by Thom Van Vleck
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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?
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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!!!!!
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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”.
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
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.
By Thom Van Vleck
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.
By Thom Van Vleck
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!!!!
by Thom Van Vleck
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.
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!
by 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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
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 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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by 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 puts the “Record” in Record Day
by Thom Van Vleck
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.
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.
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.
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
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
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
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.
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.
By Thom Van Vleck
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!
by Thom Van Vleck
On a recent trip to the Scottish Masters World Championships I decided to take a day and do some mountain climbing. My grandfather had a copy of the famous painting “Monarch of the Glen” when I was a kid and the Cairngorm Mountains are the back drop that inspired the painting. I decided, to honor my grandfather, I’d climb that mountain! And, to honor my friend, Al Myers, I wore my Dino Gym cap when I did it.
It was a 9 hour grueling hike for a 300lb, 45year old weightlifter with a bum hip. The weather turned typically bad….really bad and it turned into a real adventure. But an adventure I’ll never forget and one I’m writing a much longer story about that I’ll share when it is done. I made it to the top of the 2nd and 5th tallest Mountains in Scotland. Ben Mcduibh was thought to be the tallest mountain in Scotland for centuries and traditionally is still thought of as the tallest (it falls short by a mere 30ft). Many legends surround it, it’s said to be haunted, and you will find primitive stone “forts” that the highlanders used centuries ago when they used the Mountain tops to signal each other in times of invasion.
The picture is at the top of Mcduibh because when I made it to the top of Cairngorm, I was dealing with freezing rain, winds gusting 70plus mph, and fog so thick you could barely see! I made it, just barely!
by Thom Van Vleck
I recently was contacted by Greg Bradshaw of the Rocky Mountain Scottish Athletes (RMSA) and asked if I would do the honors of inducting our own Al Myers into the RMSA Hall of Fame. They asked that I do it at the McPherson Scottish Highland Games in McPherson, Kansas. Al was the Athletic Director of this games for many years and built it into one of the premier Scottish Games in the Midwest. In 2007, Al hosted the Scottish Masters World Championships in McPherson. I presented a speech for Al and in it are things I think you should all know about him and that his involvement in Strength Sports goes far beyond the USAWA. Al has had quite a career as an athlete and going into the RMSA Hall of Fame (there has been only 6 inductees in over 30 years) is a just reward for a great athlete and friend.
The following is my speech:
We are here today to honor Al Myers and induct him in the RMSA Hall of Fame.
Al is a veterinarian and his family includes his Wife – Leslie of 23 years, and three daughters – Emily, Katie, and Molly. Al has always counted on their support.
As a competitor, Al started in the Highland Games in 1987 at the age of 20. He retired in 2005, after 19 years of competition. During that time he competed in over 200 Highland Games and over 100 Powerlifting Meets. Al competed as a professional Highland Games athlete for 10 years, from 1990 to 2000. He held the American Record in the 16# Sheaf toss in 1995, with a height of 35 feet (which is when I first met him). His best throws in the Highland Games were 16lb Sheaf 35 feet, 20# Sheaf 31 feet, Open Stone 48 feet, Bramaer Stone 38 feet, LWFD 81 feet, HWFD 41 feet, 16# Hammer 130 feet, 22# Hammer 108 feet, and WOB 15’11”. Al’s favorite and best event was the Caber Toss – an event he always placed high in. He has won over 100 Caber Competitions in his Highland Game career. Al was a 6 time Rocky Mountain athlete of the year – from the years 1991 to 1996 and held several RMSA records. As if this weren’t enough: Al also had a whole other athletic career in powerlifting. He was a 12 time state champion, 3 time collegiate National Champ and 7 time National Champion.
You would think the guy might want to take a break, but Al has continued on in another sport: The United States All-Round Weightlifting Association. He just recently was awarded Overall Best Lifter at this past year’s National Championships. He has won 6 All-Round National Championships since “Retiring” from the highland games, and was the Overall Best Lifter in three of these. He has won 3 All-Round World Championships, and was the Overall Best Lifter in the 2006 World Championships, which was held in Glasgow, Scotland. At the awards banquet following this competition he wore his Kilt to honor Scotland and the Scottish Games.
But Al was NOT just an Athlete. He was the Kansas representative to the Rocky Mountain Scottish Athletic organization for over 10 years. He was responsible for introducing many new throwers to the Highland Games and helped in getting new games started in other areas (including mine). Al has spent countless hours training new throwers at his gym, the DINO GYM, which is fully equipped as a Highland Games training complex! He has promoted several training Games at his place through the years to help build interest for the Highland Games athletics.
Today, even though he is retired as a thrower, Al is still very involved in coaching and promoting games. He just recently promoted the very first Highlander Nationals – which is a combination of Highland Game events and Strongman events.
But perhaps more importantly to those here today, he was the first athletic director of the McPherson Highland Games, and performed in that capacity until 2007. In his last year as athletic director of the McPherson Games, he hosted the Masters World Highland Games Championships.
Now, you might be thinking at this point that Al is Ten feet tall, weighs two tons, eats hammers and nails, and can take a shot gun blast standing…..his hammer actually travels faster than a speeding bullet, his run up on the Caber can derail a locomotive, and his WOB could clear the Empire State building……and those are his warm ups….
But joking aside, the reality is, Al is one of us and never made any of us feel any less. Scottish games are built on kith and kin, friends and family. Athletes used to participate knowing that the next day they might be called to fight side by side. Al very much embodied that friendship and made all of us that came after him feel like part of the highland games family. Al’s impact goes far beyond what I’ve talked about today. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this recognition and it’s a standard that I know many of us here want to maintain. Thanks, Al, and may God continue to Bless you and your family for many years to come.
by Thom Van Vleck
John O’Brien and I have trained together for about 6 years now. John is one of my partners on our Strongman Evangelism team and since we are similar height and strength, we figured this would be a good event for us.
Believe it or not, I last competed in an “odd lift” meet nearly 30 years ago. I have helped with USAWA meets and even helped coach John in his USAWA efforts over the years, but I was so focused on my Highland Games career I just hadn’t had the right time to do a meet. Well, having just finished the NAHA Highlander meet the previous day, I had no excuses so John and I joined in. I soon realized what I was missing out on!
Team lifting puts a premium on team work. You have to match your partner’s efforts while applying your own maximum effort into the lift. Timing is everything. A lesson learned on the first lift of the day, the Two man one arm Snatch. John and I can both power snatch around 225lbs…..but it ’s a whole new ball game when you have to do it together. We managed 215lbs. On the other lifts, the Straddle or Jefferson Lift, the thick bar Ciavattone grip deadlift, and the Bench Press Feet in Air did not require split second timing, but still you had to lock out together.
I don’t think at any point John and I felt we were a threat to Chad and Al…..they had been training for this event while John and I had not. We just might have to put some more effort into it for next year and see if we can catch Al and Chad napping. We did manage to beat them on one lift, the BP with Feet in Air with our age handicap, but to be honest, their last attempt looked easier than ours.
It is a lot of fun to walk up to a bar loaded to 850lbs and think that you are going to lift it. Even if it’s a two man lift, seeing all those plates rise up is a real adrenaline rush. I know we were too tentative on this lift and next year I see 1000lb as a real possibility.
I think the best part of All around lifting is the fun of trying new things and having so many ways you can set a record. You get sore in ways that regular training will never make you sore. You also learn how to “lift on the fly”. What I mean by that is that many guys train a limited number of lifts and their strength gets very specific. In other words, a powerlifter will get very strong on the Bench, Dead, and Squat, but they ever find themselves in need of tapping into that strength outside their usual training range of motion, they’ll find themselves coming up short. All around does just that, it trains you to be all around strong.
At any rate, it was a blast. I look forward to the Dino Gym/JWC rematch next year. I plan on bringing more than one team of lifters to take out the Dino Gym crew once and for all! Anybody going to stop us! It was great fun, how lifting should be.