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Bill Lawrence said that although he is competing at the international level this weekend, he feels at ease.

A plane flight across the globe. Representing the entire country. No prior knowledge of the competition.

These circumstances have become a reality in the life of Meadville bodybuilder Bill Lawrence as he gets set to touch down in Ostrava, Czech Republic, today for Saturday and Sunday’s International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness world championships. Lawrence is one of 268 bodybuilders from around the world who will represent 62 national teams in Ostrava.

The funny thing is, he feels less pressure than ever before.

“I wish I knew exactly what I was getting into, but I’ve never done a show where we had to fly to the place this far ahead of time, with this long a plane trip and this much of a time change,” Lawrence said.

“This is actually the least stress I’ve ever felt, because I usually feel like I’m expected to win. This time, I don’t know what I’m getting into, which has actually made me train harder without the stress.”

About 50 people, including Edinboro athletic director and Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner, Edinboro wrestling coach Tim Flynn and friends, family and clients — many wearing “Win Billy Win” T-shirts — gathered at Bill’s studio along Chestnut Street in downtown Meadville to wish Lawrence well before he was given a police escort out of town Tuesday.

In terms of the trip, Lawrence will be jumping ahead six hours, a fact which has a pretty remarkable effect on his eating regimen.

“With a trip this long, it’s going to be really difficult getting the diet right for those couple days of travel,” he said. “That’s probably going to be the most difficult aspect of the entire thing.”

He left Meadville on Tuesday, and is scheduled to arrive around 7 a.m. today.

A positive note is that he and the other United States team members will have more time than usual to adjust to the new eating, sleeping and workout schedule.

“They’re sending us out earlier this year, because our athletes haven’t done that well in the past,” Lawrence said. “They’re hoping that extra couple days will help us get ready to go.”

Lawrence has been competing on stage for nearly 10 years, and at this point, the waning moments before a show have become pretty much second nature.

“I’m really not too worried about it,” he said. “If you’ve done your homework, and you’re ready to go, then you should be OK.”

The element of the unknown basically starts after that, but Lawrence is excited to create new relationships with his team and see how he measures up against the top bodybuilders from all over the world.

“I don’t really know them, but I figure after I spend six days with them, we’ll be good buddies before it’s all over,” Lawrence said of his teammates. “I think I’m staying with the bantam weight. He’s the only one smaller than me, so I’ll be able to get my way and pick what bed I want,” he quipped.

“If I can come in looking like I did at the Team Universe qualifier in New York, I think I’m good enough to be one of the best ones. But the reality is, I don’t know what the guy from Russia looks like; I have no idea what I’m up against.”

Knowing that he just reached one of the biggest goals he set in his career to date is also setting Lawrence’s mind at ease.

With a second-place finish at the Team Universe Championships in 2004 and 2005, Lawrence took the gold this year, knocking off defending champion Kelly Pettiford of Pittsburgh.

“It was nice to beat somebody who is that good,” Lawrence said of his win over Pettiford. “He is such a top-notch bodybuilder. It was big for me to reach that personal goal.”

The National Physique Committee puts on this weekend’s international bodybuilding show, the world’s only 100-percent natural fitness contest.

Lawrence has followed a workout created by Advancing Sports Technology, a company based in Golden, Colo., which produces sports supplements. He has also used the company’s supplements. He’s been sponsored by the company and has served as its spokesman.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” AST national sales director Larry Witt said. “We’re really excited about him traveling to the Czech Republic to represent the United States.

“I’ve never heard anything but good about Bill. He is a very positive, motivated gentleman.”

In the last two weeks, Lawrence is sticking to his plan, and he says that is by far the most crucial aspect of preparation down the stretch.

“The most critical thing is just staying on track,” he said. “The mirror plays tricks on bodybuilders in the last couple weeks. In my head, from day to day, I look completely different. The biggest thing is just doing what you know is right with your food and your training.”

Months of preparation have come down to a brief 10-minute period on stage Saturday. If Lawrence has a good showing, he will have a chance to pose again Sunday.

“I just hope to still be around Sunday,” he said. “That is my biggest goal at the moment.”

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