By Eric Todd
I remember the race very clearly. I was in the 8th grade and had been lifting weights for a spell, when a couple of my school chums became interested in the iron as well. Both were rather athletic. One was the biggest guy in our grade, the star tackle on our junior high football team. The other was smaller than I, but very little body fat, and very strong for his size. Anyhow, the bigger of the two went with his grandparents to Sam’s Club where they had a membership and purchased a weight bench and a 300 pound iron weight set. As they both lived in town, they were able to spend time working out together on this new toy.
At this time, it was known that I was the strongest kid in class. I could do more pull-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups than anyone else in gym class. I was our starting fullback and linebacker, and was winning most of my wrestling matches this year. And it was this particular year that we got a new head football coach, also our PE teacher, who was invested in weight training. So I was able to demonstrate my physical superiority in gym class every couple weeks when he had us train on the universal in the boy’s locker room. It was about half way through the school year when “the race” began. Our coach decided it was time to bring in a real bench and show us proper technique during PE. After a couple times of practice, he had everyone get a one rep max. It was a fine day for me. Out of all the 8th graders in Cameron, I had the top mark of 200 pounds. However, our star tackle was close behind at 185. And when we figured the best pound for pound, the other guy was right behind me as well.
Well, the race was on. They kept training on their super slick Wal-Mart Iron, and I kept lifting on my second hand plastic clad sand weights on the milking floor. Every time one of us hit a new benchmark, the other’s phone would ring. I maintained my lead for a while. But one day the phone rang. I couldn’t believe my ears. The bigger guy hit a 215, and the smaller fellow surpassed me on pound per pound percentage. I tried to be a good sport, congratulating them on a job well done, but when I hung up the phone, I felt a rage in my heart. I had to get back to the top. I did the only thing I could think of. I went out to the milk barn. I upped my training intensity. My focus was rock solid. After I won the small fry state championship in wrestling that year, I was able to spend more time in the milk barn. Later that spring, after track practice, we were at the field house and I decided to see what I had (I could always do more on an iron set than I could with sand for whatever reason). I hit a solid 225#, putting me back ahead either way you looked at it. And there I stayed.
One day after school, I went over to the house where they trained with both fellows. They wanted to show me a neat trick. It was one they had used to take me down earlier that year. They were putting a full roll of paper towels on their chest to bounce the weight off of when they were bench pressing. While this method was a fine training tool (known as towel bench) in the old “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” program, it was a partial movement that they had beaten me with!
However, any way you look at it, it was by being brought down that motivated me to dig in, and fight to be the best. If I had not received that call, I might have been content just resting at the top of the hill. Funny thing about that weight set, too. They gave up training weights after a couple years, and sold the set to another friend of mine. He gave it up after another year or two. I think it was about my freshman year in college, that I inherited that old Sam’s Club iron weight set. It was the first real iron I owned, and it is still part of my collection.