In late April of 2012, Mike Lambert announced that POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE would cease print publication after the May issue. A final issue of PLUSA was perhaps the last thing I had ever considered as a possibility. Everything changes or ends, everyone grows older and often, just old, but this is a change that my emotional attachment would not allow me to see on the near horizon. Mike and I have known each other as friends for many decades and as wonderful as it has been to watch his children grow to adulthood and have their own families, it was almost as rewarding to watch his magazine grow and both become and remain the stabilizing influence in the sport of powerlifting. In the first few years of PLUSA, Mike would crank up the mimeograph machine in the basement of his mother’s house, turning out a hand-stapled grouping of pages. These early issues often flattered my abundantly lacking writing abilities, as up to one-third of the articles and columns were written by yours truly. For me, having sat on the floor in Mike’s living room while my wife and I helped stuff early copies of the magazine into large mailbags, it truly is as if a member of the family has passed away.
My ongoing Titan/Eleiko articles usually hark back to the history of powerlifting but for those who still don’t fully understand that history, powerlifting began as, and very much remained the stepchild of organized sports. The conglomeration of odd lifters and strong men who finally organized “powerlifting” into a sport in 1964 went more than another decade without a consistent voice, without a vehicle to take it forward in the minds and hearts of their public. There had been efforts to present cogent publications written on a bit more than the sixth grade reading level but none had made it, even those with merit.
Most significant was Lifting News which was in effect, a supplemental publication for Peary and Mabel Rader’s Iron Man Magazine. The lifting photos of both Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters were small, often of sub-par quality, but most importantly accompanied meet result information. Even if six contests were noted in any bi-monthly issue out of the forty that might have taken place, it was thrilling to see the sport mentioned in print. With the 1964 birth of Muscular Development Magazine published by the York Barbell Company, we were given a small, but consistent glimpse into the sport and with the backing of the most powerful force in the Iron Game.
For those who have never seen the early issues of MD, take my word for it that there was not a lot of powerlifting information offered but any was better than none and as powerlifters, we were used to none. Joe Weider “expanded” his primary bodybuilding publication of the few he always had on the newsstands at any one time (and this does not include the homosexual magazines under his publishing banner, magazines that were almost always displayed on the corner newsstands of Manhattan, placed directly adjacent to Iron Man and Strength And Health) to include a powerlifing section but that usually included a few blurbs about the West Coast lifters and very infrequent mention of meet results. By 1965 – ’66 we were usually offered one article per issue that featured the original Westside Barbell Club of Bill West but the news, the information about the real training techniques and programs being used in the basements, garages, and storefront gyms was just not out there.
Attempts at “powerlifting only” publications met limited success and ultimate failure with Les Cramer and Dan DeWelt providing the most notable editions and both were short lived. DeWelt’s Powerlifting News however did inspire an enthusiastic powerlifter who was employed by the United States Navy in a civilian capacity. It seemed, at least to this young, motivated lifter, that powerlifting, as a sport that was organized and run by the Amateur Athletic Union, had enough interest to support a monthly newsletter or magazine. Mike Lambert of course was that young lifter who supplemented his long work hours with his new “second job” of contacting lifters throughout the United States for contest results, traveling when he could to take photos at different meets, and who learned how to grow a viable, professional publication through “on the job training.” The 1978 Collegiate National Powerlifting Championships hosted 180 registered lifters from seventy-eight different colleges and universities. From Mike’s perspective, the interest was there, the potential subscribers were there, and he took his shot. It was always very meaningful to me that I could write a monthly column for twenty-two consecutive years and had Carte Blanche to do so for as long as I wanted. From the early days of contributing one to four articles per issue, the sport itself unveiled enough information and a number of contributing writers who could fill the magazine’s pages without the need for Mike and I to do the majority of articles. Through the inclusion of a “real” magazine format, color photos, color covers, and all of the technological advances that enhanced print media, PLUSA grew. Despite the occasional appearance of a competing newsletter or magazine, PLUSA remained the most important voice in the sport and that’s because Mike always was the voice of reason.
With all of the competing organizations that have fractured powerlifting into a rather forgotten, powerless, disrespected, under financed, inadequately supported, and disenfranchised activity relative to almost every other organized sport in the United States, there actually was a time when things were much worse. From one organization that governed the sport to what seemed to be new organizations that were crowning themselves as “the true governing body for the lifter” springing up on a monthly basis, obtaining a meet sanction and setting a “world record” became every weekend’s activity. Through the inclusion of drug testing and “drug free” organizations to the sport, Mike always stayed above the politics. He knew all of the players and every one of them respected Mike and understood that before anything else, he was for the good of the sport and the individual lifter. Nothing done by Powerlifting USA or Mike was self serving.
I at times chided Mike that he was being “too nice” and giving too much voice to certain individuals who were blatantly self serving or politically motivated but he always chose the path that he believed was fair to all involved and best for the sport. One of the reasons, perhaps the primary reason, that Powerlifting USA Magazine lasted so long as a niche or almost “boutique” publication while defying all odds to do so, was Mike’s integrity. Almost all of the other powerlifting-only or powerlifting oriented publications have not made it and one of the key features that always distinguished PLUSA from others out there has been what can only be described as the self serving interests of these other publications. When Mike was thinking about “selling” certificates to those who had been named to PLUSA’s Top 100 monthly lists, we spoke about it and he was so clear that he wanted to fulfill the requests of the numerous lifters who were proud of this accomplishment and wanted some sort of verification to display. Mike’s only desire was to cover his costs and insure that the lifters benefited and got even more enjoyment out of their participation in the sport. The editors, publishers, and/or owners of most of the other publications were and are indeed selling “something,” be it tangible product or their own exposure to either benefit themselves as lifters or as entrepreneurs. Mike sold the sport, period. There was never any guile, any secret agenda, or some vague scheme to make money or put his name out in front of the lifting public. Mike Lambert never put himself before the sport. Powerlifting USA Magazine was a way to support his family while remaining involved with a sport he loved to participate in and later, a sport he loved and wanted to prosper. It’s a sad day as the magazine ends its publishing run but a sadder day when someone like Mike Lambert is no longer actively involved in the sport of powerlifting.