Undergrad Places in Statewide Bodybuilding Competition


Sam Townsend grew up on stories about JSU he heard from his mom who attended when she was younger. So, when he graduated from Jacksonville High School, following in his mother’s footsteps “just made sense,” he said.

But first Townsend had to overcome a crippling 10-year battle with drugs. What started with drinking beers and smoking weed as a teenager soon turned into a “full-blown opiate addiction,” he said.  

“In my addiction,” Townsend said, “I lost everything I had – lost my job, pushed my family completely out of my life, wrecked multiple cars, was arrested more times than I can remember and was living from couch to couch and out of my car until I hit bottom. It was at my bottom that I was granted the gift of desperation and became willing to do something different.”

The change finally took hold when Townsend entered drug treatment for the fourth time, determined it would be his last. He did everything that was asked of him. When he completed treatment, he lived in a halfway house for six months. After one year of sobriety, Townsend said he returned to JSU “to finish what I started.” He joined JSU’s Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) for support. 

“The CRC has helped me find a support group that helped me see that it was possible to get back into school and do it responsibly instead of partying all the time,” Townsend said. “It connected me with people that understand me and what I’ve been through and support me every step of the way through school.”

Today, the 30-year-old Townsend is a junior majoring in exercise science and wellness.

“I am who I am and where I am because of what I’ve been through,” he said. “Addiction, even though it was a nightmare, taught me a lot about life and, if anything, it taught me who I don’t want to be or what I don’t want to do. Recovery has given me a whole new perspective on life and has made it possible to be able to pursue things like school and bodybuilding.”

Townsend’s journey toward recovery was overwhelming at times. Along the way, he rekindled a passion for weight lifting, a hobby that not only gave him the strength to conquer his demons, but also led to a third-place finish in the Classic Physique Open Class category at the 2019 National Physique Committee’s (NPC) Alabama State Championships.

Townsend has been lifting weights most of his life, but his addiction robbed him of that as well. It was on Oct. 7, 2015, after four years of sobriety, that he fully committed to the sport again.

“Honestly, lifting weights benefits me in more ways than I can really explain,” he said. “It helps me in almost every aspect of my life and has taught me lessons that I can apply to any situation.” 

At first it was a way to lose weight and simply get in shape. At one point, Townsend weighted about 280 pounds “with no muscle at all,” so he started eating better and doing lots of cardio.

“As I lost the weight, my focus shifted more to try and start to build muscle in place of the fat,” he said. 

After three years of working to transform himself, Townsend felt comfortable enough to enter competitions. The NPC state championship was his third competition and winning made all the difference in his outlook.

“It was a huge reinforcement to myself and understanding that I actually could have a future doing something like this,” he said. “I plan on returning to the state championship next year and hopefully winning first place overall.”

Bodybuilding requires an incredible commitment and focus. Preparation for the state championship took Townsend 12 weeks. He trained every day for an hour and did 90 minutes of cardio split into three times a day. 

“The diet was extremely regimented with very specific amounts and weights of food,” he said.

For example, his second meal of the day might be by 8 ounces of chicken, 5 ounces of sweet potato, and six spears of asparagus. Those meals had to be eaten at specific times and changed every week, getting smaller and more restricted. All that commitment and sacrifice has given Townsend something greater to focus on than his addiction.

“Bodybuilding has been one of those ways to refocus my addiction on something more constructive,” he said. “The process of training and dieting has also taught me lessons that could be transferred to all areas of my life.”