Earning a spot in the top two at his first ever bodybuilding show last November was exciting for Saddle Brook's Matt Kowantz. But it wasn't the real victory.
That, the 36-year-old says, was finding his dream job in the process.
While sports, medicine and helping others have long brought happiness to the freelance physical therapist, something seemed to be missing.
Now that he's found bodybuilding, Kowantz is tying it all up in a neat little bow to bring his best package yet to his own life: A physical therapy practice with a focus on bodybuilding.
"Ever since I started competing things have fallen into place," said Kowantz, a Ridgewood native, who earned first place at his second show and second place at his third show, a national one.
"It was one good feeling after another. Things were working out perfectly and it felt like fate.
"I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, doing what I needed to be doing."
This was a first for Kowantz. An entirely new feeling.
I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, doing what I needed to be doing.
He'd always followed what made him happy but never quite felt like anything clicked.
"I was always trying to figure out what the 'it' was for me," he said. "I was always racking my brain, making notes on my phone."
The brainstorming never worked. What did was following his passions.
Kowantz fell in love with sports in high school as an all-around athlete. Being in the gym was integral to his athletic success and he began considering labor-intensive careers.
Five shoulder dislocations and extensive shoulder ruled those jobs out, though. While disappointed at first, Kowantz' own experience as a physical therapy patient eventually pushed him toward that same line of work.
"Physical therapy was a good way to stay active," said Kowantz, who currently works at a CareOne facility in New Milford.
"But I could also make a difference for other people and apply all of my own sports and health knowledge."
He went on to earn his Bachelor's of Health and Sciences from the University of Cincinatti and then his doctoral in physical therapy from the University of Miami.
Kowantz spent his early adult life working with people from all walks of life: Professional football players, seniors, infants and more.
The stars only truly began to align in the past decade when a professional bodybuilder he met at the gym urged him to try the sport.
Kowantz figured the it would be something he did for fun, just as a hobby. But when he began prepping for his first show last summer, he found it difficult to ignore the crossovers between bodybuilding and his profession.
"I noticed a lot of the other professional bodybuilders were getting specialized treatments from physical therapists," Kowantz said. "Some of those are specialties that I have have."
Instrament Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM), for example, or the Graston Technique -- like a deep tissue massage with sharp tools -- was something he was certified in. Something all of the top-placing athletes were doing. Same with the cupping technique, popularized by Michael Phelps in the 2016 Olympics.
IASTM, Kowantz explained, is a different form of massage therapy to treat pain and limited movement, common amongst bodybuilders. Cupping increases blood flow to injured or painful areas to promote healing and reduce restrictions
"I figured I could corner the market and make myself more marketable by competing to show other competitors I not only know these techniques," said the physical therapist, "but I know the sport."
It was kismet.
I caught the bug
No sooner did his hobby become a business venture, and then both a passion.
"I caught the bug," Kowantz said. "I loved the sport because it's a great way to push yourself and it made me so much more efficient in everything i do in daily life.
"There is so much camaraderie -- such brotherhood and sisterhood. That's what kept me in it."
Not only that, but he did really well.
- Second place in novice men's physique class A; second place in open men's physique class A @ 2017 NPC Eastern USA Championships.
- First place (overall) in classic physique masters division, second place in men's physique masters division @ 2018 NPC Garden State Championships
- Second in the class physique 35+ class A @ 2018 NPC Universe & Fitness National Championships
Kowantz says things just seemed to happen naturally for him but he is certain that "there's a plan out there for everyone," he said.
"Just keep trying, stay motivated and work to become your best person.
As long as you're a good person the universe will find it’s spot for you.
FOLLOW MATT KOWANTZ ON INSTGRAM: @MATTY_K_FIT
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