by Thom Van Vleck
The Jackson Weightlifting Club has been a big part of my life. As those who know me will already be aware it was started by my grandfather Dalton Jackson in 1928. It was just him and some friends who were interested in weightlifting. They never competed. They were interested in training to get better, be stronger, healthier, and maybe impress some girls! The club wasn’t official then, just friends.
Then in 1957 he got my Uncles, Wayne and Phil Jackson into lifting. Wayne eventually won the Teenage Nationals in Olympic lifting and was a 4 time Missouri State Olympic lifting champion and won the powerlifting title once. Phil won some meets as well but got more into bodybuilding and was in Muscular Development one time and in Strength and Health another time. Phil got an “official” club going with a logo they wore on their lifting suits when in competition and they actually achieved something quite remarkable. They won two state team titles in Olympic lifting against clubs in St. Louis and Kansas City. Not bad for a little club from a little town. They charged dues and opened a key gym as well. At one time it had almost 30 members and had Phil not joined the Air Force (he was due to be drafted anyways) and left for four years I wonder where the club would have went.
As it was, the club kind of played out and by 1971 it was all but gone. I joined my Uncle Wayne starting in 1977 with my own training and the “key gym” was again started in 1980. We soon had about 20 members and had a couple of guys competing at the state level in powerlifting. In 1982 I joined the Marines and soon the club died again.
Then, in 1988, I got back into hard training. Slowly, I revived the concept of the JWC and in 1992 started competing again. I had a few guys that traveled with me and we were mostly “unofficial” but we were a group of guys that lifted, traveled to meets, and shared a love of the iron.
In 1997 I had a chance to do a strongman show with Omega Force. I invited my buddy Brian Kerby and we did 6 shows in 4 days in St. Louis including one final event that was the warm up for the US Nationals Strongman Contest at the Family Arena in St. Charles. There were several thousand people there. Brian and I were invited to travel to Austrailia and New Zealand with Omega Force but we had full time jobs, families….but we became open to the idea of doing strongman shows as part of an evangelism effort and decided to start a local group of our own.
We were trying to come up with a “catch” name for our group when Brian came to me and said that he thought we should go by the name “Jackson Weightlifting Club”. At that time it really got me to thinking of what the club was really about. I will say that since then we have done over 250 shows that have reached out to over 25,000 people plus we have directed about 20 lifting meets (including the USAWA Nationals) and at a couple dozen Highland Games and Strongman Contests. But the club was something much deeper than that for me.
As I explored in my mind and heart what the club was all about I came up with what I call the “Four Corners” of the JWC foundation. These four cornerstones are what everything the JWC does is built upon.
Faith: First comes Faith. The JWC exists because of the Christian Principles laid down by my grandfather and passed on to each subsequent generation. The most importan principle being faith. Faith is the belief in something with strong conviction. My own interpretation is that it gives us the ability to believe in something even when the evidence seems to be against it. Faith is important in lifting because it takes a long time and lot of work to make progress in lifting. You have to have faith in yourself, your lifting program, and believe it will pay off. Many fail in lifting because they didn’t have faith. To me it is most important.
Honor: Honor has several meanings and the one I intend means having integrity. There is a Viking poem I have hanging in my gym that talks about how everything can be taken away from you. You can lose you fortune, your family, even your life. But the one thing that NO ONE can take from you, only you can give away, is your Honor. It is your reputation. It is a core value in my family and thus the JWC.
Strength: This word implies being strong. But strong in what? My use of this word in the JWC is that it strength goes beyond the physical state. I know that lifting weights gives me strength. Sure, I become stronger, but I also gain strength to endure. I gain emotional and mental strength. Most of all I gain spiritual strength from having goals and achieving them leading to a belief in myself and what I can accomplish in all things through hard work and sweat equity.
Wisdom: Wisdom is last on the list but it’s still important. Wisdom to me it the ability use intelligence for a greater end. It is the ability to use knowledge with good judgement, common sense, and prudence. I want to gain knowledge but if I can’t find the best way to use it then I have failed. Lifting smart brings me success. The best lifting routine will give you the greatest results with the least effort and the least chance of injury. Weightlifting quantifies that result and makes it easier for me to be wise in all things in life. Even when the results aren’t as easy to quantify I know wisdom is at work.
Over the years, at our strongman evangelism shows, these core values were at the base of our messages. While our shows often focused on Christ and were at Churches and Bible Camps we often did shows at schools and community gatherings that focused on citizenship, staying off drugs, and other more secular topics. We never denied who we were, Christians, but the “four corners” were always there.
I hope that some day another generation in my family picks up the JWC flag. That is my next goal in life, passing this tradition on. The JWC has produced many champions and contest winners, but it is most proud of who those people were rather than their athletic accomplishments. It always has been and hopefully always will be!