Big Muscles or Strong Muscles?

 by Thom Van Vleck

Dennis Rogers next to Thom Van Vleck at the York Barbell Benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project. Dennis is one of the top short steel benders of all time!

The Jackson Weightlifting Club does a lot of Strongman “Evangelism” shows (like Paul Anderson used to do).  To date, we’ve done around 250 total shows with over 100 being full blown productions with the full team.  The smaller shows are what we call “gym bag” shows where we bring in stuff we can carry in a gym bag to put on a small one or two man show.  We often get called by local groups to entertain.

One time, we got a call from the local YMCA to do an “after school” show.  I was planning on doing it solo, but had something come up so Brett Kerby went instead.  We have four core members of our team and Brett is by far the smallest, but he’s the best of the group when it comes to short steel bending and ripping decks of cards in half!  He went to do the show and when he showed up a local TV news crew was on hand and this was not planned (which Brett is not comfortable with that kind of stuff at all!).  At the end, the news crew interviewed the kids and that night we watched it.  Several kids said things like, “That was awesome” or “I liked it when he ripped the phone book in half”.  One little girl really caught our attention.  She said, “I thought you needed to have big muscles to do that…..but I guess not!”   Needless to say, we had a lot of fun kidding Brett about that.  One time we were getting ready to do a show and Brett got there early to set up the sound system.   A guy there to see the show asked, “So….when do the strongmen get here”.  No respect!

Two Thirds of the Jackson Brothers: Phil and Wayne "Staggo" Jackson. Little Brother and Big Brother! Wayne could move big weights but Phil could do some amazing feats of strength that Wayne couldn't!

Meeting Dennis Rogers made me think of Brett.  Dennis also reminded me of USAWA legend Steve Schmidt.  None of these guys are huge, muscle bound, behemoths.  But they are also NOT guys you would want to mess with.  Short steel bending requires a suspension of pain.  I once saw John O’Brien drive a 60 penny nail into his hand at least a half inch…..and he put some tape on it and kept bending for a half dozen more shows that weekend before seeking treatment….he didn’t even flinch.  If you watch these guys you will see how painful it really is and if you try it, you will KNOW how painful it is.  I have managed a 60 penny nail, halving and quartering a deck of cards, and doing phone books.  My hands hurt, my elbows hurt, and my shoulders hurt.  All lifting involves pain tolerance, but that stuff requires “pain suspension”.

So, big muscles impress the novices and sometimes even the experts….but there’s much more to it than big muscles.  Pain tolerance, tenacity, leverage, and being smart and calculating are all factors that guys like Dennis Rogers, Steve Schmidt, and Brett Kerby have mastered.  They are the kinds of guys I would want in a back alley fight because they won’t quit…..and really, who would expect such strength from someone their size!

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