The Yorton Cup
Bodybuilding began as an activity centered around health, but after anabolic steroids were introduced, what was once healthy began to transform into something quite the opposite. Eventually, the time came where it seemed a bodybuilder didn't stand a chance of winning a major championship title unless he used steroids. Competitors were basically left with the decision of either having to use drugs to be competitive (risking their health in the process) or dropping out of competition altogether. Fortunately for the sport, a very capable, courageous, headstrong gentleman decided something needed to be done about this. His name was Chet Yorton.p>
Chet Yorton was born June 1, 1939 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He grew up in South Milwaukee, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from South Milwaukee High School in 1957. He was involved in a horrific automobile accident on April 30, 1957, a month shy of his eighteenth birthday. He was riding in a friend's car on wet roads when the automobile lost control at a curve and ran head-first into a tree. Injuries Yorton sustained included a laceration to his left eye, a cut on his left forearm from his elbow to his wrist, dislocation of his hips, and shattered thighbones. Surgical repair required having a steel plate wrapped around his right thighbone, and a steel rod inserted into the femur bone of his left leg. While in the hospital, he noticed a set of dumbbells sitting in the corner of a room. He had never touched a weight prior to his accident. He experimented with the weights by doing exercises possible from a wheelchair, such as curls and shoulder presses. Yorton felt an instant connection with the weights. He asked his doctor if using weights would assist with his recovery and was told it could.
When Yorton was finally able to get out of a wheelchair, he weighed 160 pounds and had a 35.5" waist. Seven months later he was 55 pounds heavier with a waist that was 3.5" slimmer. He continued to train, and in 1959 entered his first bodybuilding contest. He opened a gym in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1960. He competed and won a number of titles that year. He was drafted into the armed forces about two years into his gym ownership and sold his gym prior to beginning service. But he was discharged not too long after starting due to one leg being about an inch shorter than the other (due to the auto accident). Shortly after his return home to Wisconsin, at age 23, he made the decision to move to southern California.
The first gym he worked out at there was The Dungeon on 4th Street in Santa Monica. Weather permitting, he also worked out on Muscle Beach. One day casting agents visited the gym Yorton was training at looking for "muscle men" to be in the movie, Muscle Beach Party (released in 1964, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello). Several guys, including Yorton, were chosen for parts.
In 1963, Yorton saved a drowning man at Venice Beach. Oliver Sacks writes in his book, "On the Move - A Life": One day in 1963, I went bodysurfing off Venice Beach; it was rather rough water and no one else was in, but I, at the height of my strength (and grandiosity), I was sure I could handle it. I was thrown around a bit-this was fun-but then a huge wave came towering far above my head. When I attempted to dive under it, I got flung on my back and tumbled over and over helplessly. I did not realize how far the wave had carried me until I saw it was about to crash me on the shore. Such impacts are the commonest cause of broken necks on the Pacific coast; I had just time to stick out my right arm. The impact tore my arm back and dislocated my shoulder, but it saved my neck. With one arm disabled, I could not crawl out of the surf quickly enough to get away from the next huge breaker, which was following close to the first. But at the last second, strong arms seized me and pulled me to safety. It was Chet Yorton.. I would not be here had he not pulled me out of the water in 1963. Sacks, among other accomplishments, wrote "Awakenings", which was made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams.
Yorton first become aware of steroids in 1964. He was tempted to use them until he spoke to a doctor who told him about possible side effects, such as acne, gynecomastia (formation of breast tissue in males), impotence, hair loss, headaches, increased risk of heart disease, kidney problems, liver problems, high blood pressure, and stunted growth if used at too early of an age. After learning of these side effects, Yorton began to speak out and educate others about the dangers of steroids use. He was one of the earliest competitors to do so.
On September 17, 1966, Yorton claimed the IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders) Mr. America title in New York. One week later he claimed the NABBA (National Amateur Body Builders Association) amateur Mr. Universe title in London (one of only three times where someone would beat Arnold Schwarzenegger). After winning these events, Yorton retired from competition. For one, he achieved his goal, which was to win the Mr. America title (the Mr. Universe title was an unplanned bonus). Secondly, he felt drug use in bodybuilding was spreading to the point that natural competitors didn't have much of a chance of winning anymore.
The year following his retirement, Yorton appeared in the 1967 movie release, Don't Make Waves, starring Tony Curtis and Sharon Tate.
Later on, on one particular day, Yorton spotted a lovely blonde near Muscle Beach. Her name was Vicki. As he stated in a 2006 interview, "As soon as I saw her I knew I had to have her." She became Mrs. Yorton in 1972. Four years later daughter Shannan came along (Shannan has made her own mark in the fitness world as a top-caliber Figure competitor, and as the creator of the now highly successful nutrition company, Quest Nutrition).
In 1975, nine years after having given up competing, Yorton emerged on the competition scene again and entered the September 27th NABBA Pro Mr. Universe contest in London where he won his height class. Yorton has a reputation for being outspoken. When he shared his criticisms about what he felt was a "fast-paced pre-judging" at the show, Oskar Heidenstam of the NABBA told him if he didn't like their rules, he should hold his own shows.
Shortly after the 1975 NABBA contest, Yorton moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and opened a gym with Zach Franzi. They named it, Chet Yorton's Body Shop and Health Studio. Not too long after that, Chet did indeed start holding his own shows. Yorton produced an independent show in Las Vegas, the Nevada Physique Championships, on June 11, 1977. Soon after his first event, Chet founded the Natural Bodybuilder's Association (NBA). This was the first-ever physique organization to test for drugs. The first drug tested NBA show was the American Natural Physique Championships (also referred to as the Natural Mr. America), which took place March 4-5, 1978, at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event included a pro and an amateur division. Blood testing was used as the means of detection. At the event, pertaining to drug use in the sport, Yorton proclaimed to the attendees:
"Another thing I'd like to say, aside from getting drugs out of the sport and giving bodybuilders a chance to compete again, pertains to the youth of this country. That is a real problem. You have your top bodybuilders on drugs in the country. I won't name any names.. some of them might be here. They know who they are. The youth of our sport look up to these men: to admire them, as an example. They will do as they do, train as they train. What worse thing could ever be possible?"
Chet Yorton was inducted into the World Body Building Guild (WBBG) Physical Fitness Hall of Fame in 1979. In 1981, he, along with Mike Dayton, launched Natural Bodybuilding, a magazine intended to provide media exposure for bodybuilders who didn't use steroids and to educate the public about the dangers of steroid use. Within its pages appeared ads for a natural, safe supplement line Yorton started, Chet Yorton's Natural Ultra High Nutritional Supplements. Yorton served as Executive Editor for the first two issues of the magazine. He remained active with the publication into 1982 when he reached a major crossroads in his life.
Yorton experienced a number of ongoing frustrations and disappointments from the time he initiated the drug testing movement in bodybuilding in 1978 through 1982. The IFBB and American Athletic Union (AAU) physique organizations tried to keep competitors out of NBA shows by threatening to ban them if they took part in NBA events. Yorton's efforts to gain television exposure for the steroid problem in bodybuilding met deaf ears as he was turned down by the talk shows he approached. Additionally, in what had to be the ultimate insult for Yorton, his young protege, who won his class in the 1978 AAU Teenage Mr. America contest and the Teen division at the 1978 WBBG Mr. America contest under his tutelage, tested positive for steroids at Yorton's 1979 NBA American Natural Physique Championships.
Eventually, Yorton felt his efforts to combat steroid use in bodybuilding were in vain and that what he was attempting to accomplish was hopeless, so in 1982 he made the decision to walk away and ended his involvement in the sport completely. Even so, his early efforts made a powerful and permanent mark on the sport. Present day, there are hundreds of drug-tested competitions all-across the USA. Competitors now have alternatives to feeling they have to use drugs to be competitive (breaking the law and risking their health in the process) or just dropping out of competition altogether because the choose not to and think they don't stand a chance of winning without them.
In 2004, in a display of gratitude and appreciation, the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders (OCB), a drug tested physique federation, named its top title the Yorton Cup to honor Chet Yorton. In 2006, thanks to communications initiated by Chet Yorton's daughter, Shannan, OCB was able to arrange having Chet Yorton appear at their 2006 Yorton Cup championships in Pittsburgh PA. OCB was only expecting an appearance. However, Yorton volunteered to guest pose as well. He walked away from the sport in 1982, but never stopped his own training. So, for the first time in twenty-four years, Chet Yorton was on the bodybuilding scene again and getting recognition he so greatly deserved. He appeared again at the 2007 Yorton Cup in Washington, DC where he once again volunteered to guest pose. In 2008, he was inducted into the U.S. Natural Bodybuilding Hall of Fame (NaturalBodybuildingHallOfFame.com), followed by his 2009 induction into the Muscle Beach Bodybuilding Hall of Fame where he volunteered to guest pose. In 2010, he was selected as the recipient of the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen's (AOBS) Highest Achievement Award where he.. you guessed it, volunteered to guest pose again!
Tragically, in November 2020, Chet's wife Vicki passed away from natural causes, and upon discovering her, Chet suffered a heart attack that led to his passing too.