by Ben Edwards
Special thanks goes out to my wonderful wife Carrie. She willingly acted as my chauffeur, masseuse, coach, cheerleader, scorekeeper, photographer, and trusted adviser for the entire day. That gave me an unfair advantage over anyone else who didn’t have that kind of support system. I’m a very lucky man to have her in my corner.
At 6 o’clock in the morning, on June 20th, we set out with all the food and other supplemental supplies I would need for a day spent competing at the 2009 USAWA Nationals.
The destination was Al Myers’ Dino Gym in Holland, Kansas. I’ve been there three times previously, but each time I go there is always something I see that I missed on my previous visits to the gym.
The Dino Gym is the best-equipped gym I’ve ever encountered. That’s not an exaggeration either.
Al is a former Highland Games champion, so there is a good deal of Highland Games training equipment at his gym and a training field dedicated to the Highland Games.
Al hosts both strongman and all-round weightlifting contests in his gym too, so both of those disciplines are well represented.
The Dino Gym has everything. From a full set of round strongman training stones to a set of power stairs implements and more farmer’s walk devices than I could keep track of.
I was more worried about the drug testing than the contest itself. Not because I had anything to hide, but because I have a notoriously shy bladder, haha. The drug testers were both very nice and patient guys. The direct-observation tester managed to put me at ease and I luckily gave a sample without holding all the other competitors up for half the day.
After the urine test was completed and that was out of the way, I began mingling with the other competitors and greeting the guys I had already met and some of the guys I hadn’t met yet.
The last time I competed in an all-round contest at the Dino Gym (not counting the Record Day since it’s essentially a contest between me and the record book) was 2006. So it had been 3 years since I had seen most of the guys I had previously met at Al’s gym.
Coming to the Dino Gym and being greeted by Al Myers is always such a pleasure. He makes everyone feel like they’re the only person in the room when he’s talking to you. He is the kind of lifter who can do any physical task very well. He’s athletic, moves fluidly and with great power, and can accelerate heavy weights in the blink of an eye. When he’s focused on a big lift and psyches himself up for it – it’s time to get out of the way and let him lift!
I will never forget getting “drafted” by Al to provide a safety-spot for the most impressive lift I’ve ever seen in person – his 1,000lb Roman Chair Situp that he achieved at his Record Day back in February.
Jason Payne was spotting one side of the ridiculously-loaded bar and I was on the other side. I was sweating bullets because I was not nearly as strong as Jason and I felt the need to bow out and try to decline the spot request.
Well, there was no denying Al when he said he knew I could do it! I bucked up and realized there was no way I was going to deny Al a shot at a possibly once-in-a-lifetime world record attempt like that. He nailed the lift and it’s in the record books now. Quite frankly, I doubt anyone will want to even attempt to come close to that number in the near future.
The mindset it would take to even believe a lift like that is possible is something that I hope to one day achieve. Al is definitely one of the most influential lifters that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with. He proves the adage about the mind being able to take the body places where it arguably might not necessarily want to go.
Al is always a gentleman – even when he’s psyched and ready to tear up the weights. The determination on his face shines through and everyone watching holds their breath in anticipation of witnessing something special happen on the platform. They were not disappointed, because Al won the Overall, Open, and Masters categories at the contest! Congrats Al, and thanks again for a great day of camaraderie and fun!
Al’s 73-year old father-in-law, Rudy, is a tremendously nice guy. My wife and I had a blast talking with him throughout the contest. He matched me pound-for-pound on the backlift! And to be honest, he had more in the tank on that lift – although he modestly tried to convince me that the lift was hard for him – even though he made it look easy. He also managed to make the Pullover and Press look pretty smooth. Something that I was not able to do. Rudy was awarded the title of Best Lifter in the 70 to 74-year old category. I’m not sure how much he beat the previous Backlift record in his age and weight class, but it had to be by a huge margin.
My wife and I also spent some time talking with Charlie Scott and his charming wife. Charlie was unfamiliar with some of the lifts but he did a great job – and broke some records throughout the contest. I was really surprised when Charlie’s wife happened to mention that he was 74. I estimated his age at most to be around 65, so he was in the company of the other Masters lifters at the contest that filled their sports bottles from the Fountain of Youth and Strength.
Meeting competitors that I had only previously read about is something that I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my lifting career.
The youngest competitor was 32-year old Mike McBride. His consistently strong performances netted him 2nd place overall. This was the first time Mike and I met – although I believe we have traded a few USAWA records back and forth over the past few years. Mike is ferociously strong on all the basic lifts and I don’t think he even specializes on the grip events – so that’s humbling to think he matches or outperforms me on some of the lifts that I have dedicated 9 years of my training to.
I want to mention how nice it was to see Ian Reel again. I last saw him at the 2006 Dino Challenge, where he was already a very strong young man. I think he was 16 years old then and was easily out-lifting me in every event. He was leaner and more muscular this time. Now he’s a college thrower and seems to be as strong as he ever was, but at a lighter bodyweight. Ian is as nice and humble as he is strong – two qualities that are not wasted on me and my wife.
Ian wanted to see me take a shot at chest-crushing Al’s #4 gripper with 2 hands, so I obliged him by shutting it that way. After I did that, he absentmindedly picked up a #2 gripper, and then slammed the handles together with ease! I was very impressed and asked him if he trained with the grippers. Modestly shaking his head, Ian told me that he didn’t train with the grippers – but it’s obvious that the training he does for his throwing focus is astonishingly effective at building a high level of hand strength.
I look forward to seeing Ian compete in an all-round competition again – and maybe one day I can convince him to enter a grip contest. I know he’d do well even though he’s not a grip specialist.
It’s always good to see Joe Garcia. He gave me some really good tips on moving my feet faster on the split part of the jerk, and kept coaching me to bend my knees more than an inch on the One-Hand Snatch. Joe is a wealth of training information and we were very close in strength on all the events until the backlift – where he left me far behind in the dust.
Chad Ullom was quite a bit leaner and lighter in bodyweight than the last time I saw him at the 2006 Dino Challenge. His prodigious strength was still there in full force and he won the One-Hand Snatch with 155lbs and tied Al for 1st on the Axle Clean and Jerk with 255lbs. Chad’s the type of guy that is as quick to congratulate a guy that lifted 100s of pounds less in a contest as he is to congratulate the guy who won the event. That means a lot to a mid-pack lifter and it motivates me to continue plugging away and getting stronger – all while retaining my humility.
I hadn’t met Tim Piper yet but I had seen his name in the record book and for a very good reason. He’s very athletic and has the fastest foot speed I’ve ever seen on the split jerk part of the Axle Clean and Jerk. My wife was very impressed by his athleticism, and so was I. He was also humble and modest about his lifting abilities. Tim was about 30 pounds lighter than me but stronger on a few of the lifts.
Randy Smith and I had never met until this contest. I had seen his name many times in the record books, because a few of his records were in events that I specialized on for a while. He is a super nice guy and a pleasure to talk to about lifting in general and other miscellaneous topics.
His wife was very nice too, although I don’t remember her name offhand. Randy is very impressive for a few reasons. His lean frame is capable of some big lifts. He’s also kind of quiet and unassuming, so he might surprise a few people that expect the best lifters to be slightly more vocal than the mid-pack guys or the beginners. Randy was far superior to me in every lift but the Pullover and Press. And I think that was only because his arms seemed to be a half-foot longer than mine.
I not only aspire to be as strong as Randy when I’m 54 years old – I aspire to be as strong as him at any age! He was awarded the Best Lifter title in the 55 to 59-year old category.
Scott Tully is a big, nice guy. He was the scorekeeper for the entire contest and was also very patient with me because each time I walked away from the platform – whether it was a successful attempt or a failure – I forgot each time to let him know what my subsequent attempt was going to be. Each time I belatedly remembered to go up to the score table, he smiled and told me it was no big deal when I apologized about forgetting to give my next attempt. I think it was a little case of the nerves for me. Even though I’ve competed in about a dozen strength contests, this was my first USAWA Nationals.
Darren Barnhart was one of the loaders who selflessly loaded and unloaded tons of weight all through the long day of competition. Thanks Darren! He’s also the Dino Gym record holder in the 2” Vertical Bar lift – with 229lbs. Heck of a lift under the USAWA rules! I tried to take that gym record back in February – but came up short a few times. Was able to pull the weight up, but couldn’t stop the rotation of the bar.
Ryan Batchman was the second loader, and he spent the entire day alongside Darren loading and unloading. I sincerely think that these guys had the hardest day of anyone there. I’d take competing any day over moving the tremendous amount of weight that these guys did. Bending and stooping over about 8 hours must’ve made them wake up feeling like they’d been hit by a bus the next day. Ryan was a solid guy and looked like he could’ve done 50% over any lift I did that day.
Thanks for loading all day Ryan and Darren! I – and all the lifters – also appreciated the care Darren and Ryan took to make sure that the bars were properly aligned on the 2-Barbell Deadlift. It is a seemingly small gesture, but it makes a big difference when you’re tired and want to conserve every bit of strength for a PR attempt.
The three judges were Bill Clark, Thom Van Vleck, and Mark Mitchell. I’ve met all three guys before and enjoy their company immensely. Bill had his game face on since he was the head judge. But he still managed to give me some very good advice on a few of the lifts. I did manage to pull my head out of the sand and take his advice and put it to good use too. So all was not lost. Thanks guys – judging is one of the most important parts of the day since it’s a Nationals competition.
Thom looked a bit different since he didn’t have the same beard that he did back in 2006. I really want to make it out to one of his Highland Games one of these days. I wish I had more time to talk to him after the contest because I really did want to pick his brain on a few training issues relating to the my desire to try out the Highland Games events.
It was really nice to see Mark Mitchell again too. He looked quite a bit lighter than the last time I saw him too. I think his back issues are healed up and that’s fantastic news too. I remember that he is beastly strong.
Before this contest, Denny Habecker was another lifter that I had only read about. Denny is 66 years old and won the Best Lifter title in the 65-69 year-old category. What impressed me the most about him was the fact that he took the time to give me some pointers on the Pullover and Press – a lift that he just happens to be a phenomenal performer in.
I listened with rapt attention when he gave me some pointers. I would’ve given him my full attention even if I hadn’t just watched him Pullover and Press 195lbs! For those that haven’t experienced the difficulty of this lift, suffice it to say that 195lbs would be respectable in any gym even if you were 20 years old and weighed 250lbs. Since he was under 200lbs and three times older, it was exponentially more impressive to watch him put on a Pullover and Press clinic. Thanks again for the help Denny! His big Pullover and Press might be my vote for the impressive lift of the entire contest.
Dennis Mitchell was awarded the Best Lifter award in the 75 to 79-year old category. The lift I was most impressed by was his 750lb Backlift – at 161lbs bodyweight – and 77 years old. I didn’t get to talk to Dennis more than just a “hello” here and there.
Wish I would’ve taken the time to go up and introduce myself though, because his is another name that I’ve read about on multiple occasions but never had the chance to meet until this contest.
I have a remarkable ability to remember records (numbers), so I have to remember not to walk up to someone I’ve never met and risk looking like the “Rain Man” when I quote from memory one of their records down to the pound.
Dale Friesz was another lifter that I recognized the name, but had never met him before the contest. I also didn’t get to talk to Dale very much – but I watched his 2-Barbell Deadlift pretty closely because I liked his style of almost stiff-leg deadlifting the weight up to lockout. I think that style is better suited to counter the balance issues I had with that event. I’ve already started integrating some stiff-leg barbell deadlifts into my workouts at home since watching Dale’s performance. Thanks Dale!
Art Montini, 81 years old, was awarded the title of Best Lifter in the 80 to 84-year old category. Art is built like a fireplug – and has the power and strength to back up that impressive build.
It’s obvious when seeing him for the first time that he’s one of those guys that’s just built for lifting heavy stuff. I’ve read a lot about Art, possibly more than any other lifter in the USAWA, so I really enjoyed watching him in action.
I wanted to talk to Art more than the little bit I managed to, but he was very approachable and friendly, so I should’ve just gone up more and chatted him up. I didn’t want to throw him off of his game plan by talking endlessly about lifting though.
There were no female competitors at this competition, which surprised me since I’ve seen some superb female lifters over the years. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of female USAWA members right now, but I think everyone would like to see the ladies well-represented at next year’s USAWA Nationals! I’ll start working on trying to get my wife interested in training and competing next year. Come on ladies, break a bunch of records next year!
There is nothing that I would change if I was able to repeat the experience of the 2009 USAWA Nationals again. I enjoyed my entire day. From the 90-minute drive to Al’s Gym, to the day spent gawking at the incredible amount of Iron Game paraphernalia lining the walls.
I tried to be more bold with my 1st and 2nd attempts too and I think that paid off with some significantly higher results than I would’ve secured had I gone with my usual extremely conservative 1st attempts. I went 16 for 18 at the final count.
I look forward to competing again next year – and I will be training very hard to secure a final placing a little higher than this year’s performance.
Congratulations to all the lifters in the 2009 USAWA Nationals! Thanks again to the loaders and the judges! Thanks also to the family and friends who made the trip and cheered on their respective lifters!
Until next year.
FULL MEET RESULTS:
2009 USAWA National Championships
Dino Gym, Abilene, Kansas
June 20th, 2009
Meet Director: Al Myers
Lifts: Snatch – one arm, Cheat Curl, Clean & Jerk – Fulton Bar, Pullover and Press, Deadlift – 2 bars, Backlift
Officials (3 official system used): Bill Clark, Thom Van Vleck, Mark Mitchell
Loaders: Darren Barnhart, Ryan Batchman
Scorekeeper: Scott Tully
Notes: All lifts in pounds. BWT = bodyweight, WAP = Weight Adjusted Points, AAP = Age Adjusted Points
Extra Attempts for records:
Chad Ullom Pullover and Press 311 lbs.
Joe Garcia Deadlift – 2 bars 350 lbs.
Dennis Mitchell Snatch – one arm 30 lbs. (Left), Cheat Curl 83.5 lbs., Deadlift – 2 bars 200 lbs.
Best Lifter Awards:
Best Lifter Overall Al Myers
Best Lifter Open Al Myers
Best Lifter Master Al Myers
Best Lifter 20-39 Age Group Mike McBride
Best Lifter 40-44 Age Group Al Myers
Best Lifter 50-54 Age Group Randy Smith
Best Lifter 55-59 Age Group Joe Garcia
Best Lifter 65-69 Age Group Denny Habecker
Best Lifter 70-74 Age Group Rudy Bletscher
Best Lifter 75-79 Age Group Dennis Mitchell
Best Lifter 80-84 Age Group Art Montini