by Thom Van Vleck
I will continue my story on my friend and strength athlete John O’Brien.
In part one I ended with John coming to one of our strongman evangelism shows. John approached us about joining our team. We are always happy when guys want to join us, but we also want to make sure they are in it for the right reasons. Now, I’ve NEVER turned down anyone that wants to join us, but I also want to make sure guys know that it’s not “all about physical strength” but a real Christian ministry effort. We don’t “show off” we “share” our God given talents for strength for God’s glory.
I invited John out the the JWC gym to meet with him about his desire to join the evangelism team. John had this amazing and wonderful story about his son, Xavier (who recently became an Eagle scout!). He talked about how he had drifted away from God and Church and that science had, in essence, become his religion. He came to believe that science could answer any question about life. Then along came Xavier. He was born at 23 weeks (normal is 40 weeks!) and weighed 1lb and 4oz at birth. His weight actually dropped to 15oz….LESS THAN A POUND!
The doctors told John that Xavier had a 25% chance to live and a 5% chance of being normal. It was touch and go and things were tough emotionally for John and his wife Andrea. But it was a moment when John realized that science did not hold all the answers and surrendered himself to a higher power. Xavier began to improve to the amazement of all. John credits God for Xavier’s progress and recovery and what a recovery it was and continues to be! He is a top scholar in school, he looks like a normal teen in every way, and he’s a mature, tough, likable young man that we are all proud of.
It was at that meeting that I knew John was a special man, not just in strength, but in all the ways that make a man a real man in my book. John became a core member of the JWC Strongman evangelism team and we have had many great shows together which now number in the hundreds and I hope we have many more to come! We have even traveled to the Arnold Expo in Columbus, Ohio where we met Arnold himself (a story unto itself!) and got to perform for hundreds. If there’s any question to John’s “go time” attitude regarding his strength, it was at this show John drove a nail deeply into his hand during a tough bend and he not only finished the bend, he taped up and performed the rest of the weekend.
John is a world class bender. Another core member of our group is Brett Kerby. Brett was already a world class bender and John took a keen interest in it. With Brett’s tutelage, John soon became the master! It was funny that later he commented that Brett was not a very big guy and surely if he could do it, then John thought he could, too. That’s John’s attitude about a lot of things….if you can do it….he can, too! Brett and John have pushed each other to greater heights than they probably would have ever done alone.
John approached bending like he does most everything he does….obsessively….my kind of guy! He began to bend all the time. He told me a story that his division head at Truman State, where he teaches, came to him and said he had to stop bending in labs….because the students were afraid to come up to him as he bent 60 penny nail after nail and threw them in a pile. He bent his first red nail in one of our shows. I got the crowd all worked up and he had 60 seconds….he bent it in about 15 seconds…making it almost anti-climatic! His best bends to date are the 4.5″ Red Nail (5/16th cold rolled steel), 7″ X 5/16th grade 5 bolt, and a 4.5″ X 1/4″ grade 8 bolt. He also bends horseshoes and wrenches in our shows.
John is a good friend. His recent accomplishment merited an update on an earlier article and I’m sure that there’s plenty more to come from him. If the USAWA version of Old time Strongman catches on, I think John will be a top contender!