The Sheffield Showdown – Saxon vs Sandow

by Thom Van Vleck

Arthur Saxon supporting his brother Hermann, who is seated on a kettlebell. To make the act even more difficult, Arthur is holding out another kettlebell with his other arm!

Al’s recent story on Sandow beating Sampson got me to thinking about another great old time strongman confrontation.  When I was a kid, my granddad Dalton Jackson (originator of the Jackson Weightlifting Club) told me this story.  My Granddad (or “Pop” as I called him) was a big fan of Arthur Saxon and always seemed to paint Sandow as the villain in his stories.  Pop often liked the guy that talked less and showed more and I think he thought Sandow talked a lot more than he lifted and manipulated situations to his advantage rather than winning with his strength.

Arthur Saxon was a master of the Bent Press, which is a USAWA lift and the rules for it can be found in the rule book.  At one point, Arthur laid down the challenge to Sandow, or any other strongman, that he could not be beaten in the Bent Press.  Money was involved and the honor to be called the World’s Strongest Man was on the line.

As Sandow was the older (around 30 to Saxon’s 19 or 20) and the more established performer at that time, Saxon’s claim was taken very seriously by Sandow.  On February 26, 1898 in Sheffield, England the Saxon Trio was performing, and when the challenge was laid down, Sandow jumped to the stage to accept the challenge.

As was the custom of that day, each strongman would pick a lift and go back and forth with the winner often being the man to beat the other at one of his “pet” lifts.  First, Saxon lifted a 110lb kettle bell to his shoulder and held it there with his little finger while a 160lb man climbed up his shoulders and sat on the weight.  Saxon then bent pressed both.  Sandow refused to even try this, and as Pop told me, “broke the unwritten rules of strongman feats”.  Saxon then, using his whole hand, took a 180lb Kettle Bell and 188lb Oscar Hilgenfelt, a member of the original Saxon Trio, in the same manner and bent pressed it, but did not stand erect with it.  Again, Sandow refused to try it!  Finally, Saxon Bent Pressed a 264lb barbell and stood erect with it on his second try.  Sandow, very fresh having passed up every feat to this point, agreed to try the lift.  I recall Pop painting Sandow as purposely trying to wear Saxon out before finally answering a challenge.  Even with this ploy, it took Sandow 5 tries to get the weight to arms length but he did not stand erect with the weight.  Saxon claimed victory, and in my mind, rightfully so!

Saxon began to use the event to promote his shows and the “sore loser” (as Pop called him) Sandow then took his only recourse, which was to sue Saxon in court since he couldn’t beat him on the platform.  Sandow, being the home country favorite and significantly better financed (seem not much has changed about courts….money wins!) won a decision after getting a witness to the event to say he lifted the weight and that even though he admitted he did not stand erect with it, he did not have to!  Pop made it sound like Sandow claimed he “could have” lifted it, but chose not to!  Now the impression I had was Sandow was not only a sore loser, but a cheater!  Further, Sandow cried foul that Saxon used a barbell loaded with mercury and that he had “practiced” with it and could counter the Mercury flowing in the bells and keep his balance. While Sandow struggled with the balance each attempt.  Either way, Pop told me that if you accepted a challenge, you didn’t cry foul later!

It was some time later I was reading a story on Donald Dinnie, the legendary Highland Games athlete that went 40 years undefeated in the caber toss.  Dinnie heard of Saxon, but refused to believe that Saxon’s claims.  In October of 1904, Saxon traveled paid a visit to Dinnie and using Dinnie’s weights, bent pressed 340.5lbs.  After that, Saxon had Dinnie’s support and praise.

Now, I don’t mean to ruffle the feathers of Sandow fans out there, I just wanted to convey the story of a great event in strength history and from the perspective of how it was told to me as a young boy by a man that lived not too long after the event transpired!   But truth be told, to this day, Arthur Saxon is my favorite!

James Splaine: Lightest to ever Lift the Dinnie Stones?

by Thom Van Vleck

At 144 pounds, is James Splaine the lightest man to ever lift the Dinnie Stones?

In 2006 I got a chance to lift the Inver Stone.  I’m a descent stone lifter and just took it for granted that as long as I was injury free, I could lift the Inver Stone, which I did.  After that (and a beer and a shot of scotch at the Inver Inn) we headed to the Potarch Inn, home of the Dinnie Stones just a few miles down the road near Kincardine O’Neil.

Recently, there was a story  in the USAWA Daily News on Steve Angell lifting those stones 20 reps in one day.  An amazing feat.  I am not a grip master, but I have a good grip, and the Dinnie Stones were not within my capabilities.  Partly due to the fact that I’m a “palm” gripper.  Which means I grip things like that, such as the  Highland Games implements in my palm. To be able to get your hands in the round rings, especially the smaller ring, you have to be a good “finger” gripper, or have the ability to get that ring down in your fingers and hang on.  I simply could not do it.  Even with straps, they felt like a real load!!!

Recently, I was reading through an old Iron Man magazine (back when Peary Rader published it and it was the best magazine out there for strength training and news….even if he did have a lot of bodybuilders on the covers…at least back then they were strong!).  I have tons of them and even though I’ve read through them many times, you will find things that catch your eye that you didn’t notice before.  It was issue # and I came across a David Willoughby article.  I really enjoy the old Willoughby articles on old time strongman feats.  I had recalled reading this one before as it talked about lifting block scale weights (a favorite of my granddad Dalton Jackson).  It was all about different types of  grip strength and while it was ALL great reading, the Dinnie Stones were fresh on my mind after Angell’s fantastic feat.  It was then I noticed a picture of a small man lifting the Dinnie Stones.

I have to admit, there’s probably a reason I don’t remember this picture.  The guy in it was listed at 144lbs and he looked like it!  His name was James Splaine and he was listed as being from Aberdeen and it’s his son, Jim, on his shoulders.   Being a big guy,  I have a bad habit of ignoring anyone that’s not a heavy weight.  But this guy was doing a “heavy weight” feat of strength and it was only after I had lifted these stones did I now appreciate  the feat of strength in the picture.

Now, I need to mention a couple things.  I have seen claims of lifting the Dinnie Stones….with STRAPS!  Inside the Potarch Inn, where the stones reside, is a hallway with photos of Donald Dinnie and stories on the stones.  There’s a photo of a local guy lifting them with scale weights strapped on for a combined with, I think, over 900lbs.  But if you look at the photo, the guy is using straps!  I use straps a lot in my training, but I never compare a strapped lift to one that is just grip.  They are two different things.  Another thing, you will notice in the photo of James Splaine, how he’s got the rings down in his fingers.

Willoughby claims in the caption that Splaine was the lightest man ever to lift the Dinnie Stones. I’m not sure if anyone lighter has done it since (let alone with his son on his shoulders!).

The Hoffman/Paul Formula

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so we’ve been overload on the formula’s lately, but I was perusing one of my old Ironman mags last night and came across a story.  This was the April-May 1974 issue and on Page 43 there’s a story on the “new” Hoffman/Paul Formula.  The original Hoffman formula was used for years in determining the best lifter at Olympic lifting meets.  As the weight classes expanded (the original gap was 198lbs to Heavyweight, then a 242 class was added, and a 220lbs class) there was evidently a need to alter the formula.  This article talks about the new “Hoffman/Paul formula” being accepted at a recent AAU convention.  Some professor named Joseph Paul had “improved” upon the Hoffman formula and evidently was given second billing to Hoffman with this second version.  Who knows, maybe he came up with the original!

No one is credited with writing the article so I have to assume Peary Rader wrote it.  In the article he makes a comment that the new formula was unchanged from the old thru the 198lb class, but changes were made above that.  I’ll assume to make it more “fair” as the old formula may have been found to be flawed relating to heavier lifters as the article says the new formula was the result of the new weight classes.  Interestingly, the author notes that no formula can be completely fair, but this one is an improvement.

I do know that Lyle Schwartz once commented that he developed his formula when it was determined that the Hoffman Formula, for whatever reason, did not work as well with the powerlifts and more specifically, the bench press.  I also recall Schwartz stating the Malone formula was a better indicator for women and that when comparing men to women, it was basically a factor of men being 30% stronger on average, but women generally carrying more bodyfat across all weight classes seemed to be an issue in coming up with a reliable formula and comparison.

It is also interesting that the “improved” Hoffman formula ends at 260lbs and that for ever pound after that you were to and 1 point to the coefficient.  Again, the conspiracy theorist in me feels like the little guys are always out to shaft the big guys because they can’t lift as much.  But you have to admit, adding a “point” per pound after that would have to cause some issues once you hit 350lbs or even more.

In highland games at the Masters World’s this year they are using the decathlon scoring system which is based on percentages of the world record.  This is the first time they are using this system and it will be interesting to see if it changes the results.  But I would almost bet that it would be like Al’s analysis recently, you might see one or two changes but the vast majority will remain in their same placings.  This has not stopped a heated debate that has already arisen regarding the pros and cons of the decathlon system.

My intent is not to point out flaws, but just offer another piece of the formula history here.  Sounds like even in the earliest days of the formula format, everyone knew it wasn’t perfect, but still could be a decent indicator of who the better lifter was.  I have been reading more on how Schwartz developed his formula, but have had to dust off the old stat class book from college…..and that will be for another day and might end up more boring than Al’s article on the formulas!!!

Close Enough to Get the Job Done

By Thom Van Vleck

As I read Al’s recent story on the history of formulas several things come to mind. First, it made me think of a “formula” I used to use to calculate my one rep max. (.0333 X weight lifted X reps) + weight lifted = one rep max. I swore by that, but the reality is that it just gave a “probable” one rep max and obviously has a lot of flaws (such as going high reps not being a strong an indicator). I can’t remember where I got it, or why I came to “believe” in it…..but I did and used this to calculate contest openers and goals. I believed it was right and somehow that made it a good formula. But how often did it work? Not work? How often did I stop at that max and validate my own belief and not try more?

The reality is that the FIRST lesson I learned in Physics 101 in my freshman year in college was that every measurement is flawed. The real question is: “Is it close enough to get the job done!” I recall doing an experiment where we measured a long metal rod, then heated it and cooled it and got different measurements. We then discussed the nature of matter and that it’s made up of atoms which are dynamic, etc. Finally, the instructor took the rod and bent it and said, “Now, how far apart are the ends and how do you measure it, point to point, or along the length”?! Formula’s are like measurements, NO formula would be perfect. But his real lesson was, is your measurement “close enough to get the job done”.

I was at a ball game last night and there were two umpires. At one point, one called a guy safe and the other over ruled him and called the baserunner out. I thought the base runner was safe from my vantage point. There was a groan from the crowd….but the game went on. There was a recent major league game where a picture had a perfect game into the last out and the ump blew the call and the pitcher lost his perfect game. Television revealed his error, but the flawed call was upheld….because that’s the rule! The umpire makes the call and “calls it as he sees it”. Just like judges at meets calling depth on squats, or knee kick on a strict press. If we want to compete, we accept those human failings. The real question becomes: Are they good enough to get the job done?

Then there is the equipment. Recently, Dave Glasgow got us started on the subject of how much barbells weigh. I had actually weighed ALL of my stuff and come to realize that a 45lb plate rarely weighs 45lbs. I have a set of Ironman 50lb plates that are unmilled and they weigh 57.5lbs!!!! I should point out that they were sold that way, back in the day you could get cheap weights if you would be willing to take them “unmilled” or milled to the exact weight. However, I have milled plates and they are off, too. But not nearly as much. However, they are “close enough to get the job done”.

So, we have a flawed formula, developed by flawed people, using flawed equipment, in a flawed world. We can’t have perfection so to me, the real question is: Is it accurate enough to get the job done. I think one thing Al’s article showed was that the formulas do seem to have some decent reliability. There is some variability. I doubt there’s been a lot of testing on the validity of these formulas, so where are we?

Here is where we are at in my opinion. The USAWA is an organization like no other. I think we should continue to use the formulas but I hope that we would be open to having contests that don’t use them. I would think ideally, we do both. If I competed in the Nationals and I lifted more than anyone in my age group and weight class….I’m the winner. I also get the added BONUS of being ranked in an overall. We need to look at the formulas as a way to add another layer of competition to the meet. We either accept they are “close enough to get the job done” or we don’t compete.

Dave Glasgow and I compete in Scottish Highland Games. This is a unique sport like the USAWA. There is no central governing body and often meets are open to having their own rules and standards. For example. the Braemar Stone event (like a shot put) will have stones that vary 10, 20, even 50lbs in weight from meet to meet. Or in some meets you can spin and throw the Weight Over Bar, and another meet may only allow to throw from a stand. Each style will fit different athletes better, giving advantages and disadvantages. This is often debated and Dave delivered the best quote on it I can recall (which he said he actually got from Mike Smith), “You know the rules, either go and throw or stay home, don’t complain about it”.

Maybe someday, we’ll have so many lifters, the formula’s will be more like the “best lifter” award stuff, but right now we need them to make the meets more competitive. Otherwise, just lift in your gym and go buy a trophy. I have a buddy that owns a trophy shop and he’ll help you out….as a matter of fact he told me he makes trophies for non existent contests all the time! Or lift in the USAWA and have a good time and don’t expect perfection from a formula, like you don’t expect perfection from a judge, weight, or weather man!

My Ford 8N Tractor

My tractor looks "almost" like this one, just add rust, dirt, and dents!

by Thom Van Vleck

Yesterday I picked up my recent purchase.  A Ford 8N tractor.  This particular tractor was purchased in 1948 by a really good friend’s grandfather.  I’ve “known” this tractor my entire lift and after being in his family for three generations he has sold it to me.  I like to think it’s because he knows I’ll take care of it and treat it well…..and I’ll use it!  I got  several attachments as it has a PTO (Power Take Off: a shaft that is driven by the motor that can spin and power the attachments) and a three point hitch (a hydraulic lift that attaches those extra implements to the tractor).  I got a post hole digger, a blade, two brush hogs, and a hoist that amounts to a wedge that can be put on the end of the tractor to haul loads and lift heavy things….kind of a powered hand cart!

Now, here’s the thing, at this point you may be wondering what tractors have to do with strength and is this just a way for me to rub in my good fortune of getting a “new” (if you can call a 63 year old tractor new) toy.  Well, I might be bragging a little, but there is a point.  When I got it, I spent about three hours driving it around, getting a feel for it.  The first thing I noted is that it had what we called “Armstrong Power Steering”…….or basically no power steering at all!  You get an arm workout driving this thing around!  It’s been so long since I had anything without power steering I forgot what a job it can be.  Then I remembered that each back tire has a separate break so you can make a tight turn easier by only braking the inside tire. Then I decided to try and figure out all the attachments.  I figured it would be fairly easy, back the tractor up, hook up the hydraulic driven 3 point hitch and away we go…not so easy.  I would have to shift and move stuff to get the hitch to line up and the post hole digger had to be put on end…..and that thing weighed 200lbs easy!  But I wanted to get it all down so I worked away until I had them all figured out.

At this point, I had a really good sweat going. I ended with the blade.  I figured I’d get a little work in and blade my drive.  The blade wasn’t getting enough of a bite as it wasn’t heavy enough.  It has a place to put weights on so I went and pulled out 150lbs of old block scale weights I have and loaded them on and that did the trick. I use a tractor fairly regularly that belonged to a guy that was leasing part of my property for cattle.  But since he retired last year, him….and his tractor…..are gone so this purchase was a must.  The difference is that newer tractor is a lot less work!

I had been around 8N’s and other classic small tractors on jobs years ago pulling stumps, large stones, etc.  I had forgotten what a workout it can be just operating one.  Kind of like a power lawn mower…way easier than the old push types (like we had when I was a kid) but still a job to push around the yard a hundred laps!!! I like hard work, I actually like to do about an hour or two of hard work before a work out.  Warms me up better than anything else and gets me going.  I can see me using this tractor a lot and in the process this “work saver” will work me out in new and different ways and warm me up for bigger and better workouts.  Plus, there’s nothing more satisfying than to get a little work done, have a killer work out, and then take a shower, have a big meal, and then bask in the accomplishments of a good day!

Dale and Dalton

by Thom Van Vleck

Dale Friesz deadlifting 220 pounds with the Trap Bar at the 2010 USAWA National Championships.

Dale Friesz getting the courage award made me think of my grandfather and patriarch of the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  I think Dale and Dalton would have gotten along just fine.

First, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Dale and I hope that as I get older that I don’t give up on my training.  Dale commented one time that his training is what kept him going and I believe that.  Dalton Jackson was that way, too.

With all the champions to come out of the JWC, from state to national to world champs, people new to the club are often shocked that my grandfather never won anything.  He never competed in a single lifting meet.  But let me explain.  He grew up in the depression and quickly found himself the father to a pack of kids that needed taken care of and he worked long, hard hours to do this.  If he hurt himself, the family was in trouble, so he never maxed out or competed.  It was BECAUSE he sacrificed that later the rest of us could enjoy success.  To the members of the JWC, this made him the greatest champion of them all.

When I was a boy I recall him working at the local shoe factory (a brick hell hole that reeked of chemicals and had no air in the summers….I knew guys who worked there one day and quit….but my grandfather worked there 38 years) full time.  He would work 10 hours a day and half a day on Saturday, or 55 hours a week when they were busy.  He then worked as a janitor of an evening (I often went with him to this job and hung out as he told me stories while he worked) AND he drove a mail truck on Saturday nights.  I often rode with him as he would pick up mail and we would end up around midnight at the airport in Jefferson City.  This meant he’d get home about about 2:00am and he’d still get up and go to Church the next day.  I also recall him sleeping Sunday afternoons!

During these grueling hours, my grandfather would work out.  He worked out all the time.  He would go to the garage gym and get in some lifting, but he also took every chance to get in a few jumping jacks, or push ups, or a bar would be a chance to do some chins.  He incorporated his training in his work, if he were shoveling dirt, he’d do 5 reps over the left shoulder then 5 over the right for 5 sets, then rest a minute, and then back at it.  He would do isometric curls and grip work on the steering wheel of his car while he drove!  I also recall, when he was in his 50’s, he’d go into a handstand and walk on his hands across the yard as he would come into the house.  I’m sure the neighbors thought he was nuts!  Just like I’m sure that those who don’t know Dale the way we do might think he’s a little nuts.  But my grandfather was in fantastic shape and could work all day and I never recall him being sick and if he was, he was in such good shape it didn’t keep him down long.

Then, when he was in his late 70’s, he was hit by a car.  It was a devastating accident and the doctors told us things looked bleak.  He had a severe head injury and they did brain surgery on him.  They put him in one of those rotating beds to drain the fluid off his brain and told us the prognosis was grim and that he’d never fully recover.  But one day, we were in visiting him and my Uncle Wayne noticed he was doing something with his hands.  He was squeezing them…..and he was doing it in 5 sets of 5 reps (his favorite set/rep scheme for exercises) as he switched back and forth.  Soon, this began to spread and the docs thought he was fighting the restraints on his bed.  But we knew, “Pop” (as I called him) was exercising.  He was already planning his comeback!

He made a long, grueling comeback to the amazement of his doctors.  The wreck took it’s toll but Dalton got back to being better than most men his age.  He continued to exercise all the time and lift weights.  I think that if Dalton were around today, he’d be right there with Dale on the platform and I’m sure they’d have a lot to talk about.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

The Cheat Curl: Part 2

by Thom Van Vleck

I once saw my Uncle, Wayne Jackson, deadlift 300lbs with a reverse grip, then do a reverse grip hang clean with it, and then press it overhead….still with the reverse grip.  When I told him how impressive that was he chuckled and told me that when he started lifting at age 14, that he (and my Uncle Phil) were so naive that they thought you were SUPPOSED to have a reverse grip.  When you grow up on the farm before the days of television and magazines were a rare luxury then you just had to make due with what you “thought” was the right was to do something.

Wayne told me that part of the problem was my grandfather Dalton did them both ways as he often switched his grip around for variety.  He would lift with all different grips and would supinate his grip about 50% of the time.  So they just figured that was the right way.  Wayne said they lifted for about a year before they met Wayne Smith who was an experienced lifter who set them straight.  Wayne told me Smith’s eyes bugged out the first time he saw Wayne do a clean & press that way.  As a result, Wayne was pretty good at it.

Again, because of my granddad, I would throw in some reverse grip cleans early on.  Then, I came to the conclusion that these were of no use to me and that no one else I saw in the gym were doing them so they must be bad.   There were a lot of things I bowed to conventional wisdom on that I now wish I’d went my own way on.  It seems that after 30 years I find myself full circle on a lot of things!

So, many years later, about 6 or 7 years ago to be exact, I was working on Power Cleans.  I had read an article about doing some “reverse grip cleans” for the discus and since I was into throwing, I tried some of these.  These weren’t “Cheat Curls” in the USAWA rule book, but “Cheating Cheat Curls” where I would cheat curl it up while driving up on my toes and driving the hips hard without regard to keeping my legs perfectly straight.  I had been stuck on 290lbs for some time for a single in the power clean.  I wanted that magical 300!

After 4 workouts with the reverse grip cleans I switched back to the regular grip.  For the next 4 weeks I did 5 sets of 5 and ended with an all time best of 265lbs at 5X5.  I then maxed out and hit 300!  I was elated.  I also notice, as did my training partner at the time, that I was “finishing” with my hips.  Using the supinated grip had forced me to exaggerate my hip drive and as a result when I went back to the regular pulls, I was finishing harder and that made all the difference.

So, using the cheat curl or going the extra step and doing a reverse grip clean (Cheating Cheat Curl!!!!) you will learn to finish your pull.  It can make all the difference!

The Cheat Curl: Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

The first part of this article will deal with the Rules of the Cheat Curl and some technique advice. Later, I will do a “part 2″ on how to use this exercise effectively for training. I am profiling this lift as it is part of the JWC Straight Weight Challenge.

The USAWA Rule book says:

D6. Curl – Cheat

The bar begins on the platform, and at the lifter’s discretion, is picked up with a grip that has the palms of the hands facing up or away from the lifter. Feet placement and hand spacing is optional, but must remain the same throughout the lift. Heels and toes must not rise during the lift. Once the lifter is upright in a standing position with the arms and legs straight, the bar on the thighs hanging at arms’ length, an official will give a command to curl. The knees must remain locked and the legs straight during the lift. The lifter is permitted to bend at the waist, sway the body, or drop the shoulders to gain momentum of the bar. The bar may be lowered prior to the beginning of the curl. The bar must be curled from arms’ length to touching the upper chest or neck in one motion. Any downward movement of the bar during the curl is a disqualification. Once the bar is motionless, and the lifter is upright, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The lift ends when the bar returns to the platform under control by the lifter.

Thom hitting a 195# Cheat Curl in a meet at Clark's Championship Gym.

I have seen this lift done in a couple of different ways. The first way, which is the way I prefer, is to lift the bar to the start of the curl position. I then bend forward at the waist KEEPING the bar at the SAME spot on my thighs and then drive my hips forward while lifting the shoulders and pulling back. An example can be seen on the video list on this website. I have always been a “hip” puller and this technique favors me. However, Al Myers does a different style that may better suit others. Al will bend at the waist and drop the bar BELOW THE KNEES and then attempt to pull straight up. He keeps the bar tight to the body, much like he was doing a reverse grip clean from the floor. Al told me that one of the reasons he favors this style is the fact that he’s torn both biceps and wants to minimize the stress on them as much as possible.

Experiment around with both styles and try to find which one suits you best. I have never been satisfied doing something the same way, I’m always trying to tinker with my technique for greater gains and lifts. Next time I’ll talk about using the Cheat Curl to help your overhand pulling.

Congrats on the New Website

I would like to thank Al for all his hard work on the new website.  He is a good friend of the USAWA and all of us and a credit to the iron sport in general.

I know that the annual meeting is coming up at Nationals and I wish I could be there, but I know that the guys who will be there will represent the USAWA well and I look forward to see what comes out of the meeting.

JWC Straight Weight Team Challenge

by Thom Van Vleck

I have just received word from USAWA Secretary Al Myers that my application to hold a team challenge postal meet has been accepted.  This will be a postal meet that will consist of 5 lifts and 3 men per team.  Total weight lifted by all three men will be the deciding factor of victory.  The time frame will be from the first of July to the end of August.  No age or bodyweight adjustments…just “Straight Weight” lifted, hence the meet name.

The lifts will be:

1. Continental to the Chest

2. Push Press from the Rack,

3. Shoulder Drop

4. Cheat Curl

5. 1” Vertical Bar Deadlift w/2 bars.

The JWC team members will be Thom Van Vleck, John O’Brien, and Josh Hettinger.

I know that the Dino Gym has already answered the challenge and I hope that other USAWA members will put together a team and join us.  I have already highlighted the Shoulder Drop and I will be doing stories on the other lifts soon!

Get a Grip on a Gripper

by Thom Van Vleck

Last Monday night the Jackson Weightlifting Club did one of our Strongman Shows at a Bible Camp near Clarence, Missouri. As we had done this camp for 6 straight years I was trying to come up with some new feats so that those that had been there several times would not be seeing the same old stuff. As I scanned the JWC Training Hall I noticed my “Captains of Crush” Grippers and came up with an idea for something to do with them.

Once at the camp and during the show, I called up the head camp counselor and gave him a regular store bought gripper and I closed the #2 then we switched. He struggled to put a kink in the #2. Then I gave him the “easy one” (a #1) and he failed with it after much straining and groaning. The kids got a kick out of it and I managed a few reps with my #2 to at least make it look like I had some grip. I don’t claim to be a “grip master”, but 10 reps with my #2 is my best.

There are all kinds of grippers out now. The Captains of Crush put out by Ironmind, Heavy Grip Hand Grippers, JB (John Brookfield) grippers, and many others. But what was the original? It got me to thinking and I did some research.

I found some info that gives credit to Thomas Inch as having what were called “nutcracker” grippers that he challenged people in the audience to try. I know there were probably others, but I was thinking in terms of the more modern, steel spring “Super Gripper”.

I had recalled seeing a “Super Gripper” in an old Ironman magazine and after some research (me looking thru my collection of old Iron Man mags!), I found it. It required a reputed 220lbs of pressure to close and was sold from 1964 to 1977. They evidently enjoyed very limited success, but were the inspiration for the Ironmind “Captains of Crush” grippers that started the “Gripper” revolution in 1990 that goes strong today!

I know there is a whole sub culture of strength that now wraps around grippers and training not just to build grip strength but to be able to close a stronger and stronger gripper. I like to break mine out every so often in my training rotation, but I don’t rely on them solely for my grip strength. Personally, I like to train mine with a straight arm as I don’t want to develop the habit of “bending my arm” as I flex my grip. You don’t want to flex the arm on a clean or snatch, nor in highland games or many strongman events. So why not train grip with a fully extended arm?

A final note, if you go out and buy yourself some heavy duty grippers, work into them slowly. I have had at least one training buddy, and myself, sprain a knuckle going too hard, too fast and not warming up enough. That was a painful injury that took a long time to heal and interfered with my other training (and it even made work difficult as I type a lot!).

So, get a grip on a gripper!

Shoulder Drop

I am planning a team postal meet with details coming soon and one of the lifts we will be doing is the Shoulder Drop.  Here is a good video of JWC member Josh Hettinger setting a record in the Shoulder Drop:


and here is what the USAWA Rule Book says on this lift:

D25. Shoulder Drop

The bar is first cleaned and placed at the base of the neck to start this lift. Feet placement is optional. Once the lifter is upright, and the bar motionless, an official will give a command to start the lift. The lifter will then release the grip on the bar, allowing the bar to drop from the shoulders behind the back. The lifter must catch the bar in the hands at arms’ length behind the back. The legs must remain straight throughout the lift. The lift ends on command by an official when the bar is controlled in the hands by the lifter.

There is actually a reason that I picked this lift as one I wanted to do (and it has nothing to do with Chad Ullom’s Shoulder Drop performance, even if it was pretty funny)

When I was a kid, my grandpa Dalton Jackson (Granddaddy of all the JWC!) used to do all kinds of lifts.  Some I’m pretty sure he made up himself, but many he said he read about or saw in old magazines.  The thing is that my grandpa often saw still photos or read descriptions and I’m not sure he always got them right.  One he did was a lift he claimed Arthur Saxon did.  It was a multipart lift where you would Clean and press the weight, then lower the weight behind the neck, do a Shoulder Drop with it, then set it down.  But the way he did it was he would catch the weight with bent legs whereas the USAWA rules state you must use straight legs.  Since the Shoulder drop was the most difficult of the lift….I decided to use it in honor of “Pop” (what I always called my Grandpa).

First All-Round Meet Memories

by Thom Van Vleck

My first All-Round meet was when I traveled with my Uncle Wayne Jackson to the old Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. It was called “The Wall” because a very imposing stone wall surrounded the facility almost looking like that was all that was there. It was, I thought 1979, but my Uncle said he thought it was ‘80.

I was 15 or 16 at the time and we arrived in time to meet up with Bill Clark. After some greetings we headed inside. I considered myself a pretty tough kid, but I’ll be honest, being inside that place was like being “scared straight”. We went through a double cell door system and we had the backs for our hands marked with ultraviolent ink. The mark had to be there or you didn’t get back out later! A funny note, after the meet, some of the guys that were showering held their hand out of the shower for fear they would wash it off even though it was “permenant ink”. I was afraid to shower at all!

As we filtered into the yard we were escorted by a guard. I noted that he didn’t have a gun or weapon of any kind and when I asked why he said, “The prisoners would just jump me and take it away”. It was then I realized this was the real deal! This was the days before signing waivers….you were just warned and there you go!

A group of the lifting prisoners greeted us. I recall Lou Greenlaw being one of them. He noticed me being a little nervous and he said to stick close to him, anyone that went after me would have to go through him first. Lou was a big guy and I recall him doing a very strict 315lb Good Morning that meet for a record. He was pretty nice to me all day and encouraged me. I wondered later what he was in there for!

After awhile, I came to realize that all the prisoners were pretty nice. Most of them were men that had made bad choices, but weren’t necessarily evil men. At one point I recall the prison cross dressers coming in to watch the lifting. They got kinda rowdy at one point making cat calls at the guys lifting….and they were kicked out as I recall. I thought it was pretty funny, and being a farm kid….I’d never seen anything like those guys before!

We ate lunch in the cafeteria. It was a loud and busy place. The food was like school food, not bad, but not that great. There were a lot of the general population in there and they were pretty rough looking. I sat with Lou!

My Uncle Wayne had a great day. I recall him breaking about a dozen records. The one that stuck out in my mind the most was a 300lb Reverse Grip Clean and press. He did 250 with ease and went to 300. He got it but Bill turned it down. I can’t recall why, but it looked good to me! Wayne had been recovering from a devastating back injury so his lifts were all the more impressive to me. He did an easy 280lbs seated press. Wayne had done 300lbs for 8 sets of 2 at one point in training, but he braced his feet behind him while the rules of the lift required him to have his feet flat which really threw him off. I also recall him power cleaning and pressing 300lbs with power to spare. Wayne was always an explosive presser and it always made him look like he had plenty more in the tank.

I recall doing a 120lb seated press weighing about 165lbs and then deadlifting something like 365lbs. I don’t think they counted it with the other lifts, but at least I got on the platform for the first time in my life.

That prison was legendary, some pretty bad people (like Lee Harvey Oswald) were sentenced there and many of them died there, either by natural causes or otherwise! But all in all, the men I met that day were pretty good guys. Bill used to do a lot for the prisoners with his lifting events and I’m sure it helped put more than one of the straight and narrow. Prison lifting is a thing of the past as many of states have limited this for lots of reasons which are debateable. But that day stands out to me. A kid learned more than just how to lift in a meet that day. He learned a lot about life.

Just Who Was Karo Whitfield?

by Thom Van Vleck

I am currently working on a story on Karo Whitfield that I hope will be in MILO at some point.  My Uncle Phil Jackson, one of the original Jackson Weightlifting Club members, was stationed in Alabama in the mid 60’s on both ends of a year long tour in Vietnam as a member of the US Air Force.
During that time, Phil got to meet a lot of the greats of that era that lived in the south.  Most notabley Paul Anderson and Bob Peoples, but also Frank Zane (who my Uncle called “Chicken Legs Zane”), Joe Dube’, and others.  He also traveled every chance he got to train at Karo Whitfield’s Health Club in Atlanta.  He has copies of routines that Karo gave him.
Karo may have been one of the most influencial people ever in the iron game and if we talk only about the South in the US, he may be the single most influencial person ever.  He is often credited with helping Paul Anderson early in his career as well as coaching and sponsoring many great lifters, but his training and coaching went far beyond weightlifting as he trained and coached athletes from many different sports.
I am currently interviewing my Uncle Phil on Karo and his personality.  He was the classic old school coach using sarcasm and whit to motivate his students and deal with situations.  An example of this was a time when an AAU official was addressing some lifters and one had his wife and baby there, the baby was crying and finally the official commented on it.  Karo immediate said, “You’d cry too if you had to look at such an ugly face for so long”.  My Uncle said that you either loved him or hated him….and he pretty much didn’t care which as long as he got you to your goal.
Karo passed away in 1977 after a long and storied career that reached as far back as the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. If anyone knew Karo, or has info on him, please contact me via the message board of at tvanvleck@yahoo.com.  This guy deserves to be given credit for what he did for the iron game!

Harness Lift:Part 2

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck getting "Down and Dirty" to judge the Harness Lift with a helper!

My own story on the Harness lift goes like this.  After that 2006 USAWA Nationals mentioned in part 1: Harness Lift, I got one of the harnesses and heavy bars Al made special for that meet.  I brought it home but did not have enough weight to load it!  So I contacted my good friend, Bob McConaughey with the BNSF railroad and he set me up with a pair of railroad car wheels.  I thought the RR car wheels would be cool to lift and we could also use them in our strongman evangelism shows.  I’ll never forget our conversation when he asked me what size I wanted:

Thom:  “So, what size do you have?”

Bob:  “Well, they can range from 1000lbs and up to 4000lb”

Thom: “Apeice!!!!……uhhh…what’s the smallest you can get me?”

Bob (laughing):  “I think we could find you some coal car wheels that are in the 800lb range!”

So, it was off to Galesburg, Illinois to pick up some surplus steel!  I took my half ton truck to pick up a ton and a half of steel.  John O’Brien went along for the ride and upon arriving, the trainmaster took us down to the yard to get them loaded.  They were on a palate and I’ll never forget when the trainmaster asked the loading dock guy for help loading them and the loader looked at the wheels and at us and said, “Don’t you think a fork lift would be easier”!?  As he walked off to get the fork lift, the trainmaster mutter under his breath a more crude version of “NO CRAP”!!!  My poor pick up has hauled a lot of crazy stuff over the years, but you should have seen the it sink under that weight!

I got them home, and realized as I got them into my gym that these things were so heavy they were actually extremely dangerous, if they tipped over they could sever whatever was under them.  But, I got them modified and loaded on to my heavy bar.  My Dad had come over and helped me slip the harness on and I made my adjustments.  Finally, I had them adjusted and with an estimated 1700lbs, I began to pull….an pull….and pull.  It was then I realized that when you do Heavy Lifts, you have to have a whole new mindset!  Upon proper mental approach which involves pain tolerance and the feeling that something is going to rip in any given joint in your body, I lifted it.  I then loaded it to an estimated 2000lbs and after a couple of attempts, got that, too.  I was elated!!!  Later, I took my shirt off to shower and looked in the mirror and realize I had blood blisters all over my shoulders and hips.  I looked like I had been bull whipped!  The next day I felt some serious joint and muscle soreness, but a lasting satisfaction that I had “lifted a ton”!

If you want to get started in Harness Lifting, my recommendation is you need to work into it slower than I did and get some coaching by someone that knows what they are doing….it will save you some time and maybe injuries!  Since you aren’t going to buy a harness or Heavy Bar at the local sporting goods store, I would take a good look at a Harness before making one and ask guys who have them how they made them.  They have made all the mistakes for you and can tell you the best way to go about it.

Finally, you are always welcome to stop by the JWC Training Hall and give the Harness lift a shot!

Harness Lift:Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

Big Al Myers lifted 2800# in the Harness Lift at the 2006 USAWA Nationals

The Harness Lift is one of the more intriguing lifts in the USAWA.  How often can a person lift a ton….literally!  Let’s review the Harness Lift rules from the USAWA rule book: A Heavy Lift Bar is used in this lift. A harness is also used, which fits over the shoulders and around the waist. An adjustable chain and hook is attached to the harness so it may be attached to the Heavy Lift Bar. The width of the harness must not exceed 4 inches around the waist and 3 inches over the shoulders. The lifter is also allowed to use hand rails to support the arms during the lift. The hand rails may be of any design. A hand rail does not need to be used, and the lifter may support the arms on the legs during the lift. The lifter assumes a position in which the lifter is straddling the Heavy Lift Bar. Width of feet placement is optional, but the feet must be parallel and in line with the torso. The feet must not move during the lift, but the heels and toes may rise. The lifter may adjust the chain length to his/her preference prior to the lift. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter is allowed one test lift to check the balance of the weight and to make adjustments to the chain length. The lifter will stand and lift the weights from the platform. The shoulders and torso do not have to be upright upon the finish of the lift. The legs must straighten, but the knees do not need to be locked. Once the weight is motionless, and the plates on both ends of the bar are off the platform at the same time, an official will give a command to end the lift.

Steve Schmidt is responsible for some of the most amazing Harness lifts of all time.  At the 1988 Backbreaker he did 3500lbs in the 105kg class and in 1992 Backbreaker he did 3315lbs weighing in some 10kg less in the 95kg class.  But the best of all time, was at the 1991 back breaker where Steve did 3515lbs in the 100kg class! Another amazing Harness lifter is Joe Garcia.

But to me, my favorite memory of the Harness lift took place when I was a head judge at the 2006 USAWA Nationals.  There was a lot of big Harness lifts that day but a real battle emerged between Al Myers and Ian Reel.  Al was the wiley veteran and Ian was the young rookie.  It was a battle for the ages!  I was extremely impressed with Ian (I’ve come to expect big lifts out of Al!).  I recall getting down at floor level trying to check for clearance and seeing that heavy bar bend like a bow!  That was some serious weight!  When the dust settled, Ian (who was officially lifting in the 110kg class) equaled Al’s 2800lbs (Al was in the 115kg class) so by virtue of bodyweight, I have to give youth the victory on this one.  I hope when Ian is done with his collegiate throwing career he makes a return to the USAWA….I hear he’s “filled out” now!

Youth is served! Ian Reel matches Al Myers lift for lift in the Harness Lift while recording the top Harness Lift of All-Time by a teenager.

What’s your Reward?

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck hoists his reward, a free beer at the Inver Inn in Scotland after hoisting the Inver Stone

We all lift for a variety of reasons. And at some time we’ve probably had someone question our sanity for the things we do! I mean, really, why would a grown man travel half way around the world just to put on a kilt, and lift a 265lb Stone, just to get a free beer? I must mention that there is a tradition that if you lift the Inver Stone, you get a free beer and so far I know of at least 4 USAWA members who have done it. Why would someone travel across the country, or even across the ocean….just to do a Bent press and maybe win a small award of some type.

I should point out that I also competed in the Master World Championships in Highland Games in that trip in Inverness…..but I don’t know if that makes my trip any more sane. All I got for that was a medal and two shot glasses (although, they have come in handy!)

Some people lift, or compete in athletics, because of money. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that….I might have done the same thing had I been good enough. Some people do it for the personal challenge and could care less who sees them break a record. Some do it for glory. Some do it for attention (I’ve been accused of that a time or two). There are probably many more reasons. Often, the reasons change over the years.

My point is that it seems when I have my priorities straight, when I have a goal, and when I know what my reward will be…..I seem to make greater progress. Having that clear image of the reward can help with great gains. My Uncle Phil Jackson used to say to me that the only time Success comes before Work is in the dictionary.

That free beer meant a lot to me. What’s your reward?

…And a Good Time Was Had By All

by Thom Van Vleck

Chad Ullom, Tedd & Thom Van Vleck, & Al Myers have a good time after a meet

I grew up in Schuyler County, Population about 3500. We had a weekly newspaper (long since gone) that often was filled with social items. There was this one lady that wrote about the gatherings and she would talk about who came, what they ate, and what they talked about…..big news where I came from. To be honest, I kinda miss that kind of news over the stuff we deal with now! At any rate, she would end her column with “…..and a good time was had by all”. That kind of became a “catch phrase” in my family for social gatherings.

Recently, Chad and Al came up for a contest I put on. Al’s Dad came along, too. As is usual, we all ended up at a “get together” at my place after meet. And, as usual, we ended up telling stories until the wee hours of the morning…and maybe a liquid refreshment or two. My wife went to bed at a reasonable hour (we did not!) and commented the next day, “Al sure laughs loud!!!”. The point is, we all laughed and we laughed a lot!

The next day, when we went to the Deanna meet, Al and I talked about this part of almost every meet and contest we have been to over the years. Al commented later that his dad told him, “I finally understand why you like to do these meets”. While I enjoy the challenge of competing and I have many memorable moments of contests, I have just as many stories about the trips to, and from, and the get together’s that happen afterwards. It’s all part of the fun.

I hopefully have many more contests to come in my life time, and win or lose, I will do my best to make sure they all end with “….and a Good Time was had by All!

Five Decades

by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Jackson & Bill Clark in front of "Clark's Championship Gym" in Columbia, Missouri.

Recently, Al and I went to Clark’s Gym to compete in the Deanna Meet with Joe Garcia. My Uncle Wayne Jackson came along. It has been some time since he had seen Bill and along the way we talked about him and Bill’s relationship.

It was in 1962 Wayne told me they first met, it was hard for him to believe that it had been nearly 50 years! It was a 3 hour round trip for us and during that time Wayne shared many stories of taking trips with Bill back in the day. Some were pretty long and believe me, I’m going to write these down. But a couple of short one’s:

One time Bill gave Wayne, Phil Jackson, and Bill Fellows a ride to a meet in Kansas. Bill had an old hearse that he used as his personal vehicle. On the way back, the lights went out and they stopped at a truck stop but could not get them to work again. So Bill talked a trucker in to letting them tailgate him all the way from Kansas City to Columbia. As they left and the next 100 miles revolved around Bill staying glued to the back bumper of this truck…..Wayne said him and Phil got to laughing as they contemplated the irony of being killed in a HEARSE.

Another time, Wayne shared a the story of a write up that Clark did on him in the forerunner of the USAWA newsletter, the MO Valley Lifting News. Wayne had broke the state record in the clean and press and the age of 18 and Bill wrote, “Look out Russians, here comes Wayne Jackson”. Wayne’s brother Phil was excited about the headline, Wayne has always been a modest person and said he was actually embarrassed by it!

Wayne and Bill go way back, and Wayne got Bill’s newsletter from 1962 until the last one and read it religiously. In a way, it almost seemed like a chance to say goodbye for Wayne as his health has not been the best and if that is the case, I’m glad he came…..but I don’t think guys as tough as Bill and Wayne ever give up the ghost quite so easily!!!!!

Nice Rack!!!

by Thom Van Vleck

Rack of York Globe Dumbbells at Clark's Gym

I know a lot of guys will conjure up a different image when another guy yell’s out “nice rack”. But if you are a real ironhead like myself, a different image may come to mind (like the one in the above photo!). Of all the cool stuff at the “Mecca” of the USAWA, Clark’s Gym, this has got to be the coolest. There’s a small fortune there and if it weren’t for my fear of judgement day (both this world and the next!)…..I’d break in and steal those!

I don’t know what it is about globe DB’s, but I like’m. No, I love’m. Maybe it’s their resemblance to something you would find on a nice rack….this time I’m talking the metaphorical “rack” that any real man would admire (Ok, maybe that’s getting a little weird). Maybe it’s because every picture I’ve ever seen of an old timer they are lifting a globe DB (and by old timer, I don’t mean Bill Clark or Art, or Dale, or Denny….they are “new” compared to Saxon, Sandow, and my favorite, Louis Uni). Or maybe it’s just because form follows function and that is the perfect shape! Hex DB’s and Cylinder shaped DB’s just don’t look cool.

Last year, Al Myers and I made a crazy road trip to Denver to see legendary Highland Games Athlete Russ Murphy. Russ was getting up in years and selling his house, and needing to get rid of some equipment which Al and I bought. Russ also entrusted us with some of his “finer” possessions. Things he knew that we would appreciate and take care of and most people wouldn’t understand the value. While there, I spied a set of 95lb York Globe DB’s. I pulled Al aside and explained that a fight was about to break out. He asked why, and I pointed to them and said, I know you are going to want those…..but I saw them first!!! Al smiled, looked at me, and explained he had already “called them” and Russ had promised them to Al! Al had beat me to the punch!!!!! Russ did give me the original RMSA 22lb hammer and it is in a place of honor in my gym and for that I’m very grateful.

The sad part of that story is that Russ had bought them years before and was cutting them up to use the globe parts as throwing weights for the Highland Games!!!! OH, the humanity!!!! Only the 95’s remained and one 60lb DB….which I thought maybe Al would throw me a bone and let me keep that one….but evidently, he’s as greedy as me when it comes to Globe DB’s!!!

I do have one Globe DB, it’s a 40lber. A few years ago, I got a call from a friend who had a guy contact him about some “rare” equipment. Evidently, there was a female professional wrestler back in the day named Ada Ash. She, and her husband, traveled for many years and were also known as Mr. and Mrs. Wrestling. She had never had children and had given this guy her equipment when she was up in years in back in the 70’s. This guy had kept all of this stuff, most of it homemade, and now that he was getting up in years wanted someone to have it that would appreciate it and take care of it. That DB was in that stuff! It also occupies an place of honor in my gym!

So, every time I go to Clark’s I have to peruse the DB rack and if you make the trip to Clark’s Gym…..be sure and check out that NICE RACK!

Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck lifting Grandpa Jackson's Anvil

A little over a decade ago I wrote a story about my Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil and it appeared in Milo, the Strength Journal. I had wrote the article about how 4 generations in my family had lifted this anvil and how it was kind of a “rite of passage” into manhood. I recall almost not sending it in to the publisher of Milo, Randy Strossen, as I thought it was pretty corny and who would care outside my family. Well, Randy not only published it, but it started a relationship that has allowed me to publish about 25 more articles and allowed me to have a bit of a writing career. It wasn’t until recently that I wrote an article on Al Feuerbach (shot putter) that Randy told me I had finally topped that first story. I owe that anvil a lot and not just for my writing career!!!!

Grandpa Jackson was actually my great-grandfather, Arthur Jackson. He was an “old school” farmer that ran about 500 head of cattle and lived from 1880 to 1957. He had this Anvil, an English “Peter Wright” anvil made at the legendary “Mouse Hole” forge where anvils were made from around 1200 A.D. to 1969. It reportedly belonged to my Great-Great Grandfather, and who know, maybe further back as I have since dated it to being made between 1830 and 1865. He used to lift this anvil to impress his kids. It is not huge, but it is around 150lbs. He so impressed my grandfather that he would tell this story to his kids later about how he thought if he could lift that anvil, he’d be a “real man”. So, his desire to lift that anvil started his weight lifting career, which let to my Uncle’s lifting, and on to me, and now my kids…who I hope will be the fifth generation to lift that anvil! We have all lifted that Anvil and each has their own story which was detailed in that original Milo article.

That anvil inspired the formation of the Jackson Weightlifting Club and out of that Club came guys like Wayne Smith, Wayne Gardner, Phil Jackson, Wayne Jackson, Gene Thudium, and others that formed the foundation of the modern day USAWA as well as current or recent USAWA members and record holders like John O’Brien, Thom, Tedd, Morgan & Dalton Van Vleck (and soon, Ethan), Josh Hettinger, and others.

I have also had the privilege of having a bit of a strongman evangelism career, as inspired by Paul Anderson and his work. Both my Uncle’s saw Paul years ago (at different times) and this in turn inspired me. The Anvil has been a central part of our show. I not only lift it, but I lay on a bed of nails and have the guys pound it with sledge hammers (yes, that hurts). We estimate we have done 250 shows and been seen by over 25,000 people to date and almost all of them have heard the story of the Anvil.

Recently, we had our Highlander contest (combines strongman and Highland Games events) and we lifted the Anvil for reps as an event. Again, I told the story and shared a little bit of my family with everyone.

When the anvil is not in use, it rests in a place of honor in my gym, resting on top of a section of a huge I-Beam I “rescued” from a legendary bridge that used to cross the Chariton River near where I grew up. They were tearing the old Archangel Bridge down and replacing it with a boring reinforced concrete bridge and I spied this I-beam, with old style rivets and all, and thought it would be the perfect stand for my Anvil. It weighed around 400lbs and I had to haul it out of a ditch…..that was a workout by itself!

The anvil itself is just a chunk of steel, but it symbolized a lot for me and my family. A love of strength in all it’s forms, a passion for hard work, and a desire to seek out the challenges that life has to offer. If you ever come to the JWC Training Hall (AKA “Modern Day Torture Chamber), stop by and check it out…..and join the club of those that have lifted the “American Manhood Stone”.

Lee Gesbeck Passes Away

SPECIAL NEWS FLASH

by Thom Van Vleck

I just read on the Ironmind website that Lee Gesbeck passed away. This word came from his family that he passed yesterday. Lee was a fellow Milo writer and he provided crucial coverage for the USAWA that reached thousands of readers. I always enjoyed reading his coverage of USAWA events and he will be missed.

I hope some of his friends will take the time to remember him on the message board. I never had the privilege to know him personally, but by all accounts, he was top notch and loved the iron game, Randy Strossen said he “had iron in his veins”. God Bless and God Speed, Lee and a prayer for your family!

USAWA Members Win Big at Highlander

by Thom Van Vleck

USAWA Member Thom Van Vleck on the front page of the Kirksville Daily Express

Proving that being an All-Rounder really means being an “all around” athlete, Chad Ullom won the Middle Weight class, Scott Tully was the Heavyweight winner, and Thom Van Vleck was the top Master at the recent Missouri State Highlander competition held in Kirksville, Missouri on March 27, 2010. Highlander combines Scottish Highland Games events and Strongman events, an equal number of each, to determine the best overall athlete.

For me, while I consider Highland Games my first love, training for recent USAWA events in the off season has been a huge plus.  It has revitalized my training and some of the lifts made me realize I had weaknesses that needed to be addressed.  The pay off was a big personal record in my 56lb Weight Over Bar event.  This is a Scottish Highland Games event that requires the athlete to toss a weight over a cross bar for best height.  I cleared 15′6″ using the spin technique (much to chagrin of USAWA Secretary Al Myers who prefers the traditional technique!).  This was a full 1′6″ over my previous contest best, and considering the number of years I have been throwing, that’s a huge jump for me!  I credit the USAWA training I did for that big gain!

All-round training proves it’s worth!

Thom Van Vleck’s Top Ten Lessons Learned

by Thom Van Vleck

  • 1. Wash your hands thoroughly after using liniment before going to the bathroom (especially before putting on a squat suit).
  • 2. Make sure your spotter is paying attention (and not “spotting” the hot girl stretching across the gym) as you can’t talk much when you are pinned in a full squat position with 500lbs on your back.
  • 3. Not only do you want to make sure you unload the bar evenly, you want to make sure anyone else around you is unloading evenly….especially your brother.
  • 4. Tall guys with long legs can’t sumo deadlift….your feet will be directly under the weight when you drop it.
  • 5. If you are tall and you are going to do overhead presses or jerks, make sure there is enough room for you, the bar, and the plates.  Also, if you push press a bar into a rafter, it will come directly back down and hit you in the head.
  • 6. If you are deadlifting on the second floor, make sure there is not a suspended ceiling underneath….it will fall and the person sitting under it will be upset.
  • 7. Make sure you have plenty of room to run up under a jerk…..or it will go out the window…..seriously….and you will have a lot of explaining to do to the owner of the garage.
  • 8. Don’t try and use old, tight jeans in lieu of a squat suit…..you will be left with the worst blood blisters of your life.
  • 9. If you don’t work a body part often or for awhile, work into it slowly.  Don’t do 20 sets the first workout or you may be really, really sore….and your mother may want to take you to the ER.  Especially Calves and Abs.
  • 10. Finally, If you training partner asks you to “hit me” to pump him up for a workout and you hit him too hard, he will hit back.

Bonus:  Don’t take supplements on an empty stomach….especially a lot of supplements, you will waste your money.

John Godina and the Worlds Throw Center

By Thom Van Vleck

John Godina and Thom Van Vleck at the Godina World Throws Center

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Athletes Performance in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is a world class training facility that is home to the John Godina World Throws Center.  I was there to do an interview with Mr. Godina for a publication I write for.

I really like throwing as a sport (shot, discus, Scottish Highland Games) and I especially like John Godina because he just may be the greatest drug free thrower of all time.  He has adamantly spoke out against performance drugs and made no secret where he stands on them and those who use them.

As for the Center, well, it was quite a place.  I have been to Clark’s gym, Big Al’s Dino Gym, and of course, the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  I have heard about other USAWA clubs and there seems to be a theme.  That theme is perhaps best described as “Old School” or maybe “Dungeon” might be a better word.

If you are like me, that’s how you like it.  Godina’s digs were of a different nature.  They had a kitchen that specially prepared food for each athlete, there was training room with massage available, there was a snack bar that only had healthy foods and drinks, a film room to study films on your sport, and of course, a pretty amazing gym.

I’m not talking a “Gold’s Gym” or one of the fancy pants gyms that most of us would probably agree….well…they SUCK!  But the Throws Center had lifting platforms to do pulls from the floor, heavy Dumbbells and kettlebells, and a row of power racks that stretched the length of the gym.  There were all kinds of equipment, but none of them focused on biceps!  This was a place to lift and get strong, explosive, and powerful. Not a place to admire yourself in the mirror!

I still prefer old school, and to be honest, I don’t think I could ever afford Godina’s place, but still, it was quite an experience.  John Godina was a genuinely nice guy and I’m excited to be doing a story on him, and his training facility blew away the Olympic training center in quality all the way around.  Quite a place and one that I think any USAWA’er could enjoy.

Bed of Nails: A Classic Strongman Feat

By Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck laying on the Bed of Nails

The first time I ever remember the “Bed of Nails” feat was hearing my Uncle’s talk about it after a JWC trip to a lifting meet where Ed Zercher performed the feat. I remember being amazed at it and how only someone “special” could withstand the nails without being punctured. Now I realize it is a trick of physics and virtually anyone could do it, but not everyone WOULD do it! And if they did it once, they might not want to do it again! It is currently a regular feature in the JWC Christian Strongman Shows and I am always the guy on the bottom. Why? Because one time I wasn’t able to make it and Brian Kerby did it and swore he’d never do it again. No blood was drawn, he just found it so painful and mentally challenging that he refuses to do it again!

I was introduced to the “Bed of Nails” when I first performed with Randy Richey’s Omegaforce Christian Strongman team. We were setting up the script for the show and Randy said, “Who wants to lay on the bed of nails?” Interestingly, there were no takers! That should have been my first clue. I then volunteered and that night found myself on a bed of 500 sixty penny nails with another guy on top bench pressing a 440lb engine block for 10 reps! After that, I built my own “bed” and it became a regular feature in the JWC strongman shows as it is a real crowd pleaser….although I honestly don’t think of it as a real feat of strength.

At an “after contest” get together at my place, I got the Bed of Nails out and only Chad Ullom wanted to give it a try. Chad was able to handle everything we put on him. I think this is partly because Chad is a top notch strength athlete and his pain tolerance is amazingly high. But it also may be a comment on his (and my own) mental state!

If you have ever wondered, here is what it “feels” like. When you first lay on the nails, they hurt surprisingly bad. I have lots of people lay on the bed after shows, but none go beyond that because of the pain. The funny thing is, they never hurt worse than that! The compression is what gets you worse. Usually, I try to get my self as flat as possible. Then we usually will put my 150lb anvil on my stomach and pound it with hammers. Believe it or not, that hurts worse than what is to come. I think it’s because the hammer pounding drives straight thru the anvil and drives me into the nails. But as the weight gets put on, you “flatten” out on the nails and the weight gets distributed. Then, we usually break blocks, which the worst thing is pieces hitting you in the face so we usually use a shield to block my face. Finally, we will have someone lay on me, then someone will climb on top of them. Usually, Brian will lay on me and Brett Kerby or John O’Brien will stand on Brian’s stomach and bend a nail or rip a license plate in half. Sometimes we’ll put a large board on me and invite people to come and stand on me and I’ve had well over 1000lbs of people on top.

I do a couple of “tricks” to help. One, is I try to keep the weight more on my hips than my chest. Second, I then grab the board on top of me and “bench press” it to try and get some room for my chest to breath. Because with all that weight, you really CAN’T BREATH and that’s the thing that got Brian that time he tried it. You feel like you are drowning and you really have to keep your cool! The compression coupled with the pain make for a miserable, helpless combination. You are literally trapped on there until everyone gets off! If you start to panic and try to move, you will get yourself cut up fast! Another final “trick” is that you need to flatten yourself out, not like you are going for a bench press, but you are trying to “roll” your back onto the bench and make every inch of contact you possibly can. One final comment is that I usually feel better after the feat, I think it’s because of the endorphins released by my body caused by the pain and the immense relief at it being over!

That’s the “Bed of Nails” and if you come to the JWC sometime, ask me and I’ll pull it out for you to try! Just sign the waiver first……just kidding!!!!

Coney Island’s Iceberg Club Lives On!

by Thom Van Vleck

Yes, it was cold!!!!!

On February 13, 2010 I plunged into the icy waters of Thousand Hills Lake as part of the Polar Bear Plunge Charity Fundraiser. The Lake was iced over with 12” to 14” of ice and they had to clear it out with a backhoe just so we could swim. The temperature was in the 20’s and with all the ice and snow….I felt like a polar bear, only I didn’t have a nice, warm, fur coat!

The fundraiser was part of a school effort. A.T. Still University fielded a team and we raised over $4000, part of $25,000 raised overall for Special Olympics. A.T. Still is an Osteopathic Medicine school with a history of “whole person” health. The Polar Bear Plunge was fitting as it has a history not as some masochistic ritual, but for health benefits.

The event reminded me of Vic Boff and the Iceberg Athletic Club in New York City. I first heard of Vic from my grandfather and about their “Polar Bear Club”. I also read about Vic when I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s when I perused my Uncle Wayne’s Ironman Magazine collection. I recall an article or two that mentioned Vic and the Iceberg Athletic club taking their winter dip in the ice cold Atlantic Ocean on the beaches of Coney Island. They would then lie around in the snow touting the health benefits of ice cold bathing.

You might think that there would only be one group that would take a winter plunge in icy waters. But you would be wrong. There were several in the New York area and their history is as murky as the cold Atlantic and often bitter feuds have come over beach turf and who’s been around the longest. There were major groups fighting over turf in the 90’s: the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the Arctic Ice Bears, the Arctic Icebreakers, and the Iceberg Athletic Club.

The slowpoke at the left is me.....I took my time!

Bernarr Macfadden was a physical culturist who started the ritual of “winter bathing” on Coney Island. Around 1903 Macfadden started the “Coney Island Polar Bear Club”. He believed that a swim in the ocean in winter had great health benefits. However, the club I remember most is the fabled Coney Island Iceberg Athletic Club. By most accounts it was organized in 1918. This was the one I remembered my grandfather talk of and perhaps its most famous member was Vic Boff. They are the only club that actually has a physical address. It is 3046 W. 22nd St. Brooklyn, New York, but a phone number I found is now disconnected. I have since found out they are no longer….or are they. I’m researching as you read this as they might still be hanging in there! I have contacted several people who are telling these wonderful, rich stories of a “sport”.

I am in the process of researching this interesting topic. There were numerous clubs I have found, some have been around nearly 100 years, such as the L Street Brownies in Boston. I hope to put a comprehensive story together on this topic. The fact is, it is a part of weightlifting and strongman lore. Now, I have taken the plunge and I feel a part of the legacy. I can say this; whether it is good for you or not, it will definitely wake you up!

Phil Pfister

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Pfister and Thom Van Vleck

I first met Phil Pfister in 2002 in St. Louis. Phil is, of course, the 2006 winner of the World’s Strongest man. I was there helping Randy Richey and his Omega Force Strongman Evangelism Team. The team was serving as a sort of “half time” entertainment between events along with John Brookfield. Evidently, Phil had done some strongman evangelism work with Randy and he came over and hung out with us a couple of times. When we first met, he shook my hand and I actually felt his thumb and fingers meet on the back of my hand! His hands are enormous! I got to write a small piece in MILO on that meet and complimented Phil on not only winning two events, but how he donated the individual event bonus of $100 to the children’s charity the event was benefitting.

The next year, Omega Force was an even bigger part of the show and so was I. The final day ended up in the Family Arena with some 3,000 spectators and Fox Sports Midwest recording the show. It was as big a production as I can recall ever being a part of and I was allowed full access as I was part of it. Phil hung around with us as he knew Randy and we got to visit between events and we cheered him on when he took his turn. At one point, before we did our show, Phil came and joined our prayer circle and as he stepped in he laid his arm around me and it was then I first noticed how big he really is, his size is deceptive on television. He seems much bigger in real life and I think he’s taller than his listed 6’6”. Later, he walked up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder and it literally felt like a baseball glove enveloping my shoulder.

It was not until this year that I got to see Phil again. It was at the Arnold Expo in Columbus, Ohio and again I was with Randy Richey and Omega Force. Again, when Phil was free he came over and hung out with us. At one point he brought Mark Henry with him. They stayed and watched one of our performances. Randy has an 800lb log he lifts in his shows. At one point Randy asked Phil to autograph his log. Phil took a pen, traced his baseball mitt sized hand on the log and signed it.

Phil is obviously a little bit of an introvert that tries very hard to be outgoing. The result is that he can seem a little stand-offish as he gazes away and avoids direct eye contact. This, combined with his intimidating size (I’m 6’3 and 300lbs and he makes me feel little) can sometimes make people feel a little put off. But the reality is Phil has a huge heart and after you are around him a little you realize he just wants to fit in….but it’s hard to fit in when you are so BIG! Phil is a great guy and I’m proud to call him my friend!

The Unsupported Leg Press

by Thom Van Vleck

Ed Zercher performing an Unsupported Leg Press. In 1952, Ed Zercher did 200 reps with 250 pounds in 7 minutes, 30 seconds. In 1962, Ed Zercher did 10 reps with 605 pounds.

Recently I did a story on the “Zercher Lift” and “Zercher Squat” for Milo Magazine. I had been looking for a good picture of Ed Zercher doing a Zercher lift when I came across this photo (supplied to me by Al Myers). It is really quite a picture and you will find it in the rule book illustrating how to do the “Leg Press-Unsupported”. If you go into the average gym today and ask about the leg press, you will likely be pointed towards the “leg sled” or some variation of it which involves using the legs to press a sled loaded with weights at what is typically a 45 degree angle. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a leg press that is vertical where you lay under it and press the weight straight up in the air. But by USAWA standards, these lifts are not a true LEG PRESS!!!!

The rule book lists the rules as such:

D19. Leg Press – Unsupported

The lifter will lay on the platform, with the back, shoulders, and buttocks flat on the lifting surface. Padding, such as a towel or mat, may be placed under the lifter’s body, but must not exceed one-half inch in thickness. The bar will then be placed on the lifter’s feet by spotters, with the legs straight and the legs positioned at a 90 degree angle to the platform. Boots with heels are allowed to be worn. The spotters must not touch the lifter’s legs, the bar, or plates during the lift. Once the bar is motionless and under control, an official will give a command to start the lift. The lifter will bend the knees to lower the bar until the top of the thighs touch the torso, and will then recover and straighten the legs. The hands must not be braced or touching the legs during the lift. The lift ends on command. The bar may be removed from the lifter’s feet by spotters.

I recall doing these as part of my early training program in the late 70’s when I was a teen. I did these in a power rack, lying in the rack and taking the weight out like you would for a standing press out of the rack…..just with my feet! I did them with the pins in so I wouldn’t drop the weight on my self and close enough to the rack itself that if I lost my balance I’d drive the bar into the rack and press it up against the uprights for leverage (not really good on the bar and it’s always a must the power rack is secured to the floor if you are going to attempt this!). I didn’t do them because I was “old school”, I did them because I had no leg press to use in the first place. I learned them from my Uncle Wayne who learned them from Wilbur Miller.

I fell the unsupported Leg Press can have a lot of added benefits. First, you have the “feel” of a free weight. I’ve always felt the balance involved in a free weight lift makes one more athletic than any machine type lift. Second, you won’t likely use more weight than you can handle. Third, it will hit your legs more than your hips….at least it did mine. And finally, fourth, you will be familiar with the lift should you go to a USAWA meet that contests it some time.

There is also a variation on the Leg Press in the USAWA rule book called the Leg Press – Self Loaded. The rules of the Leg Press – Unsupported apply except the bar must be loaded onto the feet from the platform by the lifter only. The lifter may do so in any manner, but must not be assisted. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds interesting and difficult….which could explain why I can’t find a single record on it! Like everything in the USAWA….it’s not the easy way!

Use it or Lose it

by Thom Van Vleck

I like to lift weights, but I also “LIKE” weights. I have some antique stuff in my gym but I am not a collector. Everything in my gym is there for training. It if breaks, so be it, but I don’t like to have things around just to collect dust.

One of my favorites, is a complete Jackson Barbell set I have. There is a long story on how the Jackson Weightlifting Club had a set, lost it, then got it back. It is also a story that is not quite finished as I am still trying to find a pair of 2 1/2lbs plates to complete the lost set (that’s a big hint for anyone out there who knows where I could get a couple!). Oh, and in case you thought maybe the maker of Jackson Barbells was a relative of the Mom’s family and the JWC family….the simple answer is “not that I know of” but he’s certainly a brother in iron. Just a happy coincidence.

I also have collection of Jackson advertising. Most of which I have framed in my gym, but some socked away for when I have more wall space.

The new Jackson Adjustable Dumbbell Sets

The above is a nice example. I really like the “capital exercise” that was chosen to illustrate the benefits of owning a set of Jackson “Dumbells” (I also like the way they spell Dumbell). At any rate, It might be a good exercise to try as I see Al Myer’s has a “two hands anyhow” coming up in his Dino Gym meet on January 16th, 2010!

I like the old stuff as well as the new stuff. When I wrap my hands around the oly bar from the set my Uncles ordered in 1957….I’m inspired. You know that there’s a basement somewhere with a dumbbell set just like the one above and it’s just rusting away, long forgotten. I won’t knock guys who collect stuff, I can understand that, but to me, it was made to be used and my stuff will get used until it falls apart….but considering how Andy made his stuff…I may fall apart long before that happens.

A USAWA Christmas Carol

by Thom Van Vleck

My father in law, Bob Baybo, came up for a visit from St. Louis today. He is 70 this year and still in great shape. He lifts, bike rides, scuba dives, he has lots of interests that keep him active. Back in the 60’s and 70’s he was a bodybuilder. He entered a couple of small contests, but 4 kids to take care of meant it was more of a sideline than his goal in life.

Before that, he played a lot of baseball, even ending up with a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals. He retold that story today for my kids, his eyes still twinkled at what he called his best day ever on the field. He said his glove was like a vacuum, he hit everything that was thrown at him, and didn’t miss a throw, but alas, it was not to be and he went about the business of the rest of his life after a few more tries at the big time.

He ended his story with “no regrets”. Maybe some dashed dreams, but he felt like he did his best, he played his hardest, he did the best that he could but time and circumstance weren’t in his favor. Then he talked about a trip he has planned for 2010. It will involve a grueling hike and physical challenges that a man half his age would probably cringe at.

I try to live that way. I lift as hard as I can, when I can. I don’t shy away from a chance to display my skills, and I try to go after my dreams while I can because life will soon enough take the opprotunities away. We all seem to reflect on our past at the end of the year. I think that is good. We should count our blessings, share stories, love and laugh.

We should share in the present. Tell stories, share a few laughs, maybe a tear or two. Be there for one another, show support, let others know you are there for them.

And soon, the New Year comes. The future. New goals to chase, new dreams are born, and new stories to be made.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the members of the USAWA! Now is the time to reflect on your past, share your present, and plan for the future!

What is the “Right Way”?

by Thom Van Vleck

I had the privledge of doing an article a few years ago that included Al Oerter. Many know that Al won 4 Gold medals, breaking the Olympic record each time. No one has dominated the Olympics quite the way Al did and just before he passed away he granted me an interview and I did a story on him for Milo magazine. In the process, we corresponded for some time afterwards and talked training many times. For my article, I requested and received several good photos of Al. I asked specifically for one of him training and this is the one I he sent:

Al Oerter bench pressing off a chest pad.

I liked the photo for a lot of reasons and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. You will note that he has a 50lbs scale weight on the end of the bench. This was to help keep the bench down as Al said he always benched very dynamically….or should I say the “ol’ bounce and heave” or “cheat bench”. You will note the pading on his chest. He told me it was to cushion his chest as he really slammed the weight down and then drove his hips as high as he could to complete each rep. He also told me he used a weight light enough to explode off his chest and he also told me that this was his intended purpose. Being a thrower, he wanted to be explosive, so he took the most undynamic of lifts and turned it into something very dynamic. In other words, he cheated on purpose.

Very often we are told the “right way” to do things. The reality is that our bodies adapt to what we throw at it and if winning a bench press contest is what you desire, then you want to train that way. Al Oerter had other goals in mind and trained the lift for his own purpose. My point is, there are many “right ways” to do any lift, the only thing wrong would be to do it in a way that does not make you stronger in the way you want to be.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club and Paul Anderson

By Thom Van Vleck

A lot has been said about Paul Anderson over the years. He has become an almost mythical person with often fantastic feats of strength to his credit. Paul was the 1956 Olympic Superheavyweight World Champion, this is well documented. He then became a professional strongman and traveled all over the nation, and world, next couple of decades using his strength talents to spread a Christian message. Often, exactly what Paul lifted and how he lifted it has been the center of debate. Paul rarely lifted in anything close to contest conditions and his weights could rarely be verified. Often, his lifts were exaggerated by enthusiastic fans and few of the hundreds of exhibitions he did were well documented. No one can say exactly what Paul did or didn’t do over the course of his entire career.

However, two of my Uncles did see Paul when he was in his prime. I consider them to be reliable sources and I recently talked to them again to get the “straight scoop” on what they saw and their impression of Paul.

Wayne Jackson met Paul in February of 1967 Monroe, Iowa. Paul was preaching and performing after an Olympic Lifting meet held there that day. The meet was over and Paul came out and talked for about 30 minutes. Wayne said Paul would have been 34 years old, and that Paul said he weighed 375lbs. Wayne was always good at guessing people’s bodyweight and he thought that was pretty accurate. He also said he’d guess Paul was 5’8” to 5’9” tall. He said that Paul started lifting after he finished talking. Wayne said that if he warmed up, he did not see him do it and that it was impossible for him to have warmed up after the speech he gave. Wayne said that Paul did no warm ups, just went straight to the weight and lifted it. He said that Paul used the bars and weights used in the contest and Wayne felt certain of the weights he lifted. Wayne was always a master at glancing at a bar and telling you how much was on it and was meticulous about things being accurate. He said Paul did the following lifts and feats:

1. 755lb Squat, below parallel, barefoot, swimming trunks, t shirt, belt only.

2. 700lb deadlift

3. 370lb Power Clean and Press followed by a 390lb power clean and press (Wayne said he did a slight squat on the clean to catch it and did not hold the press at the top, but pressed it in a strict fashion).

4. Drove a nail thru a board with the nail wrapped in something using arm strength.

5. Back lift with volunteers in the audience, Wayne said he could not recall them mentioning the weight, but he’d guess there were 20 teenage boys and girls on the table.

6. Finally, the last feat was Paul skipped rope and did all kinds of moves with the rope. Wayne called it “real fancy footwork like boxers did”. He said he was amazed how fast and nimble Paul was and this impressed him as much as the weight lifted.

Phil Jackson met Paul twice. The first time was in April of 1968 at a Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He said that Paul had on a black outfit, tight and stretchy like wrestlers wore and the letters “PA” were embroidered on breast of the shirt to one side. Paul did a side press with a 225lb Dumbbell for 15 reps. Phil said that Paul didn’t lock out each rep, but that he had each rep to arms length and felt he could have locked them out had he wanted to. Paul blew up a hot water bottle, drove the spike through a board and did a back lift. He said he got to sit on the table when Paul lifted it and that there were a lot of young people, mostly teens on the table. He guessed there were about 2000lbs total. He said Paul lifted it easily, and then twisted from side to side with it. Afterwards, Phil had his wife take a picture of him with Paul.

Phil requested a private meeting with Paul and was granted it in the study of the Church after the show. He said Paul appeared very tired and when Phil tried to tell him how much he admired him Paul said, “Admire me for what I say and not for my strength”. They sat and visited and while Phil is a devout Christian and felt secure in his own salvation he felt Paul was uncomfortable talking about his own strength and much preferred to talk about his Christian faith. He said in hindsight Paul probably thought he was being sent someone who wanted to become a Christian and not just a fan. Phil said he was not “put off” by Paul at all, though.

Phil offered to help him load his gear into the truck and trailer Paul had. Paul refused help and said he loaded and unloaded his own gear at all times. Phil said he went and sat in his car across the street and watched Paul load his truck. He said that he was amazed at how strong Paul looked and how thick his shoulders, back, arms and in particular his neck were. Phil said he was in “Awe” of Paul and had never seen anything like him up to that point in his life. He said that the next time he was impressed by someone that looked to be on Paul’s level was when he met Joe Dube, which would have been about the time Dube won the Superheavyweight World title in 1969. Phil saw Paul speak at a Church in Atlanta about 3 months later. Paul did no feats of strength, just delivered a message while wearing a suit and tie. Phil said the suit and tie made him appear even bigger.

Both of my Uncles were devout Christians before and after meeting Paul Anderson, but both stated they were inspired by his words and his lifting. I recall in the 80’s, just before Paul passed away there was a big event held in, I think, Florida that honored him. I wanted to go at the time, but could not afford it and could find no one that wanted to split costs. Now I wish I would have made that trip even if I begged, borrowed, or stole the money to do it. I have that picture of Paul with Phil hanging in my gym and consider Paul an honorary member of the JWC.

The JWC’s Apollon Wheels Replica

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck, of the JWC, takes the Apollon Wheels Replica overhead at the JWC Training Hall

Al had told me for years he was wanting to make some Apollon’s Wheels and he finally made them! The best part was he made two sets and gave one to me as a contribution to our Strongman Evangelism shows.

Lifting Al’s version of the Apollon’s Wheels were like lifting history. But that did not change the fact they were formidable pieces of equipment!

My strategy was to do an over and under grip on bar and continental it to the belt. Then, I switched to a double overhand grip and popped it in the air. I had to let go of the bar, as it will not rotate (and you don’t want it to rotate on you as it could build so much momentum it could throw you over backwards or break your wrists). Then drop under the bar and regrip it in a “rack” position. Once here, it was just a matter of completing the push press. I was so excited that once I got it overhead I did a 360 degree turn with it at arms length.

If you travel to my gym or Al’s, the Apollon’s axle is a must see!

Meeting Tommy Kono

by Thom Van Vleck

Tommy Kono and Thom Van Vleck

It is not often you get to meet a living legend, but earlier this year I did just that! I was at the Arnold Fitness Expo for the first time in my life. I got to meet a slew of legends, current stars, and I’m sure some future legends. This included Frank Zane, Lou Ferrigno, Phil Pfister, Derek Poundstone, even Arnold himself as well as many others. But I have to say, the one that I saw that literally gave me the biggest thrill was Tamio “Tommy” Kono. Growing up in a weightlifting family, Tommy was like a mythical legend to me. I expected to see Arnold there, as well as many others, but I didn’t know Kono was going to be there so when I literally ran into him in the hallway while talking to my wife on my cell phone…..well, my heart jumped in my throat and I literally hung up on her as I ran to him like some star crossed teen seeing a teen idol. At least I didn’t scream!

Some might wonder who Tommy Kono was. Well, let me tell you about the man that was voted the “Greatest Weightlifter of the 20th Century”. He represented the U.S.A. in the 50s and 60s. Tommy Kono is the only lifter to have world records in four different weightlifting classes from 149lbs to 198lbs. He won a Gold Medal at both the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games, and a Silver Medal at the 1960 Olympics. He was world champion from 1953 – 1959 and set 21 world records. He was the Pan-Am Games champion in 1955, 1959, and 1963. In 1976, he coached the United States’ Olympic weightlifting team in the Montreal Games. He was also a successful Bodybuilder, winning the Mr. Universe title in 1955 and 1957. Of Japanese descent, Kono was born in Sacramento, California, on June 27th, 1930. Kono’s family was relocated to Tule Lake internment camp during World War II. Tule lake camp was in a very isolated area in the desert in northern California. Sickly as a child, the desert air helped Kono’s asthma. It was during the relocation that Kono was introduced by neighbors to weight training . After 3 1/2 years they were released and he finished high school at Sacramento High. In the 1970s he moved to Hawaii, where he has lived ever since and in 1993 he was elected to the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame.

Tommy was extremely cordial and allowed me to have my picture taken with him and a copy hangs with pride in the JWC gym. He made a glowing comment that I must be a champion myself and commented on how big and strong I looked as he sized me up. I was very impressed by him and he lived up to my lofty expectations. Tommy is a legend in the truest sense.

JWC Record Day

JWC Record Day puts the “Record” in Record Day

by Thom Van Vleck

JWC Record Day Group Picture. Left to Right: Tedd Van Vleck, Josh Hettinger, Al Myers, Thom Van Vleck, and Chad Ullom

On November 21, 2009 we had a fun day of lifting at the Jackson Weightlifting Club training hall. This was the first USAWA contest at the newest USAWA member club. JWC members Josh Hettinger and myself, Thom Van Vleck, took on Dino Gym Members Al Myers and Chad Ullom.

My two oldest children, Morgan and Dalton also got in the action. Morgan is a USA Weightlifting member who just entered her first Olympic lifting contest just weeks prior and is now ranked in the top ten in her age and weight group in the US Weightlifting rankings for 2009. JWC members Tedd Van Vleck and Wayne Jackson were also on hand to cheer and coach.

Thom Van Vleck performing a 300# Reeves Deadlift

There were 90 total records broken with some amazing lifts along the way. Chad only had a short time to lift and was primed for a big day so we let him loose on the weights. He did not disappoint. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with his 475lbs Continental to the belt or his One hand Deadlift with the right hand with 410lbs! He did 375lbs with the left hand along with a Hack lift of 510lbs and a Steinborn of 410lbs beating the record of the legendary Bob Burtzloff. He also hit a Hack lift – Right Arm of 285lbs and even threw in a PIPER SQUAT with 125lbs for good measure.

Al broke 21 total records with 10 open records and 11 master records. Josh Hettinger got in the action and was game to try 16 different lifts eventually, setting Open records in 9 of them. Josh also hoisted the “Circus Dumbbell” loaded to 170lbs to top the best Dino Gym record of 165lbs in that event continuing the friendly rivalry between the JWC and the Dino Gym. This is a special Dumbbell that is loaded on the inside and has a 3” handle. You can two hand clean it, but then must press it, any way you wish, to arms length overhead.

Chad Ullom performing a 510# Hack Lift

Dalton and Morgan Van Vleck had a friendly sibling rivalry in the Deadlift with a 12” base. Morgan showed she can still lift more than her little brother with a 140lbs effort to Dalton’s 130lbs. Dalton sure gave that 140lbs a try!

I started out the day only competing in my second USAWA meet ever. I had lifted in an “odd-lift meet” back in 1979 held by Bill Clark and while I had attended a few over the years had failed to join the fun. I recently took the judges test and while I passed it nothing beats experience in learning the fundamentals of a proper lift. So, I wanted to use this opportunity to try as many lifts as possible. My enthusiasm got the best of me and I ended up with 46 records by the end of the day! It was just so much fun, I couldn’t stop. Al finally convinced me to stop as his stomach was well past empty and he wanted to enjoy the big steaks I had promised him. About an hour later, when the adrenaline of the meet wore off, I FELT like I’d broken 46 bones, not records!

Many jokes were told, stories told and retold, and I ended the day convinced I had to host another meet again. My first love is still the Scottish Highland Games, but I could see really enjoying the cross training advantages of the All-Round lifting. Thanks to all who came and get-well wishes to my training partner and friend, Brian Kerby who was supposed to be at the meet but was in the hospital ill. He is now at home recuperating and should be 100% again soon.

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

FULL MEET RESULTS:

JWC 1st Annual All-Round Challenge
November 21st, 2009
JWC Training Hall, Kirksville, Missouri

Meet Director:  Thom Van Vleck

USAWA Officials: Chad Ullom, Al Myers, Thom Van Vleck
(Chad Ullom used the 3 Official System and all others used the 1 Official System)

Loader:   Tedd Van Vleck

Results:

Al Myers Age 43     40-44 Age Group

120kg Weight Class (Actual weight 260.5lbs)

Bench Press – Left  Arm = 95lbs

Bench Press – Right Arm = 115lbs

Abdominal Raise = 45lbs

Pullover – Bent Arm = 145lbs

Clean & Jerk – Dumbell, Right Arm = 130lbs

Swing – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 130lbs

Side Press – Dumbbell,  Left Arm = 80lbs

Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 80lbs

Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 100lbs

Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 120lbs

Press – From Rack = 205lbs


Chad Ullom Age 37 Open Age Class

110kg Class (Actual weight 237.0lbs)

Deadlift – Left Arm = 375lbs

Deadlift – Right Arm = 410lbs

Continental to Belt = 475lbs

Hack Lift = 510lbs

Steinborn Lift = 410lbs

Hack Lift – Right Arm = 285lbs

Snatch – Left Arm = 125lbs

Piper Squat = 125lbs


Morgan Van Vleck Age 12 Female

45kg Class (Actual weight 94.0lbs)

Snatch – From Hang = 41.5lbs

Continental Snatch = 41.5lbs

Deadlift – 12” Base = 140lbs


Dalton Van Vleck Age 10

35kg Class (Actual Weight 75.5lbs)

Deadlift – 12” Base = 130lb


Josh Hettinger Age 29 Open Age Class

125+ Class (Actual Weight 336lbs)

Shoulder Drop = 100lbs

Lano Lift = 45lbs

Curl – Reverse Grip = 185lbs

Pullover -Bent Arm = 165lbs

Clean & Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 130lbs

Clean & Jerk – Dumbbell,  Left Arm  = 130lbs

Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 110lbs

Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm = 110 lbs

Finger Lift – Right, Middle = 125lbs

Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip, Right Arm = 225lbs

Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip, Left Arm = 225lbs

Snatch – Right Arm = 135lbs

Snatch – Left Arm = 125lbs

Bench Press – Right Arm = 95lbs

Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 100lbs

Circus DB (3” handle, two hand clean, one hand press) = 170lbs


Thom Van Vleck Age 45  45-49 Age Group

125+ Class (Actual Weight 288lbs)

Finger Lift – Left Thumb = 30lbs

Finger Lift – Right Thumb = 30lbs

Finger Lift – Left Middle = 111lbs

Snatch – On Knees = 100lbs

French Press =  65lbs

Curl – Reverse Grip = 135lbs

Curl – Cheat = 185lbs

Continental Snatch = 185lbs

Continental to Chest = 245lbs

Continental to Belt = 360lbs

Deadlift – Stiff legged = 225lbs

Pull Over – Bent Arm = 95lbs

Deadlift – Reeves = 300lbs

Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip, Left Arm = 135lbs

Deadlift – Left Arm = 135lbs

Deadlift – One Leg, Left = 135lbs

Deadlift – One Leg, Right = 135lbs

Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 80lbs

Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm = 80lbs

Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 80lbs

Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm = 80lbs

Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm = 100lbs

Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 100lbs

Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm = 80lbs

Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right Arm = 80lbs

Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm = 80lbs

Swing – Dumbbell, Right Arm = 80lbs

Clean & Press – On Knees = 135lbs

Press – From Rack, Behind Neck = 135lbs

Jerk – From Rack, Behind Neck = 225lbs

Push Press – From Rack = 225lbs

Miller Clean & Jerk = 95lbs

Getting Kids involved in Strength

by Thom Van Vleck

Ethan Van Vleck Supports the Weight of the Moon on his Back

It is so important to give kids positive outlets for their energy or they will find the negative things on their own.  We all train for different reasons and often for many reasons.  Fame, health, competition, pleasure are just a few reasons to choose from.  But I think the most important is to be a good role model and make an effort to teach a new generation about the importance of strength and what it can do for you.
I tell my kids bedtime stories, just like many fathers do.  But my stories often are about famous strength legends, like Milo, Hercules, Samson, and Atlas as well as contemporary legends like Saxon, Sandwina, and many others.  I want to instill my kids the idea that weight training and achieving strength is important for many reasons.  If they can stick to it, they will learn to stick with many challenges that will come in life.
Recently I had the honor of inducting Al Myers into the RMSA Hall of Fame and my family went along for the trip. For me, this included doing two strongman exhibitions and competing in a full Scottish Highland Games with my family present.  It was a real family affair with Al and his family there along with us.
During our trip to McPherson, we traveled as a family to the Kansas Cosmosphere.  If you are a fan of space travel, this is a great place to go.  While there, we walked by a replica of the moon and before we knew it, my youngest son, Ethan, scrambled underneath and pretended to groan as if lifting a heavy, heavy weight.  This drew the attention of many people there and some laughter followed as Ethan refused to move until a picture was taken!  He came over to me afterwards and I gave him a “high five” and he said, “I lifted it just like Atlas lifted the world”!

As our generation ages, we need to instill the same love for the iron game into our children that we have.  It won’t just “happen”, like our own developed abilities, it takes “workouts” and effort.  We need to bring kids along with us to our meets and explain to them what is going on and make it fun so they will want to do it!  I work every day to keep and maintain my children’s respect.  Ethan insists he will someday be as strong as me and you know what, I believe he will be stronger!

Performance Strongman – Part 2

by Thom Van Vleck

Brian Kerby "picking up girls" Strongman Style

We began to do Strongman shows for Bible Camps and Youth Groups in the local area. Soon, word spread and Brett Kerby and then John O’Brien joined our efforts. We all developed special talents and skills and soon had a show that I believe rivals any group in that’s out there in term of the quality of feats we perform!

To date, we have done over 250 shows to an estimated 25,000 people since 2003. Over 100 of these have been large productions that involved hundreds of spectators. Some are smaller, what we call “gym bag” shows where we just come in and do a handful of feats in a smaller venue. The JWC is not just about evangelism work. That “strongman” part is only a short part of the 80 plus year history of the club. In the past 15 years we also put on many secular events. We have held over 25 Highland Games events, 10 strongman contests, helped the local Irondogs at Truman State with a dozen or so powerlifting meets and Olympic Lifting meets, as well as helping train local lifters. Two of our members, Bill Leffler and Jim Spalding, are multi Masters World Champions in Scottish Highland Games. Not even mentioning the past JWC teams and their accomplishments as well as their own roll in All Round history. That’s another story!

Now, the JWC will be hosting its first USAWA meet after becoming a member club earlier this year. The first of what I hope is many. It just seems a natural fit since so many USAWA lifts have their roots in the history of the first performance strongmen and women. I know that we, the JWC, are looking forward to being a part of the USAWA!

Brett Kerby bending a 5/8" bar with his teeth

Performance Strongman – Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck breaking bricks using the "Double Forearm Break Style"

Many USAWA members are aware of our own Steve Schmidt’s career as a performance strongman, AKA “Strongman Steve”. He travels around doing strongman shows that often mirror his lifting efforts in the USAWA meets he competes in. As a matter of fact, I’d say that had it not been for Steve’s efforts to become a top USAWA lifter, his strongman career might not have ever happened! USAWA member Eric Todd, who has also joined the JWC for our shows at times, also does performance Strongman shows.

There are two other USAWA members that also have a strongman career as a part of the “Jackson Weightlifting Club”. This includes John O’Brien and Thom Van Vleck. After the “JWC All-Round Challenge” on Nov. 21 the other two more members of the JWC team should also be USAWA members, Brett and Brian Kerby as they are slated to compete in that contest.

The USAWA has a rich history and connection to being what I call a Performance Strongman. Many of the old timers like Appollon, Saxon, and Sandow travelled around earning their living performing, not competing. Today, guys like Steve, Eric and the JWC members do it for other reasons.

John O'Brien using grip pressure only to blow up unopened cans of soda

While just a few of the JWC members do performance strongman shows, they do it to spread the word of Jesus Christ. We are Christian men who believe that God has given us a talent and that we are to use that talent for Him. We are a non-denominational group that often also delivers secular messages such as being anti drug, staying in school, and being good citizens. But we never sacrifice our core message.

Brian Kerby and myself, Thom Van Vleck, are the core members of the JWC evangelism effort. We have been brothers in the Word and Iron since our teenage years and always shared a love of the iron sports. We finally had a chance to go and help Randy Richey and his strongman evangelism team, Omega Force, at the US Strongman Nationals in St. Louis. We ended up being a part of the show and were soon offered to travel with them overseas. Brian and I realized this would not be possible with our family, church, and job obligations and soon realized that God wanted us to share our talents locally.

Granddad’s Tall Tales were not so Tall After All

By Thom Van Vleck

Katie Sandwina and her husband Max Heymann

When I was a kid, my granddad told me stories when I would spend the night. He was a great story teller and often, I fought sleep to listen to them. The topics were many, but since he had an interest in weightlifting, he often told me of strongmen of his day or before.

On one occasion he told me of a woman named Katie Sandwina. What I recall from his stories was she was 6’3” tall and 250lbs. She could carry a 1000lb cannon on her shoulder, lift her husband overhead with one arm, clean and push press 300lbs, and she never lost a wrestling match against a man. He told me that she once beat Sandow in a lifting contest.

Many years later, I read an article in an old Iron Man magazine on Katie and found that much of what he told was TRUE. Here are some of the things I have found out on Katie.

Katie Brumbach was her real name and her parents were circus performers Philippe and Johanna Brumbach. Both were large people and her father was said to have a 56” chest. In her early years, Katie performed with her family and her father would offer one hundred marks to any man in the audience who could defeat her in wrestling. It was claimed no one ever succeeded in winning the prize and it is also said Katie met her husband of fifty-two years, Max Heymann when he tried to beat her in a wrestling match and she knocked him out! They were married for 52 years….maybe he was afraid to leave! It was said that when Katie was just a teen she was over 6ft tall, 187lbs, and had 17” biceps and 26.5” thighs and was even larger after that. From what I can tell, she would feign modesty when asked for her dimensions. Perhaps it was modesty, or showmanship, but I do know that an Iron Man article on her listed her at 6’3” and 250lbs, confirming my grandfathers claim.

Brumbach took the stage name “Sandwina” after defeating the Sandow during her show. She offered a cash prize to anyone that could outlift her and Sandow took the stage. Katie lifted 300lbs over head and Sandow only managed to lift to his chest. After this victory, she adopted the stage name “Sandwina” as a feminine derivative of Sandow. I sometimes wonder if these sorts of things are staged by the strongmen to give each other credibility, but at any rate, it is agreed the event happened and it launched her career.

Sandwina worked in the Ringling Bros & Barnum & Baily circus until she was at least 60, possibly 64. One of her standard performance feats was lifting her husband (who weighed 165 pounds) overhead with one hand. She performed many other feats, such as bending steel bars and the pull apart with four horses. She would hold carousels of 14 people on her shoulders and support a half ton of cannons on her back. In between all of that, she also bore a son, Theodore Sandwina who not surprisingly became a large man and was a champion boxer.

There is no doubt Sandwina was quite a strong woman and many of her feats were real or at least close to the claims made about her. She may have been the strongest woman of all time!