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Monday, June 24, 2024
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Building muscle and community

The men and the mission behind UB’s Strength and Power Club

<p>From left to right: Treasurer Ash Mallach, Secretary Gary Margossia, Historian Joel Muhigirwa, Vice President Ethan Fargo, and President Taeyoung Jeong. | Courtesy of Strength and Power Club.</p>

From left to right: Treasurer Ash Mallach, Secretary Gary Margossia, Historian Joel Muhigirwa, Vice President Ethan Fargo, and President Taeyoung Jeong. | Courtesy of Strength and Power Club.

Some of UB’s biggest and strongest students took to the stage of the SU theater earlier this semester to participate in the first ever on-campus bodybuilding competition. 

Nine competitors flexed their carefully crafted physiques. Classic rock blasted. The audience hooted and hollered.

The event was organized by UB’s newly formed Strength and Power Club, a student group dedicated to strength-training, bodybuilding and overall physical fitness.

The competition was the culmination of an idea between two friends: club president and senior exercise science major Taeyoung Jeong and secretary and junior biomedical science major Gary Margossian.

“Our whole goal with this was to introduce the world of bodybuilding to UB because we noticed that there really wasn’t any club or organization that was doing it,” Jeong said. “So we thought, ‘Why not?’”

It didn’t take long to find willing friends to fill the roles of vice president and treasurer. They even recruited senior electrical engineering major Joel Muhigirwa to be the historian and social media manager.

Each officer’s fitness journey began long before UB Strength and Power.

“When I moved to the United States in 2017, I was not in shape and I enjoyed McDonald’s, so I was eating there almost every day with my friends,” said Muhigirwa, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Then COVID was definitely a turning point for me. I definitely felt like my mental space was not right, not on track.”

While talking with a friend, he decided that instead of hanging out all day, they should do something productive. Once the video calls became pushups and runs, Muhigirwa’s passion for fitness ignited and became a routine. 

Some questioned his intense dedication.

“Even my parents were like, ‘Oh, you’re getting bigger, so you have to stop,’” Muhigirwa said. “I was like, ‘Instead of me going to the gym, do you guys want me to go partying or go to the club? I love what I’m doing.’”

The mental health benefits, discipline and compliments all kept him going. He wanted to inspire others to find the same positivity and created a TikTok account, eventually sharing his videos to his UB graduating class Snapchat story.

“Some were very against me posting the videos, and I almost thought about not posting anymore,” Muhigirwa said. “But some students were like, ‘Keep posting, it’s very inspiring.’ And I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just keep on posting.’”

His passion for inspiring others made him a natural fit to run Strength and Power’s social media.

Muhigirwa opened the live-streamed bodybuilding competition by joking with the audience.

Margossian commented on the event’s success.

“We got a good number of competitors, and we got an amazing audience who were all interactive, very cheerful,” Margossian said. “Ultimately our goal was to set a precedent for the club to show that no matter how you look or where you start out from, you can make big achievements in this club.”

Margossian’s motivation to reach his ideal physique began while trying to find that same kind of confidence.

“I’m on the shorter side and I always felt like the way I was brought up was that in order to be a man was to be big and strong. You know, toxic masculinity and all that,” Margossian said. “I felt like the way to gain that was through hard work. I put my work in. I wanted a specific physique that I chased, and I attained that physique.”

Coming to UB opened his eyes to a larger fitness community on campus. As a freshman in Alumni Arena, the “common ground” of the gym allowed him to build a community with students from different backgrounds. As a club leader, he’s been more than happy to build that same inclusive culture by welcoming all kinds of students into lifting, which can be intimidating for newcomers.

“It’s very difficult to judge bodies without going into body shaming. Ultimately, all the people who are familiar with the sport understand how the critiquing works, and it’s up to the person themselves to enter the sport,” Margossian said. “We’re not disregarding anyone from entering the sport. It’s open to everyone, but those that choose to enter understand the qualifications that we’re grading for.”

Margossian said the judging criteria was based on Mr. Olympia competitions, including how well competitors pose to best show off muscle size and proportions or “flow.”

Body composition aside, posing — a skill that takes time and effort to develop — can make or break a competitor’s chances.

“Some competitors weren’t as conditioned as others, but we actually placed them higher because they had more flow in their physique,” Margossian said.

Aside from a few minor kinks, Margossian was happy with the competition’s result. The club hopes to host more competitions in the spring. Outside of competition, Strength and Power hosts weekly meetings and workshops on topics like proper deadlift form, how to reduce back pain and basics of muscle growth. Margossian said meetings are energetic, with everyone there to have a good time. 

It’s the type of community Jeong is proud to have created.

“I myself struggled with making friends and finding people to relate to,” Jeong said. “So having a place and a club where everyone knows that everyone has that same interest of, ‘Oh, we just want to get stronger, we don’t care how,’ is what I’m most proud of.”

Dominick Matarese is the senior features editor and can be reached at


Dominick Matarese is the Senior Features Editor at the Spectrum. He enjoys writing about interesting people, places, and things. In addition to running an independent blog, he has worked worked with the Owego Pennysaver, BROOME Magazine, the Fulcrum Newspaper, and Festisia. He is passionate about music journalism and can be found enjoying live music most weekends. 



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