The Payson High School bullies who taunted and harassed Matt Christianer a decade ago would today have second thoughts about taunting him.
That’s because the once smallish and picayune boy has blossomed into a 27-year-old body builder sporting a chiseled, well-defined muscular physique that is earning him accolades and plaudits from around the country.
Among his laurels: Class A and Overall first place finishes at the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) Championships held in Charleston, S.C. With that win, he has earned his IFBB certification and can now compete on the professional level.
The former PHS student also finished second at the 2011 Natural Western championships and was first among the middleweights in the 2009 Arizona Western Region Body Building championships. In the 2010 USA Body Building Championships, he was first in the Novice Middleweight competition.
Christianer, who now lives in Scottsdale, is also a National Personal Training Institute certified trainer and has been featured on the cover of several magazines including Fitness Plus and REPS!
He also has played lead roles in advertising shoots for Iron Man and Serious Nutrition Solution.
Most recently he accepted and invitation to join NorthAmericanBodies.com, one of the country’s top body building and modeling agencies.
Although the PHS alum is not particularly large at 5 feet, 7-1/2 inches and 165 pounds, he has body fat of less than 5 percent, 17-inch biceps, a 29.5-inch waist, 41-inch chest and 24-inch quads.
Christianer’s striking development from high school student to body builder-model impresses many, including former PHS assistant principal Tim Fruth, “Very cool that not only did he get past the bullies, but now he could kick all their butts.”
The abuse of bullies
Looking back on his high school years and the bullying he endured, Christianer says, “I hold no ill will, because of the trials and tribulations I had growing up, I was able to hold on to five very close friends who I speak to often.”
Among those close sidekicks is Levi Amon.
“He looked out for me and probably saved my butt on more than one occasion,” Christianer says. “I was constantly getting in fights and my classmates would continually mess with my Jeep. Through this, is where I learned who my true friends were.”
Among his harshest memories at PHS is of the “gambit of teenage pranks and cruelty bestowed upon me, I was always wondering what would happen next.”
Christianer is not sure why he was targeted by bullies, but believes it could have been because he was new to Payson High having moved to Strawberry from Ohio with his parents in the summer of 1999.
“At first I had trouble fitting in, I wasn’t used to the culture and my Midwestern upbringing was a far cry from that of Payson,” Christianer said. “I was entering my sophomore year ... I had to start all over, new friends, new city, new everything.”
Christianer also admits that the move from a home he had lived in all his life was tough on him emotionally, “I was devastated and upset.”
Struggling to regain some sense of normalcy, Christianer decided to join the cross country team coached by Chuck Hardt, also his physical education teacher.
Quickly weight training classes, dodgeball games against the seniors and cross country running became a healthy outlet and a respite from the bullying.
“The weight room was my release, I hit the weights hard and wanted to become better,” he says.
Hardt remembers Christianer as “an unassuming kid with a good work ethic — I am not surprised by what he has accomplished.”
In addition to Christianer working out at the high school under the tutelage of Hardt, he took up a part-time job as a front desk clerk at Payson Athletic Club where he also was allowed to lift and train.
Calamity on Beeline
As Christianer entered his junior year at PHS, he recalls finally feeling as if he had earned the respect of his peers.
But just as things seemed to be going well, tragedy struck.
“I was driving down Highway 87 and had an accident,” he said. “My hip was broken, my femur fractured and I had severe head trauma.”
First responders to the accident called for Christianer to be air evacuated to Scottsdale Osborn where he was treated for life threatening injuries.
Although he survived, he spent months in the hospital.
“It took over a year and more than one surgery to repair the damage,” he said.
As tragic as the accident was, there was a silver lining — months of rehab gave him a new appreciation for health and wellness.
“It (rehabilitation) was a catalyst for where I am today, my resolve was cast iron,” he said.
During his time rehabilitating, he continued to work at PAC, which he now calls “a gift” because his coworkers and friends at the health club helped immensely in his recovery.
“The camaraderie at PAC was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” he said. “I was in a wheelchair and members would make sure I could still lift, always offering a helping hand.”
His work at PAC also fueled his interest in personal training and after graduating from Payson High, he moved to Florida to pursue his dream of becoming NPTI certified.
Eventually, he met Scott Keppel of Scott’s Training Systems where he now works coaching and mentoring competitors in all physique competitions including figure, bikini and men’s physique.
While Christianer’s years in Rim Country were sometimes tumultuous, he also holds many fond memories.
“I look back with much love and gratitude,” he says. “I remember Strawberry, where my parents still live. I remember elk, bear and deer hunting.”
In all the good memories, however, he’s now convinced, “the best about Payson, is that it’s a part of me.”
Matt is the son of Alfred and Diane Christianer.