The Long Journey To York Barbell: Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck completes the 73 year journey to York Barbell

Recently I traveled to York, Pa to the home of York Barbell to judge at the USAWA Heavy Lift Nationals.  This, however, is not a meet report but a story about a Long Journey.

Back in 1938 my Grandfather ordered his first “real” barbell set.  Oh, sure, he had been training for along time before this, since 1928 to be exact, but it was at this point he finally could afford a real barbell set to replace the bodyweight exercises, the concrete “bucket” weights, and the assorted things like anvils he would find to train with.  By that time he was married and I recall he had a real fight with my grandmother over ordering that set since they were short on cash.  But it was his dream.  I still have what is part of that set.

Then, in 1957, my Uncle’s Phil and Wayne began to train and scrimped and saved until they could order a real “Olympic” set.  There was other choice but York!  This was the classic deep dish York set.  At that time, Wayne and Phil became avid Olympic style lifting fans and at that time York Barbell was the center of it all.  When I started training, in 1977, my Uncle Wayne bought a new set to encourage me.  I remember vividly him ordering it with a mail order form and a check.  I’m pretty sure he wanted it as much as I did and it was just a good excuse to order a new set!

I have a few hundred Strength & Health and Muscular Development magazines that were published by York Barbell.  I’m not a collector, most are the magazines that my grandfather and Uncles bought off the news stand to read.  I would read these for countless hours as a kid when I started training and as a result, probably know more about York Barbell than all the people who currently work there!

So, when Al asked me to come along and be a judge, I pushed aside a chance to go to Iceland and compete in a highland games and chose to go to York.  You see, even though my family had been “York Men” since 1938, NOBODY from my family had ever been there!

So, here it was, 73 years after that first York barbell set was mail ordered by my grandfather and I was on my way to York.  I was pretty excited but at the same time, I was realistic.  I knew it was not what it was in the glory days.  But I hoped it would still be a great trip.

We arrived the morning of the contest and pulled up out front.  There was Bob Hoffman’s statue standing as proud as ever.  My grandfather used to tell me that Bob was “a little full of himself” and I had to chuckle as I looked at the statue.  Most accomplished men are a little full of themselves.  It often takes a big ego to drive great success.  I wish I could have met the guy, big ego aside, he did much for lifting and made America quite literally….a lot stronger.

The life size barbell mobile hanging in the York Barbell HQ....is that thing real!!!!

Soon, we went inside.  There was a large “Barbell Mobile” hanging from the ceiling.  Barbell plates and bars balanced from a single point from the ceiling.  Not sure if they were real….but if they were that’s a lot of weight hanging there!  Then to the right was a lifting auditorium where the hall of fame induction took place.  I walked through and into the gym area.  It was loaded with platforms and weights, much more modern than I expected but then again, this is not the “original” club where the “York Gang” trained.  That place was long gone and while we drove by the location, nothing remains of it downtown.

The York lifting auditorium

Next, I walked through the museum.  I won’t detail all of it, but while what was there was very cool, it was not as big as I expected, but still not a let down.   What was there oozed history.  I would detour through the museum many times while I was there, taking just a minute to look at something else I had missed.  I then went into the retail store, that was nice, again not as big as I expected but it had “one of everything”.  While there I picked up matching York Barbell shirts with the old style split jerk logo for me and my Uncle Wayne.  I took tons of photos so that later I could show Wayne and Phil a “virtual” tour of the place.  I didn’t go anywhere else, but looked around at the warehouse.  The foundry is gone, they don’t make anything on site anymore.   Later, we also traveled by Bob Hoffman’s old house as the sun set on my York trip and we called it a day.

Next:  Part II My feelings about my Trip.

USAWA Nationals: The AWARDS

Special awards for the USAWA Nationals for 2011 (purchased at pjtool.com)

by Thom Van Vleck

The USAWA Nationals for this year will have a unique award for the participants.  The Jackson Weightlifting Club (JWC) had long been defined by Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil.  For the last few years I have used these real anvils for awards.  Each award will come with a CUSTOMIZED plaque engraved by a Jim Spalding (Jim’s Gems) who is a local jeweler and also happens to be a 6 time Masters World Champion in Highland Games.   When the results are tabulated, we will write down you address and send you an engraved plate that will fit on the award with your placing and name.  How many personalized awards do you have in you trophy case?  I bet not many!  There will also be an 11lb Anvil for the overall best lifter.  Again, it’s a REAL anvil.

The “Original” JWC anvil will be present as well and used in the strongman show at the awards banquet.  We will take it outside and give anyone who wants a crack at lifting the anvil like Grandpa Jackson used to from the ground to overhead.  It is a 150lb Anvil and it’s very “doable”!  The real challenge is to lift it by the horn with one hand, pinch grip it by top or lift it by the neck.

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

I will also have a 300lb anvil present….This is the MONSTER that so far has defied all who have tried to lift it overhead.  I want to see someone put that thing overhead!  But at the least, We will have the Whiskey Barrel there and the challenge is to lift the anvil onto the whiskey barrel.   Come on out, the USAWA Nationals will be more than just lifting weights…..we will try and make some history!

Outdoor Lifting: Time for Fresh AIR!

Phil Jackson lifting outdoors at the old JWC club

by Thom Van Vleck

I have a photo album full of old photos of the Jackson Weightlifting club in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  Many of the photos, maybe even more than half, are taken outdoors.  Back then, there was a very practical reason for lifting outside in the summer time….NO AIR CONDITIONING!  My Uncle’s told me they built a platform outdoors so they could get some fresh air and keep cool.  The JWC gym moved around several times and often was in an old unairconditioned building.  One of the favorite places of my Uncle Wayne of gym locations was on Jefferson Street near the old Kirksville  Railroad Depot.  Wayne said they rented an old store and they would lift in the store front during the winter.  There were large plate glass windows open to the street with a potbelly wood stove for heat and in the summer they would move the weights out back and lift right under the down town Water Tower.  The Water tower is still there but the store is long gone.  Sadly, not a single picture exists of the gym from that time.  Just the many great stories….including one of how my Aunt Linda would walk by there every day going home from work and see Wayne lifting…..and now they have been together for over 40 years!  She would stop and watch them workout with other girls…..she must have been impressed.

My Uncle Phil told me that lifting outside was also a benefit in other ways besides a cool breeze.  The bright sunshine helped get rid of the winter blues come spring and the fact that girls might walk by just motivated them to lift a little harder!   It might be a hassle to move the weights outdoors, but I think you’ll find a little lifting on a sunshiny day will boost your motivation and be a nice change of pace.

Team Spirit

by Thom Van Vleck

We have a lot of fun with our team rivalries in the USAWA.  While it is all in good fun, it has gotten heated from time to time, but that’s OK.  Sometimes that’s what it takes to get fired up for big lifts!  It reminds me a lot of the rivalry I felt when I was a Marine.  We hated the Army, Air Force, and Navy, but when we had a common enemy we quickly banded together.  In the Marines we had a saying: “You won’t find a better friend or worse enemy”.  I also believe: “Once a Marine, always a Marine” (Chesty Puller said that, the most decorated Marine of all time and a personal hero). I feel the same about my affiliation with the JWC.

A great photo of Dino Gym member and enforcer Scott Tully....in a great shirt! While I've kidded Scott about this photo, it would not be hard to find one of me in a Dino Gym shirt. And, no, that's not my bald head in the photo!

We all enjoy our training for lots of reasons.  I’m sure most of us have a primary reason for doing it and for most, that primary reason is probably to get strong!  For a bodybuilder it may be to “look strong” (I never understood why you would want to look stronger than you really were….I want to be stronger than I look!).  The reality is that we probably train and compete for lots of reasons beyond that.  One of those reasons is for the social aspect.  We are humans, we generally seek out companionship….even loners will have a dog or cat for companionship! So, for social interaction, we join teams.  Now, I’m not talking about “socializing” (although that certainly happens!) but the act of finding a common bond or thread.  Common interests, so to speak.  That’s the social aspect I’m talking about.

We also like competition.  I can recall going out to the old JWC gym at about age 10 with a buddy of mine and doing a powerclean and push press.  The first thing he did was slide on a little more weight and lift it….and it was “ON”!  We didn’t stop until we’d about killed ourselves!   Teams give us the best of both world’s.  We can hook up with like minded individuals and find the motivation of competition within our own team and then against other teams.  But we can also have mutual respect for our rivals.  I know I have a lot of respect for my “rivals” in the Dino Gym, Clark’s Gym, Ledaig…and the rest.  That’s why I own at least a t-shirt from each and in the case of the Dino gym almost a whole wardrobe of clothes!

Teams are a good thing.  They give us motivation, friendships, rivalries, and in the end, good times.   Being a part of a team can hold us to a higher standard than standing alone.  It can also reflect a lot about who we are and if done right, in a very positive way.  So join a team in the USAWA, or start a new one and join the rivalry for bigger gains and good fun.  I’m sure Scott will love the fact I used his photo for my example….and I’m sure it will motivate him to lift a little harder the next time we compete!

The One Best Exercise

by Thom Van Vleck

My brother Tedd is a Clean and Press man. It goes to show that different exercises work best for different lifters.

I was out throwing with Bill Leffler the other day.  We were talking training and some of our frustrations.  Between us, we have about 75 years of lifting and throwing experience and the topic became “The One Best Exercise”.

I recall many years ago in an old Ironman there was a question posed to several top lifters and trainers: “If you could do only one exercise, what would it be”?  The answers centered around two lifts.  The squat and the Clean & Press.  Debates and arguments were presented.  It kind of reminded me of a recent thread on the USAWA forum centered around Al Myers’ article on the Deadlift.

The reality is that there are exercises that are better than others, but all exercises have some merit, and it all depends on what you want and how you use it to get what you want.

1.  Does the exercise work the most muscles in the body?  The Clean & Press certainly does that,  but the Squat and Deadlift certainly work the biggest muscles in the body the hardest.  If that were the only criteria for the One Best Exercise, that would probably be the end of it…but that is not the only criteria.  I would argue it’s not even the best way to chose the One Best Exercise.

2.  Does the exercise create the adaptation that you desire?  We all lift for different reasons.  I lift mainly to improve my throwing for Scottish Highland Games.  Does the lift fulfill that need?  Do you grind out reps, or do you explode through them?

3.  Any exercise done for too long will become more and more dangerous and less and less effective.  You get stale, you get lazy on your technique, and eventually the boredom, lack of focus, repetition on the body will lead to injury.  Your body is always fighting against you because it is trying to protect itself and when it knows what is coming, it will resist damaging itself.

4.  Do you perform the Deadlift in a way that creates the muscle adaptation you desire?  The JWC has a member that has done a 4 times bodyweight deadlift.  He can’t clear 8 ft with the 56lb Weight in the Weight Over Bar event.  Al is a great deadlifter and when he was deadlifting 700 plus he could clear nearly 16ft!!!  The JWC member is very much a specialist and he’s very happy with the adaptation he has created.  Al trains for different reasons and his lifting has adapted to that.

So, my opinion is the “ONE BEST EXERCISE” changes over time and it depends on how you perform the exercise.  You have to find what works for you, and you must think outside the box from time to time.  I was stuck at 360 on my Bench Press for a year and made a point to specialize on my Bench for a year and managed only 365!  I used the best routines I could find.  So, out of desperation, I started doing 10 sets of 10 reps.  I started with 185lbs and kept adding 10lbs a week until I finally got 300lbs for 10 sets of 10.  After only 12 weeks I then maxed out and hit 400!  A 35lb jump!  I have theories on why this worked but my point is that it was unorthodox and I don’t know if I even recommend it!  So, don’t get too hung up on finding that “magic” exercise because it’s kind of like the old saying “Just when I figured it out, they changed the rules”.  Just when you find that “One Best Exercise” your body adapts and its time to shake things up and keep an open mind.  As for me….I’m doing deadlifts and squats right now, but not forever!

Wilbur Bohm, Pioneer of Sports Medicine

Dr. Wilbur Bohm, pioneer of Sports Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

I recently did a story on Dr. Russell Wright who was pretty well know in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in the weightlifting world for his work in sports medicine.  In that article I mentioned Dr. Wilbur Bohm.  Dr. Bohm was certainly Dr. Wrights inspiration in terms of Bohm’s early work in sports medicine leading the way.  Dr. Bohm wrote nearly 2 dozen books on athletic training and was the first every full time sports physician for a professional team.  He worked for the Cardinals, the Redskins, and the Reds, just to name a few.  He was a founding member of the National Athletic Trainer Association and was the first ever inducted into their hall of fame in 1962.

Wilbur Bohm started out as the Washington State University head athletic trainer before becoming an osteopathic surgeon in 1919.  He is credited with helping define sports medicine by writing books and filming a 1941 documentary on charley horses and sprained ankles. Bohm – with Jake Weber, Billy Morris and the Cramer brothers – was a member of the first athletic training squad to serve a U.S. Olympic Team, in 1932 in Los Angeles.  You will recognize the name “Cramer” as the name of the company that makes training supplies.  I use Cramer spray tacky all the time!

Bohm did so much and was involved in so much a book could be written about him.  I would like to focus on a couple of stories on him.

First, he was friends, possibly best friends, with the man I affectionately refer to as the “Phantom of the Anvil”.  Several years ago I was at the Rec Center here at the school I work at (A.T. Still University) and saw this picture on the wall.  Since that time I have devoted a lot of time trying to figure out who this man was.  I have a couple leads, and someday I WILL figure this mystery out.  I do know know this man left school before graduating to join the war effort in WWI.  He was legendary playing football and there are many stories I have found on him that include a 70 yard drop kick documented in a game (I know, seems impossible) and stories of him dragging numerous opponents down the field refusing to be tackled.  He was said to be 6′6″ tall and he had a build that was very good for his day.  But that story is for another day and for now, he’s the Phantom.  You will find this photo in the JWC gym and in the Dino Gym.

The Phantom of the Anvil circa 1918 (notice the skull and cross bones on his shirt, that was the school sports logo)

It was through the “Phantom” I learned about Dr. Bohm.  As I have researched the Phantom, I have found his connection to Dr. Bohm and that opened me up to the amazing accomplishments of Dr. Bohm and his connection to Dr. Wright.   It seems that the Phantom and Dr. Bohm were good friends and played football, baseball, threw shot and discus and participated in other sports with the schools teams.  Yes, back then, the medical school had sports, even a hockey team…and less surprisingly a golf team!  Dr. Bohm was quite an athlete as well and a very big man in those days.  I found one listing of him at 6′4″.  He threw the shot and discus at the Drake Relays, one of the most prestigious and oldest track & field meets in the world!  Some day, I’ll learn the mystery of the Phantom of the Anvil and when I do, Dr. Bohm’s story will be a part of it.

The second story on Dr. Bohm I’d like to share relates to his work in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics.  He served as the team physician in those Games and if you recall, it was the 1932 Olympics where the modern Olympic lifting began.  The lifts were cut to three that year (Clean & Press, Snatch, and Clean & Jerk) and it appears to be a watershed moment in terms of Olympic lifting’s popularity.  You may recall that Bob Hoffman attended the 1932 Olympics and when he returned to York he started York Barbell.  Karo Whitfield also attended the 1932 Olympics and as a result he made a life long friendship with Hoffman and the York Gang and returned to the Atlanta area and started a legendary gym, ran hundreds of bodybuilding and weightlifting meets, and trained thousands.  That list includes Paul Anderson, Harry Johnson (1959 Mr. America) and ran meets that saw Joe Dube’, Frank Zane, Boyer Coe, and many, many others get their feet wet.  So, that 1932 Olympics had three very important people it the sports world: Dr. Bohm, the “Father of Sports Medicine”, Bob Hoffman, the “Father of American Weightlifting”, and Karo Whitfield, “The Bob Hoffman of the South”.

The third and final story has to do with what may be Dr. Bohm’s greatest accomplishment.  In the Museum archives of A.T. Still, there is a collection of Dr. Bohm’s works.  Some are original type written copies of some of his books, personal notes, and a very interesting book that includes the raw data he collected for a study he did entitled “How Champions Train”.

"How Champions Train" by Wilbur Bohn, D.O.

The book itself is not very long and it’s message is really quite simple.  Coaches need to train athletes as individuals with different needs.  This may seem pretty common sense, but before this they would often train athletes with special diets that would be extreme in design and workout programs that weren’t very specific and overtraining was the norm.  The real treasure is the “scrap” book that is with the original manuscript that holds all the questionnaires from most of the track athletes at the 1936 Olympics.  Each athlete had been given the questionnaire at the Olympics and had autographed each one.   There are also many personal letters from these athletes over the next two years as he compiled results, most still in the original envelopes.  Since I am more of a “field” guy than a “track” guy I was focused on the throwers.  There were letters from Dimitri Zaitz (6th place shot put), Ken Carpenter (Gold medal, discus),  Lee Bartlett (12th place in the Javelin), William Rowe (5th in the Hammer throw), among others.  But there was one name from the track portion that caught my eye…..Jesse Owens.  Yes, in this stack of personally filled out questionnaires that had been signed by each athlete was one from Jesse Owens.  It detailed his typical diet, training, etc.  I asked the Museum curator just to be sure and she confirmed the signature was really his!

Many of Dr. Bohm’s books were on training athletes and injuries.  His collection includes many photos of him with famous sports figures that he helped over the years.  While his conclusions today may seem well know and well accepted, you have to understand in his time they were groundbreaking.  Dr. Bohm was a great athlete and a great doctor who’s legacy is long and wide!

Gone Fishin’

by Thom Van Vleck

Our USAWA Secretary Al Myers knows how to relax from the stresses of work and weightlifting. He goes fishing! But by looking at the size of these two big paddlefish he caught this week, it looks like he had to put his training to good use!

I sent Al Myers a message the other day and he said he was on a fishin’ trip.  I said, “AGAIN!”   I often will call Al, and he’ll return my call and say, “Sorry, I was taking my nap”.  I like Al, he’s a good guy.  But he’s also a pretty smart guy.  Al works hard and when it’s time to rest, he rests hard.

Weightlifters are a special breed.  Some might say we were so special we are mentally ill!  We do tend to be pretty obsessive and often that’s a good thing.  But just as often, we don’t know when to back off (I can’t say “quit”….because we don’t like that word!).

Recuperation is more than sleep, it’s rest, it’s feeling rested and ready.  It’s often the lost ingredient in an effective training program.  I work at a medical school and the constantly tell the students…”GET MORE SLEEP”.  Because more sleep, more rest means less mistakes.  A doctor makes a mistake, and people can die.  A weightlifter makes a mistake and an injury can result that, at best, will set us back a few days, at worst, end a career!

But it’s more than just your body that needs sleep.  Sleep is probably most important for you brain.  I would argue that you brain needs sleep more than any other part of your body.  Why?  Well, science hasn’t quite figured that out yet.  But the fact is that the brain does some pretty important things ONLY when it’s asleep.  And your most important training tool is you brain.  If your brain is not fresh and focused, your body won’t be.

I think that every lifting program should also include how you are going to rest and how long.  It should also include the occasional break from lifting altogether.  So, every once in awhile you have to remind yourself to back off a little.  So, get more sleep.  Take a nap.  And go Fishin’.

USAWA Nationals Update

 by Thom Van Vleck

Dukum Inn: Kirksville Legend and Location of the USAWA Nationals Banquet

Just a couple blocks away from the armory is the Dukum Inn.  This is a legendary establishment here in Kirksville.  Back a hundred years ago this was a huge coal mining area.  Coal mining was tough work and the miners would drink hard on the weekends.  When I was a kid, the Dukum was tough, blue collar bar.  I recall going there with my Dad from time to time when I was a boy.  He would buy me a Cherry Coke (when a the Coke was poured into a Coke Glass and cherry syrup was then added) so I wouldn’t tell Mom we stopped there.  He would play some pool with his pals and he’d give me some quarters for the pinball or I’d play shuffleboard in the sawdust.  After a couple games of pool we’d head home with Mom none the wiser!

Well, today the Dukum is pretty much an “every man’s bar” (and every woman).  It’s a lot more upscale than the old days but still has that old days charm of a corner pub.  They have a private upstairs room that now has the original bar that was there when I was a kid and the original tables.  It can seat over a hundred and has a stage that will work nicely for our awards ceremony.  Plenty of room to gather after the meet, enjoy our meal, have our national meeting and have a good time!

So, get those entries in the mail!

JWC Founding Member: Coda Baugher

by Thom Van Vleck

Coda Baugher, circa 1930's, part of the first generation of the JWC

The JWC traces it’s roots back to 1928.  This is not to say it’s been a continuously run organization during that time.  There have been good times, and bad.  There was a time in the mid 60’s where there were over 30 dues paying members and two team state championships in Olympic Weightlifting in Missouri and many State Champs.  One thing I can say, is that there has been at least one member of my family continuously training with weights since 1928!

One of those early members was Coda Baugher.   He was my Great Uncle and Brother-in-Law to JWC founder Dalton Jackson.   Coda passed on in 2007.   He pronounced his first name “Cody” (don’t ask my why) and the “Baugher” was pronounced “Bah-Er” or something close to “Bower” (again, don’t ask me why).  Coda and Dalton liked to share stories about training.  My understanding was they became friends when Coda would chaperon the dates Dalton had with my grandmother.  No wonder, my grandfather was 22 and my grandmother was 13 when they started dating….times have changed!

They fixed up some metal poles and filled buckets with cement to make their first weights and lifted things around the farm like anvils and stones.  They would lever sledges for grip and basically got creative with anything they could find.  They could barely afford a magazine….if they could find one in rural Missouri buy….and often made a lot of early mistakes.  One in particular was the grip they most often used.  They weren’t sure early on how to grip the bar so they would grip it with an underhand, or curl type, grip!   If you look closely at the photo above you can see it.

I have no idea how much Coda could lift.  Those numbers are lost to time.  As a matter of fact, this is the only known photo of him lifting weights!  He became a cattle rancher, taking over the farm my Great, Great, Great Grandfather started and it’s still owned by my cousin, his grandson and it’s a Missouri Century Farm.  This distinction goes to farms that are owned over 100 years by the same family.  My family always specialized in Black Angus cattle.  He also was a member of  Providence Baptist Church.  This was a Church founded by my ancestors and is now the oldest continuously attended Baptist Church in Missouri and when I attended Coda’s funeral there, they credited him with saving the Church in hard times over the years.

Basically, Coda was one of those guys that did his job, paid his bills, went to Church on Sunday, and took care of his family and friends.  I wish I would have asked him more about the type of training he did, but I do know he basically trained for the same reasons that Dalton trained for;  To keep his body in shape to fulfill his obligations as a man, not to win titles or trophies.  It is also because of the groundwork that he laid and Dalton laid that the future generations of the JWC could win titles and trophies and enjoy the luxury of lifting competition in general.  For that, I thank him and hope this article gives the man his due!

Thom Van Vleck’s “Get a Grip” Tips

While Mac Batchelor had huge hands, he also developed them with many different implements and techniques.

by Thom Van Vleck

This is my entry in the DB Walk 3.5″ handle contest!  I like my odds better this time with so many winners.  But honestly, me writing about grip training is a bit like a fat guy telling you how to diet!

A great grip has eluded me in my 34 year lifting career.  Sure, there are things that I do better than others, like the pinch grip.  I have also never lost a deadlift in a contest due to grip.  But the reality is that I have small hands for my size and a strong grip never came naturally to me.  So maybe you could consider me the “hardgainer” when it comes to grip and maybe that makes me more of an expert than I thought.  After all, they say mediocre players make the best coaches.  The best athletes generally don’t make good coaches because everything came naturally to them.

As a result, I’ve read a great deal about grip training.  I would recommend  any of John Brookfield’s books on grip training.  I have also got to train with two of the best short steel benders in the world, John O’Brien and Brett Kerby.  So, most of this comes from those experiences but I will end with one tip that I came up with on my own, so hopefully you will get at least one original idea out of this!

1. Specify

Over the years my focus has changed in the strength world.  I have competed in Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, USAWA All-round, and my passion for the last 15 years has been Scottish Highland Games.  All require grip strength and lots of different types of grip strength.   If you are going to do a  bench press meet you don’t just work Behind the Neck Presses, you work the Bench Press and all the muscles specific to that event!  Don’t just throw in some wrist curls at the end of your workout.  Train your grip specifically for how you are going to need it.   This doesn’t mean you find one grip exercise and work it to death.  You need to get some books, read some articles, talk to some good grip guys and get a list going  and keep track of what you think works for you.   If you came to my gym I could show you over 100 grip exercises to do and all of them I have done myself at one time or another.    In the process, I have figured out what works for me and for the specific event I need it for!

2.  Training

Try to quantify your workouts as much as possible so you can be progressive.  Don’t just take a weight and do it every workout, it’s PROGRESSIVE resistance that’s key.  Keep some magnets around to add fractions of pounds.  Get some fractional plates or the “poor boy” method is go to the tractor supply and get some large washers that will fit on a 1″ bar, two of them will weigh from 1/4 to 1/5 of a pound.  Get enough to supplement your 2 and 1/2lb plates and if you can, get some 1 1/4lb plates.  You need to be able to add fractions of weight to any implement and push yourself.  Plan your workout, set goals, cycle your grip training just like you would for any contest, including giving it a break from time to time.

3.  Mental Aspect of Grip

I think Grip training is more mental than most any other kind of training.  I have watched John O’Brien and Brett Kerby grimace in pain doing the short steel bending and having folded a 60 penny nail a few times….it just hurts!  Your hands are full of nerves and that is why.  Sure, Squats are hard, but your hands will hurt!  So, there’s a mental aspect to this that needs to be overcome.  I saw John O’Brien drive a 60 penny nail deep in his hand and he still finished the bend and did three more shows that same weekend.   Most grip guys have mastered pain.  Working you grip requires pain tolerance and can also teach it!  Brett told me that his hands have hurt so bad he thought he’d seriously injured them.  It’ll hurt….get over it.

4.  Just One Original Thought

Ok, let’s see if I can impress you.  Most of what any of us knows about anything we learned from someone else.  Here is something I came up with on my own (but that doesn’t mean someone else didn’t come up with it first).  I noticed that when I trained my grip, everything involved my elbow being bent.  I also noticed that most everything that I needed a great grip for involved my elbow being locked out (throwing, deadlifting, cleaning, etc.).  So, I spend a lot of time working my grip keeping my elbow locked out.  This usually involves hanging from a bar and squeezing the bar for reps (hanging from a bar has the added benefit of tractioning your back).  It also means that whatever grip exercise I’m doing, I try and get myself in that “lockout” position and if possible, with my arm being stretched to get used to gripping as hard as possible with my arm straight and under tension.

So, those are my grip tips.   I hope you have gained some knowledge that will help you “get a grip” on your next contest!

The Continental

by Al Myers

Thom Van Vleck, of the JWC, has the perfect body type to perform a Continental to Chest.

Last week’s story on the Continental Clean and Jerk stimulated alot of discussion on the USAWA Discussion Forum.  I’m going to take a day and describe the term “continental” and some of the history about how it got named this way.  I have said this before but I want to reiterate this point.  I consider the term continental and the term clean to be two separate methods of bringing the bar to the chest.  It is a misnomer using the two together.  A clean is defined by bringing the bar from the floor to the chest in one motion while a continental is defined by using any method of bringing the bar to the chest (which often includes resting the bar on parts of the body as the lifter repositions).   Calling a lift a Continental Clean violates the definition of each!   To me it seems like the improper use of words – thus is why the USAWA calls it a Continental to Chest instead of a Continental Clean.  Truthfully, even calling it a Continental to Chest is redundant because by using the term Continental the implication of taking the bar to the chest is already there. So why say it again?  Now using the term Continental to describe a Jerk -  that seems even more wrong to me.  Continental should only be used to describe bringing the bar to the chest, and it is outside of its definition to describe an overhead movement.  We have another term for that – and it’s called ANYHOW.

But how did the term Continental get named?

As Thom described in yesterday’s story, the Continental got named originally after the way the Austrians and Germans were bringing the bar to the finish position upon the chest, which wasn’t the way the French and English were doing it.  It got named “continental” because that was the way “the rest of the continent” (besides the French and English) were bringing the bar from the platform to the chest.  As Thom said, the clean was initially called a clean because the bar was brought from the platform to the chest WITHOUT touching the body in any way, and YES – that included the front of the thighs.  Originally, a clean was  “clean” (meaning away) from the body.  The Continental was detailed quite well in David Willoughby’s book Super Athletes. Willoughby described in his book the history of the Continental much better than I can.  The following excerpt is from this great book on weightlifting history.

Since the majority of the heavyweight lifters in the two Germanic countries were men who loved to eat and drink, their physiques were of the type in which it was difficult to bend over and lift weights from the ground to the shoulders without brushing the belly on the way up.  Accordingly, the lifts favored by these men were two-handed barbell lifts in which the bar – prior to pressing or jerking it overhead – was brought to the shoulders not in a single clean movement, but by lifting it first onto the buckle of a strong, padded belt which was worn around the lifter’s middle.  From there the bar was heaved up to the shoulders. Sometimes the bar was even rested on the thighs prior to lifting it onto the belt.

As for the IAWA lift the Continental Clean and Jerk, it’s not the lift that is bad – the lift just has a bad name.  I think it should be called the Continental and Anyhow instead. That way the name properly describes the lift and doesn’t give the illusion that it is something that it’s not!

When is a Jerk not a Jerk?

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson doing Jerks on the back yard platform of the old JWC Club (circa 1964)

Al’s recent article on the Continental Clean & Jerk got me thinking and there was a discussion about this on the forum. Al brought up the history of the Continental. Al talked about how the German lifters were typically well fed with potato pancakes, German beer, and strudel and they took to using their beer bellies to assist in lifting the weight! The English lifters referred to this technique as the “Continental” method (likely in a derogatory way) and referred to their own style as the “clean” method. The English, French, and Germans had a big rivalry back then…..led to a couple of World Wars….though I’m not sure how they lifted weights had anything to do with it but you never know! I do know that however one side would do things, the other would do the opposite, like the metric system, which side of the road to drive on, etc.

There was also a debate about touching the thighs. This was actually not allowed in Olympic lifting until the 60’s which is part of why you saw a leap in records around that time. For those that don’t know what I mean, back before the rule change you had to pull the weight from the floor to the rack position WITHOUT brushing the thighs. You could not touch the thighs at all in the “true” clean. Then, in the 60’s, this rule was changed and my Uncle Wayne is still mad about it! So, what many of us call a “clean” is really not a clean at all technically! Maybe I’ll submit that as a new USAWA lift, the “TRUE Clean & Jerk”. Maybe I’ll even name it after myself!

Other debated aspects included hang cleaning the weight and using the thighs to get a good push. I know I can hang clean more than I can power clean. Also, there was a debate about not catching the weight cleanly on the chest and using the the arms to push the weight into the proper “rack” position.

I know, so when am I going to get around to the topic in the title of this article! Much like the fictitious “Continental Clean” (you either Continental it in some manner or you cleaned it…post 1960 style!) The Jerk with a press out is really not a Jerk at all, but a Push Press with foot movement (which, I guess, really disqualifies it as a push press by USAWA rules). Maybe it’s a “push jerk”…..geez, now even I am confused.

When the sport of “strongman” came out they contested the log lift pretty heavily and there were no rules on how to execute this lift. Guys got pretty creative in how they lifted the weights. Eric Todd, a top strongman and USAWA lifter, would push press the log and then set in on his head! He would then push press the log off his head to a lock out position! This actually became pretty common…..until they made a rule against it. I heard different reasons for this, including that it was dangerous and also that it just looked stupid. I do recall reading of a guy way back that would catch a standard Olympic bar on his head and finish it in this same method…..now that’s what I call a Continental Jerk!

Now, on a side note. If you watch the old 8mm films of the guys in the 50’s and 60’s…..you saw a LOT of press outs. You look at some of Paul Anderson’s “jerks” and he would literally push press the weight. It often really becomes a judgement call on whether it’s a press out or a jerk. Rules are rules and are intended to clarify what’s allowed and not allowed. Sometimes they just confuse us more! Different people have different leverages and thus different styles offer them advantages. One thing I like about the USAWA is there’s something for everyone. But even the USAWA has rules, but I would like to make sure those rules don’t take those advantages away (or are simply used by some to capitalize on their own advantages). So, if there’s enough lifters in the USAWA to create a Continental Jerk, then someone needs to put pen to paper, make the rules, then present it at the Nationals in June where new lifts are approved. I know I would if press outs helped me! I also have no interest in setting a bar on my head to finish a jerk! One final note, could we change the name of it? I get tired of my friends laughing and making jokes about me being a Big Jerk.

Big MISTAKE!

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck overhead pressing with one hand a 110 pound anvil. By looking at this picture it is easy to imagine the consequences if something "goes wrong" and the anvil slips out of Thom's open grip and falls on Thom's head. My advice is to always train a new lift before attempting max poundages and leave crazy strongman stunts like this to the professionals. (photo and caption courtesy of the webmaster Al Myers)

In this article I will detail what I see as the biggest mistakes I see new guys make as they enter into the world of the USAWA.  Others might have an opinion and I”m not saying that I am right about this being “the” biggest mistake….but I think everyone would agree this can be a problem.

I entered my first “odd lift” meet 30 years ago, and since then I have been to many USAWA meets as well as all kinds of strongman, highland games, powerlifting and Olympic lifting meets.  I have also done over 200 strongman performances.  During that time I have seen guys witness a lift or feat of strength for the first time and say, “Can I try that”.  They then try something they have never done before and go 100% in the effort.  That, in my opinion, is a BIG MISTAKE!  Sure, most of the time you’ll be OK, but it’s that one time that will end a season, or worse, a lifting career.

Recently, a friend of mine was in a strongman contest that included a steel bar bend.  He sent me a video of his effort….that resulted in a  muscle tear that he is now getting surgery for.  He was trying to bend it behind his neck and dropped his elbows and ended up in a a position like someone trying to close a “pec deck” machine.  Having bent literally hundreds of steel bars in various shapes, I cringed as soon as I saw it and soon enough he dropped the bar and winced in pain!  He had never bent a steel bar before and had no plan on how he was going to bend it.  I bend them all the time in our strongman shows and practiced this many times before ever doing it in front of a crowd or a contest where the pressure is on to go all out.

The nature of the USAWA makes it the “worst” for this kind of mistake.  Other sports have a much more limited “range” of lifts which means they get practiced much more often.  You can’t train hundreds of lifts, you can only have a strategy to train all around strength.  I know Al Myers often trains one pressing movement, one pulling type movement, and one squat type, constantly mixing the specific lifts up.  I also know Al will train a particular lift until he knows exactly how to do it and exactly how much he can expect to do on it before he enters a meet.   I’m not sure if he was always a smart lifter, or if he became one as a result of many injuries (that’s how I got smart), or both.  But I do know Al is a smart lifter who knows exactly what his ranges are come contest day.  He not only knows this for safety reasons, but for strategy as well!

How often have you seen someone make a lift they have never tried before, say, “that was easy”, then say, “Throw on a couple 45’s” and then be buried by it!  It’s the nature of many of these lifts.  At best, it’s embarrassing, at worst, you get seriously hurt.  My point is that you NEVER want to go right to a maximal effort the first time.  The USAWA is full of fun, new, exciting….and dangerous….lifts.  But they are only dangerous when you don’t know what you are doing!   Take the time to learn the lift, warm up plenty, practice the lift before the meet, and pick your poundages wisely!  Live to lift another day!  Listen to the old timers….they are still lifting for a reason!

John O’Brien: Part 2

John O'Brien "blowing up" a pop can using his incredible grip in one of our JWC evangelism shows!

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!

John O’Brien: A TRUE All-Round athlete

John O'Brien in a photo that decorates the Dino Gym showing an Ironmind Red Nail that John hammered shut for Big Al's amusement.

by Thom Van Vleck

John O’Brien has been my training partner, member of the JWC, and most of all, friend, for many years now.  When I think of what an All-Round athlete is, I think of John.  He is good, maybe a better word would be “great” at everything strength related.  I have written about him before but I’m hoping to add to what you already know about him and make the case for him being a TRUE All-Rounder.

He has competed in a strongman contests and Olympic lifting meets and placed or won his class in many contests.  He has competed in Highland Games and always places high.  He has competed in the USAWA with great success in about a dozen meets and has a couple dozen records to his credit.  Not to mention he is a world class short steel bender and performing professional strongman with over one hundred performances under his belt.  That, to me, it a true All-Round athlete!

John started lifting around the age of 13.  His older brother had a weight set at home and then at age 15 he started lifting for sports on programs set up by his coaches.  John mainly played baseball until high school and then he made up for lost time.  He played football (varsity for three years), wrestling, baseball, and track.  He said that he was best at football and baseball, but played the other sports so he could have access to the weight room year around.  He also mentioned maybe watching the girls run in track was a bonus!  Funny how many of us start lifting to impress girls!

John played on a football team in high school that had a dubious distinction.  They lost every game his junior and senior year!  The losing streak became so long that David Letterman started to track in on his show and when they finally won (long after John had left) they had some of the team members fly out to New York to be on the show.  John was a lineman and played both ways, he also played a couple years of college ball at Graceland College.

Then John entered graduate school at the University of Kansas to become the Chemistry Professor he is now at Truman State in Kirksville.  I was around this time that his oldest son was born very premature and lifting ended up being sacrificed for many years.  Then about 8 or so years ago John was very overweight and decided to do something about it.

John was training hard and lost 50lbs in the process.  There were a couple of students that were entering my JWC Strongman contest and they challenged John to enter, John told me they “teased” him and for them…..that was a bad idea!  John not only entered that contest….he won his weight class and rather decisively as I recall.

John had strength, but he is also very athletic, able to adjust to events on the fly.  He will tell you he operates off of “brute” strength, but I say it’s more than that.  He has an intelligent strength that is also athletic.  If strongman contests did not divulge the events, my money would be on John.   Recently, we were at Al’s Dino Gym where there is something called the “pill”.  A giant pill shaped metal object loaded with sand.  John spotted it, walked over and hoisted it…becoming the oldest person to do it (at age 42)….but more than that, what impressed me was his ability to lift it without much planning or practice, or even warm up!!!!  He walked up, sized it up, then lifted it!  That’s more than brute strength.

John said after that first JWC contest he began to only train for strength, beginning a  lifting career in his mid 30’s….when most guys are quitting!  Since that time, he has competed in Olympic lifting, Strongman, USAWA, Highland Games, and most recently, Highlander meets.  John has done well in all and is a two time masters National Champ in Highlander.  More importantly, that first contest was how we met and our friendship began and most of these contests were events we traveled to and/or competed in together!

Another aspect of our relationship started right after that first Strongman Contest that John entered and won.  The next day the JWC was doing a strongman evangelism show at the local YMCA.  I noticed John was in the front row.  He told me later he watched us and thought, “I can do those things” but more than that, he believed in the REASON we were doing them.  Which I will go into in Part 2 of my article!

Next:  Part 2 of “John O’Brien: True All-Round Athlete”.

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 2

Hey, I'm a patriotic guy!

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so if smoking is so bad for you why did so many lifters  do it?  And why were those lifters so successful while smoking.  The quick answer might be that they would have been even better without cigarettes.  This may surprise you, but I DISAGREE!

You may be thinking, “What! Thom is saying smoking will help your lifting”!  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Just like steroids, amphetamines, and the dozens of other drugs people use to increase their performance.  But don’t confuse helping your lifting and helping your health.  Also, there are better ways to achieve the same positive effects of smoking without the long term health problems that smoking brings.

First, how does smoking help.  Nicotine is a stimulant.  When you smoke, you are introducing a stimulant to your system.  A stimulant can help you focus.  By focusing, you can reduce anxiety (which is how cigarettes can calm you down when they stimulant you).  Since it enters through the lungs, it is wickedly fast in how it does it and why it is so addictive.  It has an incredibly fast stimulus-reward connection.  But you have to remember, there’s a DIFFERENCE between short term and long term benefits.

When I used to work in substance abuse counseling patients would often have a “dual diagnosis”.  They would come into treatment as a result of substance abuse, but the reason they would abuse substances had to do with an underlying problem.  I’ll used Depression as an example.  If you are depressed and you take methamphetamine you will no longer be depressed.  As a matter of fact, I’ll guarantee INSTANT results.  If you simply go on the instant results, then “meth” would be the greatest success story of all time in the treatment of depression.  But we all know there are many consequences of using “meth”.  The consequences of cigarettes are slow, but the benefits are quick.

I bring this up because when I was a teenager and I was faced with the opportunities to use alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, steroids, I would hear only that they were “bad” for you….but what I often saw conflicted with that and as a result, I would question just how “bad” they were!  I even recall people saying that steroids didn’t work at all and that it was all psychological…..yeah, right!!!  If we want to modify our behavior or the behavior of those around us for the better, we have to be honest

Now that we are being honest, let’s back up to the “dual diagnosis” example a little.  So, if you take away the way a person is self medicating, you must find an alternative or they are doomed to go back to their self medication.  With cigarettes, you must find some healthy alternative, or at least a relatively healthy alternative (when I did substance abuse counseling we often encouraged cigarette smoking to deal with withdrawal  from hardcore drugs as it was the lessor evil).

As lifters, we are always looking for an edge.  I don’t know how many supplements I’ve tried over the years.  But if we are willing to work, and wait for results, we can find effective replacements for things like cigarettes that deliver short term but make us pay long term.

Breath easy!

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 1

If smoking makes you stronger.....this guy will be the World's Strongest Man in no time!

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid and my Uncle’s were lifting on a regular basis I would often go the gym to watch them workout.  During their workout, they would chain smoke cigarettes.  Cigarette smoke often filled the gym and the ash tray was next to the chalk box!  I recall my Uncle Wayne, taking a drag off his cigarette, setting it on the edge of the platform (with the “cherry” end dangling off the edge) and hitting a set of Power Cleans.   Then he would retrieve his cigarette and, while trying to catch his breath, take a drag off of it and then cough!

Those who are under 30 won’t understand how prevalent smoking was back then.  It was normal for smoking to happen everywhere.  Even at weightlifting meets.  It was a smokers right to light up, not the other way around like it is now!  I recall going to sporting events and people lighting up right next to you, attending classes and people smoking the the classroom in college, and the only reason you wouldn’t smoke at a hospital had nothing to do with health….it was so an open flame didn’t make contact with Oxygen!  Same reason for no smoking in a theater….they were worried about a fire…not people’s health!

We are now taught how bad smoking is for you.  We have a lot of older lifters who used to smoke and if they didn’t, they were like me growing up with it wherever they went.  Both my parents chain smoked, I can’t recall my Dad not having a cigarette dangling from his mouth!  We now know just how bad second hand smoke is for you!

Today, my Dad is gone.  He passed away at age 65 and I’m certain the cigarettes cost him at least 10 years.  My Uncle’s Wayne and Phil, are in their 60’s as well and smoking has taken a toll.  They all told me they wished they had never started.  It’s an addiction and a powerful one.  My point is, these were the strongest men I knew growing up.  And Smoking cost them dearly…..and it cost those of us who loved them dearly.  My grandfather never smoked and he lived to be 85 and was in great shape.  His death was the effects of a car accident….or he probably would have lived much longer!  Sure, there’s lots of factors in that….but he removed the factor that cigarettes could have played in his health and it certainly would have been negative!

We all know smoking is bad for us, but did you younger guys realize not so many years ago that being tough and strong, often meant being a smoker and if you went to a lifting meet you could expect a wall of thick smoke.   David Rigert, one of the greatest Oly lifters of all time lifted in the 70’s and he often chain smoked at meets (and drank vodka in the warm up room between lifts) and would put down his cigarette to go lift!  Or if you joined a gym, people would be smoking….even while lifting!  Things have changed, but in this case…..for the better!

Polar Bear Plunge 2011

Thom after a refreshing dip!

by Thom Van Vleck

It’s the first day of winter and it’s always this time of year that I begin to think about a nice swim in our nearby lake!   Last year I wrote an article for the USAWA board on cold water bathing and the possible therapeutic effects along with my “polar bear plunge” for charity.  It was great fun and we are doing it again.  This year I have a team of students from A.T. Still University taking the plunge with me.  We will be known as the JWC Highlanders and we will be wearing kilts.  Our theme will be, “What’s a true scotsman wear under his kilt” and as we run into the water we will “whip” our kilts off and jump in!  Of course, you will have to come to see the answer to that question….the word “regimental” comes to mind….USAWA Secretary Al Myers will know all about that!!!  We will be collecting donations for the Special Olympics so any donation is appreciated!  Our goal is $250.

Last year the ice was 14" thick! I was the last one out!

I still do my “snow bathing”.  When there’s no snow, I take cold water showers and then hit the sauna, often making a couple trips back and forth.  But the best is when there is snow on the ground and it’s below zero outside.  You go in and get warmed to the core in the sauna and then go outside and rub snow all over until you are numb.  Then go in and hit the sauna!  I go back and forth at least twice.  I TRULY believe this makes me healthier and helps with recovery.  When I feel a little under the weather, I do this as often as possible, spending extra time in the sauna and it seems I never get sick when I do this.  I have read where the heat in the sauna causes you to run an “artificial” fever helping your body destroy whatever is attacking it.  It could be all in my head, but then again the brain is the most powerful weapon we have in our fight to be stronger so even if it is, it’s worth it to me!   At the least, I’m refreshed and wide awake.  Now I get to combine what I already do with a charitable event, can’t beat that.  Any takers for my team?  It’s the first Saturday in February!!!

Apollons Lift

by Al Myers

Thom Van Vleck, of the JWC, training on his 245# Apollon Wheel Replica.

It’s about time I start highlighting the rules of the events that I plan on having in the Dino Gym Challenge on January 15th, the VERY FIRST strongman competition sanctioned by the USAWA.   Again – this strongman comp will be quite different than modern traditional strongman comps as this one will be based on feats of strength performed by OLD TIME STRONGMEN.  The first event that I am going to profile is the APOLLON’S LIFT.  This event is based on the old-time strongman Louis Uni, aka Apollon.  He made famous the Apollon’s Wheels – a 2″ axle connecting two railway car wheels.  The entire apparatus weighed in at 366 pounds!  David Willoughby made this feat well-known when in his book, The Super Athletes,  he listed it as one of  the “Five famous weights and the men who lifted them.”   Well, I don’t expect anyone to lift a replica of the original 366# Apollon’s Wheels so we will use a lighter set-up.  I do expect this event to be held to the basic dimensions of the original Apollon Wheels so a 2″ axle will be used and a higher bar height will be allowed (since the diameter of the original AW was 26 inches).  The rules for this lift will be very liberal since the object of this strongman feat is to “get it overhead in any fashion”.

The Rules for the Apollon’s Lift:

A 2 inch diameter axle (or Fulton Bar)  will be used as the bar for this lift.  The maximum starting bar height is 12 inches measured from the platform to the bottom of the bar.  Any method may be used to take the bar to the shoulders or overhead.  The bar or plates are allowed to retouch the platform during the lift.  If the bar is placed down or dropped, the lifter may try again as many times as he/she wants within the time limit.  A time limit of 1 minute is allowed.  Once the weight is overhead, with arms’ locked, legs straight,  and the feet in line with the torso,  an official will give the command to end the lift.

All other general rules of the USAWA will apply.  Each competitor will get three attempts of their choosing with the best one counting towards their total.

Run up the Flag

by Thom Van Vleck

The United States Flag flies with pride above the Dino Gym on top of a 40 foot Flag Pole.

I remember the first Highland Games/strongman contest I promoted. I remember putting a huge amount of work into it and wondering if anyone was going to show up and thinking, “Well, if nobody shows, then I won’t do it again”. The meet started at 9:00 and at 8:30 NOBODY was there! Then by 9:00 there were 27 throwers and about 50 spectators! I remember feeling relieved!

My point, many of us promote meets of different levels. I have never met a meet director that has not gotten fed up at some point. It’s a damn thankless job and everybody has a criticism and a gripe…..usually behind your back. You can charge an entry fee and give a shirt, award, maybe lunch, and let them destroy your equipment and they will act like they are doing you a favor showing up and they feel like you are going to retire on the immense wealth brought in by their entry fee.

However, the reality is that MOST guys appreciate the effort. MOST guys understand and get it. What some of us need to remember is that holding a meet year after year is like raising the flag every morning. Just because there’s nobody there to salute it doesn’t mean that nobody cares about whether it came up or not. Believe me, when I was in the Marine Corps, Marines always had flag duty and I was on it often. It was the one duty I volunteered for. Get up before dawn, put on your dress blues, get shined up, do the silent march down to the flag pole, go through all the rituals of doing it…..and most often there was not a soul around to see it. But it was a must that everyone know its up and there and waving in the wind to greet the day because if it’s not, then it becomes more and more likely it won’t be there the next day and then the day will come when it’s gone forever!

Recently, Bill Clark, who has “run the flag up the flagpole” more than anyone in the USAWA cancelled the Goerner meet. Quite frankly, the guy has done his share. Just like there’s a Marine running that flag up at the bases in Pensacola, Florida, Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and San Diego, CA. I took my turn, now it’s somebody else’s. That flag gets run up because it has a deeper meaning, and it means a lot to those who believe in it. The USAWA is NOT the USA, but it means a lot to those involved in it and somebody ought to run that flag up, otherwise accept defeat.

I know someday I won’t be running the meets I run for lots of reasons (my demise being the most likely at this point)…..but maybe somebody will grab that flag and run with it. Like I grabbed the JWC flag from my Uncle’s and ran with it.

National Championships

by Thom Van Vleck

MEET ANNOUNCEMENT

THE 2011 USAWA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Al Myers doing a 440 pound Zercher lift in the 2003 USAWA Nationals. The Zercher Lift will be part of the 2011 Nationals to honor the Oldtime Missouri Strongman Ed Zercher.

The 2011 USAWA National Championships will be hosted by the Jackson Weightlifting Club in Kirksville, Missouri!  I have a series of articles planned to keep everyone up to date on this meet so check back often.   Here is what we have decided to this point.

Date: June 25th, 2011

Location: Kirksville, Missouri (exact venue to be decided)

Cost: Entry $50  (plus up to date USAWA membership)

Banquet: $25 per couple or $15 per person (Catered by Western’s Meat Market….a local legend for great food)

Awards: Plaques for age group and open winners, medals for all participants, and a special award for the best lifter

Shirts: Shirts will be provided to all entrants (details on design to come….but it will be special).

Travel & Lodging: www.Capeair.com (866 CAPE AIR) has daily flights from St. Louis to Kirksville for $49, so you can get from anywhere in the world right to town!  There are several motels such as the Budget Host, Holiday Inn Express, Knights Inn, Comfort Inn, Super 8, and Days Inn in Kirksville and just south of town is the Depot Inn in Laplata, Missouri which is next to the Amtrak Station that connects from Chicago and Kansas City. There is another Amtrak station just an hour north that connects to Denver and Chicago and points beyond.  

Format: Morning Session and Afternoon Session.  Morning Session will begin at 10:00am.  Afternoon session will follow with a one hour break after the Morning Session is completed.  Morning and Afternoon Sessions will be determined by opening attempts.

Lifts: (performed in this order)

Snatch – Dumbbell, One Arm

Curl – Cheat

Pullover and Push

Continental to Chest – Fulton Bar

Deadlift – 12″ Base

Zercher Lift

I spent a lot of time thinking about these lifts.  I wanted to have at least one Fulton Bar lift and at least one Dumbbell lift.  I wanted to have a pure power lift (12″ Deadlift) and a pressing movement (Pullover and Push).  I wanted to have the Zercher because Ed Zercher is perhaps the best known Old time strongman from Missouri and me being a good ol’ Missouri boy and the fact that my Grandfather-in-law knew and lifted with Ed….well, that was a must!   Oh, and what about the Cheat Curl….well….I just like it!!!!

Start making plans and training now!!!

CLICK HERE FOR AN ENTRY FORM – Nationals2011

JWC Record Breaker

MEET RESULTS

JWC  SECOND ANNUAL RECORD BREAKER

by Thom Van Vleck

On October 29, 2010 the 2nd Annual JWC Record Breaker meet was held in conjunction with Faith Lutheran School’s annual fundraiser.  The format was that for every USAWA record broken, there would be a donation pledged.  As a result, over $2000 was raised by the lifters alone and the overall event raised over $12,000!  This was over $4000 more than the previous year and the event was deemed a huge success. Over 500 attended and were able to watch the lifting!

All of the lifts attempted were record attempts.  A total of 125 Open, Youth, and Master USAWA records were set or broken.  Thom Van Vleck, Mike Murdock, Joe Garcia, and Chad Ullom were the Certified Judges for the meet and also lifted.  The other lifters were Morgan and Dalton Van Vleck, Mitch Ridout, John O’Brien, and Josh Hettinger.

The event started at 5:00pm with the “Youth Division”.  Morgan and Dalton Van Vleck took the lifting platform to attempt some records.  By the time they were done they had broken or set 20 age group and open records.

10 RECORDS

Morgan Van Vleck – Age 13 (12 – 13 Age group) Weight 46.4kg (50kg Class)

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Left Hand – 80 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Right Hand – 80 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – 12” base - 165 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip – 165 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 155 lbs.)
Deadlift – Trap Bar – 175 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 100 lbs.)

10 RECORDS

Dalton Van Vleck – Age 11 (10 – 11 Age Group) Weight 44.8kg (45kg Class)

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1”,  Left Hand – 55 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Right Hand – 55 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – 12” Base -  145 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 130 lbs.)
Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip145 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – Trap Bar – 150 lbs. (Age and Open Record)

Then at 5:30pm the Open Class began. We ran until 7:30pm at which time it was estimated we were at 77 records.  After the Jackson Weightlifting Club did a strongman show to end the night for the fundraiser, the lifters returned to the platform to finish the night.  At the end we weren’t sure how many records had been broken (since some were open and age group) but we were certain we had achieve our goal of 100!  A special thanks to those that traveled up and took part!  Your participation was greatly appreciated and when I presented the money to our principal she got a tear in her eye….and so did I.  Thanks!!!!!!

17 RECORDS

John O’Brien – Age 42 (40-44 Age Group), Weight 126.5 kg (125kg+Class)

Crucifix – 70 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – 2 Dumbbells – 150 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – Behind Neck – 245 lbs.  (Open and Master Records)
Clean & Push Press -  245 lbs. (Master Record)
Squat – Overhead – 140 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Press- from Rack – 210 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – Fulton Bar – 170 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Zeigler Clean – 75 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Clean & Seated Press – 180 lbs. (Open and Master Records)

20 RECORDS

Mitch Ridout – Age 42 (40-44 Age Group), Weight 116.1 kg (120kg Class)

Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 110 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Curl – 2 Dumbbells, Cheat -110 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm -55 lbs. (Master Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left  Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm – 75 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Curl  – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right  Arm – 85 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Clean and Jerk – Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Jefferson Lift – Fulton Bar – 190 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – from Rack – 135 lbs.  (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell,  Right Arm – 90 lbs. (Open & Master Records)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar,  2”, Left  Hand – 128 lbs.  (Open & Master Records)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar,  2”,  Right Hand – 128 lbs. (Open & Master Records)

7 RECORDS

Joe Garcia -  Age 57  (55-59 Age Group), Weight 93.8 kg (95kg Class)

Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm -75 lbs.  (Master Record)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 110 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Fingers, Middle -250 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Continental Snatch – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Push Press – from Rack – 135 lbs. (Master Record)
Continental to Chest – 210 lbs.  (Master Record)

13 RECORDS

Mike Murdock – Age 70  (70-74 Age Group), Weight 106,4 kg (110kg Class)

Crucifix – 70 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 130 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 150 lbs. (Master Record)
Rectangular Fix – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Seated Press – 90 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – Reverse Grip – 125 lbs. (Master Record)
Zeigler Clean – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Push Press from Rack – 135 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press – Reverse Grip – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press – Alternate Grip – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press -Heels Together, Fulton Bar – 105 lbs. (Master Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2”, Left Hand -  88 lbs. (Master Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2”, Right Hand – 88 lbs. (Master Record)

25 RECORDS

Thom Van Vleck – Age 46 (45-49 Age Group), Weight 135kg (125+kg Class)

Crucifix – 90 lbs.  (Master Record)
Clean and Jerk – 2 Dumbbells – 120 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – 2 Dumbbells, Cheat – 120 lbs.  (Master and Open Records)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 120 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm -85 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs.  (Master Record)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 105 lbs.  (Master Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Swing – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – 12” Base – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – Alternate Grip -  140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – on knees – 145 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Fingers, Index – 145 lbs.  (Master Record)
Jefferson Lift – 315 lbs. (Master Record)

5 RECORDS

Josh Hettinger – Age 29 (Open Age Group), Weight 141.5 kg (125+kg Class)

Swing – 2 Dumbbells -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – from Rack – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Deadlift -  No Thumb, Left Arm – 180 lbs. (Open Record)
Deadlift – No Thumb,  Right Arm – 205 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Jerk – Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open Record)

18 RECORDS

Chad Ullom – Age 38 (Open Age Group), Weight 108.0 kg (110kg Class)

Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Left Arm -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 110 lbs. (Open Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 110 lbs. (Open Record)
Bench Press – Hands Together – 225 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Press -  12” Base – 190 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Right Arm – 95 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Press – Fulton Bar – 190 lbs. (Open Record)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 150 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 90 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 90 lbs. (Open Record)
Snatch – On Knees – 115 lbs. (Open Record)
Miller Clean and Jerk – 125 lbs. (Open Record)
Zeigler Clean – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – From Rack – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – From Rack, Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Reflex Clean & Jerk – 250 lbs. (Open Record)
Continental to Chest – Fulton Bar – 225 lbs. (Open Record)

* Three Certified Officials used on ALL LIFTS – Thom Van Vleck, Joe Garcia, Mike Murdock, and Chad Ullom

Quiz of the Week

by Al Myers

Who is this lifter and which USAWA lift is he performing?

It’s time for another Quiz of the Week!!  This one is going to be a little harder than previous ones, and it requires TWO ANSWERS.

Who is this lifter and which USAWA lift is he performing?

You must provide the answers to BOTH questions!  The rules are the same as before – only 1 answer per day, and the person with the first correct answer wins. Answer must be sent to my amyers@usawa.com email address.

Winner will receive a USAWA Patch

We have a WINNER!

Thom Van Vleck correctly identified this lifter as USAWA Hall of Famer, and the man of 1000 lifts -  John Grimek.  He is performing the Kelly Snatch (also known as the Reverse Swing)

Strength, Speed, and Age

by Thom Van Vleck

Larry Ventress has been a top Highland Games athlete for many years and has had to deal with his share of injuries.

Here’s a good quote I read recently:

“You might not get faster when you’re older, but you can get stronger.” (NFL Running Back Lorenzo Neal who said he added years to his NFL career when he “lost a step” by doing sets of 20 on the squat AFTER his regular workouts to make up for the speed loss with strength).

I agree, you might not get faster with age, as a matter of fact, you WILL PROBABLY get slower, but you can offset that with strength. Strength gains can come for a LONG time in my opinion. I remember my grandfather writing out his work out routine in his 80’s…he had max attempts written in those goals!!

I was at the McPherson Scottish Highland Games recently and was talking to my good friend Larry Ventress. Larry was a top “A” thrower years ago and has been a top masters thrower for years and he and I have competed against one another for many, many years and have become good friends. We were talking about guys coming out to train with us that were big deadlifters who wanted to try the Weight Over Bar event (you throw a 56lb weight, or 42lb if you are a master, over a cross bar for height with one hand…greatest height wins like in the high jump) and how they failed miserably. They were extremely strong…..but slow. However, we both agreed if they worked at it some, they would be great once they got the speed going. I have also found guys that were quick, that could generate a lot of speed, do well in the WOB, but couldn’t lift much at all. Because in Highland Games, to be a good thrower, you either have great speed or great strength. To be a great thrower you need SPEED & STRENGTH. Larry and I were discussing that if you are losing speed with age….you need to amp up the strength levels to compensate.

Lifting is no different in my opinion and especially so in the quick lifts. So, if you feel like you are losing a step….don’t worry, just get stronger! It CAN be done!!!!

Is the USAWA a “Retirement” Sport?

Wilbur Miller is a guy that had a LONG career in lifting, thanks in part to the USAWA!

by Thom Van Vleck

A USAWA member once told me that the USAWA is a good “retirement” sport.  You have to admit….there are a lot of guys that are pretty old in the USAWA!  I pondered why that was and what it meant (especially since I’m one of them!).

I was at a USAWA meet at Al’s one time and the great Wilbur Miller was there.  We were visiting and he was talking about all the options the USAWA offered to demonstrate strength.  We were also talking about Highland Games and Strongman as well.  He told me that back in his day you either Olympic lifted or powerlifted (he did both and was very GOOD at both, probably one of the best all time at both sports at the same time).  As we watched the lifters doing the lifts Wilbur said, “I wish we would have had this kind of stuff around when I was young…..I think I would have been pretty good at it”.  I don’t think…I KNOW he would have been!  Wilbur must have been inspired, because he came back after that and did some pretty amazing lifting at the same USAWA meet the next year and he’s a CURRENT USAWA member now!

Now, I know some of the old timers will point out that Wilbur and the rest were doing “odd lifts” back in the day, but today’s USAWA has many, many more contested lifts.

Most of us started in more mainstream strength sports.  I started as an Olympic lifter (and was an abysmal failure but I did learn how to power clean and squat….two lifts that have served me well!).   I then became a powerlifter (and was moderately successful).  Then came strongman & Highland Games (which I found I was even better at, with Highland Games being my greatest success relative to world class competition).   And with those, also came injuries.  Some of those have kept me from doing certain movements and if those were the only lifts on the table….then you are OUT!  But with the USAWA comes  hundreds of lifts.  If you can’t do one, pull out the rule book and search until you can find one you CAN do!  How great is that!

Of course, having all the age brackets and age adjustment formulas attract masters lifters, but that is, in my opinion, NOT why there’s so many masters in the sport.  Most athletes don’t retire because they are done, they retire because they are injured.  The desire is usually still there, the body just unable to perform.  That is why there are so many masters involved in the USAWA because it allows them to find lifts they can still do and compete at!   That’s a great thing in my opinion!  It also attracts guys like it attracted Wilbur Miller….the challenge of doing so many things and doing them well and finally finding a place to do it!

….and one last thing…..I ain’t RETIRED!  I’m just getting started!

JWC Record Breaker

MEET ANNOUNCEMENT

JWC RECORD BREAKER : LIFTING FAITH

by Thom Van Vleck

Oct. 29 we will be attempting a feat never before seen in the USAWA.  Quite frankly, I wonder what I was thinking when I dreamed this up!  We will attempt to break 100 USAWA records in about 2 hours for charity.

Last year I had my first ever JWC Record day and we had a blast.  This year I decided to combine it with our annual school fundraiser to try and get pledges for each record we break.  This money will go towards funding the Faith Lutheran School.  This school has over 150 students from preschool to 3rd grade.  Most of these students don’t attend our Church, and many do not have a Church home at all.  So the money is more than just about giving to a Church but to a school that reaches out to many different families and children.

I have decided to call it “Lifting Faith” because we are lifting weights to benefit Faith Lutheran School.  I already have several athletes who have committed to this feat and I am looking for more!  There is no entry fee and no awards, just the satisfaction of not only breaking individual records, but being part of a 100 record breaking day,  AND raising money for a good cause.

I will be going out and getting pledges for each record we break.  If we break 50 records and I have pledge totaling $10 per record, we raise $500 and if we break 100 records it will be $1000!  So, it’s important that we break as many as possible with the maximum being 100!  I will have loaders and spotters there and I will have a lifting platform and a warm up platform.  We will likely have over 500 people, most of them kids,  in attendance and towards the end, we will be the CENTER of the event!  I will have someone running a tote board to update progress and multiplying that by pledges to show an every rising dollar amount.  I will have an emcee and a PA system.  At the end, the JWC will do our strongman show as part of a finale the evenings festivities.

All YOU need to do is BE THERE and be READY to break some records!!!!!

Contact me as soon as possible to verify your attendance.  I need all entries by Oct. 25th, NO LATE entries due to the need to develop a flow chart of records.  Also, due to the time limits, when it’s your time to lift, you need to be ready!  We will be moving quickly!!  No chain lifts, only platform lifts!

Be a part of the record day to beat all record days!

Here is my contact info:

Thom Van Vleck

tvanvleck@yahoo.com

660 341 1755

Make it “Official”

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson judging in the 1960's

I guess I’m officially “OLD”.  I went to a funeral the other day and was upset with the clothes people wore.  They were in jeans, sweat pants, jeans with holes in them, etc.  I was in a suit and tie.  I was there to show respect.

I guess I’m old school and I like to show respect. I respect my elders, my betters, ladies….errr…women.  Because that is how I was raised.  I open doors for older folks (seems to be fewer of those every year…don’t understand why!?).  I stop when I see someone needs help.  I greet folks with a handshake and acknowledge them in some appropriate way when I can.  In general, I’m nice…..Ok, MOST of the time I’m nice.

I was going through some old pictures recently and came across one of Phil Jackson judging a meet in the 1960’s.  He was wearing a suit and tie.  I asked him about it and he acted like that was a stupid question!  He said all the judges wore respectable clothes back then.  He said it made the meet look better, like there was something going on, but most of all it was showing respect to the honorable position of being a judge.  I would also point out that Phil had lifted in that meet and changed to judge the later classes.

Now,  I’ve judged meets in jeans and a t-shirt so I’m not casting stones here (but I will in regards to that funeral….that just made me mad!).  I would be curious what other members of the USAWA think about this.  I’ll guess that if you are over 40, you think that a judge should look the part and at least look half way decent and if you are under 30 you could care less as long as the job gets done.  Ages 30-40 are probably in the middle!!

Log onto the USAWA Discussion Forum and let me know and I’ll follow this article up with the results.

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part III

by Thom Van Vleck

John Ware: 49'er Prospect and World Champion Powerlifter

There are a couple more names I’ll associate with the JWC and Pro Football. One is a stretch, but the other is not.

In the 80’s NMSU had a player named Mike Morris.  He was strong, I mean really strong.  I recall him squatting 770lbs and back then in college that was pretty serious….well….it STILL is.  I worked out with him a few times and was in awe of his strength.  Later, he would play almost two decades in the NFL as a long snapper and at one time, in the MILO Strength Journal, there was a story on him basically calling him the STRONGEST man in pro football.  Since then, I have become friends with Mike Baab.  Mike Baab played many years in the NFL and at one point he and Morris were on the same team.  I was “trying to impress” Mike with some name dropping and mentioned Morris.  Baab said, “Yeah, that guy was really strong, but he had ‘powerlifter’ legs”.  I asked what that meant, and Baab smiled and said, “He ran like he had a 45lb plate strapped to each foot!”.  Then Baab said, “But you don’t need to be fast to be a long snapper”.  I have tried to reach Mike a couple of times with no luck.  He does radio work for the Vikings now so I’m guessing I probably don’t carry much clout with him anymore…..if ever!

Then, there was Big John Ware who was a top powerlifter for many years and for the 20 years he was in Kirksville he was a good, close friend and often training partner of mine, who came to my house often.  We shared an interest in strength sports and football.  John had an undergrad degree in psychology and a Master’s in Counseling, and we attended the same Master’s program but at different times.  We had many conversations on the topic of  psychology.  He was a very intelligent guy.  I’ll never forget how I found out about his passing at age 46.  Just before I left for the 2005 Masters World Championships (highland games) I had called John.  He was in Joplin coaching Missouri Southern and they had a game at Truman in Kirksville coming up, and we were going to get together.  He was very encouraging and told me he wanted to hear how things were going with me when I got back.  When I got off the plane on my return, my wife had left me a message asking me to call her ASAP….and I got the bad news.

John was an All American Football player at Drake University.  He was signed by the San Francisco 49′ers (kind of ironic) and made it to the final cut.  John told me later that he realized at that point he could be a world champion powerlifter, or a mediocre pro football player, and he chose greatness.  He then added that if the money would have been there like it is now…..powerlifting may not have had one of it’s greatest champs!!!  During that time, I got to workout a lot with John.  He had one buddy named Dennis McKnight that came back often to train with us.   McKnight played at Drake and then logged over 10 years in the NFL.

During the time I trained with him he was a 5 time National Champ in Powerlifting and he was the 1991 World Champ.  He probably would have won more World Championships but they were always in the fall and as a football coach….he could not take time off in the fall.  His most legendary feat was breaking Bill Kazmaier’s world record in the total.  His best lifts were a 1000lb squat (I once spotted him do a triple with 985lbs).  I probably spotted him hitting over 600lbs on the bench a couple dozen times, including at triple with 600 one time.

John did share with me that he used a lot of drugs, including steroids.  He told me that he was certain it was the cause of his heart problems (he died of a heart attack at age 46).  He was also unapologetic.  He felt that all the same guys he beat while on steroids he could have beaten off steroids (assuming they were on them, too, and I think all the “greats” of that day were on them).  John commented to me he never claimed to be drug free and that when he started them in the 70’s, the culture was very different than it is now and they weren’t aware of all the dangers.  He told me if he had started 10 years later, he would probably never would have used them.

John did train in the JWC gym, unlike Morris, as did Glen Jacobs.  Jacobs was better known as the pro wrestler KANE!  But that, my friends, is another story!  I only mention him here because he was a Chicago Bear prospect but could not pass their physical so he went into the crazy world of Pro Wrestling!

That’s the JWC connection to the world or Pro Football!  It’s not much, but we are proud of it!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

Press clipping after the NFC Championship Game

Tom Geredine was a wide receiver for NMSU and was actually picked ahead of Lenny by the Falcons.  He ended up playing for the Falcons for two years and the LA Rams for one.  He was never a starter, but he did have one great game on a Monday night that had Howard Cosell fired up.  It was November 19, 1973 and Tom was at wide receiver.  He had three receptions of 52 yards as a back up, making it has 2nd best game as a pro.  The catches were at clutch times and helped the Falcons beat the Vikings 20 to 14.  That was a year the Vikings went to the Super Bowl and that was only one of two loses they suffered that year….an upset!

Then, there was Lenny.  Lenny played Pro football for 9 years. Six years as a Bengal and his coach was the legendary Paul Brown.  An assistant was this guy named Bill Walsh…..that will be important later!  Lenny played with the Browns but after 6 years his knees were getting banged up and he was released.  Bill Walsh had since become the coach of the 49ers and saw something special in Elliott.  He picked him up and Lenny came to the 49ers as a third stringer.

Then, came “The Catch”.  In the 1981 season, the year the 49er’s won their first Super Bowl, the “niners” found themselves  in the NFC Championship game against the great Dallas Cowboys who had made a habit of winning Super Bowls in the 70’s.  You have to remember, at this time the 49er’s were losers, they had never been to a Superbowl and they had some rookie QB named Joe Montana that everyone said at the time was too small and didn’t have a strong enough arm.  Then came a 4th quarter drive that Joe Montana would become famous for. Walsh knew the Cowboys would be looking for the pass so he looked down the bench and got a washed up running back (Lenny) who had been cut from the team, and only recently picked back up, and began to feed him the ball.  Lenny set up that Catch, and right before the catch, ALMOST scored a touchdown that would have meant the catch never happened!   If you are a fan, you remember “The Catch”, but did you know that Lenvil Elliott, JWC member, was the MVP of that NFC Championship game?  He set up that play and it was his finest hour as a player.  He did not play in the Superbowl and his bad knees forced him to retire the next year…so it was his last game.  A story fit for a movie!

Here’s another layer to this story.  There was a book called “The Catch” by Gary Myers.  In it he talks about this famous moment in football and characterizes it as the moment when Pro Football became bigger than Pro Baseball in America.  It was the moment when Pro Football became AMERICA’S GAME.  In the book, there’s a point where Gary Myers states that the “unsung hero” of that game was really Lenvil Elliott.  I like to believe that the training Lenny got from my Uncle helped his career and led to that moment.  I guess I don’t just believe it….I know it.

I recall many fun times with Lenny.  He was a nice guy.  He gave me his training camp shirt one year and I wore that my entire Senior year of high school….until it was in tatters!   We have a family cabin that we all often went to and used.  Lenny often brought his Pro Football friends out to get away from it all.  My Uncle Phil said they liked the fact he treated them like they were regular guys.  One of those guests was named “Walt” from Chicago.  You guessed it….Walter Payton.  My Uncle Phil said that when he left after a weekend of hunting he commented that he appreciated Phil not making a big deal about him and he offered him an autographed photo.  Phil told me that he turned him down and told him the joy of his company was enough.   Later, Lenny told Phil that Walter said he really liked Phil and our family cabin.  I recall lots of “big guys” coming out and Phil telling me to treat them like regular guys.  We did and we had a blast.

That’s only part of the JWC Pro football legacy….how about Part III??!!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Lenvil Elliot: JWC member and Super Bowl winner!

I had thought about titling this article: How the JWC made Football America’s Game over baseball.  That’s quite a claim, isn’t it?   Well, it’s true!  First, let me talk a little about Lenvil “Lenny” Elliot and the rest of the the Pro football players that came out of the JWC.

Lenny came to school at Northeast Missouri State University, which is now Truman State, here in Kirksville in the fall of 1969.   My Uncle Phil returned from Vietnam after a stint in the Air Force and started school in 1971.   Phil already had two years of credits so they were both Juniors.  They were both in school to be Physical Education teachers so they took a lot of classes together.  They began to train together, but more than that, they shared a love of hunting and fishing and spent nearly every weekend doing just that for the next two years.  That was the source of their real friendship.

At this time my Uncle Phil aspired to be a football trainer, maybe even for a professional team, and Lenny was on track to play in the NFL.  So they had a lot in common and Phil often shared his unique training philosophy with Lenny and personally trained Lenny for a year and a half before the NFL draft.  Phil had the JWC in the basement of his house and basically it was the only gym in town.  He told me he got enough in membership dues to pay the rent on the whole house!

Northeast Missouri State was in a “golden” era in football. In 1969, 1970, and 1971 they won the MIAA conference and out of those teams they had 5 players drafted into Pro football.   This included four that were trained by Phil!  Besides Lenny, there was Tom Geredine who was drafted into the NFL.  Then, in the WFL there was Craig O’Sadnick and Marvin Robinson.  Phil designed training programs for them for the off season (it was unusual to train in the offseason back then) and they lifted at the JWC gym.

This is remarkable in a couple of ways.  Northeast (or Truman as it is now known) had about 10 players EVER play pro football.  That means that the 5 that came out of this group was HALF of that total.  Pretty amazing and I have often wondered how much the training they got from Phil helped.  I think it had to help!  I was just a kid, but I recall Phil, Lenny, and the guys hanging out, and hitting the town.  Phil has a lot of stories…after all, it was the 70’s and the school has always been about two thirds girls for it’s enrollment!

Next: Part II  The JWC, Walter Payton, Winning a Super bowl, and Pro football becoming America’s Game.

USAWA in Print: Book Review

by Thom Van Vleck

Steve Scott and John Saylor's latest book promotes USAWA members and USAWA lifts.

I recently got an issue of Steve Scott’s latest book.  He wrote it with John Saylor, a well respected martial arts instructor and Champion.  Steve sent me an autographed copy because of what was inside.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  First, let me tell you about Steve.

Steve is one of my best friends and someone I admire greatly.  When I first met Steve he was a top master’s thrower in Scottish Highland Games and was running Highland Games in KC.  Because of Steve, I became friends with Al Myers and Chad Ullom and was introduced to the sport that I’ve enjoyed my greatest athletic success.  For that, I’m very grateful.  Steve’s wife, Becky, also was a top thrower and always at his side in any project he took on.  I then found out that Highland Games were just the tip of the iceberg as far as Steve & Becky were concerned.

Steve was, and still is, a top Judo coach.  He has a widely respected club in Kansas City called the Welcome Mat that has been in operation since 1969.  It has produced National, Pan American,  and World Champs as well as some of the elite men and women in our fighting forces and a Secret Service Agent that was on George W. Bush’s personal detail.  Becky was a National, Pan Am, and World Champ and Steve once told me that Becky could have been an Olympic Champion but back then women did not compete in Judo in the Olympics!

Over the years, Steve has written over a dozen books on martial arts, training, coaching and this one is his best to date in my opinion.  It has a very broad appeal.  My Uncle, Phil Jackson, who is, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable person I ever met in regards to weight training, once told me that the hardest sport all the way around was boxing.  It was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.  I would say the same applies to all combat sports.  You have to be tough and that comes from how you train.  Steve, with John Saylor, has (in my opinion) created the ultimate resource on Combat training.

This book is HUGE and full of all types of training.   There are over 300 pages of illustrated exercises.  There are detailed explanations of not only how to do the lift, but how to properly train and utilized the lift to fix a weakness. There are workout routines and tons of advice.   I would say that if you wanted to do some off season conditioning for USAWA lifting or Highland Games, this book would be a valuable resource.

Now, I’ll tell you why mine was autographed.  Inside were pictures of me, Al Myers, and Chad Ullom demonstrating some lifts.  Appropriately, it was in the “OLD SCHOOL” training section.  Steve  talks about training wisdom that came from Bill Clark,  and his book even contains an exercise that is a variation of the “Inman Mile”!  I knew Steve had requested the photos, but I had no idea what a first class product he was producing.

Dinnie Stones: Who Was Really First?

Jack Shanks, second (or third) to lift the stones without straps

by Thom Van Vleck

I have to admit, I don’t have the patience to do pure research.  The long hours required make my eyes glaze over.  When I read, it goes like this:  I pull a book off a shelf, thumb through it, find something interesting, read it until I get bored, then move on.  As a result, I gather information in bits and pieces and it kind of becomes like a puzzle to me.  Waiting for the next piece to make the overall picture more clear.  I have a lot of “puzzles” going on at once and I kind of like it that way.

As of late, one of these puzzles has been focused on Dave Webster and the Dinnie Stones.  I had wrote most recently about “Darth Vader” lifting the stones and that the article in Ironman was not really clear if Dave Prowse (Darth) lifted the stones with straps or without.  That article was written in the 70’s.  Last night I was reading Webster’s book ” Scottish Highland Games” that was printed in 1973.  In it, he makes the statement on page 131 of Prowse’s feat, “A good feat, but Dave wore hand straps which make a great difference”.

Dave then goes on and details what was certainly the second lifting (if not the third….I’ll explain that later) of the stones without straps.  Now, I realize that Gordon Dinnie, a descendent of Donald, has a website (www.gordondinnie.com) that details lifts, but if you read Webster’s book you find some details that don’t match up….making for an interesting “puzzle”.  These are the details I’m going to focus on.  My intention is not to point out mistakes, because these aren’t mistakes.  My intention is to provide information where I have found it and let you decide.

In Webster’s book he credits Jack Shanks, from Ireland, with lifting the Dinnie Stones “correctly”.  Which Webster explains as lifting both stones with no straps.  What I find funny is that in my mind “correctly” would be to lift the stones and carry them the width (not the length) of the bridge.  However, “correctly” seems to have come to mean simply lifting the stones….or carrying them the prescribed distance!  Gordon Dinnie’s website seems to confirm Shanks feat, but gives him credit with carrying the stones the equivalent distance, which Webster makes no mention of.  Gordon Dinnie also credits Imlach Shearer with lifting the stone assisted two years earlier and unassisted the same year as Shanks (1973).  What Gordon Dinnie does not make explicitly clear is if Shearer did the unassisted lift before or after Shanks.  I say this because Gordon may not have considered Shearer’s feat the same if he simply lifted them while Shanks carried them!

Now,  earlier I mention Jack Shanks being possibly the third man to lift the stones “correctly”.  Webster states in his book that in 1955 in Aberdeen at the “Highland Fling” a 78 year old man named James Law came forward and stated he lifted both stones in 1911, but did not carry them.  So, perhaps he was the second, after Dinnie, to life the stones “correctly”….or perhaps some other man, after a hard days work and a few brews in the Potarch Inn, lifted those stones on a bet or whim and their feat and name is lost to history.  Not to much of a stretch to believe that could have happened!

Then there is the story of when Louis Cyr came to visit Dinnie and they visited the stones.  Dinnie picked up the smaller stone and then carried it a distance.  Cyr did the same and beat Dinnie’s distance.  Webster points out that Dinnie was 63 years old at the time and Cyr was much younger and in his prime, but Webster seems to be clear that Cyr did not lift both.  Webster also tells of a man named William McCombie Smith would regularly lift the bigger stone unassisted and was the only man to do this.  Webster then states that after that, Henry Gray and John Gallagher also lifted the big stone unassisted before Prowse came along.

Another story involved Bill Bangert.  A man from Missouri often credited with bringing Scottish athletics to America and beginning the modern “wave ” of success it has had the past 40 years.  Bangert made a ring and harness to carry the stones that undoubtedly made the feat much easier…..and he received a little grief then and since then for this “cheat lift”.  But he did carry the stones across the road and back and I don’t think he tried to claim he did any more than that!

On another “final” note (at least until I read some more!).  I also read that at one time one of the rings broke and a different ring was attached.  It was not clear which one (the smaller or the larger one) but if it were the smaller ring….that changed the dynamics dramatically.  I lifted each stone individually with straps and that small ring was considerably more difficult.  Then there is the concern that the stones are being slowly chipped away and who knows how much weight they have lost, being dropped over and over.   Maybe they will soon be place in protected custody like the original Apollon’s Railroad Car Wheels, where nobody will ever lift them again!  In which case, we may not ever know  who was first, but we may know who was LAST!

Home Made Equipment

by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Jackson using a home made Bench Press

In the early days of the Jackson Weightlifting Club there was a lot of  Home Made equipment.  My grandfather said that back in the 20’s, when he and his friends decided to lift weights they had “NO HOPE” of being able to afford real weights so they got scrap iron for the bars and poured cement in buckets to make weights.  They also lifted whatever was handy!  When my Uncles started lifting in the late 50’s, there was more equipment available, but they had the same old problem of being broke!  So they made a lot of their own stuff and got by just fine.  In the photo I’ve included with this story you will see my Uncle Wayne doing “press grip tricep presses” (basically, using the same grip he used for the Olympic Press and keeping his elbows in) on a bench that one of the JWC members made.   If you look closely, the leg on the far left is actually split and it looks like it’s ready to blow!!!!

I recall when I first started training, about 1977, they were tearing a house down nearby.  We went down and Wayne pulled out some old boards that weighed a ton (probably native oak).  We pulled what seemed like hundreds of nails out and then my grandfather Dalton took to making an Incline for Presses.  I’m pretty sure Evel Knievel could have used that thing to jump the Grand Canyon, it was that solid!!!  I also recall getting a splinter or two using that thing and learning that if you do inclines with the uprights in front of you and you can’t lock out the bar….you will be trapped!  Another thing that my Uncle’s made that I still have is a set of squat stands.  The base is a truck wheel and the upright is a truck drive shaft.  The “U joint” makes a nice, natural rest for the bar.   When I first started in the Highland Games, I made a lot of homemade equipment.

I’m sure we all have stories like that.  I have many more, too.  But that’s not my point today.  It’s about desire.  I recall my grandfather telling a story about how when he was a kid there was a man that had a really fast horse and he treated the horse like gold, pampering it, giving it all the best grain, stalls, equipment and most importantly hired someone to train the horse.  He then raced it against another horse that had none of these things but did have an owner that worked hands on with the horse.  The day of the race, the horse that knew his owner and the owner’s desire to win, won over the horse who’s owner was a stranger to him.  The message I got was that desire was the most important ingredient to winning.

I recall one day back in the 70’s a guy begged me to come and train at the old JWC.  He showed up and it was winter and there was no heat in our gym.  It was also dirty and full of home made equipment.  I could tell he was put off by it all.  He never came back and that was no great surprise to me.  If he had the desire, he would have put up with what he had to in order to achieve his goal.

Today, I have a pretty nice gym.  I have some pretty expensive equipment.  But I still lift off those old squat stands from time to time to remember that story.  To remember that if I have don’t have desire, all the fancy equipment in the world won’t save me when (as my Granddad used to say) “the shoe leather meets the road”.   A little adversity is a good thing!

Uncle Phil

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson (R) arm wrestling in the old JWC gym

A lot of you guys hear me mention my “Uncle Phil” and a few of you have asked me to tell you more about him (some of the old timers still around like Bill Clark, Charles Scott, and Wilbur Miller will remember him personally) .  He is Phil Jackson and he’s the one really responsible for the Jackson Weightlifting Club today.  He is also the source of most of my training knowledge.  He has been a father figure, a friend, an mentor, a coach, and sometimes agitator!  The photo above was when Phil was just a teen.  He was a fantastic arm wrestler and says he was NEVER beaten and I can find no one who says they did!   Phil’s main passion was Olympic lifting and Bodybuilding.  He had a disdain for powerlifters calling them “Olympic lifting rejects”, but that was mostly good natured (at least I think it was!).

My grandfather initially started the JWC in 1928 with his brother in law, Coda Baugher, and some friends.  But to be honest, this was just some neighborhood friends hanging out and lifting weights and it quickly broke up as they grew up and left home.  However, my grandfather would tell the stories to my Uncles and they started lifting in 1957.  Initially, it was my Uncle’s Leroy and Wayne.  Phil was the “baby” of the family and started a couple years later.

Leroy was a star athlete and interested in weights only to benefit his other interests in football, basketball, baseball, and track and he was very successful in those sports.  But Wayne took an interest in Olympic lifting and entered his first contest in April of 1962 (run by Bill Clark) and out of that, the modern JWC was born!  Phil was always the “go getter”, the guy that would pull everyone together to train, compete, and put up money for contests.  He soon rounded up over 30 members to the newly named JWC and fielded teams that traveled to dozens of meets across the Midwest during the 60’s.  During that time, the JWC won two team state championships in Olympic lifting against teams from St. Louis and Kansas City.  Phil lifted on those teams but he was always the “coach” and main motivator. Phil has always been an “old school” type coach.  If he thinks making you mad will make you better….prepare to be madder than you’ve ever been.  Phil knows how motivate people, one way or the other!!!!  He used his coaching lessons later in life to win 42 out of 42 consecutive sales awards during his career as a sales manager for a large insurance company.

In 1965 Phil earned a unusual distinction.  That year he entered the Missouri High School State Championships in Olympic Lifting, held in Kansas City that year.  At that time Phil was around 17 years of age and he lifted either 165lbs or 181lbs.  He became adept at making weight when he had to.  He had an ongoing battle with another lifter and Phil was going to make a point of beating him at this meet.  He thought this fella was going to lift in the 165lb class so Phil (already with a qualifying total in another meet at 165) cut weight and showed up to lift on the first day.  That day, the 114lb, 123lb, 145lb, and 165lb classes were due to lift on Saturday.  The other guy found out about this and gained up to lift 181lbs obviously trying to avoid the confrontation.  Phil lifted 165lbs and won, but the other guy started talking some trash about how he was “lucky” Phil had avoided certain defeat had he entered that class.  So Phil showed up on Sunday to weigh in, having hit the buffet and downing a gallon of milk to make the 181lb class.

Phil had a qualifying total at 181 and stated he wanted to lift.  The officials told he he couldn’t and Phil said, “Show me in the rules where it says I can’t”!! The officials couldn’t find any rule so decide to let him lift….much the the chagrin of his “rival”.  Phil hit the exact same total as the previous day and won!  Two state titles in two weight classes…..the same YEAR!  The following year, the AAU made a rule explicitly forbidding anyone from doing that again.  While no one named Phil as the reason for the rule….it always seemed there had to be a connection.  Later, all other lifting organizations, as they developed, lifted that rule from the AAU rule book and today it’s standard in all lifting organizations.

In March of 1966, Phil was going to be drafted so he joined the Air Force.  He was soon after sent to Vietnam for a year where he poured himself into his training as an escape and got into the best shape of his life.  When he came back from Vietnam he was stationed in Alabama where he met and trained with greats such as Joe Dube, Frank Zane (although Phil always called him “chicken legs Zane”), Boyer Coe, Casey Viator, and Karo Whitfield to name a few.  He also met and had a long personal conversation with Paul Anderson during this time.

In 1969 Phil came back to Kirksville to attend Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) and during that time him and my Uncle Wayne achieved some of their greatest strength lifts.  In 1971 Wayne won the Missouri State title in Powerlifting AND Olympic Lifting with Phil at his side pushing him the whole way.  During that time he became best friends with Lenvil Elliot, a friendship that lasted until Lenny’s passing a few years ago. Lenny was a JWC member and later played 8 years in the NFL and was the MVP of the 1982 NFC Championship Game (the game where Joe Montana threw the famous pass to Dwight Clark) and Lenny won a Super Bowl ring.  So, a JWC member has a Super Bowl ring!

In 1973, Phil graduated and the rigors of a family and job, plus moving away, led to him giving up heavy lifting.  During that time he would always challenge himself.  One time he made a goal of being able to do 100 pushups without stopping and trained for that.  I often visited him and we often went hunting and fishing together and he made a point of always “showing me up” with some feat of strength or endurance.  At the same time, he always let me know that if I wanted to beat him, it was as simple as being willing to “pay the price” and get stronger.  Phil often reminded me, “The only time Success comes before Work is in the Dictionary”.  I was always impressed with his exploits and feats of strength and it fired me up to be strong!

In 1977 I took an interest in weight training and soon Phil was my coach.  Since he was my mother’s younger brother people thought we were brothers and I suppose we acted like it, cutting up all the time.  Phil guided me in my early training and often stated, in his old school coach way, “I’ve forgotten more about training that you’ll ever know”.  This has, to date, been a 33 year relationship that continues to this day.  While he lives in Colorado and has since 1984, we talk a couple times a week.  Often about many things, but weight training is a constant.  I lived with him in 1988 and he trained me into the best all around shape of my life.  We often debate heatedly on training, but in that process, I know he’s pushing me to become better.   Over the years I’ve been out at least two dozen times for visits and he comes back almost yearly and during that time we have intense meetings on training, politics, and life.

Then, in 2000, after a 27 year absence from serious weight training, Phil made his “comeback”.  Since that time he trains about 3 hours a day, usually a split routine, and often almost daily.  He trains old school, long, hard hours in the gym and he has had some amazing results.  I am hoping that someday I can coax him into a USAWA meet!  I am confident he could break many records.  But that doesn’t seem to interest him as much as just communing with the iron and using his lifting as a way of life rather than a path to glory.  I can honestly say that at 60 he was in the best shape I’ve ever seen for a 60 year old man

Phil has had some bad luck as of late.  Severely injuring his shoulder in a fall that required surgery and some health issues that appear to be related to his exposure to agent orange and DDT in Vietnam (he worked in a warehouse that ordered, stored, and dispersed the product and he said the area around the base was sprayed constantly).  But Phil never stops, he never gives up and that’s what I’ve come to expect from him.  I am currently working with him on a book about the JWC that will involve life stories along with real, hardcore, training philosophy.  Even if it never gets published, I know I’m already better off from the knowledge and lessons learned in the process.

In closing, I’ll just say that what I admire most about Phil was he had the mind of a champion.  Once he locked on a goal, he was unbeatable.  He may not have been gifted genetically, but he would get 100% out of what he had and often beat others stronger, faster, and more athletic than he was…simply with determination!

Defining “Drug Free”

by Thom Van Vleck

The most recent issue of MILO came out and in it is an article that I did that I’m particularly happy about.  I got to interview John Godina (top discus thrower and world champ in the shot put).  He was a lot of fun to visit with and he had a lot of comments about training, drugs, the politics of throwing, and other related topics and he pulled no punches.

My favorite comment was related to being a drug free thrower.  John has always advocated being drug free in his throwing and training and he has never tested positive for anything which, as much as one can, backs up his claims of being drug free.  When I asked him about drug use in sports he said, “People who use [drugs] are cowards because they are afraid to find out if they are the best without it.”  That’s a pretty strong statement.

I have never used performance drugs (that’s probably pretty obvious based on my lifts!) and have no plans to do it in the future.  I can’t say I haven’t been tempted, but that’s another story.  Many people involved in the USAWA are in it for the drug free aspect.  However, exactly where we all fall often leads to debate.  One of the most heated debates on steroid use I ever had was on the USAWA forum!  It’s just not that simple!

I often talk training with my Uncle Phil Jackson, the JWC guru.  One day we were talking about drugs and he posed this question to me:  “If they came out with a 100% safe steroid would you use it”.  I stated, “No, because as soon as I stopped using it I would lose much of what was gained”.  Then, in typical Phil Jackson style, he took it a step further.  Phil has always made me think….and think hard about things.  He asked, “What if you got to keep the gains?”  Well, now this DID make me think.

My two main arguments regarding being drug free has always been that, first, there are health risks, and second, the gains you make would be lost when you stopped taking the drugs.  Since those two conditions had been met, I said I would.  Then, my Uncle added another layer to the discussion by asking:  Would that be cheating?  Regardless of whether it is allowed or not, in my heart, would I feel like I was cheating using a drug to get stronger.  At the time, I said I would not feel like I was cheating because I had removed my two main concerns regarding performance drug use.  My Uncle told me like he saw it:  “I think you’d be a cheater”.  That made me mad….but it has made me rethink my stand and that’s exactly what the old coach was challenging me to do!

At the time, I countered that I would not feel like I was cheating if everyone had access and the choice to drug use.  I thought I had him with that one!  But Phil said to me, “So you lift to beat others and win?”  Back to square one.  I have always wanted to believe that I lift for me.  I lift to make myself stronger, not just in body, but mind and spirit in the painful journey to build the body God gave me into the best I could possibly be……and would using a drug to circumvent my own genetic limits be cheating?  Would removing the pain, suffering, and the defeat that drugs would take away, lessen the experience and all the benefits?   When I thought about it, my heart told me that it would.

Finally, Phil asked me, “What if they came out with a drug that would make you strong without ever lifting a weight…would you use it?”  Wow!  I had never thought of that, but with gene therapy, splicing, you just never know what is on the horizon.  That added yet another dimension to my moral dilemma. To me, the joy of lifting a big weight has come at the cost of hard training and that “cause and effect” has had intrinsic value that has led to lasting satisfaction  In other words, as Phil always told me, “The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.” That was easy, “No way would I use a drug that made me strong without paying the price.

Again, this is an ongoing process for me, but a question every lifter should consider as part of their journey to fulfilling their own potential.    You challenge yourself in the gym, you should be challenging the reasons you are there and strengthening your desire to work hard and reach your goals.  To me, that’s every bit as important as the lifting.

JWC Straight Weight Postal

Heavyweights Battle it out in Postal Challenge

By Thom Van Vleck

Team Dino Gym wins the Straight Weight Postal Challenge. Pictured from left to right: Scott Tully, Al Myers, and John Conner

Two teams participated in the challenge and the Dino Gym pulled out the victory.  This meet was a new concept for a USAWA meet and we will see if it catches on.  The idea being there would be no formulas used, the winners decided on who lifted the most weight…period.  I proposed the idea of the “straight weight” meet to get some of the bigger guys to come out and participate and as a result, some big boys showed up.  The Dino Gym had a combined weight that was a “Big Al Bacon n’Eggs style breakfast” short of a half ton at 991lbs.  The JWC was a relatively svelte 915lbs.  The average weight of the lifters involved was 318lbs!  I can only guess what that weight would have been had Al not had to replace his original team member, Mark Mitchell, who had to withdraw with a back injury!  Al’s paltry 255lbs brought the average way down!!!

I hope this meet was taken as intended:  Just another alternative and one that the Big Boy’s could embrace as their own.  I know my guys had fun doing it and hopefully it will motivate them to do some more USAWA lifting!  Oh, and one more thing, I calculated the age and weight factors just to see the outcome….and the Dino Gym doesn’t want to know those results!

Full Meet Results:

Officials for Dino Gym Team:  Al Myers and Scott Tully

Official for JWC:  Thom Van Vleck

Dino Gym Team: Al Myers (44 yrs, 255lbs), Scott Tully (34 yrs, 344lbs) John Conner (25 yrs, 392lbs)

Jackson Weightlifting Club: Thom Van Vleck (46yrs, 295lbs), John O’Brien (42 years, 285lbs), Josh Hettinger (29yrs, 335lbs)

Push Press – From Rack

  1. John Conner 380lbs
  2. Josh Hettinger 335lbs
  3. John O’Brien 300lbs, Scott Tully 300lbs, Al Myers 300lbs
  4. Thom Van Vleck 255lbs

DG: 980lbs & JWC: 890lbs

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 2 bars, 1″

  1. John Conner 500lbs
  2. Scott Tully 420lbs
  3. Josh Hettinger 400lbs, Al Myers 400lbs
  4. John O’Brien 380lbs
  5. Thom Van Vleck 280lbs

DG: 1320lbs & JWC: 1060lbs

Continental to Chest

  1. John Conner 385lbs
  2. John O’Brien 335lbs
  3. Al Myers 325lbs, Scott Tully 325lbs
  4. Thom Van Vleck 315lbs
  5. Josh Hettinger 275lbs

DG: 1085lbs & JWC: 925lbs

Cheat Curl

  1. John Conner 250lbs
  2. John O’Brien 235lbs
  3. Thom Van Vleck 215lbs, Josh Hettinger 215lbs
  4. Al Myers 201lbs
  5. Scott Tully 181lbs

JWC: 665lbs & DG: 632lbs

Shoulder Drop

  1. John O’Brien 95lbs, Josh Hettinger 95lb
  2. Thom Van Vleck 85lbs
  3. John Conner 45lbs, Al Myers 45lbs
  4. Scott Tully 30lbs

JWC:  275lbs & DG:   120lbs

Totals: 1st Place: Dino Gym 4087lbs, 2nd Place: JWC 3835lbs

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!).

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!

Missouri Celt – Thom Van Vleck

by Dave Glasgow

Thom Van Vleck shortly after his childhood accident.

It was hard for me to imagine, when I first met him, the behemoth of a man standing in front of me, was once a skinny, frightened, wheel chair bound youth of 11. However, there he stood!! His story, although far from being finished, is an inspiration to us all and hopefully, a model for the youth of today.

Thom van Vleck started in the iron game, literally, by accident. A speeding car traveling in excess of 70 mph struck the bike riding youth; throwing him at least 150 feet, leaving him with multiple fractures, internal bleeding, head trauma and a prayer away from dying. The hospital he was transported to was certain there was nothing they could do for him. Fortunately, Thom’s mother “wanted a second opinion.” The second hospital was able to stabilize him and, eventually, turn him around. (Ironically, that hospital, the A.T. Still School of Medicine, in Kirksville, Mo., is the where Thom plies his trade as a clinical psychologist for the students that attend the school.)

Although he was alive, the outlook was bleak. There was talk of brain injury, impairment with ambulation…..the list went on. Little did those who prognosticated doom and gloom know that inside that broken and battered little body was the heart of a fighter. After nearly 4 months in traction and a year in a wheelchair, he was able to walk, with help. This was only the beginning.

Thom Van Vleck (left) and Dave Glasgow (right) at the 2003 Galloway Highland Games in Kirksville, Missouri, which was promoted by Thom.

Luckily for Thom, he had a tremendous support system. A mother, who worked tirelessly; a grandfather, with an undying love and faith; two uncles, that were known for their strength and perseverance and the “big man” above. It would be the two uncles, Wayne and Phil Jackson, who introduced Thom to the wonderful world of weight training. They shared their love and passion for the iron and Thom was quick to grasp the idea that the weights could make him whole again.

Fast forward a few years, the trim, athletic boy became a man, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. College and graduate school followed and he became the first in his family to gain an advanced degree. But, always, there were the weights. Everything from Olympic lifting, power lifting, to what he called his granddads “fruitcake” workouts, if there were weights involved, he was there. And, as before, his uncles were there to encourage, instruct and badger him to larger totals and loftier goals; be that in the iron game or life.

For those of us who know Thom, we know a man who is honest, trustworthy and, to use an overused phrase, genuine. What you see is what you get. No pretense. No agendas. He is thankful for his loving (dare I say, longsuffering!) wife and family. He is a student of the iron game and is constantly rubbing elbows with the elite of the weights and interesting folks that make up that vast world both past and present. His stories are interesting and engaging; his recollections spot on.

Thom has been active in just about every level of strength and weight training/lifting you can imagine. He has also transformed himself into a force to be dealt with on the Highland Games circuit. He has, also, organized outstanding competitions so that others could enjoy his passion with him.

It was at the McPherson highland games of ‘99 that I first saw Thom. I did not meet him as he was in the “youngster class” of A’s. It was not until the next ‘season’ that Thom and I were ‘introduced’! What an introduction!!

We were at Steve Scott’s north Kansas City recreation park doing one of the many games that Steve put on at that facility. Thom was judging the ‘geezer’ class of which I was a proud member. Although Steve had hammer cages, an errant #22 hammer of mine broke through the fencing and clocked Thom on the ankle. It went so far as to ‘tattoo’ his sock pattern into his ankle. It was not broken but, he was done for the day. I can safely say we have been friends since that day.

Thom is a rather complex guy. He ran, unsuccessfully, for state representative. He is an elder in his church. His work involves counseling students at the medical college in Kirksville. He is the former world record holder (age group) in the weight over the bar. And, as stated prior, he organizes strength contests and highland games throughout the year.

But, of all these things, he is proudest of the strength evangelism shows he puts on with the brothers Kerby and John O’Brian, all of Kirksville. Together, they have spread the gospel behind bone cracking demonstrations of skill and strength that never fail to make spectators ohh and ahh. Following one of Thom’s ‘mini’ shows at the McPherson Scottish Festival, a good friend of mine, who has traveled the world, looked at me, ‘pop-eyed’, and stated, “I have never seen anything like that before in my life!!” I might add, he is very hard to impress!!

Thom Van Vleck set many USAWA records at the JWC Record Day, which he promoted last year at the JWC Training Hall on November 21st , 2009

Over the years, we have exchanged countless emails/phone calls and dined with each other every chance we got. It never ceases to amaze me his knowledge of people and events in the strength world. In these conversations there are three subjects that are ALWAYS mentioned. The weight game, his family and his faith! Not necessarily in that order.

Thom has no greater joy than that of his family. His wife, Kelly, supports his efforts and willing helps out at his competitions. She is a very special, understanding individual. He is thankful for her and has told me on more that one occasion how lucky he is to have someone such as her to allow him to pursue his interests. Rounding out this team is a daughter and two sons of whom he, rightfully, boasts on at any opportunity. And, from what I understand, the apples are not falling far from the giant tree!! The legacy of the Jackson/Van Vleck name will continue. I have NO doubt!

Oh, and one last thing. Thom is an author. He has written many, many articles for MILO. His forte is writing about the “old school” guys; John Ware, Al Feuerbach, Al Oerter,… the list goes on. He has the ability to bring these icons of throwing and strength down to a ‘human’ level and make them more like ‘everyday guys’ to us common folk.

He also writes, quite extensively, about the history of his family in the weight world and the proud tradition that has been passed down since 1928. These stories are a wonderful testament to a family legacy that continues today and, from all outward appearances, there is no indication that it will end anytime soon.

So, if you are ever in northern Missouri, have some time, you may want to make the trek to that big, two story house on the hill near Greentop. You may not know him at all, but that doesn’t matter. Just knock on the door, introduce yourself and you will leave with a new friend and a whole list of stories from the man with a truck load of them. Thom van Vleck, the multi-dimensional weight guy!

Thom Van Vleck to host 2011 Nationals

by Al Myers

Thom Van Vleck giving the Rules Meeting prior to a Highlander Games he was promoting last spring.

Thom Van Vleck, of the Jackson Weightlifting Club, was awarded the bid at the Annual National Meeting to host the 2011 USAWA National Championships.  The meet will be an one day affair on Saturday of  the 4th weekend of June, 2011.  The meet will be in Kirksville, Missouri. Thom is also planning on having a National Record Day the next day (Sunday)  for those who want to attend.  The Awards Banquet and the Annual National Meeting will be held Saturday evening, following the competition.

Thom and the JWC have been a great addition to the USAWA this past year. Thom hosted his first official USAWA competition last November – the JWC Record Day. Thom and the JWC competed in several USAWA competitions throughout the year.  Thom is a “seasoned” meet promoter with vast experience.   He has hosted an annual Highland Games in his hometown of Kirksville for many years that routinely draws over 50 athletes.  Thom always puts on a “top level” competition and knows how to treat the athletes to a “fun time”.  However, Thom is not really a newcomer to All-Round Weightlifting.  One of his first weightlifting competitions he competed in was an “Odd Lift” meet held by Bill Clark over 30 years ago.

I think it is important to “rotate” locations that the National Championships are held each year  to encourage local participation in Nationals for those athletes that are limited in traveling. The last time Nationals was held in Missouri was 2001, in which Bill Clark and Joe Garcia hosted it in Columbia. This location is the perfect “center point” of our membership.  I fully expect next year’s Nationals to be very well attended, and exceed participation over what we have had in the previous several years of Championships. Take the time right now to put this weekend on your calendar and plan on attending!