My tribute to Dale “THE MIRACLE MAN” Friesz

by Al Myers

Dale Friesz made the trip to Las Vegas for the 2012 USAWA National Championships last summer. This was Dale's 20th National Meet that he has competed in. Pictured left to right: Art Montini, Al Myers, Dale Friesz

The USAWA will greatly miss Dale Friesz.   Dale’s passion for All Round Weightlifting and his love for the USAWA was “way beyond” that of  most lifters.  He was in a ”class of his own” in terms of dedication.  Several lifters “come and go” in the USAWA through the years, but Dale kept steady with his never-ending involvement.  I want to take today’s story to share my tribute to Dale with everyone.  I know lots of the newer USAWA members are not aware of the things Dale has accomplished in the USAWA.   Dale stated in his USAWA Hall of Fame biography that he got started in lifting by the encouragement of his brother Leonard.  Leonard had a stellar lifting career, and at one time was competing in Olympic Weightlifting in the Missouri Valley Region.  I remember seeing Leonard’s  name in numerous  past meet results.  Dale was influenced into becoming involved in the USAWA by two legendary USAWA lifters, John Vernacchio and Bill Clark.  This was also stated in his HOF bio.  I want to mention this footnote as well – when I was working on the project to get all USAWA Hall of Famers to have a biography on this website I set out questionnaires to each member which I based writing their bios on.  Dale was one of “the few” who wanted to write his bio himself, which he did.  He told me in an email he wanted it to be written right! (which I took as him not trusting me to get all the important facts and details in it!!!!) .  

Dale receiving the award for winning the FIRST EVER Presidential Cup in 2012. Dale is on the left, with the USAWA President Denny Habecker on the right doing the presentation.

Dales first competition in the USAWA was on November 11th, 1989, in a meet in Valley Forge, PA hosted by John Vernacchio.  Dale’s first year of USAWA membership began the very first year the USAWA began collecting dues – 1988.  Since that time Dale has had a CONTINUOUS membership in the USAWA (26 years!!!).  Dale always joined before the membership year began, and often he was the FIRST MEMBERSHIP for the year I would receive.  That’s a testament to his strong connection and support to the USAWA.  Dale is one of only four USAWA members that has maintained continuous membership in the USAWA (Bill Clark, Joe Garcia, and Art Montini are the others) since the organization formed.  This makes him one of the CHARTER MEMBERS of the USAWA.  At this past year’s Nationals, a very special award was given to Dale.  It was called the “25 Year Participation Award”, given to the lifters that have participated in the most USAWA National Championships in the 25 year history of the USAWA.  Dale had competed in 20 out of the 25 Nationals!!!  That’s an amazing track record!!  The other winners were Denny Habecker, Art Montini, and Dennis Mitchell.  Dale only missed the 1988, 1989, 2000, 2006, & the 2011 Nationals.  I was glad to see him involved in our 25th Nationals in Las Vegas last June.  I met him at the airport and I could tell that the flight had taken a toll on him, but he seemed very excited to be there and able to take part in this very important USAWA meet.  No matter how Dale felt physically, he always seem upbeat and glad to be taking part in the competition.

Dale performing one of his favorite lifts, the Neck Lift, at the 2009 USAWA Heavy Lift Championships in Lebanon, PA. This was the day that I got Dale to reveal his "neck lifting secrets" to me. He was the master of technique in the Neck Lift!!

Dale competed in several meets in Clarks Gym through the years.  His favorite was the Zercher Classic, which he competed in for the first time in 1991.  Dale had a good meet that day – placing one placing higher than Bill Clark!  The next year Dale returned to the Zercher and moved up a few places to fourth place out of 10 lifters (behind Steve Schmidt, John Carter, and Joe Garcia).  It was a tough field and had to be one of Dale’s best meets of his USAWA career. He raised his total by 735 pounds from the previous year. Then in 1994 he placed THIRD in the Zercher (his highest Zercher placing).    I know Dale was a big fan of this meet as he has provided me a complete historical review of all past Zercher Meets.  That’s one of the many reasons why I have often referred to Dale as the HISTORIAN of the USAWA even though it was a unofficial title.  He keep a record of this type of information and was always there for me when I had “questions”.  Much of the information on this website under the “history section” was researched and documented by Dale. Another one of his favorite “Clark Meets” was the Hermann Goerner Deadlift Dozen.  Dale has the distinction of WINNING the first ever Goerner Deadlift in 1995.  He beat such notable lifters that day as Rex Monahan, Joe Garcia, Al Springs and others.  I say it was one of Dale’s BEST EVER USAWA days – in addition to winning overall best lifter, he set his memorable 605 pound Neck Lift in a record setting session afterwards.  He was 55 years old and weighed 183 pounds that day. 

Recently I had received an email from Dale in which he commented how 2012 was, and I’ll quote him, “I consider this to be a decent year for me – as I broke 7 or so finger lift records (all previously set by someone with2 normal legs!), winning the Presidential Cup, and being named lifter of the month for August.  This made my efforts/pain worthwhile“.   He was looking forward to the year 2013.  Dale NEVER seemed to get discouraged, and always was thinking about his next competition.  I was so glad to see him win the Inaugural Presidential Cup last August.  His winning performance included a 154 pound Ring Fingers Deadlift with a prosthetic leg!  Later in the year I included this performance of his as one of the TOP TEN performances in the USAWA for the year 2012.  Dale sent me an email after that announcement thanking me, but he EARNED IT!

Dale performing the Pullover and Push in the 2010 USAWA Championships. This was the last meet Dale competed in before his leg amputation.

Dale has dealt with more physical obstacles than anyone I have ever known, and yet continued to train and compete.  The list is enormous and so long I have lost count.  But included is hip replacement, aortic reconstruction, back surgery with laminectomy, shoulder replacement, heart surgery several times, three heart attacks, numerous leg surgeries, and then the leg amputation.  I’m sure I’m missing many other health-related issues here.  It was common for Dale to compete in a big meet shortly after a major operation.  I remember once just a few weeks after open-heart surgery he was on the platform competing.  After his hip replacement, he was in a meet 3 months later.  This quote came from the Strength Journal from Dale before his hip replacement.  Dale said, “I always wanted to be like Tommy Kono and John Grimek and on February 12th, 2001, I’ll get me wish.  I’ll get a new hip.”  Dale always had a dry sense of humor when it came to things!  When he was staying at my place for the 2009 USAWA Nationals he “instructed me” on his medications so in case something went wrong I would be aware of what medicines he was on.  This was a list no shorter than 17 different pills!!!!  Dale’s mindset was like no other, and is the main reason he was awarded the Courage Award by the USAWA EVERY YEAR since the USAWA Awards Program  began in 2010. Before this, he was awarded the Ciavattone  Courage Award in 2004 by Frank Ciavattone, who gave out the award yearly to honor someone who showed great courage in remembrance of Frank’s dad.   I once  jokingly commented to Dale  that he’s won the Courage Award so many times it should be named after him when he’s gone!  Now…… I’m serious about that.

In 2009, the USAWA Nationals were held at the Dino Gym in Abilene, KS. Dale stayed at my house during that time and I will forever remember the stories that were told by Dale. This picture is from the meet of him performing a Cheat Curl.

Dale was inducted into the USAWA Hall of Fame in 2002.  His induction happened at the 2002 Nationals, held in Ambridge, PA.  I would like to share this story about Dale and his entering into the HOF by Bill Clark, someone who Dale had great respect and admiration for. “ When Dale Friesz showed up to lift at the USAWA Nationals in June in Ambridge, PA., USAWA President Howard Prechtel was prepared.  Dale needed to medal at the Nationals to be eligible for the Hall of Fame and Howard figured correctly that Dale would do that.  So much to Dale’s surprise, he was inducted into the USAWA Hall of Fame on the spot with the plaque already engraved in his name.  That Dale was even lifting in Ambridge was Hall of Fame material in itself.  In February, he spent 15 days in the hospital (six days in intensive care) and lost 21 pounds in 21 days from an already slender frame.  In a few weeks, he seemed on the road to recovery from what had been diagnosed as advanced vascular disease.  But, in May, along came what Dale called “Scary Story No. 2″ , viral heart infection, bronchial shutdown, pneumonia, liquid retention around the heart – back to the hospital for nine days.  And a matter of six weeks later, he was back on the platform earning his spot in the Hall of Fame.  I can assure you – no one was happier to be in Ambridge than Dale Friesz.”  – by Bill Clark in the Strength Journal Vol. XIII No. 3

Dale "in action" performing another one of his favorite lifts - the finger lift!

In 2006 at the USAWA National Meeting, the USAWA passed a rule requiring that all officials pass a Open Book Rules Test to be certified as an USAWA official.  Dale was the FIRST ONE to take and pass this exam.  He was one of the few LEVEL TWO officials in the USAWA.  He had a keen sense of the Rule Book, and kept up on it as things evolved.  Often he would “question” things in the Rulebook, and due to this, several discrepancies were found and corrected. Dale was never an officer in the USAWA, but his presence as a member exerted as much influence as any officer.  In my opinion, he was one of the TOP TEN most influential people ever involved in the USAWA.  He often served on committees, and provided valuable input.  His input on the HOF committee was instrumental in developing new guidelines for entry.  He also served on the Rulebook Review committee and was very helpful to me in the big Rulebook revision of 2009. In 2011 at my encouraging Dale registered his club with the USAWA.   He named it M&D Triceratops, and he was the only member.  Often at meets he would be wearing a ball cap or tshirt sporting his clubs logo.  I could tell this was something Dale was proud of, and it showed his commitment to the USAWA.

Dale’s favorite all round lifts were the finger lifts, the finger deadlifts, the Neck Lift, and the one arm deadlift.  I just did a USAWA record count of the number of current USAWA records Dale holds, and his count is at 160.  He holds records in 64 different USAWA lifts!  Dale was one of the original members of the CENTURY CLUB, a designation I gave to lifters who currently hold over 100 USAWA records.  The records he was most proud of were; 215# Ring Fingers Deadlift done at the 2001 Gold Cup, 354# Right Arm Deadlift done at the 1992 Gold Cup, and his 605# Neck Lift done at the 1995 Goerner. 

Dale’s National and World Meet Accomplishments:

2012 Nationals Best Lifter Mens Master 70-74
2010 Nationals 9th Place Overall
2008 Nationals 8th Place Overall
2005 Worlds Best Lifter Mens Master 65-69
1999 Nationals 6th Place Overall
1997 Nationals 7th Place Overall
1996 Nationals 10th Place Overall
1996 Nationals Best Lifter Mens Master 55-59
1995 Nationals 4th Place Overall
1992 Nationals 8th Place Overall

*plus numerous class/bodyweight National & World Championship awards*

Dale would often sign off his emails with these words, “Don’t let the USAWA die!!” That’s a promise that I will not let him down on. I owe Dale alot- he really helped me understand the historical importance of the USAWA and the philosophy of the organization. I will never forget Dale and his love for the USAWA and all round weightlifting. Often when I’m having a “rough day” in the gym, I think of Dale and the hardships he overcame with his lifting and it motivates me to keep positive and work harder. Afterall, my physical problems are NOTHING compared to what he endured when training!! I gave Dale the nickname “MIRACLE MAN” in several past blog stories. I know he appreciated that (he told me so) as it was given as a sign of respect to him in his ability to overcome serious physical  barriers miraculously.

Dale – YOU WILL BE MISSED! But I promise everyone this – I will keep Dale’s memory alive in the USAWA for as long as I’m involved.