FOLLEY’S FIGHT FOR THE TOP - PART ONE:
THEY say that behind every successful man there is a great woman. And that is no more true than in the case of physique athlete Richard Folley.
Known best as simply ‘Folley’, the 34-year-old, who trains and coaches out of Ab Salute Gym in Lakeside, is targeting his IFBB pro card this year when he competes at the Amatuer Olympia in Alicante, Spain, in June.
He has competed six times in just two years, starting out as a fitness athlete, finishing third on his stage debut in 2017, before a judge recommended him for the physique class. It was here where he found his groove, going on to secure a second place and two first places – the pinnacle being crowned UKBFF British Physique champion in 2018 – before a fourth-place finish at last year’s Amateur Olympia.
But behind the outgoing personality and the beaming smile is a story of success achieved amid savage adversity and a quick glance at his backstory shines an impressive light on all of his achievements.
Not only was Folley born with just one kidney but just two years before he hit the stage, he was having bereavement counselling following the death of his dad. His mum died suddenly just two years later.
But his nightmare did not end there. That same year, the lives of Folley and his two daughters Faith and Esme, now eight and six, were hit by yet more tragedy with the news that his wife Kelly had developed a brain tumour.
“We found out two years ago and she had surgery – but last year it grew back,” says Folley. “And last year was probably one of the worst – she ended up being in hospital for three months.
“I competed at the Amateur Olympia in June last year and then we booked a family holiday to Turkey. When we were there, Kelly started to complain about her eyesight again; the tumour is behind her optic nerve, which affects her eyes.
“The only reason she found out the first time is that her vision was going. She was complaining about headaches all the time.”
An initial visit to the opticians was fruitless but, clearly worried, she pushed for a second opinion. “This time they picked up the blackspots,” says Folley. “They told her she needed to go to the hospital.”
Two weeks after her initial hospital appointment, Kelly was having surgery. “They went through her nose rather than through her brain,” says Folley. “But the thing is, where it’s sitting, they can’t remove it because there is a risk of making her blind or disabled. So they removed a bit. But they told us it has a tendency to grow back.”
In circumstances such as these, there is thanks for small mercies. The tumour is benign but the Folleys were not out of the woods. What was meant to be a relaxing holiday in the Turkish sun after competing twice in 2019 turned into another kick in the teeth.
But there was a glimmer of hope. “This time they [surgeons] have removed quite a bit of the tumour – a lot more.
“But they went through her nose again and there has been a few problems; her nose started leaking with brain fluids and she is on some medication now to control all of that.
“She was in hospital from August all the way through to November. So now she is just trying to find herself. I’m just praying it doesn’t come back.
“When she was in hospital I almost broke down because, having kids, you start thinking the worst – they need their mum.
“The second time we knew a bit more. We weren’t in unfamiliar territory. My missus is as tough as nails though – if I was in her position I’d be all over the place. If I get a cold I struggle!”
For Folley, training is no longer a vanity project. Those days are long gone. Now, bodybuilding offers so much more.
“Training and competing helps me, it really does,” he says. “It’s almost therapeutic. It sets up my day. Kelly is very understanding and supportive – but do you know what I think she likes it when I’m out of the house!
“It is hard to juggle it [training/competing] at times, particularly when I’m three or four weeks out from a show, that’s when it can get a bit tedious – when I’m doing like an hour and a half cardio. So I do sometimes think, ‘how do I juggle it’?”
IN PART TWO NEXT MONTH – READ HOW FOLLEY IS TARGETING HIS PRO CARD:
“I end up having conversations with myself where I’m saying, ‘no, keep going, you won’t be beaten’...”
“I said, ‘Next year I’ll be on this stage and I’m going to win it’...”
“I’m OTT. If he says 100g of oats and it goes over to 103g, I start putting some grains back...”
“My kids are eating fish and chips and keep offering me them and I can’t because I’m on prep. They’re still young and going, ‘dad, just have a chip!’...” Folley's competition history:
2017: Bodypower Fitness – 3rd 2018: 2 Bros Physique – 2nd 2018: UKBFF National Physique – 3rd 2018: UKBFF British Final Physique – 1st 2019: PCA Hampshire Physique – 1st 2019: Amateur Olympia Physique – 4th
Coaching: [Insta] - Folleyfitness
Meal prep: Prep2urstep.co.uk