Rice Cakes and Repetitions

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From left: Kevin, Eve and Ciara Harmon.

story by Adam Armour // portraits by Lindsay Pace

It was a rice cake that kept Kevin Harmon from winning. To be fair, he argued, it was a chocolate rice cake … just a small patty of baked grains with a hint of cocoa to satisfy his sweet tooth. Still, strong as he is and as small as they are, that was enough.

“They were actually holding me back,” the 46-year-old said. “They have three or four grams of sugar in them, and that was keeping me from hitting 3% body fat.”

That percentage, Harmon said, is the key to being a champion bodybuilder. It helps the skin be tight, the veins pop, and allows judges to see every muscle in the competitor’s body. Just a couple percentage points more separate winners from losers, and when Harmon first started training, his body fat hovered at 5%. That was enough to keep him from winning.

Both Harmon and his wife, Eve — who’d been bodybuilding for years — and his daughter, Ciara, who grew up around the sport, knew the culprit.

It was the rice cakes.

“Both of them kept on me about it,” he said. “They told me, ‘Well, stop eating them.’”

As soon as he did, he dropped that extra 2% body fat. That’s when he started winning.

And that, he said, is the other key to being a champion bodybuilder: It’s about strength of body and strength of mind, and the Harmons get their strength from each other.

Kevin and Eve Harmon met in the gym, which is appropriate since they’ve since built much of their life together around it.

The couple owns PowerZone Gym in Peppertown — an unostentatious but sprawling facility packed wall-to-wall with weightlifting equipment. For 16 years, the gym’s been their second, and often their first, home. It’s provided them with a living and a source of relaxation. It’s changed their bodies and pushed their limits. It’s defined who they are and who they’re trying to be.

For many years, the two of them competed in separate fields: Kevin Harmon in powerlifting, and Eve Harmon in bodybuilding. They traveled across the country supporting each other, but their styles of training, their diets, and much of how they prepped for competition were so drastically different, they may as well have been going it alone.

“I did this for 12 years by myself,” Eve Harmon said. “Fixed my egg whites while I fixed him French toast. That’s very hard. Anybody who can do that, can do anything.”

Kevin Harmon’s 30-year career in professional powerlifting culminated in June 2010 when he lifted 605 pounds, breaking the all-time bench press record for the 148-pound weight class. That record still stands to this day.

Although Harmon continued lifting after breaking that record, he refocused his competitive energy on his wife’s chosen sport: bodybuilding.

“It took her a long time to talk me into doing bodybuilding,” Kevin Harmon said. “Actually, I got older and my joints started hurting so bad, I said, ‘Maybe I will.’”

She was thrilled.

“Nobody,” she said, “knows until they step on stage if they can do what we do.”