Joe Baca from Tuba City has gained some fame in recent weeks as he took part in a competition to be the new Mr. Health & Fitness featured in the magazine Muscle and Fitness.
In order to win, the 46-year-old had to gain votes from people through Facebook, proceeding up the ladder until only one contestant is left. What made Baca stand out from the rest of the competition though is that not only is he Native, but when asked what he would do with the $20,000 cash grand prize, he said he would use it to help fund a public gym for his community of Tuba City.
Baca was born in Tuba in 1975, but when he was 2 years old, he and his parents moved to Phoenix as his father secured a job in the Valley. It wouldn’t be until he was in the fifth grade did he and his family moved back to Tuba City and graduated from Tuba City High in 1993.
After that he fell along the wayside, having trouble in life and struggling with addiction and mental health.
Eventually, with the love and support of his family, Baca came back to himself and recovered. One thing that helped him along the way was weight lifting.
“I enjoy the strength training and body building – just a way of life for me but I also incorporate mental strength and emotional health and spiritual health because I believe we need to have balance with all that,” Baca said. “When we can develop all of that and can grow in each of those areas, it makes life more manageable do that when you face adversity you don’t fold and buckle.”
He went to college, got his degree and returned to work at Tuba City Regional Health Care where he works as a health care social worker, helping others suffering the same pain and challenges he faced.
He is a proud family man whose heritage includes Navajo, Hopi, Assiniboine and Mexican. He has two sons who he loves. He is also engaged.
When it came to weightlifting, Baca had some trouble staying fit as Tuba City doesn’t have a public gym.
Tuba City High’s gym isn’t opened to the public and TCRHCC has a fitness center inside the Health Promotion, Diabetes Prevention building, which is often restricted to fixed routines and doesn’t give a lot of freedom for people to work out the way they’d want, said Baca.
Baca built his strength by working with a friend’s weight sets, saving money to buy his own equipment or improvising by lifting sandbags and doing squats with his sons on his back.
He didn’t usually take part in strength competitions, but he once took part of a Natural Athlete Strength Association competition and other powerlifting contests.
He’s even hosted his own power lifting events in Tuba City.
Before the pandemic he could squat 500 pounds, bench 365 pounds and deadlift 450 pounds. Now he doesn’t have as much access to work out, but he stays fit in whatever way he could.
Mr. Health & Fitness
In April he came across an online advertisement featuring the competition for Mr. Health & Fitness, with the grand prize being featured in Muscle and Fitness magazine and a cash prize of $20,000.
One of the registering questions was what would he do with the prize money and he instantly knew what it would be; to invest in building a public gym in Tuba City.
“It was easy for me to say I wanted to reinvest,” Baca said. “This is going back to the community; I want to give back because this has the potential to benefit all of us. It would benefit so many people other than myself.”
Baca didn’t think much about it at first but figured why not give it a try. He registered, but after two months he didn’t get a reply.
He shrugged it off and didn’t worry about it. Then later in the summer he received a message reading he’d been selected among over a hundred other contestants to compete for Mr. Health & Fitness.
He was put into a pool of other contestants and in order to win he had to get the most votes on his Facebook page to advance. Baca wasn’t sure about his odds, but figured it would be fun.
Then he ended up in the top 15. The top 10, and recently was in the top five. This blew Baca away – never did he think he would get so many votes and so much support from people on and off the reservation.
Getting support and giving back
Baca would be busy posting updates online, reaching out to friends and strangers for support and even asking prominent figures for help.
One such person was C.T. Fletcher, a vlogger, actor and professional bodybuilder and powerlifting champion. When Baca messaged the man online, it didn’t sound like Fletcher was interested, saying a dozen guys from the same competition already asked him for help.
“I thought, ‘Oh man,’ he wasn’t going to do it,” Baca remembered. “But then he said, ‘However, the fact that you want to reinvest in your community, give back to the community so your winning can benefit others, that sets you apart from all the others who reached out to me because you’re the only one who is willing to so something like that and unselfishly give back to your community. You set yourself apart from all the others, you have my respect, you have my support, if anyone else come across this tread or comment I ask you to support this young man here and give him your support and your votes.’
“That was a big deal for me, it lifted my confidence and got me to continue to push forward and acquire work.”
Despite his advancements and his appealing messaging of helping others, Baca made it to the quarterfinals where he didn’t acquire enough votes and came in third out of the eight men he was competing against, ending his time in the competition.
However, this didn’t affect Baca. He saw it as fun and he made it a lot further then he ever thought he would.
Even though he didn’t get the grand prize, he got his message out there and numerous people are already messaging him and wanting to help him build a public gym, regardless that he didn’t win.
Dream becoming a reality
“I haven’t lost sight of my dream,” Baca said. “I think it’s just going to take another avenue, a little more work to make it come to fruition, but the fact that people came to me offering help that was a big deal and I was like, ‘Wow.’ It really blew me away.”
Baca said the experience gave him faith and hope in himself and in his community. Experiencing first hand all the love and support from his community and stranger is what drove him to keep going in the competition. He put in all the hard work for the people in his community, not just himself.
It may take longer for his dream to be realized, but the support and interest is still there and he hopes his story will inspire others not to give up or doubt themselves.
He never would have thought that an “average guy from the rez” would make it to the top five of a Mr. Health & Fitness competition. Now he knows such things are possible.
When he was competing, he kept thinking about two phrases that he would tell others: “Stay in the fight and embrace strength.” It’s a quote he lives by daily. Saying there will be days you’ll lose but you take the loss, learn and build from it and keep fighting, never give up.
The second phrase is “Embracing the grind.” Life is never going be easy, there is always work to be done and through that work, when aiming for something, one will learn to cherish it more.
The two quotes are what helped him get through the competition as well as during the hardest days of his life and he tells others the same thing and hope his words will encourage them to never give up and keep striving towards their goals.