Tag Archives: Thom Van Vleck

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!

Gold Cup 2016: My Take

by Thom Van Vleck

gold-cup

Thom Van Vleck inducts Chad Ullom and Al Myers into the Hall of Fame at the awards banquet for the 2016 Gold Cup.

I was recently honored to be asked to help out at the the 2016 Gold Cup.  To be honest the main reason for me to be there was to induct my friends Al Myers and Chad Ullom into the Hall of Fame. An honor they both deserved and I hope I did them justice with their induction speech.  They are very deserving.

I helped out with the set up, take down, and other logistics of running the meet. It was held in the old Union Pacific train depot in downtown Abilene, Kansas.  A very historic city and a great place to hold a meet.  The location was perfect, the meet was well run, and I don’t think you could ask for a better set up for some great lifting.  Al Myers was the Meet Director and he did a great job and had lots of help.  Steve Gardner announced and he is very smooth on the microphone and his knowledge of the lifts makes him the right man for the job.

I also had the privilege of judging most of the meet.  I am a level 2 judge and I have judged at some big meets over the years for the USAWA and IAWA.  I take it very seriously.  Judging also gives me a front seat to all the action (plus I don’t have to load….I’ve done my fair share of that,too!).

All in all, another great meet.  While Al did a great job this was like every other USAWA meet I’ve ever been a part of.  Everyone chips in to make it happen!  Great job to all!

 

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!

 

Bad Case of the Barbells

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I watched the Beverly Hillbillies.  Yes, I’m pretty old. The show was a top comedy show in the 60’s and early 70’s.  It was about a family of hillbillies that come into millions and end up in Beverly Hills.  In one particular episode the beautiful “farmer’s daughter” Elly Mae gets set up with “Mister Universe” Dave Draper.  Dave Draper was indeed a Mr. Universe and a top Bodybuilder.  In the episode the family, being backwards, sees his huge muscles and mistake it for an illness.  They ask him what they are. He said “Muscles”.  They ask how he got them and he says, “Barbells”. Granny turns to Uncle Jed and whispers, “Worst case of barbells I’ve ever seen”.  I remember watching that episode several times.

In 1977 I began to develop as bad case of barbells myself.  I evidently didn’t get them as bad as Dave as I have never been mistaken for a Mister Universe but I think I have the illness as bad as anyone since I’m going on nearly 40 years of barbell training.  Over the years I’ve joked about it being an illness and my case being incurable.  Which brings me to my point.

I do have a bad case of the barbells.  I enjoy training and when I’m not my world isn’t right.  It helps me not only physically but mentally, spiritually, and emotionally as well.  I don’t just train to achieve a goal I train because it’s a part of my life like eating, drinking, sleeping, and praying.  It’s not really an illness.  It’s a blessing.  And over the years I’ve tried to be Typhoid Thom…and infect as many people as possible with the “illness”.

So, do you have a bad case of the Barbells?

Be Stronger, not the Strongest

by Thom Van Vleck

I started a weightlifting club at the University I work at a few years back. It has been very successful even if it has evolved into more of a “crossfit” type group.  But there are some serious weightlifters in there, too.

One of the things that happened as we had more women than men sign up. I began to investigate and here’s what I found.

The guys got pretty hung up on being the strongest.  If they couldn’t be the strongest in the group they pretty quickly quit.  Of course, there can only be one guy that’s the strongest so you pretty quickly end up with a pretty small group.  It ended up often being a competition instead of a workout.

The women weren’t worried about being the strongest.  They just wanted to be stronger.  They focused on pulling each other along.  They didn’t care who was the strongest.  They all wanted each other to be stronger.  They were competitive, but not in a negative way like the guys.

When I was in the military we had a lot of competition.  Most of it was healthy, some of it was not.  When it was healthy it went like this:  As a fighting force you are as strong as your weakest member.  So you encouraged the guy next to you to be successful because at some point your life might depend on it. You elevated yourself by making them better and in turn natural competitiveness would lead you to raise your game.  When it was unhealthy it was more like this:  You elevated yourself by bringing down those around you.  You didn’t get better, they got worse.

So ask yourself.  Do I want to be the strongest?  Or do I want to be stronger!  I personally think that when you choose to be stronger it’s more likely you’ll end up the strongest.

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