Clay Meacham

Working Hard in Classroom and Gym: Hunters Lane Teacher is Also a Winning Bodybuilder
Posted on 06/21/2022
Clay Meacham hates “leg day,” the day each week when he focuses on developing his leg muscles as he trains for bodybuilding competitions.Clay Meacham

But “leg day” has its purpose and even its rewards, as Meacham learned recently – and therein lies a lesson for his history and geography students.

Meacham, a social studies teacher at Hunters Lane High School since 2010, finished second in the Heavyweight Open category in the regional Battle at the River bodybuilding competition in Chattanooga on June 11. He said a judge told him after the event that his leg muscles had put him above the third- and fourth-place winners.

“I despise leg day,” Meacham said with a laugh. “But that's the parallel with teaching. I don’t care if you don’t like math class. You show up and you do it anyway, and you win. We don’t only get to do those things that we like. I just do legs so I can do all the other body parts. But yet it was the legs that put me over the edge.”

Meacham, who was MNPS’s High School Teacher of the Year in 2016, started with the district at Wright Middle School in 2006, where he coached wrestling when he wasn’t teaching social studies. He loves having the opportunity to make a long-term impact on students – “teachers are immortal in a sense,” he says – and enjoys finding ways to get them interested in all kinds of topics.

“You’ve got to be a salesman,” he said. “I’m selling you population density today. Some things are an easy sell. We did a lot (last semester) with the war in Ukraine. We literally watched this thing happen. We were looking at troops lining up on the border for weeks before it. I’ll make the statement, ‘You guys know more about what’s going on in the world than the adults you’re passing on the street.’

“We do a lot of current events. Some of the stuff is a little harder to sell, but you just do it. History is always relevant to whatever’s going on.”

Hunters Lane Executive Principal Dr. Susan Kessler said Meacham “is an exemplary teacher who has the unique ability to get kids excited about world history in a manner that is unlike others.”

“I have seen him teach about presidential debates, and the students are so engaged you would think they were talking about their favorite YouTubers!” Kessler said. “He models a high work ethic and achieving your goals and not to let anyone stand in your way. Not only does he teach well, he makes kids feel good about themselves. Every student thinks they are Mr. Meacham’s favorite student, because, in essence, they are. He was a champion at Hunters Lane long before he became a competitive bodybuilder.”

Meacham, who stands 5’11” and weighed 207 pounds the day of the Chattanooga competition, said he’s always been an athlete. He feels lucky that he found such a good outlet to channel his inner drive and take his mind off his challenges.

“It’s mine,” he said. “For two hours, an hour, you can’t talk to me, you can’t ask me to go to the bathroom, you can’t tell me to take out the trash. It’s medicine.”

As he trained for the Battle at the River, he got up each day at 4 a.m., did cardio workouts for an hour before school, then resumed his workouts after school with weight training, posing and more cardio. Bodybuilders are judged on the definition, thickness, proportions and symmetry of their muscles, all of which are highlighted by the poses they strike for the judges.

Science and a steady diet are in the mix, too, as Meacham works to understand and maximize his body. And “there’s a lot of laundry,” he noted.

Meacham said he wouldn’t have been able to compete or succeed without the support of his wife, Mary Beth, whom he met at Hunters Lane. And he credits Kessler for seeing his potential as a teacher, which remains his main focus.

“I’m a teacher,” he says, “and then I’m a bodybuilder.”

He’s found a way to be very good at both.
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