History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting, and Strength Training Number 99: There’s no escaping politics! Part one

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on March 1, 2017 Comments off

I am not a nostalgic individual. When something is done, it’s done and it’s time to move on. As an example, I had two long separated bouts of coaching high school football. The first began even before I had my college degree in hand, serving as an assistant at a ritzy private school where parents were less than slick in trying to bribe me in order to give their sons more playing time. When the owner and CEO of a major appliance company offers a new washer and dryer in order to procure some guaranteed time in the backfield for his fourth string running back son, a very well-mannered and nice youngster who just was not a very talented athlete, it was rather easy to turn the offer down. The head coach, smiling the entire time, indicated that I should “get used to” these types of inducements but with washers and dryers larger than our living room and the prospect of tossing our 18” black and white television in exchange for a real color set, it was an introduction to a world quite different than the one I was used to. The first of two coaching stints at Malverne High School followed, a diametrically opposite environment from my first job as more than thirty percent of our students were classified as New York State ADC, or Aid To Dependent Children, those receiving some manner of government financial aid, in foster homes, or wards of the court. After leaving Malverne after serving as a teacher, coach, and an administrator, I was involved in other pursuits and professions but returned to coach on a part-time (though daily during the season), unpaid basis from 1984 through ’91, nursing the Malverne squad to a number one ranking in the state during our best, award winning season. In February of 1992 Kathy and I opened the Iron Island Gym and it would have taken a lengthy, late night, and far-ranging conversation to reveal that I had been a high school football and track and field coach.

Although practicing as a Chiropractor for close to four decades, the author was an “emergency room medical doctor” here, at least in the movie Fighting Irish. One could add “actor” to the list of “Things Done In The Past and Then Left In The Past” although the author would never use that specific term to describe his acting ability!



Although coaching is teaching and teaching is what we did at the gym as we introduced so many to the sport of powerlifting, when my career as a high school coach was completed, it was as if I had done it in another life. As a tractor trailer driver for Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries, I was rather proud to be involved in the company’s early days, transporting what were new, innovative tools for training from one end of the United States and Canada to the other, assembling the equipment and often taking a day or two to explain and demonstrate it to coaches, full squads of collegiate or pro players, and gyms full of eager trainees. I enjoyed driving, became relatively proficient, collected a lot of stories while on the road since we were always on a tight timetable and minuscule budget, and met numerous coaches, players, gym owners, Mr. Americas, and champion athletes who were gracious enough to allow us, as drivers, to share meals, sleep over, or just enjoy fellowship. However, when I was done driving and returned to the New York City area, I was no longer “a big rig driver,” it was something I had done and more or less, became catalogued among the many other things I had done.

Of course, giving some insight to the negative aspects of my personality, I have grudges dating back to junior high school that still need to be settled. Thus there are some parts of the past I have held on to but other than those, once the book is closed, it has always been “on to whatever comes next.” At some point, what came next for our family was the Iron Island Gym and I coincidentally plucked out the March 1997 issue of POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE two mornings ago, a reminder that in the sport of Powerlifting, many things dating to the inception of our sport have not significantly changed. While I wish I could state that I was a terrific powerlifter who left a legacy of championships that made me a world renowned star, this just isn’t true. I was fortunate enough to win some state and regional awards and make a few big lifts, especially when there were fewer lifters involved in the sport but I am best known through my voluminous writing in PLUSA. My time with founder Mike Lambert, and that dates back to shortly after the first publications of what were his mimeographed sheets of information that were cranked out in his mother’s basement, lasted decades and is part of my past that I know benefitted many individuals. My articles, columns, and training advice encouraged and insured progress for many and I am grateful for that but I am “bad” with time, events of fifty years ago seem as if they were but weeks in the past and twenty years ago could have been yesterday. March of 1997 was in fact exactly twenty years ago which is a lifetime for most of our younger lifters but one of those “like yesterday” stopovers for me. While the past few columns that preceded this one noted the political difficulties of establishing powerlifting as a sport, there was little “political intrigue” noted in the March 1997 issue.

By 1997, political intrigue had been replaced by a political mess, one that in my opinion, the sport has never truly recovered from. We suffered under the aegis of our Olympic weightlifting controlled Amateur Athletic Union, being looked upon as the “poor sister” of the barbell related sports. Once a level of independence was achieved, the usual shakedown cruise followed where competent leaders, more or less devoid of selfish, self-serving, and profiteering motives could be found to move powerlifting forward. The constant and ongoing lack of funding made for national and world championships where it was necessary for competitors and coaches to pay their own travel and lodging expenses a good deal of the time with the resultant “small time” label making it even more difficult to secure funding from any national body or corporate entity. With the growing anti-steroid and pro-drug testing movement in the late 1970s morphing into alternative organizations by the early 1980s, the sport became permanently fragmented. By the mid to late-1990s, there was one more level of fragmentation added to the sport.

Joey Almodovar

165 pound Joey Almodovar competing in 1996 (Kathy photo)

The cover of the March 1997 issue of PLUSA featured two terrific photos of one of our Iron Island Gym lifters. The outstanding lifting ability and well developed physique of champion Joey Almodovar, one of the young lifters our group had nurtured to world record heights, was wonderfully displayed by my wife Kathy’s photography. As a former world class powerlifter, national level physique competitor, and superb professional photographer who enjoyed a lengthy relationship with PLUSA Magazine founder and owner Mike Lambert, she of course had contributed many photos for the publication, both on a free lance and “full time official employee” basis. The photos on the cover and within the pages of the magazine were a perfect augmentation to Joey’s story of hard work and success. However, the opening words of the article paint a picture of yet a new type of fragmentation that had been introduced to the negative aspects of our sport. I wrote,


     “As the 1996 IPA World Champion and 1995 IPA National Champion, Joey Almodovar is obviously a very strong man and highly rated powerlifter. However, like so many in the fragmented sport that powerlifting has become, little is known about him by the lifting public.” 


Many have claimed that the proliferation of so many organizations that claim a rightful place as a legitimate powerlifting governing body has been good for the sport. The rationale has been that with organizations, seemingly ranging from A to Z, one can lift raw; sort of raw with limited supportive attire; fully geared in supportive suits, wrist and knee wraps, and bench shirts; in double, triple, and number-boggling multiple layered supportive attire; strictly drug tested in whatever level of supportive or non-supportive attire one chooses; sort of drug tested in whatever level of supportive or non-supportive attire one chooses; not drug tested at all; and what are seemingly drug use encouraging or approving organizations. Yikes! Free choice is certainly one perspective that one could build a case on but the downside of multiple organizations representing the sport has been and continues to be the lack of recognition for legitimate champions, unknown champions despite strong records of accomplishment, an inability to compare lifters and lifts across organizations, and the rock-solid lack of interest from the non-powerlifting public which remains an aggravating problem for all of the governing organizations because this leads to a consistent lack of funding and financial footing. In an effort to overcome this disadvantage and more or less corner the market on contest competition, forging what was hoped and forecast to be a more reliable flow of money, we should discuss organizations that very much made up the rules as they went in order to garner the approval of the lifters who competed in their contests. The inconsistency in judging standards from organization to organization has remained one of the hidden or ignored aspects of the sport that has contributed to a lack of growth and acceptance.

Rescue dog

We all garner our inspiration in disparate places and part of mine comes from the five rescue dogs that are part of our family. This one-eyed beauty, Jacki, is a constant gym companion