Frank Budelewski, AKA “Big Frank,” has been through a lot in his life. While he’s a famous bodybuilding champ now, you’d never know that at one point, he was ready to give up on this world.
After high school Budelewski received a scholarship to play football, but while on break he was a passenger in a terrible car accident in a vehicle that was going 85 mph. The driver was intoxicated and lost control of the car and Budelewski was lucky to be alive. However, he didn’t feel so alive. After not being able to move for almost six years, many operations, and being told he’d never walk right again or be able to lift weights, he went into a great depression and became obese.
“I was either going to let this take my life or change my life, and thankfully I went with the latter,” he said.
Budelewski lost 145 pounds and went through hypnotherapy to learn how to block the pain. He started feeling better about himself and decided to get back into bodybuilding but when he told his family and friends, they laughed. He only had himself to motivate him and he did just that.
In 2001 he walked on the stage for the first time as a bodybuilder and won Mr. Buffalo, one of several competitions he would win for many years to come.
“You could hear a pin drop when I took the stage,” he said. “No one could believe how I radically transformed myself.”
In 2008 Budelewski turned pro and continued to impress audiences both locally and nationally. He was named BodyBuilding.com’s “Man of the Year,” was featured in several magazines and honored with many covers and awards. During that time, he was also working as a federal detention officer and started arm wrestling professionally. But unfortunately this story also takes a turn for the worst.
During an annual riot drill training, Budelewski was struck full force in the face and head with a riot shield. He suffered many injuries including hearing loss in his left year and a traumatic brain injury. But somehow, through the grace of God, he overcame these challenges with strength and bravery.
“I do believe that I was spared for a reason and that reason was to inspire others,” he said.
While Budelewski never really wanted much attention personally, he was approached by the late Rich Paina of 5% Nutrition who encouraged him to share his story with the world. “It was surreal that someone who was an idol to me was telling me that I inspired him,” he said.
Budelewski became part of the 5 % Nutrition team. He attended various competitions and spoke to fans about his injury. He never realized what an impact he had on those who also had “invisible injuries” until he continued to have massive amounts of people waiting in line to meet him. “People said they didn’t think they could ever go through what they were going through until they heard my story. It pushed me to do more.”
The bodybuilder, and father of two sets of twins, went on to enjoy his life and new found fame. But after all he’s been through, one night would scare him most of all.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and my son couldn’t breathe. I grabbed him and did the infant CPR, called the ambulance, and they rushed him to Children’s Hospital. He died on the table, but Children’s revived him. Had it not been for the care at Children’s, he wouldn’t be here today.”
Forever grateful for his son’s life, when Budelewski had the opportunity to help the hospital he promised he would.
“I dropped to my knees in that hospital and prayed and said if there’s ever something I could do to help them I will.”
And that day presented itself recently when 10-time arm wrestling champion, Devon “No Limits” Larratt, challenged Budelewski to an arm wrestling match at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on Saturday, Sept. 9. He accepted, but he didn’t want any of the money to go to him.
“I didn’t want to get paid. I said let’s do a Pay Per View and I want all the money to go to the hospital. That’s how I knew I could help.”
But it was bound to be a tough match as Larratt was an arm wrestling champ, and Budelewski a bodybuilder. He brought along a pal to the match to bring him good luck. A brave young boy named Garrett, a Make-A-Wish child, wanted to meet Budelewski so the “big guy with a big heart” had him front and center the whole match to cheer him on.
“I went to meet him at his house in Fredonia and his mom said as soon as he saw me that’s the most lit up he’s been in a long time. I brought him some gifts and took him for rides on the 4-wheeler and he was my special guest front row. I told him I’m going to pull with everything I have just for you.”
And he did. While Budelewski didn’t win the match, he did win the first round which is a big accomplishment going up against champion Larratt.
“I hit him with so much power. He couldn’t believe it.”
Budelewski says Larratt pulled out in a losing position which is a loss.
“He said, ‘you hit me so hard, had I touched the pad I wouldn’t be able to show my face in arm wrestling again.”‘
While the competition was a fierce one, it was all for a good cause. Budelewski raised money for the hospital he cares about and he certainly made one deserving boy’s night one to remember. There should be more “Big Franks” in this world.
If you would like to support Big Frank by making a donation to Women & Children’s Hospital, visit www.gofundme.com/battleforchildren.