Type A knows no bounds

Moustafa Ismail
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Moustafa Ismail

When Massachusetts residents gain recognition after toiling in obscurity, it’s usually for intellectual pursuits. Last Monday, the MacArthur Foundation announced four Boston-area residents had won “genius” fellowships — $500,000 grants for bold but often unsung work.

Then there’s Moustafa Ismail, 24, of Franklin, recently recognized by Guinness as having the planet’s largest biceps. His newfound status, not to mention his 31-inch upper arms, shows that Type-A personalities come in many forms.

True, humanity gains less from endlessly repeated arm curls than from the work MacArthur recognizes: inventive writing (author Junot Diaz), insights into consumer behavior (Harvard economist Raj Chetty), exquisite musical equipment (Benoit Rolland, craftsman of bows for stringed instruments), medical advances (pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Warf). And, as Tuesday’s Globe reported, even some bodybuilders view Ismail’s record with suspicion. His upper arms are unusually, strikingly, bulgingly larger than his forearms. There’s speculation, which he denies, that he uses a muscle-inflating oil called synthol.


Either way, one needn’t share Ismail’s interests or his aesthetic sensibilities to see an unusual single-mindedness at work. In bodybuilding, as in economics or neurosurgery, fame goes to those who follow their passions and stick to their, er, guns.