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!