Powerlifting Saved This Man’s Life!

by John McKean

This is a reprint of an article by John McKean in the February 1979 issue of Muscular Development. It is a very well written story about Art Montini and how weightlifting helped him overcome severe burns and disability. Art was the oldest competitor at the 2009 USAWA National Championships, and after doing a Back Lift with 1000 pounds at 81 years of age is showing no signs of slowing down!! Read and enjoy.

Arthur Montini - his speedy recovery from a near fatality is an amazing testament to the benefits of powerlifting, and weight training exercises.

The 250 pound squat was a slow teeth-gnashing struggle toward completion even though the trembling lifter hadn’t quite hit the parallel mark. It was the most beautiful lift I can ever remember seeing!! Let me explain my excitement over such a mediocre performance. The lifter was 50-year old Arthur Montini, a very popular powerlifting competitor, official, and meet director in Western Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountain Association. Certainly nowhere near his best, Art ground out the light squat in defiance of a severe accident three months earlier which threatened him with total physical debilitation.

A Steelworker from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Montini was caught in a disastrous furnace explosion at the mill, leaving him as little more than a burnt, barely alive, mass of human flesh. Doctors at the Western Pennsylvania Burn Unit confirmed that he received burns covering over 65% of his body. His chances of survival were practically nil. Although punished with pain almost beyond comprehension, Montini’s amazing body, toughened by over 30 years of heavy barbell training, proved to be the winning factor in the life or death struggle. Certain that this man’s age would be a negative factor, doctors were astonished when tests confirmed Art’s physical condition to be that of a very healthy 21 year old!! And, matching a fighting body, the old iron slinger had an unyielding desire and determination not only to live but to completely heal – and quickly!!! Showing unbelievably rapid progress from the start, Art was soon allowed visitors. The place looked like a major lifting meet after a while! Testament to the esteem held for this local iron game celebrity was the large influx of lifters and officials who kept pouring in. The nurses were most pleased to see so many good looking, muscular young men in the hospital corridors!

Although still bandaged from his recent, very serious accident, Art Montini performs a favorite strength building movement - incline sit-ups with a pair of York 110 pounders! Talk about abs -wow!

Art cheerfully greeted all his visitors, maintaining good spirits despite the pain and extreme discomfort he was constantly experiencing. Except for the “mummy” bandages which covered him head to toe, he remained the same old talkative, personable Art Montini. Naturally, conversation with his weightlifting buddies always revolved around training. Refusing to acknowledge his condition, Art claimed the worst part of his hospitalization was the inactivity – he desperately wanted to get back to his barbells!! All of us who visited, to the man, were left with absolutely no doubt that the old master would return to the lifting platform once more!!

Recovery from severe burns is a very slow and agonizing process. Daily removal of dead skin as well as constant medication and extensive bandaging are the necessary horrors burn patients must face. Body heat loss, due to the lack of outer skin, causes almost constant shivering, and chances of acquiring an infection are extremely high. But Art Montini is not the type of guy to lie around feeling sorry for himself, and he refused to merely endure a long, drawn out healing process. His three decades of training had convinced him that he could force cell growth if only he could exercise and acquire the necessary nutrients. He knew that his body would not let him down now, having been well versed in making speedy recuperation from constant heavy workouts over the years!

Shortly after his admission into the hospital, Art decided to make good use of a bar hanging across his bed, normally used to help patients pull themselves up to a sitting position. Not only did he sit up, but he proceeded to do set after set of chin-ups on the bar! Considering his blistered skin and total body bandaging, this movement was not exactly easy. But Art liked the feel of the exercise and welcomed the opportunity to get his blood circulating more rapidly and his muscles working again. Soon other improvisations, such as isometric contractions, were incorporated into his makeshift workout. The pain involved was inconsequential compared to this chance to make productive use of his excessive spare time. Now I’ve heard of training under adverse conditions, but this was almost incomprehensible – here was a man who was beginning his comeback while still on the critical list!!

Concentration with heavy attempts is the key to Montini's routine. Here he sinks his teeth into a heavy deadlift.

Supplements were next. Art had his friends sneak in boxes of his favorite Hoffman Hi-Protein Candy Bars, Massive doses of Vitamin C and E, and a few other vitamin and mineral aids. The hospital had already placed him on a high calorie, high protein, balanced diet in order to fulfill the massive needs of replacing dead and dying cells of the burnt skin. However, Montini knew that even huge quantities of today’s rather devitalized , processed foods would not do the job. Certainly the hospital food was not quite good enough for a weightlifter! The self-prescribed, highly supplemented diet quickly worked its magic. In light of Art’s ever accelerating recovery rate, even the skeptical doctors were forced to encourage him to continue his intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Fantastic physical condition and tremendous recuperative abilities are not normal characteristics of a 50-year old man. Of course, Art Montini has been very stubborn to acknowledge either physical or mental aging, having found his personal “fountain of youth” through powerlifting. By thinking and training like a young athlete, he has maintained the body of a young athlete – perhaps the saving grace from his terrible accident. Art has always ignored so-called “conditioning” programs – or “suggested” exercises for middle-aged men. In fact, I sincerely doubt that he has ever performed a truly light workout in his career. No calisthenics, 10-pound dumbbells, or high rep-low weight movements for this iron man!! Art goes to the gym to be challenged and loves to load those heavy plates on the Olympic bar! He is a competitor, always will be, and never plans to change the enjoyment he derives from powerlift training. Even after his relatively short hospital stay, though still healing and bandaged to some degree, Art was in the gym squatting, benching, and deadlifting!!

Montini has competed in area power meets since their inception in the 60’s, but has diligently performed the heavy movements since his earliest barbell training during the late 1940’s. Over the years he has acquired a vast knowledge of training methods and lifting techniques, determining those which work best for him. His body and mental attitude seem to prefer a very basic system of heavy weights and low reps. Depending on the nearness of a meet, he will perform maximum attempts for sets of five, three or single reps on the powerlifts. Also, with fondness for his Olympic lifting days, the “old man” likes to work up in singles to a heavy press, snatch, and clean and jerk as supplemental exercises.

Progress, not maintenance, is his constant goal. “When I can’t increase my poundages on the lifts, I’ll quit – and those days are a long way off!” claims the hardened veteran. Indeed, his best gains have been made in recent years as the iron “bug” has bitten harder than ever. Displaying the exuberance and energy of a teenager, Montini takes almost masochistic delight in forcing out reps with maximum or near-maximum weight. He loves to put himself to the test at a contest and is in his glory competing, officiating, coaching or just being with his fellow lifters.

When asked which bodybuilding exercises he performs to supplement his heavy lifting and for general physical fitness, Art just laughs. He very pointedly comments that max poundage powerlifting is bodybuilding! However, the old boy has often been observed doing sets of high incline sit-ups – while holding two 110-pound dumbells! Just can’t keep the guy away from those heavy weights! As far as a physique is concerned, that 50-year-old tank of a torso speaks for itself!

Montini is perhaps one of the premiere teachers of powerlifting in the country, based on his experience and the number of students he has reached. Over 20 years ago he and Harry McCoy founded the highly popular Ambridge V.F.W. Barbell Club. Devoting much of his spare time toward working for the betterment of this non-profit gym, Art has developed many fine Olympic and power lifters. He leads his teams into practically every area competition, and personally conducts several large meets at the V.F.W. each year. No matter how experienced or prestigious the trainee, this old wizard of weights is always sought for help and advice. Currently, the president of the club, Montini remains the head guru of power at the Ambridge V.F.W.

Presently Art chooses to ignore the wounds, scars, and bandaging remaining from his all too recent accident and has plunged knee deep into a competitive powerlifting routine. He is still upset that the untimely explosion ruined his plans to compete in the 1978 Masters’ Age National Championships, but vows to be ready for 1979! The body may still be a bit wracked up right now, but the competitive spirit has reached an all-time high!

Art has been grinding out heavy squats like this for over 30 years!

Art Montini has shown us all how our beloved sport can condition both body and mind to handle even the most severe stress. Some current fitness “experts” find it fashionable to dismiss heavy weight training as a viable source of exercise for health and longevity. However, Art’s punishing ordeal points out that in addition to providing stimulus for the muscles, powerlifting can create development of tremendous recuperative powers, strong resistance to physical damage, and a mental “toughness” not tolerant of defeat. And just ask Art about longevity. He’ll cheerfully tell you that not only has weightlifting given him so much health and happiness during his lifetime, its benefits have granted him life itself!!