by Thom Van Vleck
John O’Brien is a USAWA member, a good Highland Games thrower, a great lifter, and a world class short steel bender. Most of all, he’s my friend, training partner and Jackson Weightlifting Club member. For most of the past decade we have been traveling to USAWA meets, Highland Games, Strongman Contests, Highlander meets, but most importantly he is a member of our evangelism team. John is also a chemistry professor at Truman State and likes to say he’s trying to change the image of “nerds” everywhere. He’s certainly the biggest, strongest “nerd” I’ve ever met!
John is a low key guy. He doesn’t get too fired up and has come across as being more than a little intimidating due to his size and quiet demeanor. Which is funny when you know he’s one of the nicest guys you could meet. One time, we went to a local fast food restaurant and the cashier, a young teen boy, was ready to take John’s order. He was looking at John, all 6′3″ and 290lbs of him, and said, “Do you work out”? John looked at him and in his usual economy of words said, “Yes”. The kid looked him up and down again and said, “You scare me”. I died laughing. John is the quiet guy in the room that seems to intimidate people because not only is he big and decidedly strong looking, but you don’t quite know what’s on his mind. And you won’t know unless you ask him directly! Another funny story was the time when he would bend 60 penny nails during labs as practice. Finally the Dean came to him and said he had to stop as the students were too scared to approach him and ask him questions as he bent nail after nail and tossed them in a pile!
I get a kick out of him and over the years have collected a list of top ten “Johnisms”. When John does say something, it’s usually pretty well thought out and funny if you know him. If you’ve never met him, they are still funny, but you have to imagine someone saying these in the most low key, matter of fact manner.
1. You don’t have to be smiling to be happy. (Because John rarely smiles and people often ask him if he’s “OK”)
2. I’m not anti-social, I’m ASOCIAL…..there’s a difference.
3. People don’t know how to take me and that’s the way I like it.
4. I may not be cheerful….but I’m always prepared. (Did I mention he’s a boy scout troop leader?)
5. You want a better grade in my class? Then study Harder.
6. Yes, I know how to make nitro-glycerin and no I won’t….it’s very unstable.
7. You have to be careful regarding the chemicals you order….or the ATF or DEA will call.
8. I like energetic reactions.
9. I have blown off an eyebrow doing experiments…..twice.
10. There was an explosion at the lab over the weekend…..I checked, it wasn’t mine this time.
John is one strong guy. He has won the Master’s Class at the last two Highlander Nationals. He always does well at any strength sport he tries because not only is he strong, he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever met. He can bend short steel with the best of them and easily bent an Ironmind Red Nail. He can easily squeeze a pop can until it explodes and is our “go to” guy in our strongman evangelism shows when we need a heavy lift done. We have sure had a lot of fun doing what we do!
But most of all, he’s one of the “characters” that make up the Jackson Weightlifting Club and the USAWA. Next time you see him, say hello….don’t be afraid!