The Long Journey to York Barbell: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

In part I of my story about my trip to York Barbell and I detailed my trip.  Now, I’m going to share my feelings about my trip.

The current York Gym

May 28th, 1064 was the date of the Missouri State Championships in Olympic lifting.  How do I know?  Because my Uncle Wayne won that year and he told me that when he got home with the rest of the JWC gang he said I upstaged him being born that day.  He said they all headed down to the hospital to see me.  It was literally a couple blocks away.  Later, he would give me that medal because of the significance of the date he won it.  Without Wayne, I’d never been a weight lifter and I would not be half of what I am today.  Without my Uncle Phil, you could halve that again and without my Grandfather Dalton, I’d be nothing today.  So me wearing that medal was like them being there at York with me.  That medal has been to every lifting meet, highland games, strongman contest, and USAWA event I’ve ever been to, including a couple trips to Scotland where I “dipped” it into Loch Ness.

So, you can see, lifting has been a big part of my family.  It’s not about winning, it was always about getting better.  Being stronger, healthier, and self improvement.  York Barbell was always a part of that.  I practically “teethed” on a 5lb plate.  I remember taking an interest in throwing the discus and not having one, so I took a 5lb York plate out and practiced with it!  In 1963, my Uncle Wayne ordered a Jackson International set and he told me that he sold it partly out of feeling disloyal to York….plus he said his York sets (and the JWC had several by then) were superior in his mind.

Thom Van Vleck checking out the Cyr Dumbbell. My grandfather told me a story about it when I was just a kid.

But the opportunity never came up to travel to York.  Phil told me they talked about it often.  They would lift and talk about meeting Tommy Kono, John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Bob Hoffman and the rest.  They would day dream of lifting in the York Gym  with the greats and seeing where all the weights were made.  But time and circumstance intervened and the dream faded away.  Until now.

So when I went out, I had a lot riding on this trip.  I needed to soak up every detail and take lots of pictures.  I even called both of them in the museum and gave each one a walk through.  They both asked me if I saw the Sandow Statue or the Grimek statue.  They knew a lot of the stuff that was in there!

Thom with the Grimek statue....I don't think he's impressed with me.

Overall, it was a great trip.  But later, I did get a little melancholy.  York is well past it’s pinnacle.  But then again, I  remember stopping at Peary Radar’s old Ironman Headquarters in Alliance, Nebraska a few years back.  It’s all long gone and not a thing remains as is the fate of a lot of the other American barbell makers.  At least York Barbell is still there and it seems the guys that work there appreciate the history.  Mike Locondro told me that the event we attended (Wounded Warrior Project Strength Fest) was all about getting York back to were it belongs….but more than that he told me that his Uncle was John Grimek’s brother in law and to him it was not just about “company policy” but it was personal.  That gave me hope and took a little of that melancholy away.  Maybe York isn’t what it was, but it seems to be rising up again!

On a side note, I traveled 15 miles to the west of York and went by the burial place of my Great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather (yes, that’s right….6 “greats”).  He was a Lutheran pastor that has been credited with starting over 50 churches.  His home still stands and members of my distant family still occupy it.   I hope to go back some day and see some more and meet some of my relatives…the dead one’s and live one’s!

The Long Journey To York Barbell: Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck completes the 73 year journey to York Barbell

Recently I traveled to York, Pa to the home of York Barbell to judge at the USAWA Heavy Lift Nationals.  This, however, is not a meet report but a story about a Long Journey.

Back in 1938 my Grandfather ordered his first “real” barbell set.  Oh, sure, he had been training for along time before this, since 1928 to be exact, but it was at this point he finally could afford a real barbell set to replace the bodyweight exercises, the concrete “bucket” weights, and the assorted things like anvils he would find to train with.  By that time he was married and I recall he had a real fight with my grandmother over ordering that set since they were short on cash.  But it was his dream.  I still have what is part of that set.

Then, in 1957, my Uncle’s Phil and Wayne began to train and scrimped and saved until they could order a real “Olympic” set.  There was other choice but York!  This was the classic deep dish York set.  At that time, Wayne and Phil became avid Olympic style lifting fans and at that time York Barbell was the center of it all.  When I started training, in 1977, my Uncle Wayne bought a new set to encourage me.  I remember vividly him ordering it with a mail order form and a check.  I’m pretty sure he wanted it as much as I did and it was just a good excuse to order a new set!

I have a few hundred Strength & Health and Muscular Development magazines that were published by York Barbell.  I’m not a collector, most are the magazines that my grandfather and Uncles bought off the news stand to read.  I would read these for countless hours as a kid when I started training and as a result, probably know more about York Barbell than all the people who currently work there!

So, when Al asked me to come along and be a judge, I pushed aside a chance to go to Iceland and compete in a highland games and chose to go to York.  You see, even though my family had been “York Men” since 1938, NOBODY from my family had ever been there!

So, here it was, 73 years after that first York barbell set was mail ordered by my grandfather and I was on my way to York.  I was pretty excited but at the same time, I was realistic.  I knew it was not what it was in the glory days.  But I hoped it would still be a great trip.

We arrived the morning of the contest and pulled up out front.  There was Bob Hoffman’s statue standing as proud as ever.  My grandfather used to tell me that Bob was “a little full of himself” and I had to chuckle as I looked at the statue.  Most accomplished men are a little full of themselves.  It often takes a big ego to drive great success.  I wish I could have met the guy, big ego aside, he did much for lifting and made America quite literally….a lot stronger.

The life size barbell mobile hanging in the York Barbell that thing real!!!!

Soon, we went inside.  There was a large “Barbell Mobile” hanging from the ceiling.  Barbell plates and bars balanced from a single point from the ceiling.  Not sure if they were real….but if they were that’s a lot of weight hanging there!  Then to the right was a lifting auditorium where the hall of fame induction took place.  I walked through and into the gym area.  It was loaded with platforms and weights, much more modern than I expected but then again, this is not the “original” club where the “York Gang” trained.  That place was long gone and while we drove by the location, nothing remains of it downtown.

The York lifting auditorium

Next, I walked through the museum.  I won’t detail all of it, but while what was there was very cool, it was not as big as I expected, but still not a let down.   What was there oozed history.  I would detour through the museum many times while I was there, taking just a minute to look at something else I had missed.  I then went into the retail store, that was nice, again not as big as I expected but it had “one of everything”.  While there I picked up matching York Barbell shirts with the old style split jerk logo for me and my Uncle Wayne.  I took tons of photos so that later I could show Wayne and Phil a “virtual” tour of the place.  I didn’t go anywhere else, but looked around at the warehouse.  The foundry is gone, they don’t make anything on site anymore.   Later, we also traveled by Bob Hoffman’s old house as the sun set on my York trip and we called it a day.

Next:  Part II My feelings about my Trip.

York Barbell Shirts

 by Thom Van Vleck

Gene Thudium, JWC member in the 50's and 60's, sports his old school York Barbell T-shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I have received about 300 meet shirts in the last 30 years.  Probably 200 I competed in, the rest I was a judge, loader, spotter, scorekeeper, patron, or meet director.  I know how many because every few years I thin them out and keep the ones that have sentimental value in a special drawer, give away some, and keep the rest for workouts.  Some shirts become “lucky”…I have a good meet or workout in it and I then use it when I need some “mojo” for a contest or record day.  Some, a select few, get retired and are never worn again.  The ones I give away go to good homes, guys who are really into the lifting or throwing and really appreciate the shirts.  I gave a fellow highland gamer 75 shirts and he made it into a quilt that was pretty cool and he hung it in his living room.  I can go over and point to different designs and almost tell you how I placed, my throws, and even what the weather was like that day. 

Recently, Al and I traveled to Colorado and met with Russ Murphy, a highland games legend.  I got some really old meet shirts from him, about a dozen or so that go back 20 to 30 years.  He even had one that was from the first meet I ever competed in, in 1995.  Mine had been “retired” so I got his and now I have one I can wear, too.  Years ago, World Powerlifting Champ and the man that broke Kaz’s total record, John Ware, gave me a shirt he wore when he broke Kaz’s record.  I kinda felt like the kid in the Coke commercial getting the jersey from Mean Joe Greene.

Shirts can be pretty special.  Today some of us will be heading to York Barbell for the USAWA Heavy Lift Nationals this weekend.  I can’t wait to get there.  I also know that Al has designed the meet shirts using the  York Barbell logo.  I have a feeling this trip will be epic in many ways, mostly me traveling to the “mecca” of weightlifting for the first time in my life!  I remember seeing many photos of Gene in his York Barbell shirt and thinking I would like to have one….now I will and it will be pretty special.  But I wonder, will this shirt become a retired one, or a lucky shirt, or will I give it away…..only time will tell.

USAWA Nationals: The AWARDS

Special awards for the USAWA Nationals for 2011 (purchased at

by Thom Van Vleck

The USAWA Nationals for this year will have a unique award for the participants.  The Jackson Weightlifting Club (JWC) had long been defined by Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil.  For the last few years I have used these real anvils for awards.  Each award will come with a CUSTOMIZED plaque engraved by a Jim Spalding (Jim’s Gems) who is a local jeweler and also happens to be a 6 time Masters World Champion in Highland Games.   When the results are tabulated, we will write down you address and send you an engraved plate that will fit on the award with your placing and name.  How many personalized awards do you have in you trophy case?  I bet not many!  There will also be an 11lb Anvil for the overall best lifter.  Again, it’s a REAL anvil.

The “Original” JWC anvil will be present as well and used in the strongman show at the awards banquet.  We will take it outside and give anyone who wants a crack at lifting the anvil like Grandpa Jackson used to from the ground to overhead.  It is a 150lb Anvil and it’s very “doable”!  The real challenge is to lift it by the horn with one hand, pinch grip it by top or lift it by the neck.

Grandpa Jackson's Anvil - The Centerpiece of the Jackson Weightlifting Club

I will also have a 300lb anvil present….This is the MONSTER that so far has defied all who have tried to lift it overhead.  I want to see someone put that thing overhead!  But at the least, We will have the Whiskey Barrel there and the challenge is to lift the anvil onto the whiskey barrel.   Come on out, the USAWA Nationals will be more than just lifting weights…..we will try and make some history!


 by Thom Van Vleck

Private room at the Dukum Inn. This is where the banquet will happen after Nationals

Just an update on the USAWA Nationals.  I have ordered shirts.  They are POLO type shirts –  so better than your standard meet t-shirt!  They will have a stitched USAWA Nationals 2011 patch on them.  I have also ordered the awards.  These are like none you have ever received and I will be putting up a photo at a later time showing them.  Al Myer’s will be bringing his top notch equipment for the meet supplemented by my own.  If you ever wanted to lift on a set of York Hub plates or Jackson International Barbell plates, we will be using them in the meet!

I have recently confirmed reservations at the Armory and the Dukum Inn.  I recently attended a private party there and I was more than pleased.  The bar in the private room was built in 1938 and was the original bar that used to be downstairs.  There is a stage area opposite the bar that will offer a really nice podium for our awards ceremony.  You can see a big screen behind the bar and during the banquet we will scroll pictures of past and present USAWA meets and legends.  I highly recommend the onion rings at the Dukum….they are the best!

Outdoor Lifting: Time for Fresh AIR!

Phil Jackson lifting outdoors at the old JWC club

by Thom Van Vleck

I have a photo album full of old photos of the Jackson Weightlifting club in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  Many of the photos, maybe even more than half, are taken outdoors.  Back then, there was a very practical reason for lifting outside in the summer time….NO AIR CONDITIONING!  My Uncle’s told me they built a platform outdoors so they could get some fresh air and keep cool.  The JWC gym moved around several times and often was in an old unairconditioned building.  One of the favorite places of my Uncle Wayne of gym locations was on Jefferson Street near the old Kirksville  Railroad Depot.  Wayne said they rented an old store and they would lift in the store front during the winter.  There were large plate glass windows open to the street with a potbelly wood stove for heat and in the summer they would move the weights out back and lift right under the down town Water Tower.  The Water tower is still there but the store is long gone.  Sadly, not a single picture exists of the gym from that time.  Just the many great stories….including one of how my Aunt Linda would walk by there every day going home from work and see Wayne lifting…..and now they have been together for over 40 years!  She would stop and watch them workout with other girls…..she must have been impressed.

My Uncle Phil told me that lifting outside was also a benefit in other ways besides a cool breeze.  The bright sunshine helped get rid of the winter blues come spring and the fact that girls might walk by just motivated them to lift a little harder!   It might be a hassle to move the weights outdoors, but I think you’ll find a little lifting on a sunshiny day will boost your motivation and be a nice change of pace.

Team Spirit

by Thom Van Vleck

We have a lot of fun with our team rivalries in the USAWA.  While it is all in good fun, it has gotten heated from time to time, but that’s OK.  Sometimes that’s what it takes to get fired up for big lifts!  It reminds me a lot of the rivalry I felt when I was a Marine.  We hated the Army, Air Force, and Navy, but when we had a common enemy we quickly banded together.  In the Marines we had a saying: “You won’t find a better friend or worse enemy”.  I also believe: “Once a Marine, always a Marine” (Chesty Puller said that, the most decorated Marine of all time and a personal hero). I feel the same about my affiliation with the JWC.

A great photo of Dino Gym member and enforcer Scott a great shirt! While I've kidded Scott about this photo, it would not be hard to find one of me in a Dino Gym shirt. And, no, that's not my bald head in the photo!

We all enjoy our training for lots of reasons.  I’m sure most of us have a primary reason for doing it and for most, that primary reason is probably to get strong!  For a bodybuilder it may be to “look strong” (I never understood why you would want to look stronger than you really were….I want to be stronger than I look!).  The reality is that we probably train and compete for lots of reasons beyond that.  One of those reasons is for the social aspect.  We are humans, we generally seek out companionship….even loners will have a dog or cat for companionship! So, for social interaction, we join teams.  Now, I’m not talking about “socializing” (although that certainly happens!) but the act of finding a common bond or thread.  Common interests, so to speak.  That’s the social aspect I’m talking about.

We also like competition.  I can recall going out to the old JWC gym at about age 10 with a buddy of mine and doing a powerclean and push press.  The first thing he did was slide on a little more weight and lift it….and it was “ON”!  We didn’t stop until we’d about killed ourselves!   Teams give us the best of both world’s.  We can hook up with like minded individuals and find the motivation of competition within our own team and then against other teams.  But we can also have mutual respect for our rivals.  I know I have a lot of respect for my “rivals” in the Dino Gym, Clark’s Gym, Ledaig…and the rest.  That’s why I own at least a t-shirt from each and in the case of the Dino gym almost a whole wardrobe of clothes!

Teams are a good thing.  They give us motivation, friendships, rivalries, and in the end, good times.   Being a part of a team can hold us to a higher standard than standing alone.  It can also reflect a lot about who we are and if done right, in a very positive way.  So join a team in the USAWA, or start a new one and join the rivalry for bigger gains and good fun.  I’m sure Scott will love the fact I used his photo for my example….and I’m sure it will motivate him to lift a little harder the next time we compete!

The One Best Exercise

by Thom Van Vleck

My brother Tedd is a Clean and Press man. It goes to show that different exercises work best for different lifters.

I was out throwing with Bill Leffler the other day.  We were talking training and some of our frustrations.  Between us, we have about 75 years of lifting and throwing experience and the topic became “The One Best Exercise”.

I recall many years ago in an old Ironman there was a question posed to several top lifters and trainers: “If you could do only one exercise, what would it be”?  The answers centered around two lifts.  The squat and the Clean & Press.  Debates and arguments were presented.  It kind of reminded me of a recent thread on the USAWA forum centered around Al Myers’ article on the Deadlift.

The reality is that there are exercises that are better than others, but all exercises have some merit, and it all depends on what you want and how you use it to get what you want.

1.  Does the exercise work the most muscles in the body?  The Clean & Press certainly does that,  but the Squat and Deadlift certainly work the biggest muscles in the body the hardest.  If that were the only criteria for the One Best Exercise, that would probably be the end of it…but that is not the only criteria.  I would argue it’s not even the best way to chose the One Best Exercise.

2.  Does the exercise create the adaptation that you desire?  We all lift for different reasons.  I lift mainly to improve my throwing for Scottish Highland Games.  Does the lift fulfill that need?  Do you grind out reps, or do you explode through them?

3.  Any exercise done for too long will become more and more dangerous and less and less effective.  You get stale, you get lazy on your technique, and eventually the boredom, lack of focus, repetition on the body will lead to injury.  Your body is always fighting against you because it is trying to protect itself and when it knows what is coming, it will resist damaging itself.

4.  Do you perform the Deadlift in a way that creates the muscle adaptation you desire?  The JWC has a member that has done a 4 times bodyweight deadlift.  He can’t clear 8 ft with the 56lb Weight in the Weight Over Bar event.  Al is a great deadlifter and when he was deadlifting 700 plus he could clear nearly 16ft!!!  The JWC member is very much a specialist and he’s very happy with the adaptation he has created.  Al trains for different reasons and his lifting has adapted to that.

So, my opinion is the “ONE BEST EXERCISE” changes over time and it depends on how you perform the exercise.  You have to find what works for you, and you must think outside the box from time to time.  I was stuck at 360 on my Bench Press for a year and made a point to specialize on my Bench for a year and managed only 365!  I used the best routines I could find.  So, out of desperation, I started doing 10 sets of 10 reps.  I started with 185lbs and kept adding 10lbs a week until I finally got 300lbs for 10 sets of 10.  After only 12 weeks I then maxed out and hit 400!  A 35lb jump!  I have theories on why this worked but my point is that it was unorthodox and I don’t know if I even recommend it!  So, don’t get too hung up on finding that “magic” exercise because it’s kind of like the old saying “Just when I figured it out, they changed the rules”.  Just when you find that “One Best Exercise” your body adapts and its time to shake things up and keep an open mind.  As for me….I’m doing deadlifts and squats right now, but not forever!



by Thom Van Vleck

The USAWA Nationals is in two months!  Time to get your plans made and entries sent in.  I have a had a lot of interest, but the entries have been slow.  There is no deadline on the entry form, but there is a point I need to have numbers for my banquet!  So get those entries sent in.

I will have polo type shirts with embroidered “USAWA Nationals 2011″ on it.  We will have anvils for trophies for the winners and other awards for place winners.  You will not walk away empty handed, but if you want a JWC Anvil you will have to earn it!   We will have a great banquet experience after the meet and you won’t forget it.  We will have a strongman show after the contest with world class short steel bending, hot water bottle explosions, bed of nails (like Ed Zercher used to do) and much more.

This will be an USAWA Nationals like no other!  Often in life we are faced with choices and you “can’t do them all”.  This is one you won’t want to miss!

Wilbur Bohm, Pioneer of Sports Medicine

Dr. Wilbur Bohm, pioneer of Sports Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

I recently did a story on Dr. Russell Wright who was pretty well know in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in the weightlifting world for his work in sports medicine.  In that article I mentioned Dr. Wilbur Bohm.  Dr. Bohm was certainly Dr. Wrights inspiration in terms of Bohm’s early work in sports medicine leading the way.  Dr. Bohm wrote nearly 2 dozen books on athletic training and was the first every full time sports physician for a professional team.  He worked for the Cardinals, the Redskins, and the Reds, just to name a few.  He was a founding member of the National Athletic Trainer Association and was the first ever inducted into their hall of fame in 1962.

Wilbur Bohm started out as the Washington State University head athletic trainer before becoming an osteopathic surgeon in 1919.  He is credited with helping define sports medicine by writing books and filming a 1941 documentary on charley horses and sprained ankles. Bohm – with Jake Weber, Billy Morris and the Cramer brothers – was a member of the first athletic training squad to serve a U.S. Olympic Team, in 1932 in Los Angeles.  You will recognize the name “Cramer” as the name of the company that makes training supplies.  I use Cramer spray tacky all the time!

Bohm did so much and was involved in so much a book could be written about him.  I would like to focus on a couple of stories on him.

First, he was friends, possibly best friends, with the man I affectionately refer to as the “Phantom of the Anvil”.  Several years ago I was at the Rec Center here at the school I work at (A.T. Still University) and saw this picture on the wall.  Since that time I have devoted a lot of time trying to figure out who this man was.  I have a couple leads, and someday I WILL figure this mystery out.  I do know know this man left school before graduating to join the war effort in WWI.  He was legendary playing football and there are many stories I have found on him that include a 70 yard drop kick documented in a game (I know, seems impossible) and stories of him dragging numerous opponents down the field refusing to be tackled.  He was said to be 6′6″ tall and he had a build that was very good for his day.  But that story is for another day and for now, he’s the Phantom.  You will find this photo in the JWC gym and in the Dino Gym.

The Phantom of the Anvil circa 1918 (notice the skull and cross bones on his shirt, that was the school sports logo)

It was through the “Phantom” I learned about Dr. Bohm.  As I have researched the Phantom, I have found his connection to Dr. Bohm and that opened me up to the amazing accomplishments of Dr. Bohm and his connection to Dr. Wright.   It seems that the Phantom and Dr. Bohm were good friends and played football, baseball, threw shot and discus and participated in other sports with the schools teams.  Yes, back then, the medical school had sports, even a hockey team…and less surprisingly a golf team!  Dr. Bohm was quite an athlete as well and a very big man in those days.  I found one listing of him at 6′4″.  He threw the shot and discus at the Drake Relays, one of the most prestigious and oldest track & field meets in the world!  Some day, I’ll learn the mystery of the Phantom of the Anvil and when I do, Dr. Bohm’s story will be a part of it.

The second story on Dr. Bohm I’d like to share relates to his work in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics.  He served as the team physician in those Games and if you recall, it was the 1932 Olympics where the modern Olympic lifting began.  The lifts were cut to three that year (Clean & Press, Snatch, and Clean & Jerk) and it appears to be a watershed moment in terms of Olympic lifting’s popularity.  You may recall that Bob Hoffman attended the 1932 Olympics and when he returned to York he started York Barbell.  Karo Whitfield also attended the 1932 Olympics and as a result he made a life long friendship with Hoffman and the York Gang and returned to the Atlanta area and started a legendary gym, ran hundreds of bodybuilding and weightlifting meets, and trained thousands.  That list includes Paul Anderson, Harry Johnson (1959 Mr. America) and ran meets that saw Joe Dube’, Frank Zane, Boyer Coe, and many, many others get their feet wet.  So, that 1932 Olympics had three very important people it the sports world: Dr. Bohm, the “Father of Sports Medicine”, Bob Hoffman, the “Father of American Weightlifting”, and Karo Whitfield, “The Bob Hoffman of the South”.

The third and final story has to do with what may be Dr. Bohm’s greatest accomplishment.  In the Museum archives of A.T. Still, there is a collection of Dr. Bohm’s works.  Some are original type written copies of some of his books, personal notes, and a very interesting book that includes the raw data he collected for a study he did entitled “How Champions Train”.

"How Champions Train" by Wilbur Bohn, D.O.

The book itself is not very long and it’s message is really quite simple.  Coaches need to train athletes as individuals with different needs.  This may seem pretty common sense, but before this they would often train athletes with special diets that would be extreme in design and workout programs that weren’t very specific and overtraining was the norm.  The real treasure is the “scrap” book that is with the original manuscript that holds all the questionnaires from most of the track athletes at the 1936 Olympics.  Each athlete had been given the questionnaire at the Olympics and had autographed each one.   There are also many personal letters from these athletes over the next two years as he compiled results, most still in the original envelopes.  Since I am more of a “field” guy than a “track” guy I was focused on the throwers.  There were letters from Dimitri Zaitz (6th place shot put), Ken Carpenter (Gold medal, discus),  Lee Bartlett (12th place in the Javelin), William Rowe (5th in the Hammer throw), among others.  But there was one name from the track portion that caught my eye…..Jesse Owens.  Yes, in this stack of personally filled out questionnaires that had been signed by each athlete was one from Jesse Owens.  It detailed his typical diet, training, etc.  I asked the Museum curator just to be sure and she confirmed the signature was really his!

Many of Dr. Bohm’s books were on training athletes and injuries.  His collection includes many photos of him with famous sports figures that he helped over the years.  While his conclusions today may seem well know and well accepted, you have to understand in his time they were groundbreaking.  Dr. Bohm was a great athlete and a great doctor who’s legacy is long and wide!

Gone Fishin’

by Thom Van Vleck

Our USAWA Secretary Al Myers knows how to relax from the stresses of work and weightlifting. He goes fishing! But by looking at the size of these two big paddlefish he caught this week, it looks like he had to put his training to good use!

I sent Al Myers a message the other day and he said he was on a fishin’ trip.  I said, “AGAIN!”   I often will call Al, and he’ll return my call and say, “Sorry, I was taking my nap”.  I like Al, he’s a good guy.  But he’s also a pretty smart guy.  Al works hard and when it’s time to rest, he rests hard.

Weightlifters are a special breed.  Some might say we were so special we are mentally ill!  We do tend to be pretty obsessive and often that’s a good thing.  But just as often, we don’t know when to back off (I can’t say “quit”….because we don’t like that word!).

Recuperation is more than sleep, it’s rest, it’s feeling rested and ready.  It’s often the lost ingredient in an effective training program.  I work at a medical school and the constantly tell the students…”GET MORE SLEEP”.  Because more sleep, more rest means less mistakes.  A doctor makes a mistake, and people can die.  A weightlifter makes a mistake and an injury can result that, at best, will set us back a few days, at worst, end a career!

But it’s more than just your body that needs sleep.  Sleep is probably most important for you brain.  I would argue that you brain needs sleep more than any other part of your body.  Why?  Well, science hasn’t quite figured that out yet.  But the fact is that the brain does some pretty important things ONLY when it’s asleep.  And your most important training tool is you brain.  If your brain is not fresh and focused, your body won’t be.

I think that every lifting program should also include how you are going to rest and how long.  It should also include the occasional break from lifting altogether.  So, every once in awhile you have to remind yourself to back off a little.  So, get more sleep.  Take a nap.  And go Fishin’.

Dr. Russell Wright

Dr. Russell Wright, D.O. & Pioneer in Sports Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

You may not know who Dr. Russell Wright (D.O. Doctor of Osteopathy) is, but Tommy Kono, Bob Bednarski, Tommy Suggs, Gary Glenney, Norbert Schmansky and many others probably owe him half the hardware in their trophy cases.  Dr. Wright made his living as the team Physician for the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Pistons.  But he is best known to weightlifters as the team physician for five USA Olympic Weightlifting teams and countless World Championship teams.  He did much of this by traveling to these events on his own dime and providing a lot of the treatment for free. The lifters he treated often commented that he would tell them he’d “send them a bill” and the bill would never come.

Dr. Wright did back surgery on Schmansky and solved Kono’s knee problems to allow them to further their great careers.  He employed Osteopathic manipulation in his work with many other lifters and was there when Bednarski dislocated his elbow so badly at an international meet in Canada.  It was typical to put the dislocated joint in a cast and allow to heal, but Dr. Wright took the cast off once back home and worked with the injury with light exercise, massage, and Osteopathic manipulation.  This could have ended his career, but Bednarski won a World Championships after that!  Wright was an athlete himself having competed in football and basketball in college and a short pro career after that and he felt that gave him insight into athletic injuries and needs.  He was also known to be able to motivate the athlete in his recuperation and had a  deep understanding of sports psychology helping athletes who were devastated by their injuries forge successful comebacks.

Dr. Wright is credited with pioneering the “medical manager” concept.  It seems logical now, but until Dr. Wright came up with it, it was not practiced.  Simply put, someone trained in sports medicine would assist the coach in all medical decisions as a direct consultant.  Osteopaths like Dr. Wright were pioneers in sports medicine.  He was following in the footsteps of Dr. Wilbur Bohm  who was the first sports medicine specialist and he graduated from the school I work at, A.T. Still University which is the founding school of Osteopathic medicine.  Dr. Bohm was the team physician at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics for the U.S.A. track team and assisted  Jesse Owens in his historic run of 4 Gold Medals and the FIRST ever full time professional sports team doctor!  Dr. Wright was part of that heritage of sports medicine and his role in the 1956, ‘60, ‘64, ‘68, and ‘72 Olympics would continue that tradition.

Russell Wright was the president of the Medical Committee of the International Federation of Weightlifting and Culture and conducted many seminars on treating weightlifting injuries.  In 1966 he conducted a seminar in East Berlin, East Germany for Doctors from 92 nations.  He was a member of Sports Medicine (an organization that Dr. Bohm was a founding member) and was a delegate to the 16th World Congress of Sports.  He made most of these trips on his own.  His wife always accompanied him and they were considered real friends and ambassadors of Weightlifting.  He made dozens of these types of trips over the years.  Dr. Wright often joked that he kept “retiring” over and over again.

Dr. Wright graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Des Moines University in 1929 and practice medicine for 7 decades as he lived well into his 90’s.  The Des Moines School was the second Osteopathic school ever and was founded in 1903, now there are over two dozen D.O. schools across the U.S. and they represent an ever increasing percentage of Doctors in the U.S.  They have all the same rights and privileges of an M.D. plus they have to know Dr. Still’s Osteopathic principles as well.  Dr. Wright represented the type of “forward thinking” that has made D.O’s so popular.  It is estimated in the near future D.O’s will represent 1 in 5 Doctors and they are a large part of the sports medicine world due to Doc’s like Dr. Wright and Dr. Bohm.

Dr. Russell Wright was a true friend of weightlifting as a sport, but was a better friend to the lifters.  He also wrote books including “How to Become and Olympic Champion” where he tried to integrate not only exercised but every aspect of being a top athlete into one book (Diet, sleep, etc.).  I hope you enjoyed reading about a real unsung hero of USA weightlifting.

Bernarr MacFadden

Bernarr MacFadden, "Father of Physical Culture"

by Thom Van Vleck

If you know who Bernarr MacFadden is then you truly are a student of Iron History.  MacFadden was born in 1868 and died in 1955.  He became internationally famous and a millionaire (when a million meant something!) promoting Physical Culture.  I have heard that  Bob Hoffman was called “The Father of American Weightlifting”, but before Bob, Bernarr was the “Father of Physical Culture”.  MacFadden not only promoted exercise, he promoted all around physical fitness, all natural foods (he disliked processed foods) , natural treatment of disease (he hated “pill pusher Doctors”), and inspired people to live healthy lives.  Vim, Vigor, and Virility are terms you often heard him say. He directly influence many greats that you will know like Charles Atlas.

He was also at times branded a charlatan and was arrested on obscenity charges (his books were often very frank in there subject matter, but he was NOT arrested for what we would call pornography today).  He often rubbed the medical establishment the wrong way, at least the M.D.’s but not the D.O.’s…..I’ll explain more later.  He made his millions promoting his books and developed properties that had schools, resorts, and all things that in some way related to physical culture and health.  His empire rose and fell and rose and fell.  Personally, I think had he died or retired at a younger age his legacy would likely be more secure in the weightlifting world.  But some of his later dealings, eccentric tendencies, a damaging book by and ex-wife perhaps unfairly tarnished his early work and unfortunately what you do last is often remembered most.

McFadden’s long and colorful life could fill many volumes and I would encourage anyone interested in Iron History to ready up on him.  There is a website dedicated to his life at

My connection to MacFadden is as a boy my grandfather, who was born in 1913 and grew up when McFadden was truly at his peak, often quoted and spoke of McFadden and taught me many of his valuable principles and in that way had a major influence on the JWC.   I learned later he also filtered out many of McFadden’s teachings that were probably built on faulty logic and social norms of the day….but you wonder how people will someday look back on us!  I also work at A.T. Still University, founded in 1892 by Andrew Taylor Still and the founding school of Osteopathic Medicine.  A Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) has the same medical training and credentialing of a Medical Doctor (M.D.) PLUS they have to learn Still’s Osteopathic teachings.  Again, volumes could be written on Osteopathy but I will just point out that Still believed in natural cures, healthy living, was against “pill pushing” as a doctor, thought exercise was essential to health (back when many M.D’s thought exercise was actually bad for you!!!!) and finally was a pioneer in whole person health.   Dr. Still was probably the kind of doctor Bernarr MacFadden would have liked!  I’m researching that right now!

At any rate, our library has a huge collection of rare books.  They often surplus out extra copies and sell them.  When they go unsold, they are given away.  I was checking through a bin of “free” books and when I came across a first edition copy of Bernarr MacFadden’s “Manhood and Marriage” published in 1916.  It had an old style library card in the back and the last time it was checked out was 1963!  Previous to that, 1957!  Kind of hard to believe this book has been on a shelf here my whole life (I was born in 1964) and now I have it.  It is not surprising to me this book was here as the type of people attracted to being a D.O. are the types that believe in whole person health, exercise, healthy living and natural cures.  Don’t get me wrong, they prescribe medication, do surgery and EVERYTHING an M.D. would do but if you see a D.O. you can expect a lecture on healthy living along with your antibiotics!

I am enjoying reading the book.  It is really outdated in many ways, but there is no doubt MacFadden really believed in the healthy lifestyle even if the basis of many of his tenants of healthy living have since been proven otherwise by research.  At least he set a standard which others could then prove right or wrong and if I had to guess, he was more “right”!   Check his story out some time….he’s a real character of the Iron Game!

USAWA Nationals Update

 by Thom Van Vleck

Dukum Inn: Kirksville Legend and Location of the USAWA Nationals Banquet

Just a couple blocks away from the armory is the Dukum Inn.  This is a legendary establishment here in Kirksville.  Back a hundred years ago this was a huge coal mining area.  Coal mining was tough work and the miners would drink hard on the weekends.  When I was a kid, the Dukum was tough, blue collar bar.  I recall going there with my Dad from time to time when I was a boy.  He would buy me a Cherry Coke (when a the Coke was poured into a Coke Glass and cherry syrup was then added) so I wouldn’t tell Mom we stopped there.  He would play some pool with his pals and he’d give me some quarters for the pinball or I’d play shuffleboard in the sawdust.  After a couple games of pool we’d head home with Mom none the wiser!

Well, today the Dukum is pretty much an “every man’s bar” (and every woman).  It’s a lot more upscale than the old days but still has that old days charm of a corner pub.  They have a private upstairs room that now has the original bar that was there when I was a kid and the original tables.  It can seat over a hundred and has a stage that will work nicely for our awards ceremony.  Plenty of room to gather after the meet, enjoy our meal, have our national meeting and have a good time!

So, get those entries in the mail!

JWC Founding Member: Coda Baugher

by Thom Van Vleck

Coda Baugher, circa 1930's, part of the first generation of the JWC

The JWC traces it’s roots back to 1928.  This is not to say it’s been a continuously run organization during that time.  There have been good times, and bad.  There was a time in the mid 60’s where there were over 30 dues paying members and two team state championships in Olympic Weightlifting in Missouri and many State Champs.  One thing I can say, is that there has been at least one member of my family continuously training with weights since 1928!

One of those early members was Coda Baugher.   He was my Great Uncle and Brother-in-Law to JWC founder Dalton Jackson.   Coda passed on in 2007.   He pronounced his first name “Cody” (don’t ask my why) and the “Baugher” was pronounced “Bah-Er” or something close to “Bower” (again, don’t ask me why).  Coda and Dalton liked to share stories about training.  My understanding was they became friends when Coda would chaperon the dates Dalton had with my grandmother.  No wonder, my grandfather was 22 and my grandmother was 13 when they started dating….times have changed!

They fixed up some metal poles and filled buckets with cement to make their first weights and lifted things around the farm like anvils and stones.  They would lever sledges for grip and basically got creative with anything they could find.  They could barely afford a magazine….if they could find one in rural Missouri buy….and often made a lot of early mistakes.  One in particular was the grip they most often used.  They weren’t sure early on how to grip the bar so they would grip it with an underhand, or curl type, grip!   If you look closely at the photo above you can see it.

I have no idea how much Coda could lift.  Those numbers are lost to time.  As a matter of fact, this is the only known photo of him lifting weights!  He became a cattle rancher, taking over the farm my Great, Great, Great Grandfather started and it’s still owned by my cousin, his grandson and it’s a Missouri Century Farm.  This distinction goes to farms that are owned over 100 years by the same family.  My family always specialized in Black Angus cattle.  He also was a member of  Providence Baptist Church.  This was a Church founded by my ancestors and is now the oldest continuously attended Baptist Church in Missouri and when I attended Coda’s funeral there, they credited him with saving the Church in hard times over the years.

Basically, Coda was one of those guys that did his job, paid his bills, went to Church on Sunday, and took care of his family and friends.  I wish I would have asked him more about the type of training he did, but I do know he basically trained for the same reasons that Dalton trained for;  To keep his body in shape to fulfill his obligations as a man, not to win titles or trophies.  It is also because of the groundwork that he laid and Dalton laid that the future generations of the JWC could win titles and trophies and enjoy the luxury of lifting competition in general.  For that, I thank him and hope this article gives the man his due!

Thom Van Vleck’s “Get a Grip” Tips

While Mac Batchelor had huge hands, he also developed them with many different implements and techniques.

by Thom Van Vleck

This is my entry in the DB Walk 3.5″ handle contest!  I like my odds better this time with so many winners.  But honestly, me writing about grip training is a bit like a fat guy telling you how to diet!

A great grip has eluded me in my 34 year lifting career.  Sure, there are things that I do better than others, like the pinch grip.  I have also never lost a deadlift in a contest due to grip.  But the reality is that I have small hands for my size and a strong grip never came naturally to me.  So maybe you could consider me the “hardgainer” when it comes to grip and maybe that makes me more of an expert than I thought.  After all, they say mediocre players make the best coaches.  The best athletes generally don’t make good coaches because everything came naturally to them.

As a result, I’ve read a great deal about grip training.  I would recommend  any of John Brookfield’s books on grip training.  I have also got to train with two of the best short steel benders in the world, John O’Brien and Brett Kerby.  So, most of this comes from those experiences but I will end with one tip that I came up with on my own, so hopefully you will get at least one original idea out of this!

1. Specify

Over the years my focus has changed in the strength world.  I have competed in Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, USAWA All-round, and my passion for the last 15 years has been Scottish Highland Games.  All require grip strength and lots of different types of grip strength.   If you are going to do a  bench press meet you don’t just work Behind the Neck Presses, you work the Bench Press and all the muscles specific to that event!  Don’t just throw in some wrist curls at the end of your workout.  Train your grip specifically for how you are going to need it.   This doesn’t mean you find one grip exercise and work it to death.  You need to get some books, read some articles, talk to some good grip guys and get a list going  and keep track of what you think works for you.   If you came to my gym I could show you over 100 grip exercises to do and all of them I have done myself at one time or another.    In the process, I have figured out what works for me and for the specific event I need it for!

2.  Training

Try to quantify your workouts as much as possible so you can be progressive.  Don’t just take a weight and do it every workout, it’s PROGRESSIVE resistance that’s key.  Keep some magnets around to add fractions of pounds.  Get some fractional plates or the “poor boy” method is go to the tractor supply and get some large washers that will fit on a 1″ bar, two of them will weigh from 1/4 to 1/5 of a pound.  Get enough to supplement your 2 and 1/2lb plates and if you can, get some 1 1/4lb plates.  You need to be able to add fractions of weight to any implement and push yourself.  Plan your workout, set goals, cycle your grip training just like you would for any contest, including giving it a break from time to time.

3.  Mental Aspect of Grip

I think Grip training is more mental than most any other kind of training.  I have watched John O’Brien and Brett Kerby grimace in pain doing the short steel bending and having folded a 60 penny nail a few times….it just hurts!  Your hands are full of nerves and that is why.  Sure, Squats are hard, but your hands will hurt!  So, there’s a mental aspect to this that needs to be overcome.  I saw John O’Brien drive a 60 penny nail deep in his hand and he still finished the bend and did three more shows that same weekend.   Most grip guys have mastered pain.  Working you grip requires pain tolerance and can also teach it!  Brett told me that his hands have hurt so bad he thought he’d seriously injured them.  It’ll hurt….get over it.

4.  Just One Original Thought

Ok, let’s see if I can impress you.  Most of what any of us knows about anything we learned from someone else.  Here is something I came up with on my own (but that doesn’t mean someone else didn’t come up with it first).  I noticed that when I trained my grip, everything involved my elbow being bent.  I also noticed that most everything that I needed a great grip for involved my elbow being locked out (throwing, deadlifting, cleaning, etc.).  So, I spend a lot of time working my grip keeping my elbow locked out.  This usually involves hanging from a bar and squeezing the bar for reps (hanging from a bar has the added benefit of tractioning your back).  It also means that whatever grip exercise I’m doing, I try and get myself in that “lockout” position and if possible, with my arm being stretched to get used to gripping as hard as possible with my arm straight and under tension.

So, those are my grip tips.   I hope you have gained some knowledge that will help you “get a grip” on your next contest!

When is a Jerk not a Jerk?

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson doing Jerks on the back yard platform of the old JWC Club (circa 1964)

Al’s recent article on the Continental Clean & Jerk got me thinking and there was a discussion about this on the forum. Al brought up the history of the Continental. Al talked about how the German lifters were typically well fed with potato pancakes, German beer, and strudel and they took to using their beer bellies to assist in lifting the weight! The English lifters referred to this technique as the “Continental” method (likely in a derogatory way) and referred to their own style as the “clean” method. The English, French, and Germans had a big rivalry back then…..led to a couple of World Wars….though I’m not sure how they lifted weights had anything to do with it but you never know! I do know that however one side would do things, the other would do the opposite, like the metric system, which side of the road to drive on, etc.

There was also a debate about touching the thighs. This was actually not allowed in Olympic lifting until the 60’s which is part of why you saw a leap in records around that time. For those that don’t know what I mean, back before the rule change you had to pull the weight from the floor to the rack position WITHOUT brushing the thighs. You could not touch the thighs at all in the “true” clean. Then, in the 60’s, this rule was changed and my Uncle Wayne is still mad about it! So, what many of us call a “clean” is really not a clean at all technically! Maybe I’ll submit that as a new USAWA lift, the “TRUE Clean & Jerk”. Maybe I’ll even name it after myself!

Other debated aspects included hang cleaning the weight and using the thighs to get a good push. I know I can hang clean more than I can power clean. Also, there was a debate about not catching the weight cleanly on the chest and using the the arms to push the weight into the proper “rack” position.

I know, so when am I going to get around to the topic in the title of this article! Much like the fictitious “Continental Clean” (you either Continental it in some manner or you cleaned it…post 1960 style!) The Jerk with a press out is really not a Jerk at all, but a Push Press with foot movement (which, I guess, really disqualifies it as a push press by USAWA rules). Maybe it’s a “push jerk”…..geez, now even I am confused.

When the sport of “strongman” came out they contested the log lift pretty heavily and there were no rules on how to execute this lift. Guys got pretty creative in how they lifted the weights. Eric Todd, a top strongman and USAWA lifter, would push press the log and then set in on his head! He would then push press the log off his head to a lock out position! This actually became pretty common…..until they made a rule against it. I heard different reasons for this, including that it was dangerous and also that it just looked stupid. I do recall reading of a guy way back that would catch a standard Olympic bar on his head and finish it in this same method… that’s what I call a Continental Jerk!

Now, on a side note. If you watch the old 8mm films of the guys in the 50’s and 60’s… saw a LOT of press outs. You look at some of Paul Anderson’s “jerks” and he would literally push press the weight. It often really becomes a judgement call on whether it’s a press out or a jerk. Rules are rules and are intended to clarify what’s allowed and not allowed. Sometimes they just confuse us more! Different people have different leverages and thus different styles offer them advantages. One thing I like about the USAWA is there’s something for everyone. But even the USAWA has rules, but I would like to make sure those rules don’t take those advantages away (or are simply used by some to capitalize on their own advantages). So, if there’s enough lifters in the USAWA to create a Continental Jerk, then someone needs to put pen to paper, make the rules, then present it at the Nationals in June where new lifts are approved. I know I would if press outs helped me! I also have no interest in setting a bar on my head to finish a jerk! One final note, could we change the name of it? I get tired of my friends laughing and making jokes about me being a Big Jerk.


by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck overhead pressing with one hand a 110 pound anvil. By looking at this picture it is easy to imagine the consequences if something "goes wrong" and the anvil slips out of Thom's open grip and falls on Thom's head. My advice is to always train a new lift before attempting max poundages and leave crazy strongman stunts like this to the professionals. (photo and caption courtesy of the webmaster Al Myers)

In this article I will detail what I see as the biggest mistakes I see new guys make as they enter into the world of the USAWA.  Others might have an opinion and I”m not saying that I am right about this being “the” biggest mistake….but I think everyone would agree this can be a problem.

I entered my first “odd lift” meet 30 years ago, and since then I have been to many USAWA meets as well as all kinds of strongman, highland games, powerlifting and Olympic lifting meets.  I have also done over 200 strongman performances.  During that time I have seen guys witness a lift or feat of strength for the first time and say, “Can I try that”.  They then try something they have never done before and go 100% in the effort.  That, in my opinion, is a BIG MISTAKE!  Sure, most of the time you’ll be OK, but it’s that one time that will end a season, or worse, a lifting career.

Recently, a friend of mine was in a strongman contest that included a steel bar bend.  He sent me a video of his effort….that resulted in a  muscle tear that he is now getting surgery for.  He was trying to bend it behind his neck and dropped his elbows and ended up in a a position like someone trying to close a “pec deck” machine.  Having bent literally hundreds of steel bars in various shapes, I cringed as soon as I saw it and soon enough he dropped the bar and winced in pain!  He had never bent a steel bar before and had no plan on how he was going to bend it.  I bend them all the time in our strongman shows and practiced this many times before ever doing it in front of a crowd or a contest where the pressure is on to go all out.

The nature of the USAWA makes it the “worst” for this kind of mistake.  Other sports have a much more limited “range” of lifts which means they get practiced much more often.  You can’t train hundreds of lifts, you can only have a strategy to train all around strength.  I know Al Myers often trains one pressing movement, one pulling type movement, and one squat type, constantly mixing the specific lifts up.  I also know Al will train a particular lift until he knows exactly how to do it and exactly how much he can expect to do on it before he enters a meet.   I’m not sure if he was always a smart lifter, or if he became one as a result of many injuries (that’s how I got smart), or both.  But I do know Al is a smart lifter who knows exactly what his ranges are come contest day.  He not only knows this for safety reasons, but for strategy as well!

How often have you seen someone make a lift they have never tried before, say, “that was easy”, then say, “Throw on a couple 45’s” and then be buried by it!  It’s the nature of many of these lifts.  At best, it’s embarrassing, at worst, you get seriously hurt.  My point is that you NEVER want to go right to a maximal effort the first time.  The USAWA is full of fun, new, exciting….and dangerous….lifts.  But they are only dangerous when you don’t know what you are doing!   Take the time to learn the lift, warm up plenty, practice the lift before the meet, and pick your poundages wisely!  Live to lift another day!  Listen to the old timers….they are still lifting for a reason!

2011 Nationals: Guaranteed FUN!

by Thom Van Vleck

Just a reminder that we are just 3 months out from the USAWA Nationals this year.  I am working hard to make this event memorable in many ways.  It’s my goal to make it the “BEST EVER”!  But that will only happen if YOU come!  It’s the people that make the USAWA special and I NEED you to come to Kirksville this year!

I am getting some donations and I’m working hard to spend every penny of it to make sure this is a good time, but the entry money also goes a long way in making this meet special.  If you have never done this type of thing before, let me tell you, the MORE advance notice you have about who’s coming to the meet the less waste you will have (ordering too many shirts, too much food, etc) and the more efficiently money can be spent on those who come.  So make the commitment today, send me an entry and a check, and trust me when I issue this challenge:

If you can look me in the eye when this contest is over and tell me that it was the WORST you have ever been to, I’ll give you your entry money back (and of course, you have to give back any awards, shirts, or other goodies you got….that’s only fair).  So, have you ever been to a contest with that kind of guarantee?  And you can’t say worst if it’s the ONLY one you’ve been to!

Send in your entry today!!!!!  Thanks!

John O’Brien: Part 2

John O'Brien "blowing up" a pop can using his incredible grip in one of our JWC evangelism shows!

by Thom Van Vleck

I will continue my story on my friend and strength athlete John O’Brien.

In part one I ended with John coming to one of our strongman evangelism shows.  John approached us about joining our team.  We are always happy when guys want to join us, but we also want to make sure they are in it for the right reasons.  Now, I’ve NEVER turned down anyone that wants to join us, but I also want to make sure guys know that it’s not “all about physical strength” but a real Christian ministry effort.  We don’t “show off” we “share” our God given talents for strength for God’s glory.

I invited John out the the JWC gym to meet with him about his desire to join the evangelism team.  John had this amazing and wonderful story about his son, Xavier (who recently became an Eagle scout!).  He talked about how he had drifted away from God and Church and that science had, in essence, become his religion.  He came to believe that science could answer any question about life.  Then along came Xavier.  He was born at 23 weeks (normal is 40 weeks!) and weighed 1lb and 4oz at birth.  His weight actually dropped to 15oz….LESS THAN A POUND!

The doctors told John that Xavier had a 25% chance to live and a 5% chance of being normal.  It was touch and go and things were tough emotionally for John and his wife Andrea.  But it was a moment when John realized that science did not hold all the answers and surrendered himself to a higher power.  Xavier began to improve to the amazement of all.  John credits God for Xavier’s progress and recovery and what a recovery it was and continues to be!  He is a top scholar in school, he looks like a normal teen in every way,  and he’s a mature, tough, likable young man that we are all proud of.

It was at that meeting that I knew John was a special man, not just in strength, but in all the ways that make a man a real man in my book.  John became a core member of the JWC Strongman evangelism team and we have had many great shows together which now number in the hundreds and I hope we have many more to come!  We have even traveled to the Arnold Expo in Columbus, Ohio where we met Arnold himself (a story unto itself!) and got to perform for hundreds.  If there’s any question to John’s “go time” attitude regarding his strength, it was at this show John drove a nail deeply into his hand during a tough bend and he not only finished the bend, he taped up and performed the rest of the weekend.

John is a world class bender.  Another core member of our group is Brett Kerby.  Brett was already a world class bender and John took a keen interest in it.  With Brett’s tutelage, John soon became the master!  It was funny that later he commented that Brett was not a very big guy and surely if he could do it, then John thought he could, too.  That’s John’s attitude about a lot of things….if you can do it….he can, too!   Brett and John have pushed each other to greater heights than they probably would have ever done alone.

John approached bending like he does most everything he does….obsessively….my kind of guy!   He began to bend all the time.  He told me a story that his division head at Truman State, where he teaches, came to him and said he had to stop bending in labs….because the students were afraid to come up to him as he bent 60 penny nail after nail and threw them in a pile.  He bent his first red nail in one of our shows.  I got the crowd all worked up and he had 60 seconds….he bent it in about 15 seconds…making it almost anti-climatic!  His best bends to date are the 4.5″ Red Nail (5/16th cold rolled steel), 7″ X 5/16th grade 5 bolt, and a 4.5″ X 1/4″ grade 8 bolt.  He also bends horseshoes and wrenches in our shows.

John is a good friend.  His recent accomplishment merited an update on an earlier article and I’m sure that there’s plenty more to come from him.  If the USAWA version of Old time Strongman catches on, I think John will be a top contender!

John O’Brien: A TRUE All-Round athlete

John O'Brien in a photo that decorates the Dino Gym showing an Ironmind Red Nail that John hammered shut for Big Al's amusement.

by Thom Van Vleck

John O’Brien has been my training partner, member of the JWC, and most of all, friend, for many years now.  When I think of what an All-Round athlete is, I think of John.  He is good, maybe a better word would be “great” at everything strength related.  I have written about him before but I’m hoping to add to what you already know about him and make the case for him being a TRUE All-Rounder.

He has competed in a strongman contests and Olympic lifting meets and placed or won his class in many contests.  He has competed in Highland Games and always places high.  He has competed in the USAWA with great success in about a dozen meets and has a couple dozen records to his credit.  Not to mention he is a world class short steel bender and performing professional strongman with over one hundred performances under his belt.  That, to me, it a true All-Round athlete!

John started lifting around the age of 13.  His older brother had a weight set at home and then at age 15 he started lifting for sports on programs set up by his coaches.  John mainly played baseball until high school and then he made up for lost time.  He played football (varsity for three years), wrestling, baseball, and track.  He said that he was best at football and baseball, but played the other sports so he could have access to the weight room year around.  He also mentioned maybe watching the girls run in track was a bonus!  Funny how many of us start lifting to impress girls!

John played on a football team in high school that had a dubious distinction.  They lost every game his junior and senior year!  The losing streak became so long that David Letterman started to track in on his show and when they finally won (long after John had left) they had some of the team members fly out to New York to be on the show.  John was a lineman and played both ways, he also played a couple years of college ball at Graceland College.

Then John entered graduate school at the University of Kansas to become the Chemistry Professor he is now at Truman State in Kirksville.  I was around this time that his oldest son was born very premature and lifting ended up being sacrificed for many years.  Then about 8 or so years ago John was very overweight and decided to do something about it.

John was training hard and lost 50lbs in the process.  There were a couple of students that were entering my JWC Strongman contest and they challenged John to enter, John told me they “teased” him and for them…..that was a bad idea!  John not only entered that contest….he won his weight class and rather decisively as I recall.

John had strength, but he is also very athletic, able to adjust to events on the fly.  He will tell you he operates off of “brute” strength, but I say it’s more than that.  He has an intelligent strength that is also athletic.  If strongman contests did not divulge the events, my money would be on John.   Recently, we were at Al’s Dino Gym where there is something called the “pill”.  A giant pill shaped metal object loaded with sand.  John spotted it, walked over and hoisted it…becoming the oldest person to do it (at age 42)….but more than that, what impressed me was his ability to lift it without much planning or practice, or even warm up!!!!  He walked up, sized it up, then lifted it!  That’s more than brute strength.

John said after that first JWC contest he began to only train for strength, beginning a  lifting career in his mid 30’s….when most guys are quitting!  Since that time, he has competed in Olympic lifting, Strongman, USAWA, Highland Games, and most recently, Highlander meets.  John has done well in all and is a two time masters National Champ in Highlander.  More importantly, that first contest was how we met and our friendship began and most of these contests were events we traveled to and/or competed in together!

Another aspect of our relationship started right after that first Strongman Contest that John entered and won.  The next day the JWC was doing a strongman evangelism show at the local YMCA.  I noticed John was in the front row.  He told me later he watched us and thought, “I can do those things” but more than that, he believed in the REASON we were doing them.  Which I will go into in Part 2 of my article!

Next:  Part 2 of “John O’Brien: True All-Round Athlete”.

Two Ounces of Prevention

by Thom Van Vleck

As we are all aware, Big Al has created a contest where we are supposed to write a story on a training “secret” we have that would benefit others.  This was a difficult thing for me to do as I don’t keep secrets.  I share everything I have with anyone willing to listen.  I’ve always been that way.  So I really don’t have any secrets…..but I looked at what I do and came up with something I do almost every workout.  It’s something I think has allowed me to compete at a high level as I head into my 47th year and 34th as a weightlifter.

Al & Chad executing a very complicated two man stretch of the spine. Now really, do you have the time for this or for that matter would you be caught dead in such a compromising position???

A healthy back is essential to weight training.  If you lift weights and have never hurt your back, you are either a very good liar, you’ve never pushed yourself, or you just started yesterday.  Back injuries are a part of the sport.  Especially if you are a master lifter over 40, and most USAWA lifters are over 40…..some WELL over 40!  If you’ve had a back injury, you’ve probably tried to rehab it in different ways.  Some of these with drugs like anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or pain medication.  You may have seen a doctor, a chiropractor,  a massage therapist, or maybe an Osteopath.  You’ve probably been given stretching exercises, yoga exercises, or whatever the latest fad is.  You may have went so far to invest in some equipment, such as a stability ball, rubber bands, or went really expensive with a reverse hyper, or an inversion table!  You also may have found some really complicated and difficult ways to do what all these things try and do…..decompress your spine.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've had a little fun at Al & Chad's expense. These are great exercises, but their problem is the practicality of doing them every workout.

I’m going to share two very simple and basic stretches that require very little investment of time or money.  They can be very helpful in rehabbing a bad or injured back, but I would encourage you to do these EVERY TIME YOU WORK OUT to help keep your back healthy and prevent injuries!

First, there’s the good ol’ bar hang.  Sure, we’ve all heard of it and probably done it.  You hang from a chin up bar.  I know what your are thinking.  ”Geez, Thom, I thought you were going to give us some great secret!  Well, I am.  Sometimes the best things are the simplest things and they are the things we tend to ignore.  Like squats, which is a really great exercise, and yet there’s been a hundred ways developed to avoid squatting each one more complicated than the last!  Now, here is a real secret.  When you hang from the bar, put your heels on something about a foot or two in front of you.  Why?  Because you want to tilt your hips forward.  This will straighten out the lower spine.  Otherwise, if you just hang there the weight of your legs will pull you hips back and bend your spin inward in your lower back.  As a result, the weight of your legs will bend your spine and true decompression does not occur!  You also need to relax everything except your grip (and another thing, this can be a tremendous grip exercise, an added benefit).  If you can’t hang for at least a minute, then use straps until your grip gets to where you can.  Total investment:  A chin up bar.

Now, the only problem with the bar hang is it only decompresses the lower half of your spine.  While this is where most injuries occur, it is only half the picture.   Plus, most guys don’t think much about this, but your spine is more than your back, it’s you neck as well!  Many weight lifters will injure their neck and it’s also an area that gets a lot more abuse than you realize.  Why, because it holds up your fat head!  Seriously, the head is always FORWARD on the neck so any time you are not lying down with your neck supported it is being leveraged with pressure from that bowling ball that’s sitting on top if it!  Also, many of us will injure our neck at some point lifting, playing sports, or doing something stupid (most guys that train tend to be risk takers….admit it, you’ve done something stupid with your body).   And as for the upper back, it gets injured much more rarely than the lower, as a result, how often do we decompress our upper back and neck?

So, this leads me to the second “secret” exercise.  Like I said before, if you got loads of cash, you can spend it on a personal massuese and an inversion table….but if you don’t this will work just as well.  Maybe better because it is so easy you will do it more often!

Neck and upper back stretch....and yes, I used a photo of a pretty girl to "sell" this and influence the vote! Really, would you want to see me doing this or her! Vote for my article!

The second exercise involves sitting in a chair and letting your head and shoulders fall between you knees.  There’s an added benefit that if you get good at this exercise you can also use it to kiss your rear goodbye when you do some of the aforementioned “stupid” stuff.  But seriously, you sit in a chair and let your arms fall between you legs while sitting right on the edge of the chair.  I was taught to let my arms fall relaxed and then let my head fall forward relaxing it as much as possible.  If you do this enough you can fell you vertebrae relax.  I now fell a “pop-pop-pop” in my upper back when I do this.  Again, you want to stay in this position for about a minute.  I also do the added exercise of  doing some head rolls once I sit back up, this will seem to always pop my neck a couple times.  Total investment:  a chair.

So, there you have it.  Two exercises, two minutes, cheap, easy and I would argue for the amount of time and money invested you will do your spine more good than any of that other stuff.  Call this, 2 ounces of prevention!

Billy Parker: Friend of the JWC

S & H: April 1966 issue: Billy Parker, Drug Free bodybuilder and friend of the JWC!

by Thom Van Vleck

In the 60’s my Uncle Phil was stationed in Alabama while in the Air Force and got to meet a lot of top lifters and bodybuilders of that era.  One in particular that he became friends with was Billy Parker.  Billy had a brother Randy and they often frequented Karo Whitfield’s gym.  My Uncle Phil, when he was not doing Air Force work, would do personal training and that’s how he met the Parker Brothers.  They often came over for back yard BBQ’s and outdoor workout sessions.

Phil told me that the Parker’s came from Southern money.  They had a trust fund that allowed them to do whatever they wanted and not have to work.  So they decided to become professional bodybuilders and trainers and had their own “health club” as gyms were often called in that day, the Bel Aire Health Club (Phil thinks it was named for the shopping center it was located, the “Bel Aire Shopping Center”) .  Plus, they enjoyed being young and rich!  Phil said that Billy had a brand new thunderbird convertible and they would often cruise the streets of Atlanta looking for fun.

Phil said that what he liked most about Billy was he was drug free at a time when steroids was becoming commonplace.  It could also be why you never heard of Billy after that as that era was dominated by drugged up bodybuilders.  In 1964, Billy was 9th in the AAU Junior Mr. America and 6th in the Mr. USA.  In 1965 he was 15th in the Mr. USA.  In 1966 he was 15th in the Mr. America and was again mentioned for his posing ability and muscle control.  Phil said when he knew him in 1966 he had won over 70 bodybuilding trophies in regional meets in the south.

Phil said he was a he was a master poser and muscle control artist, having learned from Mr. America Harry Johnson.  In that 1965 contest he was listed as one of the top three posers in that contest.   Billy was not a big man, he was small boned and short, but he made the most of what he had!   Phil lost touch with him and Randy over the years and I’m currently trying to locate him so if you know where he’s at, let me know!

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 2

Hey, I'm a patriotic guy!

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so if smoking is so bad for you why did so many lifters  do it?  And why were those lifters so successful while smoking.  The quick answer might be that they would have been even better without cigarettes.  This may surprise you, but I DISAGREE!

You may be thinking, “What! Thom is saying smoking will help your lifting”!  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Just like steroids, amphetamines, and the dozens of other drugs people use to increase their performance.  But don’t confuse helping your lifting and helping your health.  Also, there are better ways to achieve the same positive effects of smoking without the long term health problems that smoking brings.

First, how does smoking help.  Nicotine is a stimulant.  When you smoke, you are introducing a stimulant to your system.  A stimulant can help you focus.  By focusing, you can reduce anxiety (which is how cigarettes can calm you down when they stimulant you).  Since it enters through the lungs, it is wickedly fast in how it does it and why it is so addictive.  It has an incredibly fast stimulus-reward connection.  But you have to remember, there’s a DIFFERENCE between short term and long term benefits.

When I used to work in substance abuse counseling patients would often have a “dual diagnosis”.  They would come into treatment as a result of substance abuse, but the reason they would abuse substances had to do with an underlying problem.  I’ll used Depression as an example.  If you are depressed and you take methamphetamine you will no longer be depressed.  As a matter of fact, I’ll guarantee INSTANT results.  If you simply go on the instant results, then “meth” would be the greatest success story of all time in the treatment of depression.  But we all know there are many consequences of using “meth”.  The consequences of cigarettes are slow, but the benefits are quick.

I bring this up because when I was a teenager and I was faced with the opportunities to use alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, steroids, I would hear only that they were “bad” for you….but what I often saw conflicted with that and as a result, I would question just how “bad” they were!  I even recall people saying that steroids didn’t work at all and that it was all psychological…..yeah, right!!!  If we want to modify our behavior or the behavior of those around us for the better, we have to be honest

Now that we are being honest, let’s back up to the “dual diagnosis” example a little.  So, if you take away the way a person is self medicating, you must find an alternative or they are doomed to go back to their self medication.  With cigarettes, you must find some healthy alternative, or at least a relatively healthy alternative (when I did substance abuse counseling we often encouraged cigarette smoking to deal with withdrawal  from hardcore drugs as it was the lessor evil).

As lifters, we are always looking for an edge.  I don’t know how many supplements I’ve tried over the years.  But if we are willing to work, and wait for results, we can find effective replacements for things like cigarettes that deliver short term but make us pay long term.

Breath easy!

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 1

If smoking makes you stronger.....this guy will be the World's Strongest Man in no time!

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid and my Uncle’s were lifting on a regular basis I would often go the gym to watch them workout.  During their workout, they would chain smoke cigarettes.  Cigarette smoke often filled the gym and the ash tray was next to the chalk box!  I recall my Uncle Wayne, taking a drag off his cigarette, setting it on the edge of the platform (with the “cherry” end dangling off the edge) and hitting a set of Power Cleans.   Then he would retrieve his cigarette and, while trying to catch his breath, take a drag off of it and then cough!

Those who are under 30 won’t understand how prevalent smoking was back then.  It was normal for smoking to happen everywhere.  Even at weightlifting meets.  It was a smokers right to light up, not the other way around like it is now!  I recall going to sporting events and people lighting up right next to you, attending classes and people smoking the the classroom in college, and the only reason you wouldn’t smoke at a hospital had nothing to do with health….it was so an open flame didn’t make contact with Oxygen!  Same reason for no smoking in a theater….they were worried about a fire…not people’s health!

We are now taught how bad smoking is for you.  We have a lot of older lifters who used to smoke and if they didn’t, they were like me growing up with it wherever they went.  Both my parents chain smoked, I can’t recall my Dad not having a cigarette dangling from his mouth!  We now know just how bad second hand smoke is for you!

Today, my Dad is gone.  He passed away at age 65 and I’m certain the cigarettes cost him at least 10 years.  My Uncle’s Wayne and Phil, are in their 60’s as well and smoking has taken a toll.  They all told me they wished they had never started.  It’s an addiction and a powerful one.  My point is, these were the strongest men I knew growing up.  And Smoking cost them dearly…..and it cost those of us who loved them dearly.  My grandfather never smoked and he lived to be 85 and was in great shape.  His death was the effects of a car accident….or he probably would have lived much longer!  Sure, there’s lots of factors in that….but he removed the factor that cigarettes could have played in his health and it certainly would have been negative!

We all know smoking is bad for us, but did you younger guys realize not so many years ago that being tough and strong, often meant being a smoker and if you went to a lifting meet you could expect a wall of thick smoke.   David Rigert, one of the greatest Oly lifters of all time lifted in the 70’s and he often chain smoked at meets (and drank vodka in the warm up room between lifts) and would put down his cigarette to go lift!  Or if you joined a gym, people would be smoking….even while lifting!  Things have changed, but in this case…..for the better!

2011 USAWA Nationals Photo Project

by Thom Van Vleck

If you haven’t marked it on you calendar yet, put a big circle around June 25th right now!  I am hoping to do the USAWA proud hosting the USAWA Nationals this year.  I will have Al Myers as my “consultant” to make sure I don’t screw this up.  Al is an unpaid consultant, so I have to be careful I don’t get my money’s worth!  But seriously, we are looking to do some cool things this year.

One idea that I would like to do will require some help from all you!  I want to have a powerpoint  going that will be projecting pictures from the great history of the USAWA onto a wall nearby or even behind the lifting area.  So, I’m asking all of you to submit photos to me or Al.  You can send me a photograph or photographs, you can attach them to an e-mail, you can send me a CD with photos, just get them in and we’ll put them in the rotation!  I think it would add to the inspiration of the meet to have these photos scrolling on the wall while the meet goes on!

I will also have someone photographing every lift of the meet.  These lifts plus the historic lifts will be downloaded to ONE CD and will be sold for$15.

I will also have many photos, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia from the Jackson Weightlifting Club on display!  I will have a special table set up for the JWC and we will have the famous (or infamous) JWC photo album out as well as some of the old trophies and medals from 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

More plans are coming along, so send your photos!

Polar Bear Plunge 2011

Thom after a refreshing dip!

by Thom Van Vleck

It’s the first day of winter and it’s always this time of year that I begin to think about a nice swim in our nearby lake!   Last year I wrote an article for the USAWA board on cold water bathing and the possible therapeutic effects along with my “polar bear plunge” for charity.  It was great fun and we are doing it again.  This year I have a team of students from A.T. Still University taking the plunge with me.  We will be known as the JWC Highlanders and we will be wearing kilts.  Our theme will be, “What’s a true scotsman wear under his kilt” and as we run into the water we will “whip” our kilts off and jump in!  Of course, you will have to come to see the answer to that question….the word “regimental” comes to mind….USAWA Secretary Al Myers will know all about that!!!  We will be collecting donations for the Special Olympics so any donation is appreciated!  Our goal is $250.

Last year the ice was 14" thick! I was the last one out!

I still do my “snow bathing”.  When there’s no snow, I take cold water showers and then hit the sauna, often making a couple trips back and forth.  But the best is when there is snow on the ground and it’s below zero outside.  You go in and get warmed to the core in the sauna and then go outside and rub snow all over until you are numb.  Then go in and hit the sauna!  I go back and forth at least twice.  I TRULY believe this makes me healthier and helps with recovery.  When I feel a little under the weather, I do this as often as possible, spending extra time in the sauna and it seems I never get sick when I do this.  I have read where the heat in the sauna causes you to run an “artificial” fever helping your body destroy whatever is attacking it.  It could be all in my head, but then again the brain is the most powerful weapon we have in our fight to be stronger so even if it is, it’s worth it to me!   At the least, I’m refreshed and wide awake.  Now I get to combine what I already do with a charitable event, can’t beat that.  Any takers for my team?  It’s the first Saturday in February!!!

2011 Nationals Venue Set

by Thom Van Vleck

Historic Rieger Armory, location for the 2011 USAWA Nationals

I have reserved the Rieger Armory for the 2011 USAWA Nationals and I couldn’t be more pleased with the location.  It is a classic building built in 1938 that has a lot of character and history (I know what you are thinking….that means it’s OLD, but it has been very well kept up and has been the location of hundreds of major functions here in Kirksville over the years).

It is named for Col. James Rieger who is a local war hero.  He served in WWI and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Purple Heart as well as numerous other medals for leading  the 138th Regiment in a brutal attack that caused the German defenses to fall back all across the front lines.  He was nicknamed the “Hero of the Argonne” and one of his men famously said in an interview that went national, “…there wasn’t one of us that wouldn’t go to Hell for him”.   The War Department donated a German Howitzer captured in WWI to Kirksville that is in Rotary Park and Col. Rieger was later tapped to return to France at one point to locate and document American soldiers buried  there.  He was given pieces of a stained glass window from a bombed out French Church that was incorporated in the First Baptist Church here in Kirksville as a token of appreciation.

Just as importantly, it is a great place to have a weightlifting meet.  Centrally located in town, you can see Truman State’s campus and the town square from Rieger.  It has a large indoor area that used to house the National Guard artillery unit in town (now a Combat Engineer unit).  It also has a large kitchen with plenty of tables and chairs for our banquet and a stage for a first class awards ceremony!  I hope everyone will try and make this.  More info to come so stay tuned! It is located at 500 S. Elson St. in Kirksville.

Run up the Flag

by Thom Van Vleck

The United States Flag flies with pride above the Dino Gym on top of a 40 foot Flag Pole.

I remember the first Highland Games/strongman contest I promoted. I remember putting a huge amount of work into it and wondering if anyone was going to show up and thinking, “Well, if nobody shows, then I won’t do it again”. The meet started at 9:00 and at 8:30 NOBODY was there! Then by 9:00 there were 27 throwers and about 50 spectators! I remember feeling relieved!

My point, many of us promote meets of different levels. I have never met a meet director that has not gotten fed up at some point. It’s a damn thankless job and everybody has a criticism and a gripe…..usually behind your back. You can charge an entry fee and give a shirt, award, maybe lunch, and let them destroy your equipment and they will act like they are doing you a favor showing up and they feel like you are going to retire on the immense wealth brought in by their entry fee.

However, the reality is that MOST guys appreciate the effort. MOST guys understand and get it. What some of us need to remember is that holding a meet year after year is like raising the flag every morning. Just because there’s nobody there to salute it doesn’t mean that nobody cares about whether it came up or not. Believe me, when I was in the Marine Corps, Marines always had flag duty and I was on it often. It was the one duty I volunteered for. Get up before dawn, put on your dress blues, get shined up, do the silent march down to the flag pole, go through all the rituals of doing it…..and most often there was not a soul around to see it. But it was a must that everyone know its up and there and waving in the wind to greet the day because if it’s not, then it becomes more and more likely it won’t be there the next day and then the day will come when it’s gone forever!

Recently, Bill Clark, who has “run the flag up the flagpole” more than anyone in the USAWA cancelled the Goerner meet. Quite frankly, the guy has done his share. Just like there’s a Marine running that flag up at the bases in Pensacola, Florida, Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and San Diego, CA. I took my turn, now it’s somebody else’s. That flag gets run up because it has a deeper meaning, and it means a lot to those who believe in it. The USAWA is NOT the USA, but it means a lot to those involved in it and somebody ought to run that flag up, otherwise accept defeat.

I know someday I won’t be running the meets I run for lots of reasons (my demise being the most likely at this point)…..but maybe somebody will grab that flag and run with it. Like I grabbed the JWC flag from my Uncle’s and ran with it.

National Championships

by Thom Van Vleck



Al Myers doing a 440 pound Zercher lift in the 2003 USAWA Nationals. The Zercher Lift will be part of the 2011 Nationals to honor the Oldtime Missouri Strongman Ed Zercher.

The 2011 USAWA National Championships will be hosted by the Jackson Weightlifting Club in Kirksville, Missouri!  I have a series of articles planned to keep everyone up to date on this meet so check back often.   Here is what we have decided to this point.

Date: June 25th, 2011

Location: Kirksville, Missouri (exact venue to be decided)

Cost: Entry $50  (plus up to date USAWA membership)

Banquet: $25 per couple or $15 per person (Catered by Western’s Meat Market….a local legend for great food)

Awards: Plaques for age group and open winners, medals for all participants, and a special award for the best lifter

Shirts: Shirts will be provided to all entrants (details on design to come….but it will be special).

Travel & Lodging: (866 CAPE AIR) has daily flights from St. Louis to Kirksville for $49, so you can get from anywhere in the world right to town!  There are several motels such as the Budget Host, Holiday Inn Express, Knights Inn, Comfort Inn, Super 8, and Days Inn in Kirksville and just south of town is the Depot Inn in Laplata, Missouri which is next to the Amtrak Station that connects from Chicago and Kansas City. There is another Amtrak station just an hour north that connects to Denver and Chicago and points beyond.  

Format: Morning Session and Afternoon Session.  Morning Session will begin at 10:00am.  Afternoon session will follow with a one hour break after the Morning Session is completed.  Morning and Afternoon Sessions will be determined by opening attempts.

Lifts: (performed in this order)

Snatch – Dumbbell, One Arm

Curl – Cheat

Pullover and Push

Continental to Chest – Fulton Bar

Deadlift – 12″ Base

Zercher Lift

I spent a lot of time thinking about these lifts.  I wanted to have at least one Fulton Bar lift and at least one Dumbbell lift.  I wanted to have a pure power lift (12″ Deadlift) and a pressing movement (Pullover and Push).  I wanted to have the Zercher because Ed Zercher is perhaps the best known Old time strongman from Missouri and me being a good ol’ Missouri boy and the fact that my Grandfather-in-law knew and lifted with Ed….well, that was a must!   Oh, and what about the Cheat Curl….well….I just like it!!!!

Start making plans and training now!!!


JWC Record Breaker



by Thom Van Vleck

On October 29, 2010 the 2nd Annual JWC Record Breaker meet was held in conjunction with Faith Lutheran School’s annual fundraiser.  The format was that for every USAWA record broken, there would be a donation pledged.  As a result, over $2000 was raised by the lifters alone and the overall event raised over $12,000!  This was over $4000 more than the previous year and the event was deemed a huge success. Over 500 attended and were able to watch the lifting!

All of the lifts attempted were record attempts.  A total of 125 Open, Youth, and Master USAWA records were set or broken.  Thom Van Vleck, Mike Murdock, Joe Garcia, and Chad Ullom were the Certified Judges for the meet and also lifted.  The other lifters were Morgan and Dalton Van Vleck, Mitch Ridout, John O’Brien, and Josh Hettinger.

The event started at 5:00pm with the “Youth Division”.  Morgan and Dalton Van Vleck took the lifting platform to attempt some records.  By the time they were done they had broken or set 20 age group and open records.


Morgan Van Vleck – Age 13 (12 – 13 Age group) Weight 46.4kg (50kg Class)

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Left Hand – 80 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Right Hand – 80 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – 12” base - 165 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip – 165 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 155 lbs.)
Deadlift – Trap Bar – 175 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 100 lbs.)


Dalton Van Vleck – Age 11 (10 – 11 Age Group) Weight 44.8kg (45kg Class)

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1”,  Left Hand – 55 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Right Hand – 55 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – 12” Base -  145 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 130 lbs.)
Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip145 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – Trap Bar – 150 lbs. (Age and Open Record)

Then at 5:30pm the Open Class began. We ran until 7:30pm at which time it was estimated we were at 77 records.  After the Jackson Weightlifting Club did a strongman show to end the night for the fundraiser, the lifters returned to the platform to finish the night.  At the end we weren’t sure how many records had been broken (since some were open and age group) but we were certain we had achieve our goal of 100!  A special thanks to those that traveled up and took part!  Your participation was greatly appreciated and when I presented the money to our principal she got a tear in her eye….and so did I.  Thanks!!!!!!


John O’Brien – Age 42 (40-44 Age Group), Weight 126.5 kg (125kg+Class)

Crucifix – 70 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – 2 Dumbbells – 150 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – Behind Neck – 245 lbs.  (Open and Master Records)
Clean & Push Press -  245 lbs. (Master Record)
Squat – Overhead – 140 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Press- from Rack – 210 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – Fulton Bar – 170 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Zeigler Clean – 75 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Clean & Seated Press – 180 lbs. (Open and Master Records)


Mitch Ridout – Age 42 (40-44 Age Group), Weight 116.1 kg (120kg Class)

Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 110 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Curl – 2 Dumbbells, Cheat -110 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm -55 lbs. (Master Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left  Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm – 75 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Curl  – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right  Arm – 85 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Clean and Jerk – Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Jefferson Lift – Fulton Bar – 190 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – from Rack – 135 lbs.  (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell,  Right Arm – 90 lbs. (Open & Master Records)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar,  2”, Left  Hand – 128 lbs.  (Open & Master Records)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar,  2”,  Right Hand – 128 lbs. (Open & Master Records)


Joe Garcia -  Age 57  (55-59 Age Group), Weight 93.8 kg (95kg Class)

Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm -75 lbs.  (Master Record)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 110 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Fingers, Middle -250 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Continental Snatch – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Push Press – from Rack – 135 lbs. (Master Record)
Continental to Chest – 210 lbs.  (Master Record)


Mike Murdock – Age 70  (70-74 Age Group), Weight 106,4 kg (110kg Class)

Crucifix – 70 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 130 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 150 lbs. (Master Record)
Rectangular Fix – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Seated Press – 90 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – Reverse Grip – 125 lbs. (Master Record)
Zeigler Clean – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Push Press from Rack – 135 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press – Reverse Grip – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press – Alternate Grip – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press -Heels Together, Fulton Bar – 105 lbs. (Master Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2”, Left Hand -  88 lbs. (Master Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2”, Right Hand – 88 lbs. (Master Record)


Thom Van Vleck – Age 46 (45-49 Age Group), Weight 135kg (125+kg Class)

Crucifix – 90 lbs.  (Master Record)
Clean and Jerk – 2 Dumbbells – 120 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – 2 Dumbbells, Cheat – 120 lbs.  (Master and Open Records)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 120 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm -85 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs.  (Master Record)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 105 lbs.  (Master Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Swing – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – 12” Base – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – Alternate Grip -  140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – on knees – 145 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Fingers, Index – 145 lbs.  (Master Record)
Jefferson Lift – 315 lbs. (Master Record)


Josh Hettinger – Age 29 (Open Age Group), Weight 141.5 kg (125+kg Class)

Swing – 2 Dumbbells -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – from Rack – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Deadlift -  No Thumb, Left Arm – 180 lbs. (Open Record)
Deadlift – No Thumb,  Right Arm – 205 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Jerk – Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open Record)


Chad Ullom – Age 38 (Open Age Group), Weight 108.0 kg (110kg Class)

Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Left Arm -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 110 lbs. (Open Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 110 lbs. (Open Record)
Bench Press – Hands Together – 225 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Press -  12” Base – 190 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Right Arm – 95 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Press – Fulton Bar – 190 lbs. (Open Record)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 150 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 90 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 90 lbs. (Open Record)
Snatch – On Knees – 115 lbs. (Open Record)
Miller Clean and Jerk – 125 lbs. (Open Record)
Zeigler Clean – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – From Rack – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – From Rack, Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Reflex Clean & Jerk – 250 lbs. (Open Record)
Continental to Chest – Fulton Bar – 225 lbs. (Open Record)

* Three Certified Officials used on ALL LIFTS – Thom Van Vleck, Joe Garcia, Mike Murdock, and Chad Ullom

What Goes Around….

Arthur Saxon would probably be considered "cutting edge" with most of his training techniques today!

by Thom Van Vleck

Recently, I had a young guy come out to my place to try out the Highland Games.  He was in his early 20’s and had done some weight training at the local YMCA and in high school, but was not a hard core lifter or iron game follower.  What was funny was I gave him a tour of my gym and he started pointing to things I had like they were new and cutting edge.  As if my gym was equipped with “all the latest”.  In particular, he pointed to my Kettlebells and said, “Wow, you have some kettlebells, I would like to try training with those, I’ve heard they are really good to train with”.

This was in contrast to when my Uncle Wayne Jackson saw the Kettlebells right after I had bought them.  Wayne gained the bulk of his training knowledge from reading S&H, MD, and Ironman in the 50’s and 60’s.  He said, “So what are you going to do with those old things”.  As if I had raided the York Barbell museum!   Wayne’s comments leaned towards how Kettlebells were never us used in his day and you couldn’t find those for years and he wasn’t sure what good they were going to do me.

In 2009, I got to go to the Arnold Fitness Expo.  It was there I found out just how “popular” Kettlebells had become again. They were having a competition that centered around doing all kinds of different maneuvers with the kettlebells, some of which I could see a lot of benefit, some….not so much…but hey, I swing a hammer in circles and flip telephone poles in my spare time….so who am I to judge.

I have a lot of stuff in my gym, most of it is pretty old or “well used”.  It is funny to me how things go in and out of style.  It got me to pondering “WHY”?  A lot of times exercises and equipment get run out of town by the “latest thing”.  Usually being sold by some guy looking to make a buck more than he’s trying to “revolutionize” the fitness industry.  He tells us that the old stuff is dangerous, useless, or inferior and enough people buy into it that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and the old stuff falls to the wayside.  But form follows function and eventually, what works is rediscovered and comes back again.

Now, this wasn’t intended to be an article on the benefits of Kettlebells, they are just an example.  I’m not trying to sell you on the and I don’t sell them!!!  Just remember, in our effort to get better (whether that be bigger, faster, stronger at lifting, throwing, team sports, whatever) we need to gain a broad understanding of what’s out there.  We need to know our history, we need to know what works and what doesn’t and filter what comes from the so called “experts” so that we may find the tools we need to achieve our goals.  We need to constantly look at what’s been used, what’s on the “shelf” (so to speak) and how can it be used to freshen up our training and lift us to victory!  (no pun intended!).

Strength, Speed, and Age

by Thom Van Vleck

Larry Ventress has been a top Highland Games athlete for many years and has had to deal with his share of injuries.

Here’s a good quote I read recently:

“You might not get faster when you’re older, but you can get stronger.” (NFL Running Back Lorenzo Neal who said he added years to his NFL career when he “lost a step” by doing sets of 20 on the squat AFTER his regular workouts to make up for the speed loss with strength).

I agree, you might not get faster with age, as a matter of fact, you WILL PROBABLY get slower, but you can offset that with strength. Strength gains can come for a LONG time in my opinion. I remember my grandfather writing out his work out routine in his 80’s…he had max attempts written in those goals!!

I was at the McPherson Scottish Highland Games recently and was talking to my good friend Larry Ventress. Larry was a top “A” thrower years ago and has been a top masters thrower for years and he and I have competed against one another for many, many years and have become good friends. We were talking about guys coming out to train with us that were big deadlifters who wanted to try the Weight Over Bar event (you throw a 56lb weight, or 42lb if you are a master, over a cross bar for height with one hand…greatest height wins like in the high jump) and how they failed miserably. They were extremely strong…..but slow. However, we both agreed if they worked at it some, they would be great once they got the speed going. I have also found guys that were quick, that could generate a lot of speed, do well in the WOB, but couldn’t lift much at all. Because in Highland Games, to be a good thrower, you either have great speed or great strength. To be a great thrower you need SPEED & STRENGTH. Larry and I were discussing that if you are losing speed with age….you need to amp up the strength levels to compensate.

Lifting is no different in my opinion and especially so in the quick lifts. So, if you feel like you are losing a step….don’t worry, just get stronger! It CAN be done!!!!

Is the USAWA a “Retirement” Sport?

Wilbur Miller is a guy that had a LONG career in lifting, thanks in part to the USAWA!

by Thom Van Vleck

A USAWA member once told me that the USAWA is a good “retirement” sport.  You have to admit….there are a lot of guys that are pretty old in the USAWA!  I pondered why that was and what it meant (especially since I’m one of them!).

I was at a USAWA meet at Al’s one time and the great Wilbur Miller was there.  We were visiting and he was talking about all the options the USAWA offered to demonstrate strength.  We were also talking about Highland Games and Strongman as well.  He told me that back in his day you either Olympic lifted or powerlifted (he did both and was very GOOD at both, probably one of the best all time at both sports at the same time).  As we watched the lifters doing the lifts Wilbur said, “I wish we would have had this kind of stuff around when I was young…..I think I would have been pretty good at it”.  I don’t think…I KNOW he would have been!  Wilbur must have been inspired, because he came back after that and did some pretty amazing lifting at the same USAWA meet the next year and he’s a CURRENT USAWA member now!

Now, I know some of the old timers will point out that Wilbur and the rest were doing “odd lifts” back in the day, but today’s USAWA has many, many more contested lifts.

Most of us started in more mainstream strength sports.  I started as an Olympic lifter (and was an abysmal failure but I did learn how to power clean and squat….two lifts that have served me well!).   I then became a powerlifter (and was moderately successful).  Then came strongman & Highland Games (which I found I was even better at, with Highland Games being my greatest success relative to world class competition).   And with those, also came injuries.  Some of those have kept me from doing certain movements and if those were the only lifts on the table….then you are OUT!  But with the USAWA comes  hundreds of lifts.  If you can’t do one, pull out the rule book and search until you can find one you CAN do!  How great is that!

Of course, having all the age brackets and age adjustment formulas attract masters lifters, but that is, in my opinion, NOT why there’s so many masters in the sport.  Most athletes don’t retire because they are done, they retire because they are injured.  The desire is usually still there, the body just unable to perform.  That is why there are so many masters involved in the USAWA because it allows them to find lifts they can still do and compete at!   That’s a great thing in my opinion!  It also attracts guys like it attracted Wilbur Miller….the challenge of doing so many things and doing them well and finally finding a place to do it!

….and one last thing…..I ain’t RETIRED!  I’m just getting started!

JWC Record Breaker



by Thom Van Vleck

Oct. 29 we will be attempting a feat never before seen in the USAWA.  Quite frankly, I wonder what I was thinking when I dreamed this up!  We will attempt to break 100 USAWA records in about 2 hours for charity.

Last year I had my first ever JWC Record day and we had a blast.  This year I decided to combine it with our annual school fundraiser to try and get pledges for each record we break.  This money will go towards funding the Faith Lutheran School.  This school has over 150 students from preschool to 3rd grade.  Most of these students don’t attend our Church, and many do not have a Church home at all.  So the money is more than just about giving to a Church but to a school that reaches out to many different families and children.

I have decided to call it “Lifting Faith” because we are lifting weights to benefit Faith Lutheran School.  I already have several athletes who have committed to this feat and I am looking for more!  There is no entry fee and no awards, just the satisfaction of not only breaking individual records, but being part of a 100 record breaking day,  AND raising money for a good cause.

I will be going out and getting pledges for each record we break.  If we break 50 records and I have pledge totaling $10 per record, we raise $500 and if we break 100 records it will be $1000!  So, it’s important that we break as many as possible with the maximum being 100!  I will have loaders and spotters there and I will have a lifting platform and a warm up platform.  We will likely have over 500 people, most of them kids,  in attendance and towards the end, we will be the CENTER of the event!  I will have someone running a tote board to update progress and multiplying that by pledges to show an every rising dollar amount.  I will have an emcee and a PA system.  At the end, the JWC will do our strongman show as part of a finale the evenings festivities.

All YOU need to do is BE THERE and be READY to break some records!!!!!

Contact me as soon as possible to verify your attendance.  I need all entries by Oct. 25th, NO LATE entries due to the need to develop a flow chart of records.  Also, due to the time limits, when it’s your time to lift, you need to be ready!  We will be moving quickly!!  No chain lifts, only platform lifts!

Be a part of the record day to beat all record days!

Here is my contact info:

Thom Van Vleck

660 341 1755

Make it “Official”

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson judging in the 1960's

I guess I’m officially “OLD”.  I went to a funeral the other day and was upset with the clothes people wore.  They were in jeans, sweat pants, jeans with holes in them, etc.  I was in a suit and tie.  I was there to show respect.

I guess I’m old school and I like to show respect. I respect my elders, my betters, ladies….errr…women.  Because that is how I was raised.  I open doors for older folks (seems to be fewer of those every year…don’t understand why!?).  I stop when I see someone needs help.  I greet folks with a handshake and acknowledge them in some appropriate way when I can.  In general, I’m nice…..Ok, MOST of the time I’m nice.

I was going through some old pictures recently and came across one of Phil Jackson judging a meet in the 1960’s.  He was wearing a suit and tie.  I asked him about it and he acted like that was a stupid question!  He said all the judges wore respectable clothes back then.  He said it made the meet look better, like there was something going on, but most of all it was showing respect to the honorable position of being a judge.  I would also point out that Phil had lifted in that meet and changed to judge the later classes.

Now,  I’ve judged meets in jeans and a t-shirt so I’m not casting stones here (but I will in regards to that funeral….that just made me mad!).  I would be curious what other members of the USAWA think about this.  I’ll guess that if you are over 40, you think that a judge should look the part and at least look half way decent and if you are under 30 you could care less as long as the job gets done.  Ages 30-40 are probably in the middle!!

Log onto the USAWA Discussion Forum and let me know and I’ll follow this article up with the results.

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part III

by Thom Van Vleck

John Ware: 49'er Prospect and World Champion Powerlifter

There are a couple more names I’ll associate with the JWC and Pro Football. One is a stretch, but the other is not.

In the 80’s NMSU had a player named Mike Morris.  He was strong, I mean really strong.  I recall him squatting 770lbs and back then in college that was pretty serious….well….it STILL is.  I worked out with him a few times and was in awe of his strength.  Later, he would play almost two decades in the NFL as a long snapper and at one time, in the MILO Strength Journal, there was a story on him basically calling him the STRONGEST man in pro football.  Since then, I have become friends with Mike Baab.  Mike Baab played many years in the NFL and at one point he and Morris were on the same team.  I was “trying to impress” Mike with some name dropping and mentioned Morris.  Baab said, “Yeah, that guy was really strong, but he had ‘powerlifter’ legs”.  I asked what that meant, and Baab smiled and said, “He ran like he had a 45lb plate strapped to each foot!”.  Then Baab said, “But you don’t need to be fast to be a long snapper”.  I have tried to reach Mike a couple of times with no luck.  He does radio work for the Vikings now so I’m guessing I probably don’t carry much clout with him anymore…..if ever!

Then, there was Big John Ware who was a top powerlifter for many years and for the 20 years he was in Kirksville he was a good, close friend and often training partner of mine, who came to my house often.  We shared an interest in strength sports and football.  John had an undergrad degree in psychology and a Master’s in Counseling, and we attended the same Master’s program but at different times.  We had many conversations on the topic of  psychology.  He was a very intelligent guy.  I’ll never forget how I found out about his passing at age 46.  Just before I left for the 2005 Masters World Championships (highland games) I had called John.  He was in Joplin coaching Missouri Southern and they had a game at Truman in Kirksville coming up, and we were going to get together.  He was very encouraging and told me he wanted to hear how things were going with me when I got back.  When I got off the plane on my return, my wife had left me a message asking me to call her ASAP….and I got the bad news.

John was an All American Football player at Drake University.  He was signed by the San Francisco 49′ers (kind of ironic) and made it to the final cut.  John told me later that he realized at that point he could be a world champion powerlifter, or a mediocre pro football player, and he chose greatness.  He then added that if the money would have been there like it is now…..powerlifting may not have had one of it’s greatest champs!!!  During that time, I got to workout a lot with John.  He had one buddy named Dennis McKnight that came back often to train with us.   McKnight played at Drake and then logged over 10 years in the NFL.

During the time I trained with him he was a 5 time National Champ in Powerlifting and he was the 1991 World Champ.  He probably would have won more World Championships but they were always in the fall and as a football coach….he could not take time off in the fall.  His most legendary feat was breaking Bill Kazmaier’s world record in the total.  His best lifts were a 1000lb squat (I once spotted him do a triple with 985lbs).  I probably spotted him hitting over 600lbs on the bench a couple dozen times, including at triple with 600 one time.

John did share with me that he used a lot of drugs, including steroids.  He told me that he was certain it was the cause of his heart problems (he died of a heart attack at age 46).  He was also unapologetic.  He felt that all the same guys he beat while on steroids he could have beaten off steroids (assuming they were on them, too, and I think all the “greats” of that day were on them).  John commented to me he never claimed to be drug free and that when he started them in the 70’s, the culture was very different than it is now and they weren’t aware of all the dangers.  He told me if he had started 10 years later, he would probably never would have used them.

John did train in the JWC gym, unlike Morris, as did Glen Jacobs.  Jacobs was better known as the pro wrestler KANE!  But that, my friends, is another story!  I only mention him here because he was a Chicago Bear prospect but could not pass their physical so he went into the crazy world of Pro Wrestling!

That’s the JWC connection to the world or Pro Football!  It’s not much, but we are proud of it!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

Press clipping after the NFC Championship Game

Tom Geredine was a wide receiver for NMSU and was actually picked ahead of Lenny by the Falcons.  He ended up playing for the Falcons for two years and the LA Rams for one.  He was never a starter, but he did have one great game on a Monday night that had Howard Cosell fired up.  It was November 19, 1973 and Tom was at wide receiver.  He had three receptions of 52 yards as a back up, making it has 2nd best game as a pro.  The catches were at clutch times and helped the Falcons beat the Vikings 20 to 14.  That was a year the Vikings went to the Super Bowl and that was only one of two loses they suffered that year….an upset!

Then, there was Lenny.  Lenny played Pro football for 9 years. Six years as a Bengal and his coach was the legendary Paul Brown.  An assistant was this guy named Bill Walsh…..that will be important later!  Lenny played with the Browns but after 6 years his knees were getting banged up and he was released.  Bill Walsh had since become the coach of the 49ers and saw something special in Elliott.  He picked him up and Lenny came to the 49ers as a third stringer.

Then, came “The Catch”.  In the 1981 season, the year the 49er’s won their first Super Bowl, the “niners” found themselves  in the NFC Championship game against the great Dallas Cowboys who had made a habit of winning Super Bowls in the 70’s.  You have to remember, at this time the 49er’s were losers, they had never been to a Superbowl and they had some rookie QB named Joe Montana that everyone said at the time was too small and didn’t have a strong enough arm.  Then came a 4th quarter drive that Joe Montana would become famous for. Walsh knew the Cowboys would be looking for the pass so he looked down the bench and got a washed up running back (Lenny) who had been cut from the team, and only recently picked back up, and began to feed him the ball.  Lenny set up that Catch, and right before the catch, ALMOST scored a touchdown that would have meant the catch never happened!   If you are a fan, you remember “The Catch”, but did you know that Lenvil Elliott, JWC member, was the MVP of that NFC Championship game?  He set up that play and it was his finest hour as a player.  He did not play in the Superbowl and his bad knees forced him to retire the next year…so it was his last game.  A story fit for a movie!

Here’s another layer to this story.  There was a book called “The Catch” by Gary Myers.  In it he talks about this famous moment in football and characterizes it as the moment when Pro Football became bigger than Pro Baseball in America.  It was the moment when Pro Football became AMERICA’S GAME.  In the book, there’s a point where Gary Myers states that the “unsung hero” of that game was really Lenvil Elliott.  I like to believe that the training Lenny got from my Uncle helped his career and led to that moment.  I guess I don’t just believe it….I know it.

I recall many fun times with Lenny.  He was a nice guy.  He gave me his training camp shirt one year and I wore that my entire Senior year of high school….until it was in tatters!   We have a family cabin that we all often went to and used.  Lenny often brought his Pro Football friends out to get away from it all.  My Uncle Phil said they liked the fact he treated them like they were regular guys.  One of those guests was named “Walt” from Chicago.  You guessed it….Walter Payton.  My Uncle Phil said that when he left after a weekend of hunting he commented that he appreciated Phil not making a big deal about him and he offered him an autographed photo.  Phil told me that he turned him down and told him the joy of his company was enough.   Later, Lenny told Phil that Walter said he really liked Phil and our family cabin.  I recall lots of “big guys” coming out and Phil telling me to treat them like regular guys.  We did and we had a blast.

That’s only part of the JWC Pro football legacy….how about Part III??!!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Lenvil Elliot: JWC member and Super Bowl winner!

I had thought about titling this article: How the JWC made Football America’s Game over baseball.  That’s quite a claim, isn’t it?   Well, it’s true!  First, let me talk a little about Lenvil “Lenny” Elliot and the rest of the the Pro football players that came out of the JWC.

Lenny came to school at Northeast Missouri State University, which is now Truman State, here in Kirksville in the fall of 1969.   My Uncle Phil returned from Vietnam after a stint in the Air Force and started school in 1971.   Phil already had two years of credits so they were both Juniors.  They were both in school to be Physical Education teachers so they took a lot of classes together.  They began to train together, but more than that, they shared a love of hunting and fishing and spent nearly every weekend doing just that for the next two years.  That was the source of their real friendship.

At this time my Uncle Phil aspired to be a football trainer, maybe even for a professional team, and Lenny was on track to play in the NFL.  So they had a lot in common and Phil often shared his unique training philosophy with Lenny and personally trained Lenny for a year and a half before the NFL draft.  Phil had the JWC in the basement of his house and basically it was the only gym in town.  He told me he got enough in membership dues to pay the rent on the whole house!

Northeast Missouri State was in a “golden” era in football. In 1969, 1970, and 1971 they won the MIAA conference and out of those teams they had 5 players drafted into Pro football.   This included four that were trained by Phil!  Besides Lenny, there was Tom Geredine who was drafted into the NFL.  Then, in the WFL there was Craig O’Sadnick and Marvin Robinson.  Phil designed training programs for them for the off season (it was unusual to train in the offseason back then) and they lifted at the JWC gym.

This is remarkable in a couple of ways.  Northeast (or Truman as it is now known) had about 10 players EVER play pro football.  That means that the 5 that came out of this group was HALF of that total.  Pretty amazing and I have often wondered how much the training they got from Phil helped.  I think it had to help!  I was just a kid, but I recall Phil, Lenny, and the guys hanging out, and hitting the town.  Phil has a lot of stories…after all, it was the 70’s and the school has always been about two thirds girls for it’s enrollment!

Next: Part II  The JWC, Walter Payton, Winning a Super bowl, and Pro football becoming America’s Game.

Meet John O’Brien

by Thom Van Vleck

John O'Brien, of the JWC, is a World Class short-steel bender. In this picture, he displays an IronMind Red Nail which he just bent!

John O’Brien is a USAWA member, a good Highland Games thrower, a great lifter, and a world class short steel bender. Most of all, he’s my friend, training partner and Jackson Weightlifting Club member.  For most of the past decade we have been traveling to USAWA meets, Highland Games, Strongman Contests, Highlander meets, but most importantly he is a member of our evangelism team.  John is also a chemistry professor at Truman State and likes to say he’s trying to change the image of “nerds” everywhere.  He’s certainly the biggest, strongest “nerd” I’ve ever met!

John is  a low key guy.  He doesn’t get too fired up and has come across as being more than a little intimidating due to his size and quiet demeanor. Which is funny when you know he’s one of the nicest guys you could meet.   One  time, we went to a local fast food restaurant and the cashier, a young teen boy, was ready to take John’s order.  He was looking at John, all 6′3″ and 290lbs of him, and said, “Do you work out”?  John looked at him and in his usual economy of words said, “Yes”.  The kid looked him up and down again and said, “You scare me”.  I died laughing.  John is the quiet guy in the room that seems to intimidate people because not only is he big and decidedly strong looking, but you don’t quite know what’s on his mind.  And you won’t know unless you ask him directly!  Another funny story was the time when he would bend 60 penny nails during labs as practice.  Finally the Dean came to him and said he had to stop as the students were too scared to approach him and ask him questions as he bent nail after nail and tossed them in a pile!

I get a kick out of him and over the years have collected a list of top ten “Johnisms”.  When John does say something, it’s usually pretty well thought out and funny if you know him.  If you’ve never met him, they are still funny, but you have to imagine someone saying these in the most low key, matter of fact manner.

1.  You don’t have to be smiling to be happy. (Because John rarely smiles and people often ask him if he’s “OK”)

2. I’m not anti-social, I’m ASOCIAL…..there’s a difference.

3. People  don’t know how to take me and that’s the way I like it.

4. I may not be cheerful….but I’m always prepared. (Did I mention he’s a boy scout troop leader?)

5. You want a better grade in my class?  Then study Harder.

6. Yes, I know how to make nitro-glycerin and no I won’t….it’s very unstable.

7. You have to be careful regarding the chemicals you order….or the ATF or DEA will call.

8.  I like energetic reactions.

9. I have blown off an eyebrow doing experiments…..twice.

10. There was an explosion at the lab over the weekend…..I checked, it wasn’t mine this time.

John is one strong guy.  He has won the Master’s Class at the last two Highlander Nationals.  He always does well at any strength sport he tries because not only is he strong, he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever met.  He can bend short steel with the best of them and easily bent an Ironmind Red Nail.  He can easily squeeze a pop can until it explodes and is our “go to” guy in our strongman evangelism shows when we need a heavy lift done.  We have sure had a lot of fun doing what we do!

But most of all, he’s one of the “characters” that make up the Jackson Weightlifting Club and the USAWA.  Next time you see him, say hello….don’t be afraid!