Hall of Fame Biography – John McKean class of 1999

John McKean deadlifting.

John was born on December 15th, 1945 and has been competing in weightlifting for over 45 years, starting in 1962. He started as a lifter primarily as a powerlifter, but also has competed in master’s olympic lifting, having won two US National titles. However, all-round weightlifting soon captivated his attention and he has devoted all of his efforts toward all-round training and competition since its inception. John is a retired teacher (32 years in Jr. High math), a

John McKean performing a 2 bar deadlift.

retired martial arts instructor (American Combatives for individuals and airline crews), and a retired weightlifter. John has won so many National and World Meets that he has lost count!!! One accomplishment that he has done that is hard to top is that he went for over 20 years never losing a meet in his age and weight division! He presently has over 125 USAWA and IAWA records on the books. His earliest all-round weightlifting inspirations came from the great National and World Meets that John Vernacchio promoted, followed by the tremendous atmosphere that Frank Ciavattone created in his National and World Meets. John said, “These guys worked so hard to insure that everyone enjoyed themselves and they provided the absolute best conditions to do top notch lifting!! Their meets were more like great workouts with good friends than the usual cut and dry weightlifting competitions. Just big parties, really!!!”. John has served as an official at many meets, and served a term as the IAWA international secretary. He has wrote extensively about all-round weightlifting training methods in Hardgainer magazine and MILO. He has been involved in the promotion of several National Meets which includes being the meet director at two National Championships in Ambridge with Art Montini, and being the

John McKean performing a Hip Lift.

co-director at the two National Meets at Jumpstretch Fitness in Youngstown, Ohio. John has received much personal satisfaction from the great time he has had getting his two sons, Sean and Rob, involved in the USAWA along with many of his school students. One of his biggest thrills in lifting was being probably the only teacher to establish an official class for all-round weightlifting in the public school system. For four years he was given the state’s mandate (IEP) to take over the complete physical education of a legally blind student by the name of Matt Van Fossan. Matt, under John’s coaching, really took to lifting and established several teen National and World Records and even won a National Championship!!! These days John trains at home, still writes a bit, and lives near Pittsburgh with his wife of 40 years, Marilyn. He is still very involved in the lives of his two grown sons, Rob and Sean.

Use it or Lose it

by Thom Van Vleck

I like to lift weights, but I also “LIKE” weights. I have some antique stuff in my gym but I am not a collector. Everything in my gym is there for training. It if breaks, so be it, but I don’t like to have things around just to collect dust.

One of my favorites, is a complete Jackson Barbell set I have. There is a long story on how the Jackson Weightlifting Club had a set, lost it, then got it back. It is also a story that is not quite finished as I am still trying to find a pair of 2 1/2lbs plates to complete the lost set (that’s a big hint for anyone out there who knows where I could get a couple!). Oh, and in case you thought maybe the maker of Jackson Barbells was a relative of the Mom’s family and the JWC family….the simple answer is “not that I know of” but he’s certainly a brother in iron. Just a happy coincidence.

I also have collection of Jackson advertising. Most of which I have framed in my gym, but some socked away for when I have more wall space.

The new Jackson Adjustable Dumbbell Sets

The above is a nice example. I really like the “capital exercise” that was chosen to illustrate the benefits of owning a set of Jackson “Dumbells” (I also like the way they spell Dumbell). At any rate, It might be a good exercise to try as I see Al Myer’s has a “two hands anyhow” coming up in his Dino Gym meet on January 16th, 2010!

I like the old stuff as well as the new stuff. When I wrap my hands around the oly bar from the set my Uncles ordered in 1957….I’m inspired. You know that there’s a basement somewhere with a dumbbell set just like the one above and it’s just rusting away, long forgotten. I won’t knock guys who collect stuff, I can understand that, but to me, it was made to be used and my stuff will get used until it falls apart….but considering how Andy made his stuff…I may fall apart long before that happens.

A USAWA Christmas Carol

by Thom Van Vleck

My father in law, Bob Baybo, came up for a visit from St. Louis today. He is 70 this year and still in great shape. He lifts, bike rides, scuba dives, he has lots of interests that keep him active. Back in the 60’s and 70’s he was a bodybuilder. He entered a couple of small contests, but 4 kids to take care of meant it was more of a sideline than his goal in life.

Before that, he played a lot of baseball, even ending up with a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals. He retold that story today for my kids, his eyes still twinkled at what he called his best day ever on the field. He said his glove was like a vacuum, he hit everything that was thrown at him, and didn’t miss a throw, but alas, it was not to be and he went about the business of the rest of his life after a few more tries at the big time.

He ended his story with “no regrets”. Maybe some dashed dreams, but he felt like he did his best, he played his hardest, he did the best that he could but time and circumstance weren’t in his favor. Then he talked about a trip he has planned for 2010. It will involve a grueling hike and physical challenges that a man half his age would probably cringe at.

I try to live that way. I lift as hard as I can, when I can. I don’t shy away from a chance to display my skills, and I try to go after my dreams while I can because life will soon enough take the opprotunities away. We all seem to reflect on our past at the end of the year. I think that is good. We should count our blessings, share stories, love and laugh.

We should share in the present. Tell stories, share a few laughs, maybe a tear or two. Be there for one another, show support, let others know you are there for them.

And soon, the New Year comes. The future. New goals to chase, new dreams are born, and new stories to be made.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the members of the USAWA! Now is the time to reflect on your past, share your present, and plan for the future!

What is the “Right Way”?

by Thom Van Vleck

I had the privledge of doing an article a few years ago that included Al Oerter. Many know that Al won 4 Gold medals, breaking the Olympic record each time. No one has dominated the Olympics quite the way Al did and just before he passed away he granted me an interview and I did a story on him for Milo magazine. In the process, we corresponded for some time afterwards and talked training many times. For my article, I requested and received several good photos of Al. I asked specifically for one of him training and this is the one I he sent:

Al Oerter bench pressing off a chest pad.

I liked the photo for a lot of reasons and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. You will note that he has a 50lbs scale weight on the end of the bench. This was to help keep the bench down as Al said he always benched very dynamically….or should I say the “ol’ bounce and heave” or “cheat bench”. You will note the pading on his chest. He told me it was to cushion his chest as he really slammed the weight down and then drove his hips as high as he could to complete each rep. He also told me he used a weight light enough to explode off his chest and he also told me that this was his intended purpose. Being a thrower, he wanted to be explosive, so he took the most undynamic of lifts and turned it into something very dynamic. In other words, he cheated on purpose.

Very often we are told the “right way” to do things. The reality is that our bodies adapt to what we throw at it and if winning a bench press contest is what you desire, then you want to train that way. Al Oerter had other goals in mind and trained the lift for his own purpose. My point is, there are many “right ways” to do any lift, the only thing wrong would be to do it in a way that does not make you stronger in the way you want to be.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club and Paul Anderson

By Thom Van Vleck

A lot has been said about Paul Anderson over the years. He has become an almost mythical person with often fantastic feats of strength to his credit. Paul was the 1956 Olympic Superheavyweight World Champion, this is well documented. He then became a professional strongman and traveled all over the nation, and world, next couple of decades using his strength talents to spread a Christian message. Often, exactly what Paul lifted and how he lifted it has been the center of debate. Paul rarely lifted in anything close to contest conditions and his weights could rarely be verified. Often, his lifts were exaggerated by enthusiastic fans and few of the hundreds of exhibitions he did were well documented. No one can say exactly what Paul did or didn’t do over the course of his entire career.

However, two of my Uncles did see Paul when he was in his prime. I consider them to be reliable sources and I recently talked to them again to get the “straight scoop” on what they saw and their impression of Paul.

Wayne Jackson met Paul in February of 1967 Monroe, Iowa. Paul was preaching and performing after an Olympic Lifting meet held there that day. The meet was over and Paul came out and talked for about 30 minutes. Wayne said Paul would have been 34 years old, and that Paul said he weighed 375lbs. Wayne was always good at guessing people’s bodyweight and he thought that was pretty accurate. He also said he’d guess Paul was 5’8” to 5’9” tall. He said that Paul started lifting after he finished talking. Wayne said that if he warmed up, he did not see him do it and that it was impossible for him to have warmed up after the speech he gave. Wayne said that Paul did no warm ups, just went straight to the weight and lifted it. He said that Paul used the bars and weights used in the contest and Wayne felt certain of the weights he lifted. Wayne was always a master at glancing at a bar and telling you how much was on it and was meticulous about things being accurate. He said Paul did the following lifts and feats:

1. 755lb Squat, below parallel, barefoot, swimming trunks, t shirt, belt only.

2. 700lb deadlift

3. 370lb Power Clean and Press followed by a 390lb power clean and press (Wayne said he did a slight squat on the clean to catch it and did not hold the press at the top, but pressed it in a strict fashion).

4. Drove a nail thru a board with the nail wrapped in something using arm strength.

5. Back lift with volunteers in the audience, Wayne said he could not recall them mentioning the weight, but he’d guess there were 20 teenage boys and girls on the table.

6. Finally, the last feat was Paul skipped rope and did all kinds of moves with the rope. Wayne called it “real fancy footwork like boxers did”. He said he was amazed how fast and nimble Paul was and this impressed him as much as the weight lifted.

Phil Jackson met Paul twice. The first time was in April of 1968 at a Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He said that Paul had on a black outfit, tight and stretchy like wrestlers wore and the letters “PA” were embroidered on breast of the shirt to one side. Paul did a side press with a 225lb Dumbbell for 15 reps. Phil said that Paul didn’t lock out each rep, but that he had each rep to arms length and felt he could have locked them out had he wanted to. Paul blew up a hot water bottle, drove the spike through a board and did a back lift. He said he got to sit on the table when Paul lifted it and that there were a lot of young people, mostly teens on the table. He guessed there were about 2000lbs total. He said Paul lifted it easily, and then twisted from side to side with it. Afterwards, Phil had his wife take a picture of him with Paul.

Phil requested a private meeting with Paul and was granted it in the study of the Church after the show. He said Paul appeared very tired and when Phil tried to tell him how much he admired him Paul said, “Admire me for what I say and not for my strength”. They sat and visited and while Phil is a devout Christian and felt secure in his own salvation he felt Paul was uncomfortable talking about his own strength and much preferred to talk about his Christian faith. He said in hindsight Paul probably thought he was being sent someone who wanted to become a Christian and not just a fan. Phil said he was not “put off” by Paul at all, though.

Phil offered to help him load his gear into the truck and trailer Paul had. Paul refused help and said he loaded and unloaded his own gear at all times. Phil said he went and sat in his car across the street and watched Paul load his truck. He said that he was amazed at how strong Paul looked and how thick his shoulders, back, arms and in particular his neck were. Phil said he was in “Awe” of Paul and had never seen anything like him up to that point in his life. He said that the next time he was impressed by someone that looked to be on Paul’s level was when he met Joe Dube, which would have been about the time Dube won the Superheavyweight World title in 1969. Phil saw Paul speak at a Church in Atlanta about 3 months later. Paul did no feats of strength, just delivered a message while wearing a suit and tie. Phil said the suit and tie made him appear even bigger.

Both of my Uncles were devout Christians before and after meeting Paul Anderson, but both stated they were inspired by his words and his lifting. I recall in the 80’s, just before Paul passed away there was a big event held in, I think, Florida that honored him. I wanted to go at the time, but could not afford it and could find no one that wanted to split costs. Now I wish I would have made that trip even if I begged, borrowed, or stole the money to do it. I have that picture of Paul with Phil hanging in my gym and consider Paul an honorary member of the JWC.

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