Tag Archives: Eric Todd

The Race

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.

My Gyms

by Eric Todd

I expect everyone has an aptitude for something. Everyone else in my immediate family has an aptitude for art or music. About as far as my aptitude for anything artistic goes, however, is listening to songs on the radio in my truck. I always leaned more to the physical side of things. It is not that I was a dummy. When in elementary, I was selected for our school’s gifted program…twice. Yep, that’s right, I may have been the only two time quitter of Parkview Elementary’s “independent Study”. It was supposed to be challenging, yes? No, it was boring and caused me to miss recess and PE. So I quit. However, they saw the intellectual giant that I was, and made the exception to try and get me back in a couple years later. My parents thought maybe being a bit older would help, so I was back in. Still boring, and I was still missing PE and recess. On top of that, it was in an old turn of the century school with dim lighting and lockers and desks that smelled of old bologna sandwiches. After I quit again, they said I could not return. OK by me!

Through the years I have trained in a number of environments. Some, just on a visit, and some played the role as “my” gym for a while. I started off at home. At three, I started to run with my dad. I saw him take off, and did not want to be left behind. I put on my mud boots and took chase. I think that day, he ran about a mile. I ran about a third of that. Mom and Dad were impressed, and I kept on chasing him, day after day. My distances would increase, and my speed would improve. Why was I doing it though? I guess because my dad was, and maybe I was just born with something that made it appeal to me.

For whatever reason, I always had a love for strength. I was always asking my dad to flex for me. I would assume it got tiresome to him. I remember going to see The Shepherd of the Hills play in Branson, MO. In the story, “Young Matt” lifted a steam engine so his dad could work on it. We would visit the site during the daytime, and I would try and lift the steam engine. I think I gave it my first try at 5 years old. I never was able to get that thing off the ground. But, I was lifting everything else: the edges of furniture, rocks, logs, etc. One time Grandpa cut a couple old locust trees that were out past the old outhouse near our home. I spent hours pretending the cut branches were weights and I was a weightlifter.

I grew up wrestling with dad. I was a rough and tumble boy, and I liked it when dad would get on the floor to tussle with me. I started probably about as young as when I could walk, and we would grapple often. When I was nine, we were talking to this guy at church. He was a custodian at a nearby school. He told us of a small fry wrestling club that practiced there. I had no idea that it was something you could do competitively against people your own age, and I was immediately in love with the idea. It was about the time I started wrestling, that dad got me lifting. At first, he just made me a 10# dumbbell out of some old sand weights and showed me a one arm curl and a one arm standing press. I added these to my regiment of pushups, sit-ups and running. I did this routine almost every night. After I had started getting a bit of a foundation, I started working out in the milkbarn with dad. This was my first “gym” We had a concrete weight set that we would do curls, military presses, and floor presses on the concrete milking floor. That is, until I was at a junk sale at the salebarn. There was a weightlifting bench at it, and I had the winning bid of $1.75. From then on, we benched in style. After seeing Rocky IV, I filled a gunny sack with rocks and sand and hung it from one of the pulleys on the ceiling. I had my first lat pull machine.

When I was in high school, I would lift both at home and at the school. The school gym came in two forms. There was an old universal ,a “good girl” machine, a “bad girl” machine, and an old apparatus called a leaper that was like a squat machine for improving your vertical leap. These items were in the boys locker room at the school. Then down the road at the field house, there was a better weight room with power racks, benches, bumper plates, etc.

When I want to college at Missouri Valley, their weightroom was unimpressive. I was able to get OK workouts there, but they would only let you do “safety squats”. I mean actual safety squats where you hold onto the rack and use your arms and upper back to help pull yourself back up into an upright position. Their selling point when they first showed me the weightroom was 4 “back tracks”. They said there were five of them in the nation, and MO Valley had four of them, with Bo Jackson owning the other. Just so you know, that if there are only five of such a groundbreaking piece of equipment out there, and no other colleges have jumped on the bandwagon, there is probably a reason why. They were an absolute piece of crap , and doing them was an absolute waste of time.

After my fourth year of wrestling I was out of eligibility, but I had to go a fifth year to complete my degree. Well, for individuals who were not on sports teams, you could normally get a workout in in the school weightroom at around midnight. As I usually enjoy sleeping at that hour, I went to get a membership at the local YMCA. Since I had no money, it was only like $10 a month. And since my wrestling career at Valley was over, I had lots of free time. So, I spent most of it lifting at the Y.

During the summers, me and my brother would get a membership at “Camelot Fun and Fitness” in Cameron to work out together. The only place in town, it was as lame as it sounds. The weights were right there with the cardio equipment. There was a Metallica cassette tape in a tape deck, but as soon as you turned it on, the old ladies on the treadmill turned up Oprah a little louder. You would turn up Metallica just so you could hear it, but they would soon poke at the remote until Oprah drowned it out. Not exactly a place to get hardcore. So we started using membership fees to buy bits and pieces of equipment at a time.

Upon graduation, I got a teaching and coaching gig at Excelsior Springs. They had a decent weightroom there, and I spent lots of time after school and/or practice in there. While I still enjoyed lifting, something was missing. I was going through the motions. Why was I lifting? Was it just cause I always had? I had always lifted to get strong so I could excel at wrestling, I felt. Well, I was done wrestling. I needed something new. I found strongman. This was something that came rather naturally to me. Meanwhile I took a position at Kearney School District. While they had a nice weightroom, I soon decided I would be better served just taking my workouts at home. I had been accumulating equipment for a number of years, and had a decent setup in my basement. So, for I time I split where I was training. One day, however, I was in the school weightroom after track practice. I was going for a top end overhead press. Unfortunately, there was a group of high school kids from another sports team in there jacking about. Their coach was in there with them and in on the fun, so I did not feel it was my place to reprimand them. After 4 or 5 misses, I was fed up. I couldn’t perform in that atmosphere. So I left, and never looked back.

I went back to my home gym full time. Eventually, I built my tin can barn and moved all my strongman stuff (as well as some weightlifting stuff) out there. So, now I have two gyms! I take most of my weekday gym workouts in my basement gym, and my weekend workouts take place in the barn. So, I guess I kinda came full circle. I started off my weightlifting career about a mile from where I train now. I have been lots of different places, and weight is weight. I have loved lifting it everywhere, in whatever form, from sand filled to iron, to stone. It has become a part of me. I still cannot paint a picture. I still cannot play an instrument (well, I do play a mean “Old Suzanna” on the mouth harp). And though I enjoy eating a bologna sandwich as much as the next guy, the smell of those lockers still haunt me. But I can lift me some weights!

Neck Lifting all the Way to a Guinness Record

by Lance Foster

Eric Todd enroute to a 1000 pound Neck Lift on October 19th, 2013 for a new Guinness World Record.

USAWA history was made for the second time in May 2014, when Eric Todd’s 1000 pound neck lift from October 19, 2013 was approved as a Guinness World Record, breaking the previous record of 800 pounds that had been set by Frank Ciavattone almost 8 years ago. Eric had set other USAWA records in the neck lift. On May 12, 2012 at the Heavy Lift Championships with an extra attempt of 905 pounds. A few months later he vastly exceeded that amount during the “Neck Lift Challenge” between him and Chad Ullom on October 7, 2012, held following the IAWA World Championships, edging out Chad for the win with 1030 pounds. While Eric’s world record is 30 pounds lighter, it is definitely worth mentioning that Guinness requires that a weight lifting attempt must be held for 2 seconds in the locked out position to be considered a good lift, in contrast to the USAWA standard that a big bar lift is considered good immediately upon the weight coming off the ground.

It is not the critic who counts

by Eric Todd

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”-Teddy Roosevelt

This quote by President Roosevelt was introduced to me by Coach Fallein, my high school wrestling coach. It always stuck with me, I guess because I was competitive in nature. One could argue that through this quote, a parallel can be drawn between weightlifting and life.
There has been more than one occasion where I have witnessed someone who weightlifting (or another competitive avenue) came easy to. They try it a few times, whip the competition, and then disappear into the night. My first thought always was that if I was that natural at something, I would do it as much as possible, and be the best in the world. But alas, it was not to be and I had to scratch and claw for every PR and victory I have achieved. So why did these guys disappear? While pondering this question with colleagues, we determined that the success had come too easy for these guys. They had not felt the sting of failure. They did not have to go back to the gym, back to the drawing board, refocus and re-attack. Thus when they re-entered the arena and were victorious, they knew not of the contrast between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

It is those hills and valleys that make our companionship with the weights so rewarding. Clearly, winning is the goal. But the ride to get there is what it is all about. Am I satisfied with a win if I did not lift as I am capable? There have been a time or two (no more) that I was almost satisfied with second, as I performed above and beyond anything I could have hoped for, the other guys was just better (which stings a bit anyhow). Throughout it all, though, you have got to allow yourself to enjoy the ride.

There was a time in 2003, when I was just off winning my weight class at strongman nationals. I was top 3 overall, 1 point out of second, and the first place guy received his pro card. I knew that I was going to go pro at my next contest. I poured all my eggs into 2003 Lumberjack days in Stillwater, MN. I trained like a maniac for this contest; I could not lose. I knew Dave Ostlund (of World’s strongest Man fame) would be there, and he was tough, just coming off a top 3 placement in his weight class at nationals, but I was 2 and 0 against him, and knew I could make it 3 in a row. Well, the meet came and went. I ended up 3rd. I lifted fairly well, but it just was not enough. I was devastated. I had to regroup and do some soul searching. I had to re-prioritize things, and decide if I was even going to get back to the drawing board. This loss stung.

I am glad I chose to remain stalwart in my pursuit of strength. I tried a few more times for my heavyweight pro card, and was close, achieving a couple second place finishes. Ultimately, I chose to drop to the new 105 kilo division, and within half a year, I had earned my pro card at the 2005 Monsters of the Midwest. It happened in the most dramatic of fashions. Me and Dino Nick were tied going into the final event: the Atlas Stones. I had gone first and put up a quick time. However, when Nick started, he was on pace to beat me. He was on pace until the final stone, and he just was not quite able to load it. Believe me, at that moment, I was at the top of the world. That peak was so high, because of the depth of the valleys.

The highs and lows, that is the spice of our lives. I love living in the country in Missouri. I love seeing the seasons change. The May days that are sunny and in the seventies are so much sweeter because of the blizzards in January. The peaks are made remarkable because of the valleys we are made to toil through.

A couple years ago, right before thanksgiving, Mom called and said she would not be able to watch Phoebe the next day as she was not feeling well. Well we scrambled to make alternate plans, but something in the back of my mind kept me a little worried about Ma. Any of you who know her know that she is never sick, or at least wont hardly admit to being, and NOTHING will stand in the way of her time with her grandbabies. So I felt that something as a bit off. Well, I called the next day, and she was clearly not well. I talked her into going into the ER, and she ended up having an emergency surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her colon. Though surgery went as well as could be expected, it was an invasive surgery, and she had to spend some time in ICU recovering.

I spent a lot of time at the hospital over that holiday break, spending time with ma, and spending time with dad. He clearly was worried. He had been a bit ill himself, with what appeared to be something respiratory. Dad, Jennifer, and Phoebe ate Thanksgiving dinner at Cameron Regional Medical Center that year. Me and Dad stayed most of the day, and into the night. We then made our way home, and I to bed, trying to get a little sleep, as during this time I had been lacking. At around midnight; however, I was awakened by the telephone. It was Dad. He asked me to take him to the ER. We went in, and as it turns out, his affliction was not respiratory at all. He had atrial fibrillation which was causing his heart to go crazy, and as it turns out it was a miracle he did not have a heart attack. So, that night, I got to move dad into the ICU next to Mom. I spent the rest of the night going back and forth to the hospital getting medications, clothes, etc. I finally was able to sleep around 8:00 in the morning. Those days were some dark ones. It was tough keeping everything together and trudging on through. I was in a valley.
Mom and Dad both recovered miraculously. They are both are doing wonderful. I enjoy each and every minute I get to spend with them. I have a beautiful wife and two amazing kids. I have a job I love, and get to lift for fun. I am not lifting the best I ever have, but am still confident my best years are ahead of me. My life is a grand one. Those valleys I have been to let me know just how glorious these peaks can be.

I can tell you this, learning to deal with the peaks and valleys in sport goes a great deal toward teaching us how to deal with adversity in our lives. Getting my tail kicked on the wrestling mat (I can tell you, it is personal-you physically get your tail beat by another individual, saying he is the better man that day) on the football field, the track, in the weightlifting arena, and having to figure out how to deal with it and come back from it has helped teach me how to face the trials and tribulations in life. And it has shown me just how precious each victory, no matter how small, can be.

Top Lifts of 2013

by Al Myers

Art proudly displaying his homemade Teeth Bit!

Today welcomes in a New Year, and  with it comes the excitement of another very promising year in the USAWA.   2013 had to be one of the best EVER in the history of the USAWA.  There were many great competitions and great individual performances.  Of the 22 official competitions that occurred in 2013 in the USAWA, I was a participant or attended 18 of them!

As I’m sitting here sipping a cup of coffee in the early morning hours of 2014 (my internal clock would not allow me to sleep in!), I’m reflecting on some of the fantastic lifts I was able to witness “first hand” in the USAWA in 2013.  It didn’t take me long to come up with a list of over 20, but I’m gonna narrow the list today to the TOP TEN lifts that impressed me the most. I want to reiterate  that this is MY LIST of the lifts that I was able to watch, and only reflects my viewpoints.  Many, many others were extremely impressive that did not make the list. A few individual lifters had multiple lifts that impressed me, but I’m only including THE ONE that impressed me the most by an individual lifter.  It took me three times as long to come up with my list as it did to write this blog!  Here it goes – counting down from number ten:

10. Lance Foster and his 575# Dinnie Lift at the OTSM Championships

This had to be one of the most tenacious lifts of the year.  Lance struggled at the Battle of the Barn with the Dinnie Lift, but came back a month or so later to up his performance by 75 pounds! If the USAWA offered a TRUE GRIT AWARD Lance would win it.

9.  Jera Kressly and Logan Kressly 600# heels together deadlift at the Team Championships.

Jera and Logan did this mixed pair (man/woman) lift quite easily at the Team Champs.  I should mention that Logan was only 15 at the time!  That’s a big deadlift for any mixed pair with a normal stance – let alone having the heels together!

8.  James Fuller and his 60 KG Bent Press at the Gold Cup.

James has been on a mission to mastering the Bent Press this year.  The Bent Press is one of the MOST old and obscure lifts of all round lifting.  Very few even know how to go about doing one.  I first saw James bent pressing Frank’s axle at the Heavies, with was extremely cumbersome to handle.  I was going to include that effort instead of this one for James, but his Gold Cup lift really deserves it more as it was done in a big competition.  It won’t be long before James puts up the highest Bent Press record of All Time in the USAWA.

7.  Joe Ciavattone Sr. and his 805# Neck Lift at the Heavy Lift Championships.

This HAD to make my list.  Joe is one of the best neck lifters in USAWA history, and held the overall record for many years.  To come back and hit a personal record now several years later shows true ability.  I was glad to be able to witness his lift (as I had not seen his previous record lift).

6.  Troy Goetsch and his 260# one handed Vertical Bar Lift at the Grip Championships.

I’ve seen many great VB lifts in the past, but Troy’s is one of the best.  Troy won the overall lifter at the Grip Champs, and his VB was the lift that I will remember from him on that day.

5.  Frank Ciavattone and his 202.5 KG Ciavattone Grip Deadlift at Nationals.

Frank still has some great lifting in him, as shown with this big lift at our National Championships which is named after him.  I never get tired of watching Frank do Ciavattone Grip Deadlifts – and this is one I’ll never forget.

4.  Dan Wagman and his 120# Pullup at the Dino Gym Record Day.

YES – that’s 120 pounds strapped to the waist and then performing a pullup with the chin OVER the bar with no kipping!!! And hold for a down command!  Not too many around could even come close to this performance of Dan’s.  I’ve seen a lot of great lifting out of Dan and often what he does does not surprise me – but this pullup did!

3.  Joe Ciavattone Jr. and the 1400# Hand and Thigh Lift at the Heavy Lift Championships.

Junior doesn’t realize yet that he will be a future superstar of the USAWA, but I see it.  His untapped strength is unreal, and this big H&T proves it.  He just finished with a 1200 at the meet,  I gave him a couple of tips between lifts, and then he adds 200 pounds and gets it easily!  Impressive to say the least…

2.  Eric Todd and this 1000# Neck Lift at the Battle of the Barn II.

ET has put up 1000 pound Neck Lifts before several times – but this one was done with rules beyond those of the USAWA.   He cleared the floor substantially, and then HELD the lift for over 2 full seconds recorded on a stop watch.  I’m still shaking my head after seeing that effort!

1.  Art Montini and his 107# Teeth Lift at the Presidential Cup.

All I can say is that I still don’t know how he did this!  Art is 85 years old and has FALSE TEETH.  This lift won him the Presidential Cup of the USAWA for the year, and I would say deserving of the lift that impressed me the most!  Art has been one of the most active lifters in the USAWA this year – attending most of the championship events, attending the “Big Three” (Nationals, Worlds, and the Gold Cup), and still involved with promoting his annual Birthday Bash.  He has a deeper resume than anyone in the history of the USAWA, and I’m glad to name Art’s lift as the most impressive lift of 2013.  Congrats Art!!

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