He's been flexing his brain muscles every day for decades as a respected surgeon; now, he's flexing all his other muscles, too, as a bulky bodybuilder.

Dr. Francis Cormier, an orthopedic surgeon at Essentia Health-St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes, shed his signature scrubs in favor of a new pair of boxer shorts on Saturday for the NPC Upper Midwest Bodybuilding, Physique, Figure and Bikini Championships in Fargo. The shorts were a compromise with his prep coach for the competition, Cormier said, who wanted him to wear bikini briefs.

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"I'm 59 years old," he laughed. "That's not happening."

He already had to shave off his body hair and get a spray tan, he said-bikini bottoms would have just been too much.

The competition required Cormier to strike flattering poses on stage for 10 minutes, in front of judges and a live audience, to show off his physique. Among the crowd was a group from Detroit Lakes, including Cormier's wife, his prep coach, some Essentia staffers and a handful of other local bodybuilders who were also competing that day.

Cormier did well, bringing home three trophies: one for 3rd place in Men's Physique, Masters 35+; and two 5th place awards, for Men's Physique Class B and Novice Men's Physique Class B.

"I'm very, very proud of what he did there," said Cormier's wife, Johanne Pardiac. "He looked good-he looked good! ...There were people there from all over the country. It was very impressive to see. There's a lot of commitment there."

"A lot of people get up to this point and they don't even step on stage, so I was proud of him for even getting here," said Josh Strand, Cormier's prep coach. "Even at age 59, he's in incredible shape."

The Detroit Lakes surgeon did well at the competition -- his first ever --and earned three trophies. Submitted photo
The Detroit Lakes surgeon did well at the competition -- his first ever --and earned three trophies. Submitted photo

The whole experience was brand new to Cormier, who had never showed his buff stuff at a bodybuilding competition before. He only started training one year ago. He didn't sign up for the competition to win any awards, he said; he did it as extra motivation to reach his own personal fitness goals.

At that, he succeeded. Cormier hoped to get down to 7 percent body fat, and he had achieved that by the time of the competition. Since starting an intensive diet, exercise and weight-lifting routine last March, Cormier has lost 40 pounds-and gained a lot of muscle. The result, he said, is that he feels better both physically and mentally. He has more energy, more stamina, is more alert, and feels like he can get his work done more efficiently.

Though he's always been active in one way or another, Cormier's interest in bodybuilding is new. He used to go running a few times a week, he said, but that started getting too hard on his body. And he likes to play sports, but those are only seasonal and don't always fit into his busy work schedule. Bodybuilding, he said, is something that can be done all year long, locally, and on his own time.

"I started to train just to be a better person," he said. "I knew I'd be a better person overall, mentally and physically. I wanted to find something I could do to stay fit; I also thought it would influence other people."

He also knew he'd be rewarded, somehow, some way, for making a positive lifestyle change-trophies are an obvious reward, but there are other, even better ones.

"Family life is happier, patients see you progress, and they're motivated-or at least it gives them the message that anything's possible, that they can do it," he said of what's been most rewarding for him. "I always tell them, 'If you do it, if you change your lifestyle, there's a 100 percent chance you'll get rewards.' What are they? That's unknown...but positive things will come into your life. There's no doubt in the world that that happens."

Cormier worked with Strand to put together a healthy diet and exercise regimen in order to get in shape. Cormier reduced his daily calorie intake (first to 3,000 calories, now to 2,200), cut down on carbohydrates, and switched from eating three big meals a day to six smaller meals, which he said tricks the body into losing weight. He stopped eating junk food, and pays more attention to his portion sizes.

He also started waking up earlier to get to Anytime Fitness by 5 a.m. to lift weights (he uses a combination of free weights and weight machines) for about an hour-and-15-minutes before heading to work. After work, he spends 45 minutes doing aerobics at home. He has a small home gym with a Peloton bike, treadmill and other equipment.

He does all this six days a week, every week. On the seventh day, he allows himself a "cheat day." He doesn't work out at all that day, and he eats whatever he wants.

"It wasn't too bad," he said of getting used to his new routine. "It was a shift at first, (but) I adapted pretty good; I kind of like it now. You have to commit. You just gotta say, 'I'm gonna do it,' because there's always rewards at the end."

Strand believes Cormier owes his success almost entirely to his own motivation.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the mindset, really committing to it, and having somebody there for accountability," Stand said. "He went above and beyond everything I wanted him to do. He's very dedicated."

"Francis is very goal-oriented," confirmed his wife. "When he puts his mind on something, he'll go until he gets to the end of it."

Cormier rarely stops moving even when he's away from the gym. His job keeps him on his toes during the day, and at home he helps out around what he calls "the farm." The couple owns and operates JF Stables north of Detroit Lakes, a boarding and training facility for horses. They currently board about 20 horses.

Cormier moved to Detroit Lakes 10 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada, where he was born and raised and had been working in orthopedics for about another 10 years prior. He was recruited to the area by a former Essentia colleague.

With one successful bodybuilding competition now behind him, those closest to him say Cormier is more motivated than ever. He plans to keep working hard and wants to build up even more muscle, said his wife; he will compete again.