The Jackson Barbell.
History Supplement: Ray Rigby
Almost everyone in the sport of powerlifting who had an interest in the international scene and/or lifting at the top level, knew that Ray Rigby of Australia was close with Kathy and me. When I played football and did security work in the entertainment industry, I could have stood next to Ray and looked as if I was a bit more than his little brother. Unfortunately, at least for appearances, when Ray and I were friendly I was no longer 232 pounds but rather, 165-180 at my height of a cut under 5’6”. At 6’ and 300-315 pounds, Ray by any standard, was a big man! Round faced and usually smiling, Ray may have given the air, especially when visiting our home in New York and bundled up against the cold weather, of the jovial fat man but he was anything but that. Hard as stone everywhere, including his abdominal region, every muscle in his body was athletically gifted and instantly responsive to his commands. I have no doubt that despite his relative lack of height, he had the athleticism to play offensive guard in the National Football League had he received exposure to the game and the appropriate training. Incredibly strong, Ray was also incredibly intelligent, witty, and funny. Ray passed away from complications of his diabetic condition on August 1, 1998 and we have yet to have a houseguest that Kathy and I have enjoyed as much. Ray’s family was in the supermarket business and Ray was a nurse, yes, a very large, very strong, male nurse, the equivalent of a licensed Registered Nurse in the United States. He was also licensed in Australia in Acupuncture and had formally studied nutrition and other classes and subjects that would help him in his profession as well as in his athletic pursuits. In time, Ray convinced his father to sell the supermarket and the family founded what eventually became the largest privately owned nursing home in the country until it was purchased by the Australian government. He could have retired but instead, he and his wife Carolyn began their own Amway business and in typical fashion, quickly built it into an extremely lucrative and successful enterprise.
As an athlete, one would be hard pressed to look at Ray’s hard but roundish physique and see him as a multi-talented track and field athlete, but he was and at the highest levels. Among his many accomplishments outside of lifting, were representation of his country internationally as a 220 pound hurdler (believe it or not), wrestler as Pan Asian Champion, and he was named to the Australian Olympic team as a shot putter. Older readers of Strength And Health magazine will remember the article featuring Ray prior to the 1968 Olympic Games where as part of the Australian team, Ray participated in the pre-Olympic competition designed to acclimate athletes to the high altitude conditions of Mexico, and as an Olympic weightlifter, not as a shot putter, Ray wowed onlookers with both his performance as a seventeen-year old competitor, and his eating prowess. Photos of the two or three foot long sandwich that Ray snacked on as part of an eating regimen that would have staggered the entire defensive line of the Green Bay Packers drew comments from readers for months. In one of my POWERLIFTING USA Magazine columns, I described one of Ray’s three week visits to our home, and noted his huge food intake and his preference for what he termed “American sandwiches” which were stacked with meat and cheese relative to those he had to endure in his homeland. Of course, he would shovel three or four sandwiches, large ones, two or three times daily, in addition to quarts of apple juice and his regular meals. Yet, as aforementioned, he was as hard as granite.
Ray was also one of the funniest men to be with and rarely did I see him in bad humor or troubled to the extent that anyone in his company would wonder if he had a care in the world. Completely devoted to his family, after selling the family owned nursing home, developing the new Amway business, and raising and racing greyhounds, Ray would walk his children to school in the morning, walk back to the school yard to see them during their recess time and bring them lunch, and then be there for them upon dismissal so that he could walk them home. Did I yet mention that he also was a powerlifter? An Olympian as a shot putter and Olympic lifter, an international competitor in track, field, and wrestling, Ray was also a world class powerlifter. Before the days of internet and e mail, Ray and I would exchange letters and one or two phone calls each month so that I could write his training programs, receive feedback, and make any necessary adjustments, a procedure we followed for many years and continued when he was the coach of the Australian Women’s Team. He would move in with us, despite his wife’s astonishment that anyone would be happy with a 300 pound houseguest, for up to a month at a time to prepare for the World Powerlifting Championships and also did so during his shot put comeback in order to make another Olympic team. He was intent on making the statement that he had been a member of Australian Olympic Teams in three different decades, an accomplishment he was rightfully proud of. As a lifter he came to powerlifting after a severe auto accident that resulted in a loss of vision due to glass puncturing one eye, and low back dysfunction that would need monitoring and control for the remainder of his life. No longer able to perform as an Olympic lifter, he turned to powerlifting and was predictably successful despite doctors’ warnings that he would never be able to again lift anything heavier than a bag of groceries. His drive and determination, obviously a requirement for an Olympic level athlete, never wavered and Ray won two Bronze Medals at consecutive World Championships in an era that found him competing against the likes of Bill Kazmaier at his all time best. I would gather different groups of lifters to help spot the huge weights Ray would use and all of us would be caught up in the wave of enthusiasm and motivation Ray brought to the sessions. I don’t believe I have met anyone who seemed to enjoy each and every grueling day of training as much as Ray did and it was contagious. After we watched him squat and deadlift 800-plus in one workout, I made the most obvious tongue-in-cheek statement of the decade when I noted that “This is bullshit, I’ll never even hold the records in my own garage!” which of course brought gales of laughter from all present. Typical when Ray was with us, my lifts would skyrocket and my weight would increase by ten to twenty pounds because when he would eat, I would most often join him.
Ray’s lifting legacy is glorious, lengthy, and very well known on his home continent. He was hugely successful as the coach of the Australian Women’s Team that ruled the World Championships and totaled numerous records over the course of a number of years. His only regret during that period, especially in light of the fact that he loved to coach and help others improve, was his attempt to psych up multiple-time World Champion Bev Francis. After giving her what he termed “a light tap to the side of the face” to get her up for a record attempt, they both immediately realized he had dislocated her jaw. “She got the record, we fixed her jaw, and she was a good sport about it, no harm done.” as he explained. Ray served the lifters of his nation as a World Team representative, an administrator, coach, and in every way possible to help the sport to grow and prosper. Right up to his passing, he would walk out to his home gym and train, always trying to improve, even when facing the ravages of his uncontrolled diabetic condition. Ray remains in our memory, one of the absolute nicest and favorite people Kathy and I have ever known. That today’s generation of lifters did not know him or have the chance to benefit from his ability to teach and motivate is an understated tragedy.
Quite of the few locals I was to learn, actually knew Andy Jackson because as a New Jersey resident and one of “the old guys” he had been around the Metropolitan New York City lifting scene for years. The basement of his large home in Springfield, N.J. housed his machine shop and I can only imagine what the neighbors thought when they saw the truck from a foundry in Hamburg, PA dump perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of unpainted, unfinished casted plates in his driveway. Jackson would take these plates and drill, machine, and mill them to what was then, state-of-the-art calibration. Jackson produced an Olympic set that appeared to be like others I had seen but he also had one that was very different. Jackson’s “usual” Olympic barbell was his No. 1-A and as Andy himself said it, this set was “the acme of perfection for weight lifters…” He noted that he used steel that was “aircraft quality” and conformed “to U.S. Navy and Army specifications for extreme strength and flexibility.” The revolving sleeves utilized “special Hyatt or Orange aircraft type roller bearings, two bearings to each sleeve” and this allowed one to “spin the bar with the slightest touch of the fingers.” The reference to aircraft quality components that met military standards gave a real credibility to any item that could make that claim. The late 1950’s and early 1960’s marked the beginning of the Space Age and Race To The Moon between the United States and Soviet Union and everyone over the age of ten knew that only the most durable and toughest of materials were going to make that trip! Experienced lifters also knew that Jackson was a craftsman who did in fact make a great product because of all of the “hand labor” that was involved.