Interview with Tom Ryan

By Al Myers

(webmasters note: The following interview with Tom Ryan was done on June 3rd, 2009.  I normally don’t rerun USAWA blog stories but with Tom’s recent passing I would like to “air” this one again as a lot of newcomers to the website might not have seen it.  Tom was a very unique and eccentric person and his personality comes through in this interview. He was a good friend, and I will miss our weekly email exchanges.)

Tom Ryan watching as Barry Bryan does a 1500 pound Hip Lift at a meet in John Vernacchio's Gym in 1989.

Tom Ryan watching as Barry Bryan does a 1500 pound Hip Lift at a meet in John Vernacchio’s Gym in 1989.

Al: where do you currently live and what do you do for a living?

Tom: I live in Acworth, Georgia (outside Atlanta) and have lived in Georgia most of my life, being a native Atlantan. I was a college professor for decades and now teach online courses for I have also done some course development work for them and do occasional consulting through them. I have written four statistics books (600-page books) for my New York area publisher and expect to finish my fifth book by the end of the year. I have also done a considerable amount of additional writing, including some sports writing, such as six articles on basketball statistics within the past few years for I enjoy doing various types of writing and a few weeks ago wrote a guest column on teaching quantitative courses that was in the Atlanta paper on May 20th. The American Statistical Association, which elected me a Fellow in 2000 (I’ve been a member since 1972), somehow found out about that article and have linked the article at their website.

Al: When did you first start weightlifting and how did you get started?

Tom: I started lifting weights in December, 1958, at the age of 13. I would have made an ideal “before” picture for a bodybuilding course ad as I was 5-7 and weighed only 107 pounds. I was all skin and bones and my father even called me “Bones”. I believe I pressed 40 pounds for 8 reps in my first workout. I was in the 8th grade at the time and there were two kids in my physical education class who couldn’t climb the rope in the gym and touch the ceiling. I was one of the two. Then I started lifting weights and did succeed (to the cheers of my fellow students), even after almost dying from whooping cough and missing a few weeks of school.

I went from “bones” to almost the other extreme, eventually reaching 305 pounds, with my highest competitive bodyweight being 296 at two contests. I did not compete when I was in my prime, as I wanted to wait until I was a national caliber lifter before I entered competition. By my mid-30s, however, I realized that was never going to happen, and that was a depressing realization because I trained very hard. Then my life changed when I wrote to Murray Levin, who ran U.S. Olympic lifting at the time, in 1981 and offered to help in any way that I could. Murray sent my letter to Bill Clark, who immediately wrote to me. Bill had a paragraph about me in his Master’s newsletter in 1982, even though I was only 36 at the time and Master’s lifting then started at age 40. Bill also sent me his Missouri Valley newsletter. This was well before the days of the USAWA but Bill had introduced me to a new world and I now had something to train for.

Al: Was there any one person who introduced you to lifting?

Tom: No one got me started. It was pure self-motivation, being motivated by my lack of strength and muscles. As I aged and started becoming stronger, with a 289 clean and jerk in training at the age of 19, I idolized Tony Garcy, five-time national Olympic lifting champion, and followed his career very closely. I eventually met Tony at the 1966 Senior Nationals and spoke with him briefly then. Several months ago I sent him a sympathy card after the death of one of his sons and received a nice card and note from he and his wife in reply. I was also motivated by Paul Anderson, whom I met in 1972 and corresponded with during the early 1970s, as well as the late 1980s.

Al: When did you first get involved with the all-rounds? Didn’t you compete in one of the very first World Meets?

Tom: I am one of the charter members of the USAWA, as indicated by the list on page 23 of the 5/17/09 edition of the Strength Journal. I competed in my first Zercher Meet in 1987, about the time that plans to start the USAWA were being formalized, so I just naturally became a member of the USAWA. Yes, I competed in the World Meet in Plymouth Meeting, PA in 1989. I suffered a tricep injury during the Pullover and Push event that took a very long time to fully heal.

Al: What have been your favorite lifts?

Tom: Over the years my favorite lifts have been the ones that I can do, quite frankly, and that list shrinks as I age! LOL When I was much younger, I enjoyed pressing and tried different types of pressing. My best pressing performance in USAWA competition occurred at the 1989 Zercher Meet when I did a heels together military press with 200 and then pressed 210 on my last attempt but lost my balance and had to take two steps backward. Later that year I thought I had pressed 209 at the World Meet, but I expected the weight to be heavier than it was and put a bit too much body into the lift, resulting in two red lights for backbend.

Probably my lifetime best pressing, considering form, was done in training one day in 1977 when I did a wide-grip military press with 229 for 4 reps. My heels weren’t together but those were strict presses with no lower body movement at all. That was one of those magic moments when I was really “on” and knew that would never happen again. And it didn’t!

During the late 1980s and early 1990s I made some reasonable one-hand deadlifts in USAWA contests, ranging from 330 to my PR of 345. My back started “complaining” about any type of deadlift with very much weight as I moved through my 50s, so I became somewhat of a one-arm thumbless deadlift specialist, doing over 200 officially. This is the type of lift that allows grip specialists like Ben Edwards to excel. In my case, I think it is a matter of technique because my hand strength is rather ordinary. I also found that I was reasonably good at the rectangular fix, at least for my age, as I made 95 pounds at the age of 61.

Al: I know one of your interests has been the history of weightlifting. Who are some of your favorite old time strongmen?

Tom: There are people who know more about the history of weightlifting and oldetime strongmen than I do, but yes, I have been interested in these subjects for decades and began work on a book on historical strength figures in the late 1980s. I mentioned Tony Garcy previously but I would rather not think of him as “oldetime” since he is only 6 years older than me. LOL. Rather, if we think of strongmen who performed in the general vicinity of 1900, there were certain performances that I wish I could have seen. In particular, one evening in 1889 Apollon (Louis Uni) did not know that the iron bars on a gate that was part of his stage performance had been tempered by a blacksmith, who was bribed by a prankster. Unaware of this, Apollon and his massive forearms struggled to bend the bars, while his wife prodded him , assuming that he was just being lazy. Finally Apollon was able to bend the bars enough for him to slide through them, but he was totally exhausted and explained to the audience that he was unable to continue his performance. David Willoughby believed that this may have been Apollon’s greatest strength feat.

I wish I could have also seen the bent presses of Arthur Saxon. It is hard for me to believe that a man weighing only about 204 pounds could bent press close to 400. (He is credited with 370 but reportedly did 386 unofficially and supposedly attempted 409 but the weights started falling off the bar.) Bent pressing was popular in the 1940s, especially in the New York area, and although Al Beinert bent pressed 360 in the mid-1900s weighing almost 60 pounds more than Saxon, nobody has approached Saxon’s record.

It would also have been fun to meet some of the leading strongmen of centuries ago, like Thomas Topham and Giovanni Belzoni, not to mention the enigmatic giant, Angus McAskill.

Al: Do you have any special memories of any all-round weightlifting meets?

Tom: Well, I would like to forget the injuries that I sustained! LOL Yes, I certainly have fond memories of people with varied backgrounds and professions and from different parts of the country and world getting together for fun and competition. There were personal duels I had with Bill Clark at Zercher Meets, with him insisting that we compete straight up, despite our differences in age and bodyweight. It was fun seeing Steve Schmidt do harness lifts with well over 3,000 pounds, far in excess of what the rest of us did, and more recently to see his feats, either in person or on film, with bar bending and teeth lifting and pulling very heavy vehicles, as well as record-breaking repetition back lifting. Although I didn’t witness it, Joe Garcia’s hand and thigh lift with 1,910 is a tremendous accomplishment, the highest lift on record. Since I go back a long way, there were some competitions in which I saw Ed Zercher do some exhibition leg pressing when he was 80 or so. Yes, I have many fond memories.

Al: What do you think the future of the USAWA will be?

Tom: Over the years, Bill Clark had hoped that the USAWA could attract some of the strength stars of the past, but that hasn’t happened. Jim Bradford, who is now 80 and was a silver medalist in the 1952 and 1960 Olympics, has been an ardent follower, but I don’t recall him competing in any USAWA contest. There are so many official lifts that virtually everyone, regardless of physical condition, will be able to find some lifts that they can do. I would like to see more people compete, both young and old, but our numbers are dwindling, not increasing. Hopefully your considerable and praiseworthy efforts with this website, Al, will increase interest in the USAWA. We can only hope.

Al: Thank you, Tom, for participating in this interview.

IAWA(UK) Goerner Club

By Al Myers

Past IAWA President Steve Gardner hoisting up a big Middle Finger Deadlift at the 2000 IAWA Gold Cup!

Past IAWA President Steve Gardner hoisting up a big Middle Finger Deadlift at the 2000 IAWA Gold Cup!

It’s only appropriate that I do a followup on the Goerner Club and the IAWA(UK) as there have been many great Middle Finger Deadlifters in the IAWA(UK) as well as the USAWA.  Finger lifting has always been very popular in England and Scotland.  At every IAWA Gold Cup someone from the IAWA(UK) does some sort of finger lift.  I’ve mentioned that the USAWA has 17 different finger lifts but the IAWA(UK) Rulebook has 22 different lifts done with the fingers! Overall the IAWA(UK) has many less official lifts than the USAWA but not when it comes to the fingers!

So how many IAWA(UK) lifters are there in the Goerner Club?  Does the number exceed the USAWA? Well, I did some checking into this. I recieved help from the finger specialist himself, Steve Gardner, to make this list.  I hope it’s complete, but if anyone is left off the list please let me know and I’ll give you the recognition you deserve.

IAWA(UK) Goerner Club

1. David Horne, England 402.2 Pounds, June 29, 1994
2. Steve Gardner, England 352.5 Pounds, Feb 8, 1992
3. Andy Tomlin, Scotland 352.5 Pounds, Nov 3, 2012
4. John Gardner, England 330.5 Pounds, May 12, 2007
5. M. Street, England 330.5 Pounds, Jan 13, 1994
6. Steve Sherwood, England 330.5 Pounds, Feb. 8th, 1992

That’s SIX LIFTERS. It looks like the USAWA has some catching up to do!!!  But amongst the Goerner Club members who are from the USAWA and the IAWA(UK) the BEST ALL TIME  Middle Fingers Deadlifter is not included.  If anyone knows the answer to this please let it  be known in the Discussion Forum. Anyone who has been involved at all in the last few years should know who it is as it’s pretty obvious.  I plan to do a feature on this lifter in the near future because he is WITHOUT A DOUBT the best finger lifter in IAWA history.

Hack Lift – Fulton Bar

By Al Myers

The best overall IAWA  lift in the Fulton Bar Hack Lift belongs to English lifter Josh Davidson.  He lifted 235.5 KGS on September 3rd, 2016.

The best overall IAWA lift in the Fulton Bar Hack Lift belongs to English lifter Josh Davidson. He lifted 235.5 KGS on September 3rd, 2016.

The last lift of the Grip Championships will be the Fulton Bar Hack Lift. The USAWA classifies the 2″ bar as the Fulton Bar.  The Hack Lift is hard enough, but when you change bars to the Fulton Bar it gets even harder. The bigger bar really wants to hang up on the back of the legs.  This lift has NEVER been contested in a USAWA competition – only in record days in the past. It’s definitely not a favorite lift.  The rules for the Hack Lift – Fulton Bar is as follows from the USAWA Rulebook:

F9. Hack Lift – Fulton Bar

The rules of the Hack Lift apply except a Fulton Bar is used.

The best overall USAWA Records for this lift are:

70 KG Matt Hancock 279
75 KG Roger LaPointe 220
80 KG John McKean 275
85 KG Art Montini 200
90 KG Mike Driscoll 313
100 KG Joe Ciavattone Jr. 357
105 KG Jesse Jobe 310


Deadlift – Middle Fingers

By Al Myers

Our USAWA President Denny Habecker getting getting a good stretch on his middle fingers doing the Middle Fingers Deadlift at the 2011 Grip Championships.

Our USAWA President Denny Habecker getting getting a good stretch on his middle fingers doing the Middle Fingers Deadlift at the 2011 Grip Championships.

The THIRD lift contested at the USAWA Grip Championships is the Deadlift – Middle Fingers.  This is a “love or hate” lift for most lifters. It’s one that has been contested before at the Grip Championships. A USAWA Grip Championship wouldn’t be complete without at least one finger lift in it. A lot of other grip competitions ignore the finger lifts as grip lifts, but not the USAWA!  Out of our over 200 officials lifts, 17 are done with an individual finger/fingers (I’ll give a prize to anyone that knows them all).

The USAWA Rule for the Deadlift – Middle Fingers is:

B7. Deadlift – Fingers, Middle

The rules of the Deadlift apply except only the middle fingers of both hands may be used. The middle fingers of both hands may grip the bar in an alternate manner. The thumb must not be in contact with the lifting fingers.

Pretty simple – just hook your middle fingers around the bar and pull!  The key is to block out the pain and the rest is easy.  I’ve written several past blogs on the Middle Finger Deadlift (you can search and read them on this website if you want to), and in a few of them I’ve mentioned what I like to call the USAWA Goerner Club. The great German Strongman Hermann Goerner claimed to have lifted 308.5 pounds in the MF Deadlift around 1925. I consider this mark the ultimate goal for the Middle Finger Deadlift. Only a few USAWA Lifters have accomplished this. This is the short list for the USAWA Goerner’s Club.

1. Kevin Fulton 400 pounds – 1999 SuperGrip Challenge
2. Ben Edwards 315 pounds – 2016 USAWA Grip Championships
3. Bill DiCiccio 309 pounds – 1994 IAWA Gold Cup

That’s IT – only three lifters.  Several others have been very close to making it in official USAWA competition (Joe Garcia 305#, Myself 305#, James Fuller 303#, and Chad Ullom 300#). But being close doesn’t get you in the club!  It doesn’t even get you a pat on the back. As much as I hate the Middle Fingers Deadlift, it really intriques me as I admire any lifter who wants to punish themselves for the fun of it.  I’ve looked through most all past USAWA meet results (but still may have missed something), so I’m pretty confident that the USAWA Goerner Club stands at three.

But yesterday I got to thinking about how much the pre-USAWA All Rounders loved the MF deadlift.  They also did the MF DL in official competitions so their results are not just some “gym story” of someone doing a big MF deadlift in training somewhere.  The precusor and inspiration for the All Rounds came from the early Missouri Valley Weightlifting Association, whereas Bill Clark promoted Odd Lift competitions for many years. Lets see how the modern age USAWA lifters match up against these old timers! The following is a list I developed from old record lists and meet results from the early days.  I only listed marks that have exceeded Goerners famous 308.5# lift.

1.  Ken McClain, Missouri 350 pounds – 1984
2.  Bill Broadnax, MSP 350 pounds – 1981
3.  Joe Nanney, USP 345 pounds – 1961
4.  Daryl Johnson, Arkansas 335 pounds – 1980
5.  Wilbur Miller, Kansas 320 pounds – 1983

That’s FIVE LIFTERS that I found! There were probably more.  It looks like the USAWA has some catching up to do.  Let’s make that happen at this weekend’s Grip Championships.

Deadlift – Fulton Dumbbell, One Arm

By Al Myers

Scott Tully performing the top Fulton Dumbbell Deadlift in the USAWA Record Books at the 2012 Grip Championships.

Scott Tully performing the top Fulton Dumbbell Deadlift in the USAWA Record Books at the 2012 Grip Championships.

The second lift contested this coming weekend at the USAWA Grip Championships will be the Deadlift – Fulton Dumbbell, One Arm. This is a great lift in the USAWA and has been contested before at the Grip Championships. It is one of my favorite grip lifts in the USAWA. Several years ago I wrote a blog over the origin of this lift. The following is an exerpt from that blog that I would like to share with you again.

Back in the early 80’s at a odd lifting meet in Liberal, Kansas, meet director Bob Burtzloff included a thick-handled dumbbell deadlift in the contest.  This dumbbell had a smooth 2 inch diameter handle.  Wilbur Miller, the “Cimarron Kid” and Kansas lifting legend,  was the hands on favorite to win this event.  Wilbur has huge hands with long fingers and was very rarely beaten in any lifting event that involved grip strength.  But this day was one of those rare days – when a young farm boy from Nebraska by the name of Kevin Fulton pulled off the upset! Upon Fulton’s winning – Bill Clark announced that this lift would be forever named the Fulton Lift.  This eventually lead to the naming of the 2″ bar as the Fulton Bar along with the Fulton Dumbbell.  As for Wilbur – upon the finish of the event he went back to the warm-up area and proceeded to pull more on this lift than he did in competition.  He went home knowing that he may not have won the event on this day,  but with the satisfaction of knowing he would next time!

This is the USAWA Rule for the Deadlift – Fulton Dumbbell, One Arm:

I7. Deadlift – Fulton Dumbbell, One Arm

The rules of the Deadlift – One Arm apply except the dumbbell used must have a handle of 2” in diameter. No knurling is allowed on the handle. The maximum diameter of the plates used is 18 inches.

I have some really nice Fulton Dumbbells that we will use in the Grip Championships.  I expect to see some really great lifts this weekend.  Since this is a One Arm event you must choose which hand you want to lift with on all your attempts. Below is the USAWA ALL TIME OVERALL RECORDS in the Deadlift – Fulton Dumbbell, One Arm for the Mens Division.

75 KG Stephen Santangelo 130 Stephen Santangelo 130
80 KG Art Montini 60 Art Montini 60
85 KG None Denny Habecker 125
90 KG Denny Habecker 100 Denny Habecker 100
95 KG None None
100 KG Ben Edwards 175 Ben Edwards 185
105 KG None None
110 KG Jeff Ciavattone 190 Jeff Ciavattone 190
115 KG LaVerne Myers 165 LaVerne Myers 187
120 KG Al Myers 170 Al Myers 170
125 KG None Dean Ross 125
125+ KG Darren Barnhart 185 Scott Tully 192

The Best overall All Time USAWA Record is held by Scott Tully with 192 pounds, set at the 2012 USAWA Grip Championships. But I’m sure you are wondering how much did Kevin Fulton lift on that memorial odd lift day in Liberal, Kansas?  It took me “some digging” but I found that Kevin lifted 195 pounds on that day in 1983!  So let’s see if anyone this coming weekend can beat this record mark set by Kevin in the pre-USAWA days!

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