History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 82, Part 3

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on July 27, 2015 Comments off



One of the regular readers of my ongoing TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of articles, the “blog” in modern parlance I still seem to struggle with, stated it better than I could have when he wrote, “I get it. You wanted to make the points about certification and the one about really unsafe equipment in the warm-up rooms but I guess neither is easy to get through with so much history to go back to.” I would agree and I won’t yet be moving out of the warm-up room so to speak because there were so many comments sent my way regarding the last installment. I have written, and emphasized that much of the equipment we used in the 1960’s and into the mid-1970’s just wasn’t safe but we were, as a group of athletes, oblivious to that fact. If we had any awareness and certainly some men did, we were accepting of whatever was placed before us. If one did not live through the era where Olympic weightlifting was “the” sport in the Iron Game and powerlifting was viewed as a leftover activity for those not athletic enough, flexible enough, quick enough, or smart enough to pursue the press, snatch, and clean and jerk, it is difficult to convey how appreciative we were to even have a sport to call our own. Having an organized meet to go to, despite any deficiency in equipment, was accepted as a bonus and privilege. Emphasizing this point were the many comments I received from “older” or more experienced lifters, enough to fill two or three columns.

I have quoted Hercules, California lifter Dan Martin a number of times in the past. Dan is easy to quote; he was a good competitor who has been at it for decades and was always smart and insightful enough to have analyzed what he and the lifters around him were doing. His career as a firefighter has given him a logical perspective that has been applied to his lifting and served to successfully coach and advise others. Dan noted, “There is no question that the equipment now is light years ahead of the 60’s and early 70’s, (although Zuver’s equipment was certainly choice, but as you know, if you didn’t know about Zuver’s you just didn’t know) but we certainly didn’t let that get in the way. The first Fireman’s Olympics I lifted in was held at a gym in San Francisco (1976) and was one of about three (the other two being the Sports Palace and West Coast Fitness Center) that hadn’t turned into foo-foo, less than hardcore gyms. The venue was such that we had to walk forward and away from the squat rack towards the audience. The squat rack was attached to the wall and not adjustable. Certainly solid enough because it was made of 1.5″ pipe and bolted to the wall and floor, but obviously dangerous when racking the bar.”

Allow me to interject that to appreciate Dan’s observation, one needs to work up to a heavy squat while facing away from the squat racks and do so while walking forward away from the racks, rather than using the customary procedure of facing the barbell, settling the bar on one’s back, and then stepping back. After expending a major effort, then walk backwards and blindly try to rack the bar! Dangerous is a mild description. Dan then made reference to Tom Eldridge, a fire captain and pioneering figure in California powerlifting and a man with a somewhat legendary temper and the physical toughness to back it up.


“At that meet was the first time I met Tom Eldridge. He went sideways when he saw the bar that was to be used. It was bent, smooth and rusted. Perfect! He started to tear the ‘meet director’ a new asshole, which in turn brought the gym owner out of his ‘office.’ The gym owner obviously spent a lot of time doing the ‘big three’ at the time (bench, pullover and curls) and was not about to take any of Tom’s nonsense. He simply said, ‘a bar’s a bar and if you don’t like it go back to LA.’ Naturally, the gym owner was able to tell Tom was from LA because he and two other lifters were wearing their matching ‘Los Angeles County Fire Department Powerlifting Team’ warm-ups.

 After the dust settled, everyone lifted, nobody bombed and no one got hurt. When we went to a bar post meet to have a beer or two (I was the only one asked for ID) Tom made a declaration that, ‘we are never going to lift on bullshit equipment again’ and the modern California Fireman’s Olympics powerlifting was born. And I have to say, Tom and his Lincoln arc welder came through for the 1977 meet and for many years after. Tom made two sets of raised platforms, one he kept at his house and one stored in Santa Clara to be used for the Northern California meets.”

 This is a rather typical tale. Through the years, some of us would travel into Manhattan or Brooklyn, to New Jersey, Connecticut, or Massachusetts, and lift on what we knew to be marginal equipment. Bars that were bereft of knurling, bent, and beat up were the warm-up room standard and as Dan notes in the above paragraphs, often on the platform too.

 Saul Shocket’s name will be familiar to long time lifters and to the regular readers of our column. Saul has been a premiere trainer as well as a title holder and record setter for many decades. Having seen it all, Saul also had a few salient comments.

 “Good article, Ken. The pic of Pat C brought back some good memories. As you might remember, I used to train with Pat around 1964. This was at Bill Pearl’s Manchester Ave gym in LA. Pat was a very soft spoken and humble guy…a great training partner and inspiring person. As I was penniless, Bill also helped me out by providing lunch every afternoon for me, Jerry Wallace, and himself. As I recall, it usually consisted of tuna, & an assortment of fruit. ”

 Allow me to interject that all of my references to Bill Pearl’s Gym were to the Manchester Avenue address in Inglewood, California. When I first arrived in the Los Angeles area with my training partner and friend Jack, Pearl’s was our initial stop as chronicled not only throughout our TITAN SUPPORT series, but in the six part mini-history I wrote for Mark Rippetoe’s STARTING STRENGTH site


Saul continued, “The mention of a wooden competition bench also sounded all too familiar. I’m remembering the late 60’s or early 70’s, At that time, I trained at the Boston YMCA on Huntington Ave. A funky basement gym to be sure. I benched from time to time with pro wrestler Ivan Putski, The bench we used was also wooden, with rickety uprights.  Someone had attached a cover to make the bench a bit more ‘functional’ and comfortable(?). On somewhat regular occasion, someone would place tacks under the bench cover and in diabolically chosen locations. It wasn’t unusual for us to lie back on the bench, prepping for a strong set, when a loud scream followed by a string of swears, would echo throughout the gym.  Another tack found its mark. Although we tried, the culprit was never found, nor was his/her motive discovered.

 http://www.amazon.com/Youre-SAUL-Thought-Youd-Bigger/dp/1478751045/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436519413&sr=1-1&keywords=saul+shocket&pebp=1436519415035&perid=0A5Y60R8ZCSM44V1PQY5. Jan Dellinger also had a number of very interesting and important comments but first things first!

I made reference in the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS blog of May 26, 2015,    https://titansupport.com/blog/history-of-powerlifting-weightlifting-and-strength-training-part-80-a-meet-directors-common-sense-decision/  

mentioning the fun and day of fellowship we shared with a few lifters who needed a legal, qualifying meet to compete in. My wife Kathy, a much better lifter than I ever even dreamed of being, has competed in a number of National Championships, posted the second highest total in her weight class at the World Championships, was a former American record holder, and has been through YMCAs, hotel banquet halls, basement gyms, college gymnasiums, and most venues between all of those while competing and directing contests. She agreed that our so-called Driveway Meet was one of the most fun and comment-provoking contests we ever hosted or were involved with. Thus was planted the seed and the very rapid fruition of the purposefully glorified in name 2015 TITEX EAST ROCKAWAY SUMMER POWERLIFTING CLASSIC.

My long time trainee and former Hofstra University All American defensive tackle Frank Savino who allows me to maintain a piece of the action at his very successful Gridiron Fitness athletic training facility in nearby Mineola, N.Y. had the same dilemma I faced. Both of us trained young athletes who were interested in competing in a “real” powerlifting contest but had never even seen a contest. Some play high school football, two were interested in pursuing powerlifting as their primary activity, and we wanted them to enjoy the sport and garner its many benefits while avoiding some of the negative aspects and craziness that are in fact, part and parcel of the entire meet scene. Kathy’s solution of hosting another “driveway contest” resolved the issues as the youngsters could lift in a safe environment while utilizing the best equipment. They could also enjoy the security of one of the best platform crews to ever work the sport. That last statement is obviously very biased but our Iron Island Gym platform crew which among others, included Tom O’Riordan, Adrian Arav, Brian Daly, Mike Schmeider, Craig Portee, and Joey Almodovar, were skilled enough to be taken to various venues throughout the U.S. under the auspices of the different powerlifting organizations, to man the platforms for their biggest contests.

Of course, once the word was out, the small meet that would invite the family and friends of only six of these novice lifters to a raw, not-big-lift contest, became a lot larger. We were very fortunate and blessed to dedicate the meet to raising money and awareness for our local Ruff House Rescue animal shelter and adoption facility and have the unlimited support of the Rockville Centre Starbucks, the Applebaum Family Provisions company, Hammer Strength, and of course, TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS. I can lay claim to being TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM’s least talented, but longest sponsored lifter since their founding and as always, Pete, Isiah and the staff came through for us. Our platform crew saw this occasion, as quoted in Animal House, as an opportunity for “putting the band back together” and we had many of our former gym lifters in attendance.

 Our two fifty-five gallon drums cut into grills were fired up by 8 AM, food was cooking at 10, and the lifting began at 11 with former champion Pat Susco giving a terrific squat exhibition, using the venue for what would have been his normal training. His 505 with 45 pounds of chains added X ten reps motivated the young lifters and got the crowd going as the young guys moved into the squat.

We promised everyone, “No big lifts but there will be great effort and enthusiasm” and that’s exactly what we got. The lifting, with results of what was truly a “raw” meet where the youngsters wore no more than wrestling singlets and a tee shirt with two in knee sleeves, was a lot of fun and the positive introduction to the sport we wanted.

Personal records and all-out effort were the order of the day with Schwartz Formula results based upon bodyweight related performance finding Ramiz Dani first, Thomas Touhey second, Nico Louizos third, Daniel Savino fourth, Will Martarana fifth, and Justin Melkin sixth.

Some of the youngsters missed a lift but came back to make it; others went nine-for-nine or eight-for-nine only after letting it rip for new personal records on the final attempt deadlifts. Great lifting, great poise by all of the athletes, and a tremendous crowd response made this as exciting as one of the year’s major contests. The great “Hammer Trophy awards made possible by Beastmetals of Sacramento and award plates from old friend and industry standard Siegel Engraving of Clearfield, PA added true flair.

Our friend Pat Povialitis, “The Human Vise,” gave one of his strength demonstrations that included his unique talent to bend, twist, and distort short steel, break baseball bats over his head (without the batting helmet worn by Bo Jackson), and stick his hand in a couger trap, one that severed a pig’s femur prior to snapping down on his hand. Of course, attaching the trap to a 275 pound engine block and lifting the block by means of the trap that was tearing at the flesh and ligaments of his right hand needs to be personally witnessed to fully understand the awe and nausea that gripped the crowd!

The display of physical and mental strength needless to say, just delighted the crowd of what turned out to be approximately 120 spectators that choked the driveway. It also stimulated donations in excess of $600.00 for the animal shelter which was one of our goals.

Of course we went all out, with our personal expenses and the donations of time, effort, and food seen as part of what the shelter received. There were as many eating highlights as there was lifting excitement, with some of our guys proving that you can safely and efficiently load and spot while consuming a dozen burgers and two fistfuls of Starbucks salted caramel squares while on the platform! The unusual and absolutely stunning trophies were fabricated by my friend Ralph at Beastmetals in Sacramento, California, a relatively new and upcoming name in the equipment industry. We went to our former Iron Island trophy supplier Siegel Engraving in Clearfield, PA where founder, the late Al Seigel who gave so much to  the sport, has had his legacy carried on by his wife Brenda and son Jay, for the engraved trophy plates. With six lifters and six awards, obviously, everyone walked away happy. Wow! Kathy summed it up best with her statement that, “This was like a huge cookout but instead of music or other entertainment, we had lifting!” Few things could be better and we had guests, both invited and uninvited, who just “showed up” from New Jersey, upstate New York, and Maryland, which made the day stressful for the Porta Potty but a lot of fun.


Our “Driveway Meet,” very much like the one we hosted many years ago at our former residence, was a great success. Frank, Kathy, and I had very specific goals in mind and we were able to meet all of them:

1.   Insure that the novice youngsters learned what it was like to compete in a properly managed contest where everything was done according to the rules, on safe equipment, and with an experienced platform crew.

2.   Enhance the self-confidence of the young athletes by allowing them to give great effort while performing in front of family, friends, and strangers who would be supportive.

3.   Provide whoever wandered up the driveway with a lot of food that by any standard was of high quality and good-tasting. You just can’t have a really good contest if you don’t have food that everyone wants to eat!

Thanks to many friends, we were able to do it. Though the list is lengthy, we have to thank our carpenters who built a very large and very sturdy platform, Jim Eicher and his son Greg. The Rockville Centre, N.Y. Starbucks store manager Ryan Francisco and store partner Mike Wroblewski pushed hard to not only serve the company’s great iced coffee and salted caramel squares, but were of great help in encouraging donations forRuff House Rescue. Richie Applebaum, his son Joe, his beautiful daughter Carli, and their friend Joedonated and prepared 250 hamburgers, 250 frankfurters, a lot of Italian sausage and provided all of their Boar’s Head products with enthusiasm and professional cooking expertise.

My frequent sponsor, Hammer Strength through Tom Proffitt and Ralph Reynaga at Beastmetals both get an A+ rating for their assistance as doesJay Siegel. My sponsorship by TITAN SUPPORT PRODUCTS that dates literally to the day of their founding is undeserved and we were able to “wow” the lifters, crew, and spectators with our platform and warm-up room presentation of TITEX plates and bars and of course, the great ER Racks. I gained an even deeper appreciation for being allowed to put my two cents in when Pete has needed advice, criticism, or development of a new product seeing how much the TITAN and TITEX brands are viewed by the powerlifting public. Our “luminaries” who of course remain normal friends and extended family that gave exhibitions to hype things up and garner donations for animal rescue and adoption, and served on the crew are always appreciated. Of course, everyone would be disappointed if I did not fully credit my wife Kathy for always being the guiding light in what gets done around here. I joke about it but I’m hired help, as it’s been for decades as she remains the brains of the operation.