Hard work paid off for Zach Merkel.

Merkel, who will turn 27 in December, captured the National Physique Committee USA Championship in the men’s open superheavyweight class as well as the overall title for the Mr. USA bracket. The event was held in Las Vegas at the UNLV concert halls.

All of the weightclass winners then compete against each other to determine the Mr. USA winner. And Merkel, a 2011 Shenango High graduate, came away with both crowns.

Merkel, a son of Peter and Melissa Merkel, developed a love for bodybuilding from his dad.

“It was exciting to win the award,” Zach Merkel said. “Seeing photos of my dad competing in the early 90s, that inspired me to start training for it.

“My dad didn’t take it to the level I did. Seeing pictures of someone with muscles made me gravitate to the bodybuilding.”

A son of Peter and Melissa Merkel, Zach played baseball all four years at Shenango and golf for three. He attended Penn State University for a year before transferring to Youngstown State.

After taking some time off from school, Merkel graduated from Youngstown State in May with a civil engineering degree.

Merkel trains primarily at Body Structure Fitness. But once or twice a week he will go to New Castle Iron Works.

“I will train five out of the seven days of the week,” he said. “As far as the weightlifting, workouts are an hour or hour-and-a-half. I don’t do this year-round.

“When I get ready for a contest, cardio is the first thing I do. Then as I’m preparing for the contest, I go to the gym a third time to do more cardio and posing practice. I go to the gym three times a day during preparation for an event. It’s not all weightlifting, though. It’s very intense, but I take a short rest in between. I use as heavy of weights as I can lift and that’s safe and not a threat to injury.”

Merkel only goes to the gym once a day if he isn’t preparing for a tournament.

Eating right also plays a big role in the success of a bodybuilder.

“In competition, diet consists more or less of home-cooked foods,” Merkel said. “I eat six meals a day every day. I stay on the same meal schedule year-round.

“It’s all simple stuff, like chicken, rice, fish, oatmeal. It’s all laid out in portions according to my needs. I have more freedom when I’m not in competition. To go out to a restaurant and do what I want.”

The championship opens new doors in bodybuilding for Merkel.

“I’m actually eligible to compete in professional competition,” Merkel said. “In a sense it’s like starting over again at the bottom.

“I worked myself up to the top of the amateur ranks. What I’ll personally do is take a year off from competing, gain more muscle and put on more weight and size. That’s what will be needed to be a good pro. I’m eligible to compete for prize money. The more you do, the more money you make.”

For now, Merkel will go to work at Dunham’s in Union Township, while submitting résumés for jobs in the engineering field.

Sports Writer

Ron Poniewasz Jr. is a sports writer at the New Castle News. Email him at rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com.

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