Wagner’s goal is to enter a bodybuilder competition, something a year ago he never even thought would be possible.

By Derek Steyer

Saturday, December 24th 2022, 3:32 PM EST 
Sunday, December 25th 2022, 11:44 PM EST

Three to four days a week, you can find Tom Wagner inside Body by Phil in Austintown, lifting weights, building up his cardio, and boxing.

“People that come in and watch him train, they see the intensity that he puts forward,” said Phil Albenze, owner of Body by Phil.

“I hardly ever before set goals for myself, but now, yeah, I set those goals, and I’m going to reach them,” Wagner said.

Wagner’s goal is to enter a bodybuilder competition, something a year ago he never even thought would be possible.

“I almost gave up,” Wagner said. “I was just going to be sitting in my room and give up and not do anything.”

Three and a half years ago, Tom went completely blind. He tried six surgeries on his eyes, but none of them worked. He also suffers from Type 2 diabetes and lost the big toe on his left foot. While he was down and out for a bit, Tom soon found inspiration on YouTube, watching videos of the blind surfer Pete Gustin.

“He also motivated me because he’s also blind, and he’s doing things that you know normal people wouldn’t do either, but that pushed me to try,” Wagner said.

A different gym Wagner tried going to turned him down, calling him a liability. That’s when Phil Albenze took him in.

“I was nervous our first day because I was in uncharted water, but I realized right away that his affliction had nothing to do with his drive; in fact, if anything, it motivated him even more,” Albenze said.

“I just follow him around and put my hand on his shoulders, and he just guides me around the gym and tells me what we’re going to be doing and tells me how to get into each different machine if we’re working a machine or he tells me how we’re going to do the certain exercise,” Wagner said. “We have a blast while we work out. We jab each other while we’re working out, and then we still get everything done that we need to get done.”

“It is an absolute heartfelt inspiration to everybody,” Albenze said. “It doesn’t only inspire me, but it inspires so many other people that come in and actually see him come in and fight and work this hard and give it his whole heart and soul.”

Albenze and Wagner say the message is clear, if you want something bad enough, go get it.

“Regardless of whatever struggles or battles we’re going through, if you have the desire, if you want to overcome some sort of obstacle in your life, and you have some support and some help to do it, you can accomplish anything,” Albenze said.

Wagner hopes his story will inspire others with disabilities that there is still a lot of life left to live.

“You can do whatever you really set your mind to,” Wagner said. “You just got to push yourself, really push yourself to get out of that mindset that you put yourself in with your disability. You got to just get around it and just keep on going; you can’t just stop.”

As for bodybuilding, Albenze says to give them another six months or so.

“I’m so proud of Tom and what he’s doing now, but to get him on stage, we will get him on stage; I can’t wait to get him to a bodybuilding event, and that’s going to be super, super proud, I’m going to be like a proud parent sitting there, so it is going to be a big day for me as well as Tom.”