Juggling work and family, Fort Bragg soldier turns pro

by Jaclyn Shambaugh, The Fayetteville Observer
Stripes Korea

Dante Jones had always been a regular in the gym.

“My goals were really just to lift some weights, get a little bigger, try to maintain,” Jones said. “I wasn’t geared toward doing anything different.”

Even when a friend suggested Jones turn that casual interest in fitness into a competitive bodybuilding career, Jones thought he might just dip a toe into the vast world of elite training.

“I really only wanted to do one show,” Jones said. “I thought, even if this was never on my bucket list, but I could do one show and check it off my bucket list.”

That one show, and the success Jones enjoyed there, quickly turned into a passion.

He’s now done four amateur shows, earned his IFBB Pro Card in less than a year and is currently in Maryland for his very first pro competition, the Baltimore Classic Pro.

Rather than just dipping a toe, Jones plunged into bodybuilding with both feet. An Army sergeant first class stationed at Fort Bragg, Jones juggled the demands of his job and his role as a single father to two teenage girls with the new challenges brought on by bodybuilding.

Despite his desire to do “just one show,” Jones signed off on a contract with Elite Pro Training for a year, the minimum contract length offered by the fitness studio.

That was in June 2015. With a workout and nutrition program designed by trainer Julia Miller, Jones set his sights on making his debut show the Stewart Fitness in South Carolina the following September, a quick turnaround.

“It was a small show, maybe 50 or 60 guys there,” Jones said. “There were a lot of new guys. I was really, really nervous, but I really had no idea what to expect. And I figured since I was only doing this one time, I might as well enter every category.”

At 35 years old, Jones was just old enough to qualify for the masters division, entering that 35-and-older group as well as the open division.

He won both overall contests, as well as taking first place for his specific height and weight class in the men’s physique discipline, bringing home a total of four trophies.

“That was when my mind frame of doing one show turned into two shows,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to feel like it was a fluke, just to validate that that small show was really good.”

Jones swept his categories again at the Elite Muscle Classic in Charlotte in November 2015, a much larger show with a more competitive field.

His demanding work schedule knocked Jones out of competition for the first part of 2016, but he maintained his training schedule, working with Miller long-distance to improve his show routine.

With eight first-place trophies in hand and plenty of encouraging feedback from judges, Jones turned his focus to the IFBB North American Championships, held in Pittsburgh on Aug. 31.

The top two finishers in each category would earn the coveted IFBB Pro Card, the ticket to pro competitions, potential sponsorships and monetary winnings.

“Obviously, everyone’s goal is the land of sponsorship,” Jones said. “That way, if I do have travel expenses or costs from training, I’m not responsible for all of that.”

Jones claimed the top spot in the masters division overall and in his class, and finished second in his class in the open division, earning his Pro Card a week before his 36th birthday and just less than a year from his first competition.

“I was so excited to get my Pro Card,” Jones said. “But at the same time, this was my first time ever coming in second. But this was my first national show, and I’d only been competing a year. It’s very rare for someone to go from amateur to pro in a year’s time.”

This weekend’s Baltimore Pro is special not just special because it’s Jones’ first as a pro. The Fort Bragg soldier is a Baltimore native and will have family in attendance at a show for the first time.

Along with his daughters, 16-year-old Ayannah and 15-year-old Makia, Jones’ mother, stepmother, grandmother and siblings will all be in the stands.

“It’s in my hometown, and my family’s going to be there,” Jones said. “They’re all very supportive, but it’s a little nerve-racking because the pressure’s on.”

Jones is still setting his competition schedule for the start of next year, but he already knows the goal is to qualify for Olympia 2017, an international pro competition held each September in Las Vegas that attracts the world’s top bodybuilders.

“If you win that, you can wholeheartedly say, ‘I have the best male physique in the entire world,’” Jones said.

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