Convict to Conquerer: Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Relentless Rise of an Austrian Giant

Convict to Conquerer: Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Relentless Rise of an Austrian Giant

“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”

Talk about dreaming like giants.

Picture this: a serene lake in the heart of Thal, Austria, where the tranquillity is broken only by the determined grunts of a group of teenagers.  

They carry weights and carve out a makeshift gym amidst the grass and trees.

Among them, at just 15 years old, is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold is far from the biggest or the strongest in his group. He is new to bodybuilding, just starting to sculpt his future.

Yet, even then, there was something extraordinary about him.

He possessed a natural athleticism and an extraordinary ability to adapt.

But these were not his most powerful assets.

What set him apart was his vision—a vision so grand, it seemed almost impossible.

Arnold didn't just want to be a good bodybuilder.

No, he dreamed of becoming the best bodybuilder in the world.

The best-built man.

At 15, he saw his destiny as clearly as if it were unfolding right before his eyes.

He could hear the thunderous applause of thousands of spectators chanting his name, see the gleaming trophy in his hands, and feel the weight of the world watching him on the podium.

With this vision seared into his mind, Arnold began to push himself harder than anyone around him. He trained with an intensity and dedication that left the world in awe.

Every drop of sweat, every aching muscle, every ounce of effort was a step towards his colossal dream.

But here’s the twist—the vision that drove Arnold at 15, as monumental as it was, merely scratched the surface of what he would ultimately achieve.

This is the relentless rise of the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The boy who dared to dream big, and the man who showed the world what it means to chase those dreams with unwavering passion.

Today on David to Goliath:

A Foundation of Discipline

Growing up in the aftermath of World War II, Arnold's childhood was far from ordinary.

His father, a man marked by the defeat of the German army he had fought for, believed in a life of strict discipline and routine.

Each morning at the crack of dawn at 6 AM, Arnold and his brother would rise to fetch milk from the neighbouring farm.

Their days were a blend of chores, homework, and rigorous exercise.

Breakfast had to be earned through press-ups and sit-ups, and afternoons were dedicated to soccer practice, regardless of the weather.

Mistakes were met with stern reprimands, instilling a profound sense of duty and resilience in young Arnold.

But discipline alone does not create greatness. Arnold possessed an entrepreneurial spirit that made him stick out like a sore thumb.

As a teenager, he would travel to the nearby city of Graz, asking strangers for money under the false pretence of needing a train fare home.


When his father discovered this scheme, it resulted in severe punishment, ending Arnold's short-lived panhandling career but also teaching him the value of integrity.

But Arnold's athleticism was evident from an early age.

He dabbled in various sports, with soccer initially taking center stage.

Yet, the team dynamics of soccer did not satisfy his hunger for individual glory.

When his coach introduced the team to weightlifting to improve their leg strength, Arnold found his true calling.

The weights, the iron, the tangible measure of his brute strength.

This was where he belonged.

And so the journey began.

The Seed of Greatness

After his initial encounter with weightlifting, Arnold quickly transcended from casual workouts with his soccer team to intense training sessions with seasoned weightlifters and bodybuilders.

He was drawn to this fine art with a relentless thirst for mastery.

"I’m not exactly sure why I chose bodybuilding, except that I loved it. I loved it from the first moment that my fingers closed around the barbell. I felt the challenge and exhilaration of hoisting the steel plates above my head".

Within months, Arnold became addicted.

However, at the time bodybuilding was far from the popular sport it became.

Bodybuilders were viewed as freaks. The sport was extremely frowned upon.

Friends and family tried to dissuade him from pursuing what they saw as a peculiar obsession.

But Arnold wasn’t having any of it.

"I remember certain people trying to put negative thoughts into my mind and persuade me to slow down. But I had found the thing that I wanted to devote my total energy to."

His boldness was his biggest advantage.

He spoke differently.

He thought differently.

And he was more determined than anyone he knew.

This insatiable hunger was further fueled when he got his hands on a bodybuilding magazine featuring Reg Park. Mr. Universe (the world’s number 1 bodybuilder), who had parlayed his fame into a successful acting career.

A seed that would later sprout into Hollywood fame and fortune.

Without the proof to back it up, Arnold knew he would do whatever it took to turn this dream into reality. That was all he needed.

"From that point on, my life was dominated by Reg Park."

He set his sights on winning the Mr. Universe title, breaking records in powerlifting, and making his mark in Hollywood.

Following in the footsteps of Reg Park.

"The vision became so clear in my mind that I felt like it had to happen. There was no alternative. It was this or nothing."

Now, Arnold wasn't just there to participate.

He was there to dominate.

Convicted for Conviction

Locked gyms and freezing temperatures were no obstacles in Arnold’s quest for greatness—he would often break in and train regardless.

And whilst at high school this intensity began to set him apart.

His unwavering commitment and clear vision drew admiration and support.

People at school, including his teachers, started to see him as one of a kind.

“When you possess a strong vision and an unyielding will, the world almost conspires to help you achieve it. People are naturally drawn to a compelling vision—they want to be part of something extraordinary.”

In Austria, mandatory military service awaited every high school graduate, and for Arnold, this meant becoming a tank driver.

But even the army couldn't stifle his passion for bodybuilding.

Invited to compete in the junior division of the Mr. Europe contest in Stuttgart, Arnold faced a dilemma—basic training restricted his movements.

It was against the rules of service to leave training camp.

But this meant absolutely nothing to Arnold, who snuck out during the night. With no money to his name, he borrowed some cash and some posing trunks. 

Everyone got behind him and his vision and wanted to help him out. 

Going against the grain paid off massively. He won the Mr. Europe competition, tasting international recognition for the first time at just 19 years old.

His physique was already remarkable. Everyone could see he was destined for greatness.

But returning to Austria presented its own challenges.

Sneaking back into his military base, Arnold was caught and jailed.

But even being locked up, the overwhelming feeling was that of pure victory. 

He was one step closer to his dream. 

His officers, recognizing the prestige and respect his success brought to the army, eventually released him and allowed him the space to train.

So Arnold became a full-time bodybuilder while still serving in the military. Something that was never previously allowed. 

One of the Mr. Europe judges, a man named Schneck, saw his potential and made him an offer: once you finish your military service, come to Munich.

Schneck promised to buy Arnold a ticket to the Mr. Universe contest in London if he came to train with him.

And this is when things got a bit weird.

Insistent to Insanity

Arriving in Munich penniless, Arnold had the odds firmly stacked against him.

Judge Schneck, a potential benefactor, offered him a bed—along with an ultimatum.

It turns out there wasn’t a spare bed. Arnold started sleeping on the couch.

One morning, Schneck invited Arnold to be his “special friend” and sleep in the bed with him, and in return, Schneck promised him access to major competitions and financial support.

Arnold considered this offer, recognizing it as a potential shortcut to his dream.

But remembering his fathers lessons of integrity and self-respect, he said no and instead found his own path.

Landing himself a place in a ratty spare bedroom, Arnold continued to train, feeding off Munich’s vibrant energy.

“At that point, my thinking was tuned into only one thing—becoming Mr. Universe. In my own mind, I was Mr. Universe. It made no difference to me how much I’d have to struggle to get there.”

Despite moments of self-doubt and intimidation from his competitors, Arnold's vision remained unshaken.

Entering the Mr. Universe competition, he hoped to place in the top six.

To his surprise, he took second place, losing only to Chet Yorton.

In defeat he accepted he had a lot to learn about optimizing his physique and perfecting his posing techniques.

The natural talent was there for all to see but now he needed the practice to become number 1.

“I tried to be honest, to analyze it fairly. Aside from my total lack of finish, I still had a lot of serious weaknesses. I had a lot of mass, a great rough cut. My weak points were calves and thighs. I needed to work on posing, on diet, and on all the finer points of bodybuilding.”

This honesty and self-awareness became a trademark of Arnold’s approach.

He began training with Chet Yorton, constantly measuring his progress and focusing on his weaknesses. Concentration became a central theme.

“I started training in an area where there were no distractions. That gave me enough time to concentrate and find out what bodybuilding was about. It became part of my routine to start out my day with total concentration. I programmed myself. I imagined how I’d feel it. I did not waver at all.”

Arnold didn’t stop at concentration; he pushed himself further. He trained for six hours every day, continuously seeking new ways to challenge his body.

When he hit a plateau, he innovated.

He developed the concept of "shocking the muscles," preventing them from adapting to a routine.

One day, he and a friend went into the forest and did squats for three hours straight.

“I began doing 20 reps with 250 pounds. We ended up doing about 55 sets of squats each. It worked. Our thighs pumped up like balloons. Our legs had never experienced anything like it. They had no chance to survive except to grow.”

Following this crazy stunt, he couldn’t walk properly for a week.

But deep down he knew this insane mentality would pave his path to the top.

The world wasn’t ready for what was about to step on stage.

A Champion is Born

On the day of the Mr Universe competition, Arnold was so exhausted from his training he was still in bed when someone pounded his door.

Judging had already begun, and he had only ten minutes to get on stage or face disqualification.

While his competitors were getting pumped, Arnold was still cold—an undesirable state for any bodybuilder.

Yet, amidst this chaos, he felt a supreme surge of confidence.

Without even seeing the other contestants, he knew he was going to win.

He’d outworked his self-doubt and luck was no longer a factor.

As Winston Churchill once said: “One man with conviction will overwhelm one hundred who have only opinions”.

As he stepped up last on stage a champion was born.

"When I hit my first arm pose, the place fell apart. Everybody started roaring. I swept into a back pose, and the same thing happened. Usually, at the pre-judges, applauding is not allowed because it might influence the judges. But people couldn’t hold themselves back."

Arnold won the competition by a landslide, becoming Mr. Universe at just 20 years old. He was already the greatest bodybuilder in the world—or so he thought.

He soon discovered that multiple governing bodies administered different bodybuilding contests.

To become the undisputed champion, he needed to compete in the American Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia contests.

The winners of these competitions were ahead of him, and Arnold knew he had to elevate his game even further to defeat them.

Returning to Munich, Arnold leveraged his Mr. Universe win to reach beyond the bodybuilding community.

At the time, weightlifting was still frowned upon by the general public.

Arnold devised a brilliant strategy to change this perception.

On a freezing day, he walked around Munich in his posing briefs, engaging with passersby and ensuring media coverage of the event.

"I made a point of chatting to little old ladies to show that I was friendly and nice, and not some kind of monster. This is what politicians do all the time, but it was very unusual for a bodybuilder."

His plan worked. The publicity stunt attracted many new people to his gym in Munich, expanding his influence and putting bodybuilding on a pedestal in the public eye.

Arnold was becoming more than just a bodybuilder.

He was becoming an icon of self-belief.

Becoming Undisputed

In 1969, Arnold made a bold leap. He flew to America to compete in the bodybuilding scene, taking part in his first Mr Olympia contest. 

He lost on his first try. 

But true to his nature, he once again turned the pain into victory and came back with a vengeance.

At the same time he fell in love with California.

The sunny weather matched his cheerful disposition.

California was a place of freedom—free from the suffocating controls and social expectations of Austria.

He threw himself into training, spending most of his time indoors.

He trained in two three-hour splits daily, alongside professional bodybuilders, pushing beyond his limits every single day.

When 1970 rolled around, Arnold faced three major competitions within weeks.

Mr. Universe, Mr. World, Mr. Olympia.

He was determined to become the undisputed champion.

He prepared so intensely that he didn’t need to worry about himself.

He was ready.

All his focus was on psyching out the competition.

This ruthless drive is best illustrated by his showdown with Sergio Oliva at Mr. World in 1970.

As the competition drew to a close, Arnold and Sergio were the clear frontrunners. It came down to a pose-off.

Exhaustion was setting in, and that’s when Arnold went in for the kill.

“I had an idea. I said to Sergio: ‘That’s enough, I’ve had it. I think the other guys ought to know however the chips fall.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ Sergio walked off one side of the stage, and I started to walk off the other. But I took only two steps, then stopped and hit another pose. I turned and shrugged as if to say, ‘Where did he go?’ Sergio came right back on stage, a little confused. By this time, the crowd was chanting only one name—Arnold. I used this moment to execute my best professional posing and shots.”

It was over. The judges held a quick meeting backstage, and the MC returned to announce Arnold as the new Mr. Olympia.

It was a pivotal moment.

Arnold had finished off his opponent in the heat of competition. He completed the trifecta: Mr. Universe, Mr. World, Mr. Olympia.

He was now, indisputably, the number 1 bodybuilder in the world.

But that seed Reg Parke had planted many moons ago, was about to sprout.

He had proven everything he wanted to prove in bodybuilding.

It was time to shine on a different stage: Acting.

Hasta La Vista Baby

Over the next ten years, Arnold's life would be a slow pivot from flexing muscles to commanding cameras. This transition was far from easy.

He faced rejection after rejection.

Many doubted his potential, citing his thick Austrian accent and his unfamiliarity with the American film industry.

Despite countless setbacks and hearing "no" repeatedly, he never lost sight of his vision. Arnold resisted taking roles that didn’t align with his goals, even turning down lucrative offers that didn’t fit into his master plan.

“It’s easier to stand out when you aim straight for the top.”

To support himself, he set up a bricklaying business, invested in real estate, and ran a mail-order business for gym tapes. He even turned down a $200,000-a-year job managing a gym chain, staying committed to his Hollywood dreams.

His perseverance paid off when the documentary Pumping Iron was produced, showcasing his natural charisma in front of the spotlight.

This exposure led to his role in Conan the Barbarian, as a tough, sword-swinging hero.

Concerns were raised about the film’s violent content and its potential accessibility, but Arnold knew that promoting the movie was his route to stardom.

His efforts paid off, turning Conan the Barbarian into a massive hit and transforming Arnold from a no-name actor into a rising star.

His follow-up film, The Terminator, further solidified his status.

The famous line “I’ll be back” still rings in millions of years to this day.

While competing, investing in real estate, and growing his fitness businesses, Arnold never relented.

He had an unrivalled passion for work and saw it as an opportunity for discovery and fun.

“If I heard someone complaining about working 10-12 hour days, I’d crucify them. What are you talking about? There are 24 hours in a day.”

He became synonymous with the relentless, unstoppable machine in The Terminator.

And his pay reflected his astonishing rise throughout the 80s:

  • $250k for Conan the Barbarian

  • $750k for The Terminator

  • $1 million for Conan the Destroyer

  • $1.5 million for Commando

  • $3 million for Predator

  • $5 million for Running Man

  • $10 million for Total Recall

  • $15 million for True Lies

In just a decade, Arnold more than 50 x'd his pay per movie.

By the late 80s, much like his bodybuilding career, he felt he’d proved himself as an action star and wanted to add another string to his bow.

When one door closes Arnold always forces the next one open.

The Governator

Imagine this: It’s August 6, 2003.

Arnold steps onto the stage of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and drops a bombshell—he’s running for Governor of California.

This iconic moment launched a whirlwind campaign and a political career that would defy all expectations.

Arnold had no political experience and his views were a mystery to most.

But his star power and charisma turned the 2003 recall election into a media frenzy.

Nicknamed the "Governator" and the "Running Man," his candidacy was dubbed "Total Recall."

Despite declining several debates, his presence in the race was undeniable.

On October 7, 2003, California voted to recall Governor Gray Davis, and Arnold emerged victorious, securing 48.6% of the vote.

He defeated seasoned politicians, proving that charisma and determination could overcome political inexperience.

He became the second foreign-born governor of California, a testament to his relentless drive.

Arnold, a moderate Republican, tackled issues with a blend of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism.

He repealed an unpopular vehicle registration fee hike and blocked driver's licences for illegal immigrants. But his tenure wasn’t without challenges.

Powerful state unions opposed his reforms, and a special election in 2005 saw his measures defeated. Undeterred, Arnold took responsibility and vowed to continue his fight for California.

His efforts paid off. In the 2006 election, despite a tough year for Republicans nationwide, Arnold won re-election with 56% of the vote.

He moved away from the right, embracing more centrist policies, and even gained recognition for his environmental efforts.

Arnold’s governorship wasn’t all smooth sailing. His approval ratings fluctuated, peaking at 65% in 2004 and dipping to near-record lows by the end of his term. 

Despite criticisms and controversies, Arnold remained committed to his vision.


Let’s not shy away from the fact he’s had some controversial battles since stepping down as governor of California but life is about seeing a glass half full, not half empty.

Regardless of your opinion of Arnold Schwarzenegger, his achievements will stand the test of time.

Conquering the bodybuilding scene against all odds, rising to Hollywood stardom and then taking the political scene by storm, Arnold taught us regardless of what cards you’re dealt, incredible things are possible if you truly believe and take relentless action towards your dreams.

So with that being said keep dreaming like a Giant.

But fight and believe in your dreams like a god damn underdog.

Hasta La Vista, baby.

-Nigel Thomas

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