By Al Myers
This is my monster Northern Pike I caught in Canada the week before the meet!
This is not intended to be a meet report, but rather “my take” on the Nationals Weekend. First of all, it was a busy week for me as I was on a fly-in fishing trip for trophy Northern Pike way up North in Canada before I even got to Cleveland. I was worried that I was gonna wear myself out before the meet with all the big fish I caught up there. Plus, the all you can eat delicious home-style meals served at night (along with the big breakfasts and shore lunches) that I was never going to make weight at the meet. Well, reeling in those big Pike must have loosened up my shoulders a bit instead, and working hard all day on the lake must have burned more calories than I predicted as I did make my weight class at the meet and was able to do a token clean and push press with my bum shoulders to get a mark in it.
Upon arriving Friday evening from a flight from Saskatoon to Cleveland (luckily it was on schedule) I was greeted at the airport by 3 young Dino Gym lifters who were making their first National Meet appearance. These guys made the 15 hour drive to lift with only 2 stops (oh to be young with a large bladder). I was greeted with a sign at the airport that said, “Welcome back from rehab, Big Al”. Thus the fun begins.
We all stayed at a lodge in Vermilion that my buddy John McKean had arranged. John and his family were staying there, and it was right on Lake Erie. Truly a beautiful place. I had made plans to fish with John after the meet, and believe it or not, John had promised me that he would show me his secret fishing spot. More on that later.
The boys relaxing at the lodge before the meet.
I can’t say enough about the work meet promoters Bob Geib and Scott Schmidt did for this meet. They ran into problems two weeks before the meet with the venue location in Vermilion being cancelled on them. Luckily they were able to secure a meet venue at the West Park YMCA in Cleveland at the last minute. And I’m glad they found this spot. This YMCA was the location of many All Round meets in the past, including past Nationals, put on by Howard Prechtel. To say it contained USAWA history puts it mildly. I was honored to be able to lift there.
The weekend of lifting went super smooth. Everything was on schedule and everyone seemed to have a super time. Alot of the USAWA veterans were on hand with a fine mix of newcomers to Nationals. Several registered clubs were represented – Dino Gym, Habeckers Gym, Schmidt Barbell Club, Ambridge Barbell Club, and Frank’s Barbell Club. One thing that impresses me with our organization is how everyone “jumps in” and helps. We had a great group of seasoned officials (Frank Ciavattone, Dennis Mitchell, Denny Habecker, Scott Schmidt, LaVerne Myers, and Randy Smith) who officiated both days. These guys are the “best of the best” amongst USAWA officials which is what we want for our Nationals. John McKean and myself did the announcing duties, and Judy did the scorekeeping. Plus what a great group of loaders we had. Young Aidan Habecker loaded all weekend as well as lifting and what a great job he did!!! He took charge of the loads and seemed to know exactly what plates needed put on. Also, got to mention Franklin and Ryan for all the hard work they did, as well as others. Not a single misload all weekend!
The only injury we had (unfortunately there seems to always be one at Nationals) was newcomer Tim Moore from Cleveland. Tim is a power house and a great guy and I sure hope to see him again in a USAWA meet. He tore his bicep on the second day doing the One Arm Clean and Jerk. I’ve since heard from Scott that he has had surgery to repair it and is now on the mend. If it wasn’t for this injury he would have been in contention for a top spot overall.
I was SO GLAD to see Chris Waterman in the meet. I lifted with Chris over 10 years ago in the USAWA at Nationals. Chris lifted exceptionally (placing 3rd Overall) and looks in fantastic shape. Obviously he hasn’t laid off the weights in his sabbatical from USAWA competition. The women’s division had two very veteran lifters – Susan Sees and Kathy Schmidt. In the end Susan pulled out the Overall Best Womens Lifter (her third, other two were 2015 and 2012). It was great to see the perennial Nationals competitior Randy Smith there. I always enjoy lifting with Randy (as well as having a few drinks afterwards with him!). We had a great time catching up on things. Randy never seems to change – he looks and lifts the same today as he did 15 years ago when we first met.
Art continues to amaze us with his lifting. Art, along with Dennis Mitchell, both compete in the 85-89 age group. These two guys really impress me how they have been so consistent with their lifting year after year and never missing the National Championships. Dennis has competed in more USAWA Nationals than anyone in history, a mark I don’t see being broke. That will be a topic for another story in the future.
My dad LaVerne rounded out the Dino Gym Team at Nationals. After the first lift, the 1 hand VB lift, in which he had the top mark of the meet, he earned the nickname from “the boys” as Pa Vice Grips.
Hanging out with Scott at his home gym!
After the lifting on Saturday Scott Schmidt invited me over to his house and to see his home gym. When me and “the boys” got there Kathy had a table full of delicious snacks to welcome us. Thank you Kathy!!!! Scott then showed us his home gym, which is an unbelievable home training facility. I spent 30 minutes just looking at his gym decor. I really like to see home gyms as they are very unique and often reflect the personality of the owner. All Round home gyms are much different than any commercial gym, and Scott’s is one of the best I’ve seen.
The Dino Gym Team – Brandon Rein, Cody Lokken, Cale Dunlap, Al Myers, and LaVerne Myers
I was very excited to see the new Dino Gym guys lift (Cale, Cody, and Brandon). A funny remark John made at the meet announcing, after he was having a hard time keeping them recognized, was that they seem to “be from the same litter.” That drew laughter from the crowd. These young lifters have just started to lift at the Dino Gym and all show great promise. I felt the pressure of being their coach, and just wanted them to lift well and enjoy the experience. Friday night before the meet back at the lodge I was visiting with John and told him I better go visit with these young lifters and give them a talk to “settle their pre-meet nerves”. Put it this way – when I got to the beach where they were hanging out they seemed pretty relaxed drinking bourbon and smoking cigars so the talk wasn’t needed. Then I started to worry that they were following my example too much!
Bob and Scott planned an exceptional banquet following the meet. It was at a place called the West Park Station. We got there really early, which was nice, as we were able to enjoy the live band and a few Yuenglings on tap outside on a back patio. I spent a hour telling “the boys” Chad stories. He’s now a legend in their minds. The banquet food was outstanding and it was a buffet (the only way to go after a meet!). The Awards Ceremony was the highlight of the evening. The meet awards were outstanding. Plus we gave out the USAWA Yearly Awards at that time. They let us use the microphone that broadcasted over the entire restaurant – so everyone there heard what was going on! I noticed people not even associated with our group clapping and cheering. I was joined in the presentation with Scott and Bob, Frank, and an impromptu surprise speech by Brandon. A very special moment for me that evening was Frank presenting me the Howard Prechtel Plaque. Every year, in Howard’s memory we present an annual traveling plaque to someone who the previous years recipient feels is worthy of it for their contributions to the USAWA for the prior year. Frank was last years selection. I’ll be honored next year when I can pass this tribute plaque along to someone else.
Fishing with John McKean!
The next day, as promised, John took me, my dad LaVerne, and “the boys” to his secret fishing spot. I wish he would have told me to wear raingear. John is a master fisherman and ties his own jigs. These things look like the real thing and the fish can’t resist them! It wasn’t long before we had caught several fish, including a really nice catfish caught by Brandon. I was picking John’s brain on the art of jigging, and luckily John is one who likes to talk so I was getting some of his secrets out of him. It was a great time but the wind kept picking up till all of us were soaking wet, from head to toe. As John put it, “it was battle conditions!”
The boys eyes were open wide when the feast was served!
The next day we made the long drive home, all in one day but with more stops than two. We made a sightseeing stop in Indianapolis at the Indy Speedway ( “the boys” are big Nascar fans) and at my favorite BBQ place in Columbia, Missouri for supper. I ordered up a large feast fit for Kings, and then as the last bit of coaching I did for the weekend, made the boys eat it all. Great times!!!!!