Tag Archives: JWC

The Husafell Stone

Thom Van Vleck by Pastor Snorri's goat pens in Iceland

Thom Van Vleck by Pastor Snorri’s goat pens in Iceland

By Thom Van Vleck

I recently took a trip to Iceland for a Highland Games competition.  While there I went to take a try at the Husafell Stone.  The Husafell Stone is a lifting stone of 409lbs located near Husafell, Iceland.  I think it’s history is well recorded in other better articles and most strength fans know of it so I wanted to focus on my day with the Husafell Stone.

I had been in Iceland for nearly two weeks.  I had competed in the Masters World Championships of Highland Games in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland for two days and then circled the entire island.  I had saved the Husafell for the last day so if I did try and lift it and I got hurt then it wouldn’t ruin the entire vacation!  Most of all I just wanted to visit an stone that I had heard and read about for the past 25 years that has been lifted by some of the greatest strength athletes of all time.

So that last day Michelle and I drove up a valley called Reykholtsdalur.  It is a valley sparsely populated now but historically a very significant area.  As we went along we stopped at various places and visited ancient settlements and new ones that span a 1000 years of Iceland history.  As we drove East houses became more and more sparse and the country more rugged.  I had an image in my mind of mountains and a distant glacier with a mountain stream nearby with waterfalls. I pictured very few trees and lots and lots of rocks.  The final location of the stone did not disappoint.  It didn’t hurt that we had great weather.  It was about 60 degrees and sunny.

One of the three Challenges is to set the stone on a corner of the pen.

One of the three Challenges is to set the stone on a corner of the pen.

As we pulled up I immediately saw the goat pens where the stone was located.  I parked nearby and stepped outside.  Michelle walked with me to the pens and even though there were no shortage of huge rocks lying around I immediately knew which one was the pen slab!

As I stopped and looked at it lying on the ground I could see traces of lifting chalk and maybe a little tacky.  On the ground it was not that imposing. It is basalt and basalt is a very dense stone which means it’s heavier than it looks!  It is a triangular, flat stone and very dark, almost black.  As I turned it on it’s side I found out how heavy it really was!

Michelle took some photos while I warmed up.  I lifted some smaller stones for practice.  I put on one of my oldest Jackson Weightlifting Club shirts. I also slipped on my trusty old belt that I’ve had for almost 30 years.  I was not as apprehensive as I thought I would be. I think I’m at an age where I feel comfortable with what I’ve done.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to lose a battle.  I just felt a comfortable confidence.  I was honestly just happy to be there!

Michelle and I by Dettifoss.  It's the largest waterfall in Iceland and in all of Europe!

Michelle and I by Dettifoss. It’s the largest waterfall in Iceland and in all of Europe!

I went about the various challenges.  There were a few hikers that went by as there is a trail that heads up the nearby stream.  One came over to see what I was doing and watched a bit.  I felt a little embarrassed to be honest.  It was like a private moment.  Kind of like trying a personal best in the gym verses a lift in competitions with witnesses.  There’s a part of me that wanted this to be just me and the stone.

I spent a solid 2 hours there.  I met a lot of failure in the process.  Trying to figure out hand holds, dealing with some fatigue after 12 days on the road and going on hikes, and getting my 53 year old body to do what I wanted it to do.  In the end I felt successful.  Though I’m sure some might feel I didn’t do it “legit”.  I would compare any lifting I did to a “continental” versus a “clean”.  I was just happy to be there!

Iceland!

Iceland!

There was a moment I was just leaning against the pens and looking down the valley.  I had an unobstructed view.  Over my right shoulder were mountains, over my left was a distant glacier, to my left was the ravine filled with waterfalls that fed the nearby stream.  To my right was Husafell and the forest of evergreens that obscured it.  Directly in front of me was Pastor Snorri’s farm and a small Church.  It was very quiet.  The sun felt warm and the air crisp.  The only drawback was a few midges that felt it important to let you know they were there.  It was a good day to be alive.

Michelle and I walked over to the nearby Lutheran Church.  It was a small, stone Church with a small cemetery filled with birch trees stunted by the harshness of Iceland.  The Church was surprisingly open and we were able to go inside.  You could tell it was still an active Church.  The baptismal font, the communion cup, and the alter were roughly carved out of native stone.  It was a beautiful, simple place that made me feel as close to God as the most amazing Churches I’ve visited and believe me, I’ve been to some amazing pieces of architecture.

Finally it came time to go.  I was not sad.  I felt like my trip was a success and part of me would carry the moment with me forever.  So it’s not like I’ll ever really leave.  Lifting has given me and excuse to travel to some amazing places but I think the best  thing of all is it has fed my earthly spirit.    The next day my forearms were bruised and my back was stiff.  It felt great!

The “Dreaded Red X”

by Thom Van Vleck

Nobody was immune to getting the dreaded Red X from Bill. Even Al got one!

Nobody was immune to getting the dreaded Red X from Bill. Even Al got one!

My roots in the USAWA go way back.  My first meet was a 1979 “Odd Lift” meet put on by the founder of the USAWA, Bill Clark.  But before that my Uncles and their friends often lifted in Clark’s meets going back to the fifties. Clark founded the USAWA but he actually didn’t start the “Odd Lifts”.  That goes back to Ed Zercher, Sr who was a great lifter in the 30’s and after.  But even before Ed was in his first contest he had a buddy in his old neighborhood in St. Louis named John Wille. In the 1920’s they hung out in the same neighborhood and they did acrobatics, lifting whatever was available, and made make shift weights out of scrap metal.

Today we look to the internet.  The USAWA has a great website.  Al Myers does a lot of work to keep this thing going and having regular updates.  But for 50 years it was “Ol’ Clark”.  Bill was old school in an old school way that made a lot of old school stuff seem new!  He never touched a computer.  For 50 years he put out old fashioned newsletters.  For you young guys, that means he typed up the newsletter on a typewriter, then he copied the news letter (on a Mimeograph and later a copy machine), and he would put them in envelopes, actually lick the stamps (because they didn’t just stick on like they do now) and mail them to your actual mailbox (not the “mailbox” that your e-mail comes to).

I remember looking through all the old newsletters my Uncles had.  Reading about the lifts, the lifters, the meets and random thoughts (and sometimes rants) that Clark would have about steroids, improper judging, or whatever he thought was undermining the integrity of the sport.  If you sent him a letter, be careful, he’d put it in the newsletter!

He operated all this on a shoe string budget and his own sweat. He probably spent a lot of his own money.  But he did ask donations.  You could get the newsletter if you sent him even just a few bucks to pay for the stamps!  He would also include in almost every newsletter a little rant about “bucking up” and make jokes about not being a deadbeat.

He would have a list of people that gave money.  He would even put how much they gave.  I think to give credit to those who gave more than their fair share because they loved the sport.  Those that gave often really valued the information and back then there was no internet and finding out much of anything about weightlifting was about impossible).  He also would “Red X” the guys who hadn’t “paid up” for some time.  He would put what he called the “Dreaded Red X” on the front of your newsletter.  It kind of reminded me how teachers would mark up your papers with red ink when you got something wrong.  The funny part was he would often keep sending guys newsletters for a long time.  Especially so if he knew someone was on hard times.  Like my Uncle Wayne.  Clark could be really nice that way.

In some ways I think Ol’ Clark got vilified a bit for his “Red X” and other things he did when he would call out guys for not following established rules. He sometimes had a way of making a remark about it the next time you would see him to let you know his displeasure….one might even call it a snide remark.

But you know what.  Now that I’m older.  Now that I’ve been in the position of running organizations that get by on shoe string budgets and I’ve put in long hours to run highland games, strongman contests, lifting meets as well as three different weightlifting clubs (Jackson Weightlifting Club, Truman State Irondogs, and the A.T. Still University Osteoblasters) as well as other Church and community organizations that ONLY happen because the people involved reach in their pockets and pull out some cash that includes more than a few drops of sweat…..I get it.

That bring me to present day.  When Ol’ Clark ran that newsletter you saw the stamp.  You knew it cost money.  You knew the paper, the ink, the copies, and all that went into it cost money so I think it was easier to see how much all of it cost.  Well, now Al Myers stepped in and took it over some 8 years ago.  He created a website, then got a better one, and did a lot of work to keep it going and at what cost.  I bet a lot more than the stamps Ol’ Clark used.  At the least, I would say both men work (worked) equally hard.

So what can you do?  Send him a few hundred bucks!  Well, that would be nice but I think the best thing we could do as an organization is support the guys that make it happen.  Not just Al, but our officers, judges, etc.  We do this by following the rules, getting meet results to Al in a timely manner, make sure our meets are as legit as we can, write a good story for the meet results for the website, maybe send Al a good story or anecdote for the website (like how people would send Clark a letter) and he’d put in on the website.  Buy Al a beer, slap him on the back….heck, I bet a thanks would go a long way.

Otherwise, people like Bill and Al get burned out.  They love a sport and after awhile they feel unappreciated and frustrated and next thing you know…..well, let’s just try and do our part and keep the USAWA great.  It’s only as great as the people who run it and the people who are a part of it AND appreciate it!

Tommy Kono: A True All-Rounder

Kono_VanVleck

 

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I had my Uncle Wayne who was a “Paul Anderson Fan”.  He was all about strength and nothing about aesthetics.  Function first, looks second.  And Function was Olympic lifting!  My other Uncle, Phil, was much more at aesthetics but he also liked strength and he was a Bill Pearl fan.  The one guy they could both agree on was Tommy Kono!

Anyone that is involved in strength sports should know by now that Tommy recently passed away at the age of 85 after one of the most storied careers in strength history.  I did a story on Tommy a few years back and I’m going to say a few things here but you would need to large book to really do Tommy justice!

Tommy is famous for living in Hawaii but he was actually born in Sacramento, California and was relocated to the Tule Lake Internment Camp as a teenager during WWII due to the fear people had against those of Japaneses decent.  While this was a miserable experience in some ways it was the best thing to happen to Tommy.  During his stay the desert air helped clear up his asthma which had made him sickly.  He also got involved in weight training which obviously changed his whole life.

In 1950 Tommy was drafted into the army.  They realized his Olympic potential and gave him the opportunity to train.  Tommy worked hard and this all began to pay off in 1952 when he won the gold medal in Olympic lifting in Helsinki, Finland.  This was followed by dozens of World and National records and titles.  He was again Olympic champion in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (when Paul Anderson famously won his gold) and the won Silver in the 1960 Olympics in Rome.  He kicked in 6 world championships and 3 Pan Am Golds to boot.  So he had the functional strength my Uncle Wayne appreciated.

Tommy also was a champion bodybuilder.  I don’t mean he looked good and did well against the best of the day.  I mean he was a 4 time Mr. Universe!  This was in the same years he was competing as a lifter as well.  So he had the aesthetics my Uncle Phil appreciated.

Tommy was also just as great a coach as lifter.  He coached three separate nations in three different Olympics.  He was elected to numerous Hall’s of Fame but what I recall that was most striking was being named “Weightlifter of the Century”.  Tommy deserved this and here’s why.

While other lifters may have won more world titles or broke more records there there three factors that made him the best.  First, he was undefeated from 1952 to 1960 on the world stage.  Second, his 26 world records were an amazing accomplishment.  Third, these were set almost equally in the three lifts contested in the day.  He was the best at all of them and not a specialist.  Fourth, and maybe most amazing, was he competed and set records in 4 different weight classes.

Maybe most important of all was Tommy was just a great person.  My Uncles met him in the 60’s while he was still lifting.  They told me he was a happy guy who offered advice and really listened to them when they asked him questions and gave them well thought out answers.  I found this out for myself in 2009 when I met him at the Arnold Fit Expo.  I stopped him in the hallway and introduced myself.  He stopped, talked at length, and made me fell like I was a good friend.  He was famous for helping others and never asking for a dime in return.

So I say Tommy all-rounder because he was the best at all the lifts, the best physique, the best coach, the best photographer of his era, and one of the best authors!  He also was just a great human being who would have been a great friend to have even if he had never picked up a weight in his lift.  So here’s to Tommy Kono.  The best!

 

Weigh your Weights

by Thom Van Vleck

Have you ever weighed your weights?  You might be surprised.  Unless you are buying high end competition grade weights you need to understand that your weights could be off by not just ounces but several pounds!

Back in the day when you bought weights you had the choice of “Milled” and “Unmilled” weights.  Unmilled weights were cast iron right from the mold.  Milled weights had been milled, or had some metal removed, until the weight was exact.  The Milled plates were generally much more expensive so for training the unmilled plates were often bought and used.  It was common to check those plates as you knew they were off when you bought them.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club had both.  York sets that were competition grade and a Jackson set as well.  On each you can see the rings and swirls in the metal where the milling had taken place.  We also had some old Iron Man weights that were listed at 50lbs but one set was 57.5lbs while another was 47.5lbs.  Since they were the same style and all 4 plates looked the same we painted them different colors because if you loaded the lighter plates on one side of the bar you could find yourself 20lbs heavier on one end and 10lbs off overall.

So these days you don’t see “milled” and “unmilled” plates but don’t assume what you have is exact.  I blame cheap overseas manufactures but many cheap barbell plates are off the mark.  While they aren’t as bad as the Iron Man plates I mentioned above I have found 45lb plates off 3lbs in either direction.  Smaller plates are off as well but not as much.

So you might want to take the time to check the weight of your weights.  Who knows, maybe you have a new personal best and you didn’t even know it!

Exercise is the Best Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I hung out with my grandparents often.  I probably spent more time with my grandfather than I did my father.  I noticed many things about them.

One in particular was my grandmother took a lot of medications.  Many of them were for physical health issues.  Just as many were for mental health issues with the focus being depression.  Let’s just say it was pretty bad.  She would often cry, focus on the negatives, and in generally seemed miserable most of the time.

I also noticed that my grandfather did NOT take many medications.  He did not have many health issues and later in life when it did it was because he was hit by a car.  He was very positive and he was in a great mood most of them time.  I can honestly say I never saw him lose his temper, cuss, nor complain.  He wasn’t perfect.  He could be incredibly stubborn.  But in general he was one of the least depressed people I knew.

This made them quite the pair in many ways.  Looking at their family history I can say that depression was a common theme on my grandmother’s side.  My grandfather’s side not a much.  So there may have been a genetic predisposition for it.  But I am not going to focus on the things that cannot be controlled.  There was a major difference between the two that I think played a big factor in why one was depressed and the other was not.

That difference was exercise.

My grandfather worked out almost constantly.  He also incorporated exercise into work.  If he had to shovel something he would do 5 scoops to the right and 5 to the left.  I went with him on the mail truck and every stop he would do jumping jacks or push ups.  He would even do isometrics withe the steering wheel or set up a board to do calf raises at his work bench.  I never once heard him complain about work or exercise.  I’m not saying he loved it but he certainly didn’t hate it.

My grandmother was the model of efficiency.  In other words she would figure out the way to get the most done with the least amount of effort.  She was NOT lazy.  She just saw no point to exercise.  Anything that required effort was loathed by her and she complained the entire time she had to put forth effort.  Again, she was not lazy.  She did piece work in a factory and made good money because she was fast.  It was just that when she did anything that required effort all she did was look forward to the next break.

There are dozens of studies telling you what may seem like common sense to many of us who workout regularly.  That is exercise prevents depression.  I know many times I have thought to myself, “I need a good workout” and when I did it I felt better.  The fact is science is showing more and more evidence that this is the case.

When I first came to work at the medical school as the counselor I started an exercise program.  At first my boss thought I was doing it because it was my “hobby” but the reality is I did it to promote mental health.  I knew that if we could set up fast, efficient workout programs with trainers to help motivate the students in a fun but challenging atmosphere those that did it would be better off mentally.  That club, the Osteoblasters, has become the 2nd largest club on campus and we program 7-9 workouts a week that equals over 250 individual workouts.  Fitness was only a sub-goal.

Too often when people get down or depressed the first thought is to see a doctor and get medication.  There is a time and a place for that but it is often overused.  What people really need is a good workout program and to make the time to do it!  To me, taking anti-depressants without working out would be like taking supplements without working out.  There may be some benefit but not nearly as much as if someone were working out and taking supplements!

So fight the blues with a good workout!

 

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