Becoming The One Pec Wonder
By Gunnar Anderson
I was born with a birth defect called Poland’s Syndrome. There are varying degrees of this defect, and some cases can be much worse than others. The most common defect associated with Poland’s Syndrome is a missing or underdeveloped pectoral muscle on one side of the chest. Other things can go along with this birth defect such as an underdeveloped arm or fingers on the affected side. Thankfully I was only affected in the chest.
I was born missing the lower half of my right pec major. My parents noticed the unevenness in my chest at a young age and took me to a doctor to make sure that I was okay. He diagnosed me with Poland’s Syndrome and assured them that it would not affect me in any way related to health, and that it was simply a cosmetic defect. When my dad asked him if I would still be able to play sports, the doctor joked that the only sport I might have trouble with was bodybuilding.
I was aware of my missing pec as a child but at a young age it was nearly unnoticeable. I have a very distinct memory of watching Superman The Movie staring Christopher Reeve and thinking “Man, I wish I could play Superman one day. But how could I when I’m missing a pec?”
As a child I was somewhat of an outcast. I didn’t enjoy sports and I didn’t know much about what everyone else was interested in. Most kids around the age of eight or nine were heavily invested in various Little Leagues, and already knew their favorite professional ball players. I didn’t look to athletes as role models or heroes. I liked superheroes.
While other kids played on the playground, I kept to my few friends, completely lost in a world all our own. In this world I was Batman or Superman. I was big, strong and fearless. These were the characters I idolized. I saw the way they were drawn in comics and knew that it was how I wanted to be built, but thought it was impossible. Later I began to appreciate action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and all of the other 80’s and 90’s action movie characters. Once again their builds fascinated me.
As I began to reach my teenage years I started experiencing muscle development. I was a thin, scrawny kid so of course I had abs. I remember admiring my abs at the age of twelve or thirteen, then an immediate sinking feeling when I saw the missing pec. Around this age was also when the neighborhood pool became the cool place to hang out.
The pool was a nightmare for me. I was constantly invited, but rarely went. I was so worried that someone would notice my chest and look at it funny, or God forbid ask me about it. On the rare occasion that I did go, I constantly rubbed my left shoulder with my right arm, or situated myself belly down on a chair, or the easiest alternative, stayed in the water.
As I entered high school I weighed 130lbs-soaking wet. I joined the wrestling team, mainly for my dad. Despite not doing it because I wanted to, I found enjoyment in the training. My coach also insisted that I be pulled from the general physical education class and put in weight training class instead. This was my first exposure to the weight room.
Each month we were required to do a Max Effort for the four big lifts. We had to max out on squat, deadlifts, power clean and bench press. The first three never bothered me, but I always found a way to excuse myself from bench press. The thought of not being able to do it terrified me. One day, in a completely random conversation with my dad this topic came up. He had the idea that if I gripped the bar closer, I may be able to use my triceps to push. I tried this and on my first attempt at a bench press I got a clean rep with one plate on each side. This sparked something inside me. I knew that 135lbs wasn’t much to be proud of, but now I knew that I could do it. I made a goal that I would bench press two plates before I graduated.
I had to quit wrestling because of a shoulder injury inflicted on me by an assistant coach during a demonstration. I opted out of surgery and instead went to extensive physical therapy. It was during a chiropractic appointment that I was introduced to Travis Mash. He was already helping my mother, and he was willing to take me on as well. I became one of his first young clients.
With Travis I learned the foundations of weight training. I drove out to Gym 365 three times a week after school to train with him. By the time I was 18 I was benching well over 225lbs. Most of my friends went to the YMCA down the street from my high school to mess around with weights, but I took it far more seriously than them. I trained for hours. It was my escape. Anything that didn’t feel right with the world (which at that age feels like everything) could be cast aside for a couple hours in the gym. As my strength increased on bench press towards 300lbs, Travis began to call me The One Pec Terror.
Despite this love for the gym and the strength that I was building, I was still incredibly frustrated by the missing pec. My shoulder on the left side, my good side, had developed far more than the right side. I looked uneven, and it made me sad. I felt that all the hard work was for nothing because I’d never even out. I’d never look “normal.” I constantly did Google image searches for Poland’s Syndrome, hoping I would find someone that had built a physique with one pec. Sadly, I never found one.
I made a change in my fitness goals my freshman year of college. I decided that if I could be the biggest guy in the gym, the missing pec wouldn’t matter. I began to train for size and nothing else. Doing this helped to even out my frame and gave me more confidence in and out of the gym. By this age and stage in life I had become much more comfortable with the missing pec. Most all of my friends knew about it and thought it was neat that I was still able to train. Despite them thinking it was cool I still didn’t have the courage to show it off in public.
Around the age of twenty-one I decided it was time to start thinking about an implant. The only down side of the implant that I could think of would be the required time away from training to heal properly. I thought that if I could get the implant and look “normal” that my life would be exponentially better, and it wasn’t anywhere near bad to begin with. I consulted a couple plastic surgeons on my own, and one with my parents. They explained to me that there were multiple ways to do it, including taking fat from another part of my body and inserting in as a filler for the chest. This was a no go for me. Ultimately I was unsatisfied with the way it would have to be done and decided to wait.
After seeing Pumping Iron for the first time I developed a new respect for competitive bodybuilding. The competitors of the 1970’s had some of the most impressive bodies I had ever seen. They were proportional in every way and they weren’t so massive to the point of looking like cartoons. This was when I became obsessed with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was the first person that I heard relate body building to art. He described it as a sculptor and his clay. After examining myself in the mirror closely, I came to the conclusion that my body was not a work of art. I was massive at six foot and 228lbs, but there was no form. I had the quantity of muscle, but not the quality. I decided that I would begin to chisel myself down into something that looked like the guys from Pumping Iron. This was where my fitness journey really began.
Sometime in late 2013, I discovered the app Instagram. I created an account and posted occasional photos of various things I did with my friends, but I saw no real potential in it. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Zach Deal’s account that I realized there was potential with this app. The wheels began to turn in my head.
People began to stop me in the gym to tell me that I was looking fantastic and asking when my competition was coming up. They were always surprised when I said I wasn’t competing, knowing full well I was missing a pec. It was mind boggling to me to think that they knew I was missing the muscle and still thought I should compete. This gave me even more of a fire and more drive than ever. I had always thought that my missing pec was a detriment to my overall physique. I never considered that it could be the best thing about it. I noticed that people were genuinely impressed that I could move the weight that I could. I also began having people tell me they didn’t even notice the missing pec.
All of this was so amazing, and so humbling. I had never considered that what I was doing could be impressive or inspiring. I had never stopped to think that maybe I had done something noteworthy with a “defective” physique. Once again the wheels began to turn. I remembered being seventeen again and staring into the mirror and feeling so defeated by the unevenness. I remember searching the Internet for someone else like me, someone that I could look up to. That’s when it hit me. What if I could be that for someone else? What if I could turn my own negative experiences with Poland’s Syndrome into positivity for other young men and women who are dealing with it? If I could find a way to turn myself into an inspiration for someone, even if it was just one person, then all of it would be worthwhile.
I began taking shirtless pictures. I never posted them, but I tracked my progress. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I knew I was close. My plan was to create a social media account on the largest platform to hopefully reach the most people. I came up with the name The One Pec Wonder and created the account, but didn’t post of follow anyone for nearly a year. Finally after graduating college I decided to begin. The goal was not only to reach others and help motivate them, but also to force myself to forget the shame or embarrassment of missing a pec. I knew there would be negativity and ridicule from faceless cyber bullies, but I knew I could deal with it.
The One Pec Wonder launched in early 2015 and grew at a slow and steady pace. Today, about a year and a half later I receive messages and emails every day thanking me for the motivation. I have created a personal training service and have amazing clients that are eager to put in the work to make changes in their bodies. Quite a few of them even have Poland’s Syndrome. Creating something as simple as a social media account has changed my life. I have an entirely different outlook and attitude because I have accepted who I am and how I was made. It wasn’t easy and there have been some very hard times. Figuring out a way to get passed your own flaws is one of the hardest things you can do. However, if you can move passed them and accept yourself, and love yourself and your body you will be so much happier and more secure. I cannot express how much I treasure every email from a fellow one pec wonder or anyone else who tells me that I have motivated and inspired them. Every time I read one I think of myself as a teenager, frantically searching for someone like me that I could look to for motivation. It is a truly incredible feeling, and I am so very thankful. It is a blessing to be called The One Pec Wonder.
Follow Gunnar on Instagram @theonepecwonder