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Lights, Camera, Last Action Hero!

“A Retrospective of My 1992 Grand Prize Trip with Arnold Schwarzenegger” 
Part 2

(Link to Part 1 if you didn't read it)

Arnold Schwarzenegger really lights up the room with his enthusiasm, charisma, and larger than life persona. Such was the case on December 8, 1992, when I was warming up on the stationary bike at World Gym in Santa Monica, California awaiting my 8:00am scheduled workout with Arnold.  “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” was Arnold’s most recent movie and it deservingly was an international smash hit!  Yet, as a student of Arnold’s bodybuilding career, I was fully cognizant of the fact that I was going to soon be working out with the “Austrian Oak”, winner of five Mr. Universe and seven Mr. Olympia titles.  I had trained for two hours a day, five days per week, for a tenth month period of time leading up to this moment.  To mention the fact that this was an emotional moment in my life is an understatement.  I had feelings of both excitement and nervousness simultaneously.  What was I going to say to the world’s greatest and most influential bodybuilder, highest paid actor, and one of the world’s most famous celebrities?  I noticed gym members turning their heads in the direction of the entrance as Arnold walked in.  This is it, I thought to myself.  This is it!  

Arnold approached a gym employee who had been working behind the counter and that employee began pointing in my direction.  Within seconds, Arnold was extending his hand and said “who do we have here?”  I responded, “Scott Baran from Chicago”, as I shook Arnold’s hand.  Arnold said “Great city!  I filmed ‘Raw Deal’ and ‘Red Heat’ in Chicago.”  Arnold asked me if I were ready to have a great workout and I assured him that with ten months of intensive training; I was as ready as I was every going to be.  The ice had been broken and I did not get overly nervous or star struck.  Arnold’s comment about his familiarity and love of the city of Chicago had put me at ease.  I was now determined to quickly get over the fact of how surreal all of this was!  It was now time to have a great workout with the legendary “Austrian Oak”.

“Let’s do chest and back today” Arnold energetically announced.  We proceeded to do six sets each of the chest fly machine, lateral pulldown machine, chest press machine, and the abdominal crunch machine.  It had been twelve years since Arnold had won his seventh Mr. Olympia title at the Sydney Opera House.  Arnold was about twenty-five to thirty pounds lighter in bodyweight compared to his competitive bodybuilding days.  Yet, he was in incredible shape; ripped, athletic, and extremely defined.  Arnold’s biceps and calves especially were still in championship form. One thing is for certain, Arnold’s exercise pace is fast!  Arnold would complete a set on the chest press machine and immediately follow-up with a set of lateral pulldowns.  Arnold was extremely focused while doing a set or a superset.  There was a look of intensity within his eyes and a couple of my pictures captured it.  However, Arnold’s charisma and sense of humor were exhibited in-between sets.  Without a doubt, Arnold still enjoyed engaging in humorous gym/trash talking with some of the friendly gym members.  “Hey Arnold, did you quit acting to become a fitness trainer?” joked a member.  Arnold responded “No.  I’m doing both now.  I get to charge $80,000 per hour while training my clients!”  As funny and shocking as Arnold’s response was, considering the fact that Arnold was paid $21,429 per word for his role in Terminator 2, his calculation for what he could charge for personal training was spot on.  The fact that I was getting this experience for free was indeed surreal.

I noticed quite a few gym members watching Arnold train from afar.  On occasion and in-between sets, a gym employee would briefly introduce someone to Arnold.  He was always very nice and took the time to exchange a few kind words.  “How are you? Nice meeting you.  Good to see you, etc.”  I vividly remember the facial expression and body language of one of these individuals in particular whose eyes were both wide open, had a smile of such joy, and had a look of both awe and admiration.  The impact that Arnold had on this person within that brief minute was absolutely incredible to witness.  Arnold completed his daily workouts at World Gym during this time period and he felt very much at home. At one point, Arnold nonchalantly walked right behind the counter and grabbed a World Gym t-shirt and a World Gym hat and casually handed it to me.  Our workout lasted for about an hour and fifteen minutes when Arnold said “Come on.  I want to introduce you to someone”.  He introduced me to his longtime dear friend and mentor Joe Gold (founder of both Gold’s and World Gym).  I vividly remember Joe Gold’s smile, warmth of personality, and his willingness and graciousness to take a Polaroid picture with me.  Joe Gold passed away in 2004 at the age of 82.  (Special note: I feel a sense of sadness while writing about Joe’s passing.  He was a true legend in the sport of bodybuilding.  Although my introduction to Joe was brief, he made a strong and lasting impression upon me. I cherish that one particular photo of us together.  I’m very fortunate to have met Joe Gold through Arnold).

I soon found myself riding “shotgun” in Arnold’s H1 Hummer with Schwarzenegger at the wheel.  With our workout completed, Arnold was taking me to his very own restaurant “Schatzi on Main” for breakfast.  Schatzi means (sweetheart; darling) in German.  Opened in 1991 by Arnold and Maria, Schatzi was a great restaurant that had a successful run of approximately sixteen years.  Let me emphasize one thing, that restaurant was awesome!  It is important to note that Arnold owns the entire building that Schatzi, numerous other businesses, and Arnold’s own extremely impressive office, are located.  There is a different restaurant there today where Schatzi once operated.  Also, the building happens to span the entire block!  We enjoyed oatmeal with raisins and very fresh strawberries.  In fact, as soon as Arnold had arrived to Schatzi, a back door immediately opened up and an employee told Arnold that these strawberries were freshly picked especially for him that morning.  I was witnessing the perks of celebrity firsthand.  (Special note: Also present at the workout and breakfast was the winner of the raffle drawing from 1991.  While conducting background research for this article, I made attempts to contact this individual without success.)

Over breakfast, I vividly remember telling Arnold about my scheduled trip to visit Thailand in approximately three weeks’ time.  My father had traveled to Thailand numerous times as a professor of business with a group of students that were part of DePaul University’s MBA program.  This was going to be my first time traveling there to meet him.  Arnold immediately made eye contact with me and took an interest in this topic.  When Arnold takes an interest in what is being said, there’s no doubt about it.  He focuses like a laser beam.  He mentioned how many countries in Asia that he had traveled to for the promotion and openings of his movies. Deep down, I felt good by the fact that I was able to broach a topic in which Arnold had taken such an interest.  As of the time of this article, I have made ten trips to Thailand, some of them lasting all summer long.  My wife, although now a U.S. citizen, is Thai, and my eighteen month old son by the name of James is half Thai.

Saifon, James, and Scott
James and Scott

(Fast forwarding in time just briefly)  In 1995, exactly three years after my trip with Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was a student of DePaul University’s: Southeast Asian Business Study Tour.  This was my second trip to Thailand.  Long story short, we were on a bus ride approximately two hours outside of Bangkok, Thailand when I noticed something unbelievable yet true.  In fact, I captured it on home video!  I was sitting on the second floor at the very front of a double decker bus when I noticed the rear mud flaps of a large commercial truck driving just ahead of the bus.  Each mud flap (right and left) had a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator on it!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Here I was, 8,553 miles away from Chicago and I’m staring at mud flaps of the Terminator representing the global reach and fame of Arnold Schwarzenegger!  Also, in mid-July of 2003, my then fiancée (now wife) and I went to see the opening of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” at a movie theater on Sukhumvit Road in city-center Bangkok, Thailand.  Since we were in Southeast Asia, the opening of this movie was somewhat later than back in the U.S.  This movie was a really, really big deal in Thailand.  The movie theater employees were all wearing T3 t-shirts and my large plastic soda cup and large plastic popcorn container both had pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator on them!  
I’ve witnessed the global reach of Arnold’s fame firsthand.

“What do you think about Lou Ferrigno’s comeback?” I asked Arnold as he was once again behind the wheel of his H1 Hummer.  We were driving to the makeup trailer for the production of “Last Action Hero”.  My question was in reference to Lou’s comeback to bodybuilding after being away for so many years.  “I think that his comeback is fantastic.  I’m proud of him.  It takes a lot of guts to come back after so many years”.  I also mentioned to Arnold that I lived only several miles away from the legendary Sergio Oliva.  In fact, I had seen Sergio in police uniform speaking with a driver whom he pulled over on Toughy Avenue in West Rogers Park (far north side of Chicago) in 1991/1992.  Arnold really took an interest in my comment.  I remember that we talked about Sergio for several minutes.  Arnold picked up his car phone (remember that this was back in 1992) and placed a call.  He was inquiring about the status of his dog that had undergone a surgical lung procedure.  From what I gathered, the procedure was a success and Arnold’s dog was recovering nicely.  I vividly remember Arnold driving fast down the freeway.  “Hey Arnold, do you ever get pulled over for speeding?”  “No.  I don’t have to worry about that.  If I were to get pulled over, most likely it would be just a warning”, Arnold responded as he appeared to be slightly amused by my question.  Watching the other drivers taking notice of the H1 Hummer, the very first civilian model, was really something to witness.  Watching the other driver’s facial expressions once they realized who was driving the H1 Hummer was priceless!

Arnold’s car phone rang and he was about to demonstrate his legendary and outstanding sense of humor.  One of his assistants was calling and I venture a guess that it was Lynn Marks.  “No, I never saw them at the gym (in reference to myself and the 1991 grand prize winner).  At what time was I supposed to meet them?  I have no idea why they didn’t call the office”.  Then, there was a long pause.  “Ha.  Relax.  They’re here with me now.  We had a great workout and also had breakfast at the restaurant.  We’re now on the way to the set”, Arnold responded.  “Arnold, I’m surprised that you do not have any bodyguards” I said after he had hung up the phone.  “I don’t need them.  It’s not my style.  I’m well liked and people respond very well to me.  Besides, if somebody really wanted to get me, it wouldn’t matter how many bodyguards that I may have.”  Arnold continued, “Security will be needed only while filming at certain locations, at a movie premier, or something like that for crowd control.” (Special note: this was a decade prior to Arnold winning the Governorship of California).  I asked Arnold if he used a limousine service or had his own driver.  “No.  Not my style.  The only time that I will use a limousine is if it’s in the middle of the night after filming for hours and hours.  Then, if I’m extremely sleepy, I’ll have someone drive me.  Also, I don’t want to run the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel of the car while trying to drive home in that type of situation.”  I mentioned to Arnold that although it had been 12 years since he last competed; his biceps were still world class.  Arnold was amused by my comment and raised his right arm and flexed his bicep.  The peak of his right bicep was indeed world class.  I looked again at Arnold who was wearing sunglasses as he drove expeditiously, weaving in and out through traffic and for a brief moment, I paused and thought to myself “My God, I’m driving with the Terminator!”


To be continued…


(Stay tuned for the exciting details of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of “Last Action Hero”.  Also, Arnold would introduce me to Rachel Ticotin, co-star of “Total Recall”, and to Clint Eastwood on the set of “In the Line of Fire”!  This unbelievable yet true story will be continued next month in part 3 exclusively on

Now…fasten your seatbelt for an emotional “story within a story” that is unbelievable yet true!

(Scott D. Baran pictured in 1978 at the age of five)

I was born with an aortic heart valve that has a bicuspid leaflet (most have a tricuspid).  In 2010, I was going to learn that I have a lot more in common with Arnold than just a two day long visit. 

Straight From the Heart:  An Ironic Twist of Fate”
By Scott D. Baran

Exactly eighteen years had passed since my magical winning of the raffle drawing that allowed me a trip of a lifetime with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I was about to learn that I shared an amazing similarity to Arnold that would be of an extremely serious nature.  The year was 2010 and I had experienced a sudden shortness of breath while climbing the stairs of the school building where I teach.  Since I had recently experienced this symptom a couple of times before, I decided to schedule a visit with my doctor.  The school year was going to conclude in a couple of weeks and my wife and I had planned on flying to Thailand for the summer.  This was going to be my tenth trip there and I was all too familiar with the eighteen hour flight.  The thought of experiencing a shortness of breath at 38,000 feet did not appeal to me in the least.

The doctor that I saw at the family practice office was undergoing her residency requirement at the time of my visit.  I remember her as appearing to be very young but extremely focused.  She listened to me as I explained my symptoms very carefully.  She asked me several follow-up questions and again, she listened to my answers very, very carefully.  She used her stethoscope to listen to my heart.  An unusually long period of time had elapsed.  She moved the stethoscope around to several different positions and listened, and listened, and listened.  The doctor told me that she had detected a faint heart murmur that was very difficult to detect.  I was told that she would be right back.  Several minutes later, she returned with two other doctors who each took turns listening to my heart for extended periods of time.  The other doctors confirmed hearing the murmur but it wasn’t until the second or third time listening to my heart that they could actually detect it.  The young intern doctor was able to detect my faint heart murmur not so much by her stethoscope, but by her amazing ability to listen to my explanation of symptoms very, very carefully.  

As I had explained to the doctor that I was soon scheduled to fly to Thailand and that time was of the essence, I found myself getting an echocardiogram the following day.  The day after that, I was in a cardiologist’s office where I was confronted with shocking news.  I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve whereas most people have a tricuspid valve.  As a result, my bicuspid aortic valve had calcified causing some difficulty with blood flow.  This difficulty is called aortic regurgitation and is causing the left side of my heart to become enlarged.  Simply put, my valve opens just fine but doesn’t close all the way causing a moderate to severe regurgitation (blood flow leakage) back into the chamber of my heart.  Bottom line, I will need to have aortic heart valve replacement surgery.

In “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story”, Arnold writes that his condition was hereditary.  I have no family history of heart trouble.  My bicuspid aortic valve condition is congenital, born with, and it was only a matter of time, usually in middle age, that my valve would have eventually begun to fail.  Arnold writes about the importance of getting at least three medical opinions before undergoing a major procedure.  Problem is, his book was published in 2012 and I was diagnosed in 2010.  My first cardiologist was recommending that I have surgery back in 2010.  As it turns out, I went ahead and got four medical opinions and I saw to it that one of them was from overseas.  Every doctor agreed with the diagnosis, for the eventual need of surgery, but emphasized that the condition wasn’t urgent enough to make a surgical procedure necessary at this point.  I now get it checked out every six months via a stress echocardiogram.  Unfortunately, the time will eventually come where I will need to get the procedure over with.  The medical community is making remarkable breakthroughs with aortic heart valve procedures.  For the valves that do not “open” correctly, some of the procedures can be performed less invasively, via an artery, preventing the need to crack open the chest cavity.  Unfortunately, I have the condition where my valve doesn’t “close” properly and as of now, they are not performing the less invasive procedure for that type of condition.  However, they are getting very close and are probably only a couple of years away.  I am optimistic that I will be able to safely wait for the less invasive procedure.            

Six years have passed since I was first diagnosed.  I feel just fine ninety-nine percent of the time and amazingly, this situation somehow feels routine at this point. I have an excellent medical team and I’m fortunate that continued medical advances and breakthroughs have been made.  As the readers of this article are loyal fans of Arnold, you no doubt already know about the amazing shape that he is in at the current age of 68.  Have you seen recent pictures of his biceps?  I once again look up to Arnold, a quarter century after I spent two days with him, for inspiration.  I’m handling my condition with hope and confidence.

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