Joshua Rucker shares his journey from his injury, to becoming a professional wheelchair bodybuilder, to finding a brand-new passion.
Joshua Rucker, 33, loves to showcase his skills and really “wow” the crowd with intense weightlifting stunts in his wheelchair. The former bodybuilder performs stunts in public that should have a “do not try this at home” warning, such as pulling himself up a swing set then doing pullups at the top all while still in his wheelchair.
“I love pushing myself past my limits,” says Rucker. “[The reactions] are another reason I do crazy workouts, to show people anything is possible if you have the right mindset.”
Before his injury, Rucker worked as a technician for a heating and cooling company. In 2002, the Michigan native was driving to a job when something with the work van went wrong and he lost control, causing the van to flip 15 times. He woke up from a coma a month later with news that he had a spinal-cord injury and he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life.
Forever an athlete
Before his accident, Rucker was very athletic and was involved in both wrestling and football. He couldn’t imagine a life without sports and fitness, so he continued to train and be involved with sports in any way he knew how. He played wheelchair basketball for Oklahoma State University and the University of Texas, Arlington. Basketball was something he was good at and soon led him to a USA Paralympic tryout, but he didn’t make the team. While he enjoyed playing basketball, there was always something else out there he wanted to do.
Ten years after his injury, Rucker got involved in bodybuilding.
“I always wanted to be a bodybuilder growing up,” says Rucker. “Watching [bodybuilders] Ronnie Colman and Jay Cutler was amazing. Then one day when I was searching the web, I came across a wheelchair bodybuilder named Colt Wynn. Wow, was I amazed!”
After watching Wynn, Rucker knew he could become a wheelchair bodybuilder and he was very determined. He started training multiple days a week and was sticking to a very strict diet.
“The hardest part about bodybuilding is the nutrition,” says Rucker. “You end up eating really lean to get down to a ripped body fat percentage.”
Rucker competed in multiple National Physique Committee (NPC) competitions. NPC is the largest amateur bodybuilding organization in the U.S. When entering the world of bodybuilding competitions, NPC is the first stop. Once you get your “pro card,” you move into the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) competitions. Rucker worked hard to earn his professional title and competed in one IFBB Wheelchair Bodybuilder competition. After his first professional competition, Rucker ran into some medical problems that made him realize he needed to slow down and focus more on his health, which soon led him to adaptive CrossFit.
“Bodybuilding can take a toll on your body,” says Rucker. “Because you have to get so lean and ripped, but also big, so you eat a lot of food and it’s very hard on me. But CrossFit is about being in shape.”
Adaptive CrossFit has been a better fit for Rucker. CrossFit is more about your performance rather than the way you look. Rucker now focuses on gymnastic work, weight training and metabolic conditioning. The medical problems that Rucker experienced while bodybuilding have dwindled since he started CrossFit.
“Getting that low of a body fat percentage for me, someone who is paralyzed, I was always getting sores and belly aches because of all the chicken and steak I ate,” says Rucker. Bodybuilding just is not for me anymore, but I found another way to keep living my dreams.”
Stunts that wow the crowd
One of Rucker’s favorite things to do is perform intense stunts in public. His Instagram account is full of popular videos that might make someone watching a bit nervous.
“I get a ‘wow!’ reaction or ‘holy cow, that’s amazing!’” Rucker says, laughing.
Some of his stunts include pullups from monkey bars, planches off the side of a bar, and pulling himself to the top of any bar, all while still in his wheelchair.
“The craziest stunt I’ve done is a ‘paralyzed planch’ as I like to call it, off of a 10-foot wall,” says Rucker.
In gymnastics, a “planch” is a position where the body is held parallel to the ground. Rucker calls his stunt a “paralyzed planch” because he cannot hold his legs parallel off the ground, which is why he usually does the stunt on a bar or on a wall. While his Instagram account is full of successful and thrilling videos to watch, Rucker has had his fair share of accidents.
“One time I was trying to do a paralyzed planch, and I lost my balance and flipped over the bar. Luckily the bar was low,” Rucker says.
Being a bodybuilder is not just about the physical. You must have the confidence and mental capability to go on stage and show off your body.
“[I’ve had] fears that I would not be good enough or I would not look as good as I should on stage, and doubts that I did not put in enough work,” says Rucker. “Bodybuilding is a very hard sport, one of the hardest sports I have competed in.”
While Rucker has faced many fears and doubts, he has continued to compete because he loves the thrill of competition.
“Participating in competitions is very exciting but nerve-racking in my eyes, but also at the same time it’s the best feeling in the world,” says Rucker.