Tom Terwilliger – A journey from being labeled learning disabled to outlaw biker to Mr. America to achievement mentor

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Tom Terwilliger and I go back to grammar school. Tom is one of those people that you can’t forget. As a kid I was a bit on the wild side, but Tom set his own standards. As far back as sixth grade, Tom showed himself to be a leader. I remember I used to hang out with him as part of his gang, the Savage Skulls. We would go out and cause havoc around the neighborhood, but I eventually had to quit the gang, because I wasn’t allowed to be out past 9:00 pm!

I was always a bit curious about Tom and his twin brother, Michael. It seemed to me that they were very wild. But at the same time, they were very smart, talented artists with abilities to stand out in the crowd and become something special.

For some reason, the school system made the decision to take Tom and his brother out of the regular fourth grade and put them in “special classes” for mentally challenged kids until they were 15 years old. When I interviewed Tom for this book he was thankful that I could see what happened to him more than 40 years ago:

“I was hyperactive and had dyslexia. They labeled me ‘learning disabled.’ It put an emotional scar on me and my self-image. The school did not know what to do with me, so they put me in the special ed classes. As a result, I believed I was stupid—not good enough, and I was treated like an outcast. I was called a ‘retard.’ I didn’t take it lightly, and I fought back. I became a ‘bully killer.’”

Don’t get the wrong idea; Tom indeed was a handful, feared by most—and for good reason. When he was as young as eight years old, Tom recalled, I saw the Hells Angels motorcycle club while visiting my grandmother in Manhattan one day, and I liked what I saw. They represented power and instilled fear. As I grew up, I wanted that for myself, and I was inspired to become an outlaw biker.

Tom had a goal of being infamous and feared, and it turned out that he was good at it. Not only did Tom have the demeanor of a rebel, but he could back it up. He became an exceptional fighter.

Encouraged by his brother Ray, a kung-fu instructor, and mentored by champion body-builder Tony Pandolfo, Tom began entering body-building tournaments at age 16. Tom says, At that point in my life, I was on the right track and in an environment of positive people with unlimited hopes.

Tom was on the right track but would take a few detours along the way:

“At 19, I decided to take a month off from body-building. That month turned out to be three years, hanging out with my old biker friends. My self-esteem went way down; I was in the clubhouse partying with some members of a notorious biker gang. When I turned 22, I looked around and realized this is not what I wanted from my life.

“Right then and there, I walked out of the clubhouse. A few seconds later, somebody pulled the trigger of a double-barrel shotgun in the clubhouse, and accidentally blew a hole in the bar right where I had been standing. The blast also blew a hole in the girl who had been standing right next to me. Fortunately, she survived. But, talk about a sign!

“This was my turning point. I knew how to set goals and accomplish what I wanted. I had wanted to become an outlaw biker and I became one. Now I turned my attention to becoming Mr. America, and in 1986 that’s what I became.”

“Many people do like I did and develop self-doubt that drags them down. All too often we use our obstacles to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ My advice: Do not set your bar too high, but you need to get out of your comfort zone and figure out exactly where you are going and how you are going to get there. Set small landmarks along the way and remember: How you do anything is how you do everything.

“Find a mentor to help you make the right decisions when you face a crossroads in your life. You need to know what you want enough to overcome the obstacles you will face along the way. The desire to get what you want has to be stronger than the obstacles you will inevitably face. You need to believe in yourself and believe that you deserve more—that there is something better out there for you.

Tom’s best-selling book, 7 Rules of Achievement, describes the following rules:

  1. Get crystal clear on exactly what you want.
  2. Get equally clear on precisely why you want it.
  3. Get a clear picture of where you are now, your starting point.
  4. Identify the Resources you have and the resources you need.
  5. Create a clear yard stick or evidence procedure forMeasuring Progress.
  6. Create a vivid Internal Representation of the desired outcome.
  7. Take Massive Action.

Tom has truly turned his life around. For more than 30 years he has been an ambassador for fitness and healthy living. He’s a bestselling author, an international speaker and host, and his work as co-director and producer of the nationally syndicated television show, Muscle Sport USA, on the FOX Network, has earned him a prestigious Telly Award.

Tom, along with his wife, fitness model Dawn Terwilliger (Mrs. Metropolitan 2009), hosted and co-produced a radio talk show,One on One with Terwilliger Fitness.

Working with celebrities like Regis Philbin, Cindy Crawford, Eddie Murphy and  Howard Stern, Tom clearly demonstrates how somebody who was far off-course can become an inspiration and role model for people around the world and ultimately help others reach their own limitless potential.

Take Tom’s advice: Get clear on what you want and why you want it, identify your resources, measure your progress, visualize it, then take massive action.