FORMER Brighouse man Robert Mitchell walked away from bodybuilding when he was at the height of his powers because he was disillusioned with the public perception of the world he belonged to.
He had notched up a number of notable successes in the bodybuilding world, culminating with the amateur Mr World title in 1985 and three Mr Britain titles.
But, after winning his third national title, Robert took a step back from the hobby that had engrossed him since the age of 13. “I felt the world of professional bodybuilding had become associated with beefcake. It seemed to be less and less about the physical and mental dedication required.”
Now Robert is taking on a new challenge, applying himself with the same determination and dedication that he once brought to bear on bodybuilding. His ambition is to triumph in the world of amateur chess and he recently returned from representing England in Dubai where he came sixth out of 74 players in the World Amateur Chess Championship.
He maintains that there are many similarities between the two disciplines. “Both require high levels of concentration and a determination to succeed. I am a competitive person but mostly I want to do better for myself.”
Now 52, Robert was born and bred in Brighouse and attended Rastrick Common Secondary School. He started weightlifting at the age of 13 when he was invited to Brighouse Barbell Studio - under St John’s Church Hall - by a schoolfriend.
“I just took to it straight away. I think I knew I would be good at it because I’d had a go at lifting a dumbell in the school gym. I picked it up with one hand and pressed it overhead whereas my mates had to use two hands.”
Encouraged by his family - parents Colin and Patricia and siblings Paul and Lynn - rapidly moved on from weightlifting to power lifting and finally to bodybuilding. He started competing and, spurred on by his achievements at junior level, he began to believe that success in the bodybuilding world was within his reach.
“I enjoyed every minute of it. I got to travel all over the world and met some wonderful people,” said Robert, who now works as a design engineer in Nottinghamshire.
The highlight of his career came with his triumph in the IBBU Mr World title. Originally planned to take place in Italy in June 1985, the event was cancelled in the wake of the Heysel stadium disaster and held later in the year - ironically in Liverpool.
“I was thrilled to win but I felt I had gone as far as I could as an amateur and I didn’t want to turn professional so I retired from bodybuilding,” said Robert.
Now it is chess which is giving him an outlet for his competitive streak.
He was taught to play as a child by his grandfather, Tom Brown, during school holidays and joined a chess club in Bradford in the 1980s.
For the past five years, the father-of-four has been competing at an amateur level and in 2009 he was awarded the title of Club Chess Master by the English Chess Federation.
“I don’t have a television at home and playing chess is my way of relaxing,” he said.
“Taking part in a chess tournament is a bit like running a marathon - it requires intense concentration and stamina.
“Competing in Dubai was a great opportunity - and I really enjoyed the social side of the tournament - but I had hoped to do better than sixth. However well I do, I always feel I could have done better!’