary study when he fell in love with a girl, abandoned his holy orders, and turned instead to his other passion, bodybuilding.
He was famous for the huge amount of mass he stacked onto his 5ft8in frame, as well as his remarkable symmetry and proportions.
After exploding onto the scene in the early 1990s, Mike seemed destined to become one of the all-time greats following a string of successes.
He placed seventh at the 1995 Mr Olympia, also winning the Arnold Classic and Night of Champions that same year.
To this day, he remains the only bodybuilder to win in his first four pro shows.
But in 1997, the fit and healthy 32-year-old was struck down by a horror disease which left him confined to a hospital bed.
In 2013, Mike told journalist John Meadows about his horror experience with ulcerative colitis.
He said he first suffered symptoms of the digestive disease back in 1996, but they became more pronounced in 1997.
“I was hospitalised three weeks prior to the Mr Olympia in 1997,” he said. “I kept it completely quiet from everyone except my wife.”
Although he struggled through the show, he performed poorly and was put on medicines to try and treat the condition.
But although doctors gave him the all-clear to compete in the Arnold in the spring of 1998, one week before, he was rushed to hospital again.
“Eventually (I) had my colon removed a few days later,” he said. “In a second surgery 12 weeks later that year to reattach my small intestine, I ran into many complications and actually was in an induced coma for a week or so.”
I was given my last rites twice by a priest and my family was told by my doctors that my life was in God’s hands
On top of ulcerative colitis, Mike also found out he had disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a rare but serious condition that causes abnormal blood clotting throughout the body’s blood vessels.
Among the complications from his range of diseases were pneumonia and even total organ failure.
Mike’s family were even warned to prepare for his death, and a priest was called to his hospital bed.
He went on: “I later learned that I was given my last rites twice by a priest and my family was told by my doctors that my life was in God’s hands and that they had done all they could do.”
Mike said of his experiences: “It taught me that life is short and one should value each and every day.”
Although his bodybuilding competing days were over, Mike has recovered well and still looks remarkable today.
He is a certified personal trainer and International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) professional.
His Ohio-based company, Francois Fitness Consultants, designs customised fitness programs for people of all abilities.
Mike has also written a number of articles on weight training and nutrition and was inducted into Joe Weider’s Muscle & Fitness IFBB Hall of Fame.
In the 2013 interview, Mike also discussed his early life, and how he made the switch from preaching to pumping iron.
He originally got a football scholarship at Iowa State, but after tearing his ligaments during a game in high school senior year, he was forced to give up the sport.
After prayer and introspection, Mike decided his true calling was to be a priest, so he entered to seminary at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
At this time, he also lifted weights as a way to stay in shape after he could no longer play football.
After graduating from Loras in 1987, he was assigned to the Josephinum Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, a four-year program of study on top of the four years he had already spent studying to become a priest.
Mike said: “During my seventh year of the eight, I met a girl, fell in love and didn’t return for my final year and ordination.”
With the extra time on his hands, Mike dedicated his life to bodybuilding and, that same year, he decided to compete in his first bodybuilding competition.
In 1993, he turned pro and his life changed forever.
Speaking about his regrets to journalist Lori Kurtzman, Mike said: “I never got to finish what I started.”
With his remarkable work ethic and excellent genetics, there is no doubt in many people’s minds that he would have been one of the top in the sport were it not for a cruel twist of fate.